By Alex, PAWV VISTA
Fasnacht is the pre-Lenten festival celebrated in the Swiss community of Helvetia, West Virginia located in Randolph County. This festival celebrates the burning of “Old Man Winter”. It occurs on the Saturday before Ash Wednesday; this year, it will take place on February 14, 2015. The festival is similar to Mardi Gras and has its roots in the Swiss Winter Festival.
Saturday afternoon features food, beverages, and open mic music in the Star Band (Red) Hall, a food at the Hutte restaurant, and milling around the local shops. Masks from previous Fasnachts are featured at the Fasnacht Mask Museum. At 8:00 p.m., a parade featuring large, often frightening, and quite artistic masks travels from the Red Hall to the Community Hall where the costumes are judged and the square dance begins. At midnight the effigy of Old Man Winter is cut down from the ceiling of the Community Hall, carried on the shoulders of the celebrants to the bonfire outside, and burned to signal the end of Winter. (Although, the warming effect is not always immediate!)
Make your way to Helvetia to experience this historic, cultural, and fun West Virginia festival!
See http://helvetiawv.com/Events/Fasnacht/Fasnacht.htm for more information.
By Alex, PAWV VISTA
Winter is in full force in West Virginia and that means it’s winter sports time. West Virginia has several ski resorts including Snowshoe, Timberline, Canaan Valley, Oglebay, and Winterplace for downhill and Whitegrass and Elk River for cross-country skiing.
Here’s a look into the history of Canaan Valley and West Virginia skiing: During the winter of 1949-50 skiers from The Ski Club of Washington, D.C. (SCWDC) drove through West Virginia looking for snow and the next year started working on putting in a rope tow in Canaan Valley. This ski area, called Cabin Mountain, Driftland, or Little Tuckerman’s fits into the very early stages of United States skiing history. Two other private ski areas, both called Weiss Knob, were also started in Canaan Valley in the 1950’s. These early areas spawned a total of 13 West Virginia areas: first, Bald Knob Beckley in 1958, then, Oglebay Park in Wheeling and Chestnut Ridge near Morgantown in the 1960’s, next, Canaan Valley Resort in Canaan Valley, Alpine Lake in Terra Alta, Snowshoe near Marlinton in the 70’s, and finally, Silver Creek near Marlinton, Winterplace near Beckley, Timberline Resort in Canaan Valley, and Tory Mountain near Harman in the 80’s. The early Canaan Valley ski areas also stimulated the West Virginia Department of Commerce to commission a feasibility study of skiing in West Virginia in 1965. Checci and Company pinpointed four locations as the best in West Virginia for commercial ski areas. These areas were: Cabin Mountain in Canaan Valley, Job Knob near Harman, Elk Mountain in Randolph County, and Spruce Mountain in Pocahontas County.
Canaan Valley Resorts Ski Area greatly increased its ski able acreage, snow-making and, of course, the number of skiers. Many ski business firsts occurred at Canaan Valley, over the years. In 1972, John a West Virginia native came to Canaan by way of Stowe, Vermont. He, with the help of Ted Fries, also a West Virginia native, started one of the country’s first blind ski programs at Canaan Valley Resort. Hundreds of blind persons have learned to ski with this program, which is still operating at Timberline. He also started an amputee ski program, a deaf ski program and held one of the country’s first 5 Winter