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West Virginia

The Very Best of West Virginia

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The Very Best of West Virginia

West Virginia is now behind me, fading away in my rearview mirror, but not in my memory or my heart. I chose West Virginia to start this 4 year journey for a reason. West Virginia is one of the most misunderstood states in the country. People have an image in their head of a bunch of backwoods hillbillies picking their banjos and sipping moonshine from a mason jar. And there is certainly some element of truth to that, but that isn't the whole story. West Virginia is a beautiful place with a wonderful State Park system, some top-notch universities, a deeply proud musical tradition, some fun and vibrant cities and a host of off-the-beaten-track sites, shops and restaurants to enjoy. The people, though maybe a little shy, are kind and friendly and generally very welcoming.

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Mountain Music

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Mountain Music

One of the things I was looking forward to the most in my travels through West Virginia was the opportunity to listen to some great Mountain Music. West Virginia music leans heavily towards bluegrass and country, with a wonderful dose of mandolin thrown in now and again. There are many other kinds of music around the state too and you can check out my favorites on my West Virginia Playlist HERE or on Spotify HERE. There are some legendary venues around the state, too and I was really happy to visit some of these. This is a quick look at some of the great and not so great spots I found in my travels. 

My musical journey through The Mountain State began at The Troubadour Lounge outside of Berkeley Springs. I'm kind of sorry it did. This bar was owned by country music legend Jim McCoy until he passed away in 2016 and houses the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame. I'm told it was quite the place back when Jim was running it. When I pulled in, it looked like...

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Snapshots - Capitols, Courthouses and Institution of West Virginia

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Snapshots - Capitols, Courthouses and Institution of West Virginia

Traveling around the small towns and back roads of West Virginia, occasionally I came across a big beautiful building. Of course there are many beautiful churches around, but I thought a lot of these courthouses and government buildings were really wonderful to photograph. The Cover Photo for this post is the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston. Just the name gives me the creeps, but knowing it was in use until 1994 is staggering. Same goes for the West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville which was in use until 1995. Some of these courthouses have amazing stories. The Jefferson County Courthouse in Charles Town was the site of John Brown's trial for leading a slave uprising in 1859. It was also the site of the miners' trials after the Battle of Blair Mountain. The McDowell County Courthouse in Welch was the site where... 

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7 Must-Have Meals in West Virginia

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7 Must-Have Meals in West Virginia

Food is an interesting and underrated form of communication and an essential part of travel. Even if we are cooking for ourselves, regional differences can be spotted in grocery stores from place to place. Things you may have never seen or heard of are piled high and the locals are all grabbing some. Every state has its culinary specialties and must-try delicacies and ideally when you try them they will help you understand the State or region better. Hopefully they’ll be made with local ingredients and you can get a taste for what grows in the area, and there will probably be hints of where the people who make them came from as well. America is and always has been a great melting pot of flavors from around the world and our culinary traditions are ever-shifting. I encourage everyone to be bold when travelling to new places and eat as locally as you can. You know those big national chains will be mediocre at best. Even if you want fast-food, the local option it bound to be better. Use Yelp to sift through them (with a grain of salt obviously, but a 1 or 2 star place is probably that for good reason), or better yet, ask the locals. Here are seven of my favorite meals from the month I spent in West Virginia..

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West Virginia State Parks are Naturally Wonderful

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West Virginia State Parks are Naturally Wonderful

I am a big fan of State Parks, and West Virginia has a pretty extensive network of State Parks to choose from. I spent a lot of time in West Virginia State Parks and was generally really impressed by how they were run and what they had to offer. While they weren’t perfect, I think a lot of thought is put into West Virginia State Parks, and a lot of what they are doing could be a model for other states which are looking to build their state park systems.

The first thing I would applaud West Virginia State Parks for is, unfortunately, already outdated by the time you will read this. I loved that West Virginia State Parks were free to enter when I was there. That meant that they were there for everyone to enjoy, and I would often see a sign and just pull in to check it out. Starting this year, the state will charge a fee in its most visited parks. While I know this will be a nominal fee, I say leave them free. The parks generate a lot of revenue through lodging and camping fees, restaurants, gift shops, snack bars and vendors. But there are those, especially in a state like West Virginia, who truly can’t afford to pay, but still want to bring their kids to the lake or out hiking. I wish the state would reconsider this...

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Awed By Appalachian Glass

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Awed By Appalachian Glass

Finding a true multi-generation craft shop these days is getting harder and harder. Finding one where you can actually see the products being made is even harder still. I treasure these finds because they are so rare. Having been to factories which churn out thousands of pieces an hour, all exactly the same, it is nice when you can find somewhere where things are made one at a time and each piece is unique and distinct. Wandering into Appalachian Glass in Weston, West Virginia I knew I was somewhere special. In the hour or so I was there, I saw really beautiful glass ornaments being blown by hand, learned some history about the area and the industry, had a cup of coffee and walked out with some beautiful hand-made glass pieces in my hand and a smile on my face...

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Magnificent Muriale's

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Magnificent Muriale's

’m going to go right ahead and say it. In the incredible ethnic food scene that stretches across America, the most inevitably disappointing is Italian. I don’t know why this is, but it’s true. Having spent plenty of time in Italy I know how good Italian food is. The Italian-American population is huge, and if you go by their houses you will find amazing dishes in every pot. Why then is it that every time I go to an Italian restaurant I find it so underwhelming? If I order pasta I usually feel as though I could have made better at home in 20 minutes. It’s actually gotten to a point where I won’t even go to an Italian restaurant anymore. This is why Muriale’s in Fairmont, West Virginia was such an amazing find...

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The Sweeter Side of the Feud - Drinking Whiskey With Mark Hatfield

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The Sweeter Side of the Feud - Drinking Whiskey With Mark Hatfield

Leaving Spencer, West Virginia, I travel out state highway 14, make a left on Colt Ridge and then a right on Colt Run and just like that, I find myself in a different time. The road turns quickly to a one lane dirt track through the woods and leads deep into a hollow. Having spent enough time in West Virginia now, my hope is that I won’t see a massive coal or lumber truck come barreling around the corner towards me. I don’t, and soon I find myself bouncing happily down a West Virginia back country road and quickly pull up at my destination under a sign that reads “Hatfield Farms”. 

Hatfield Farms is home to Devil Anse Hatfield’s Great Great-Grandson Mark Hatfield and his wife Brenda. It’s also home to their latest business ventures: Hatfield and McCoy Vineyards and The Sweeter Side of the Feud Winery and Distillery... 

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Mail Pouch Barns of West Virginia

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Mail Pouch Barns of West Virginia

Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco Treat Yourself to the Best. While I don’t actually advocate chewing tobacco, or using tobacco at all for that matter, I do love a good Mail Pouch outdoor advertisement. Between 1891 and 1992, West Virginia Mail Pouch Chewing Tobacco, based in Wheeling, had its name painted on as many as 20,000 barns in 22 states. Barn owners were paid a nominal fee to use their barns, less than $50 a year in today’s money, but every few years they got their barns painted for free. If a side wasn’t visible from the road, Mail Pouch would paint it any color the owner wanted.

One barn painter, Harley Warrick, spent 55 years painting Mail Pouch advertisements. A barn would usually take him and a partner about 6 hours to finish and he never used a stencil but painted everything by hand. It is estimated that over the course of his career Warrick painted or retouched over 20,000 signs...

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The Good, Bad and Ugly of Southwestern West Virginia

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The Good, Bad and Ugly of Southwestern West Virginia

Southwestern West Virginia doesn’t get a lot of visitors. This is a shame because there are some really cool places to see there. But it’s a shame for them as well because jobs are scarce in the southwest since coal has dried up and the economy could use some tourist money coming in. During my time there I saw some wonderful tourism initiatives, some things I would change and some things that just left me shaking my head. 

I started my tour in tiny Bramwell in Mercer County. Historically, Bramwell was the business center of the Pocahontas Coal Fields. During its heyday, Bramwell supported a population of over 4000 people. The Bank of Bramwell was the financial center for the whole region and 14 passenger trains a day pulled into the station. In the late 1800s, Bramwell was said to have the highest concentration of millionaires per capita in the country...

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Down But Not Out In McDowell County

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Down But Not Out In McDowell County

If you've ever heard a joke about West Virginia, West Virginians tell the same jokes about people from McDowell County. McDowell County is the poorest county in West Virginia, with a median household income below $22,500, and has the lowest life expectancy in the country for men and the second lowest for women. Opioid abuse is off the charts. This is that Appalachia. 

The night before I went into McDowell County I was sitting at a bar in Bluefield in neighboring Mercer County. The gentleman I was speaking with told me they had three rules when they went into McDowell County: have a full tank of gas, make sure your car door locks worked, and bring a gun. He made very clear that he wasn't kidding... 

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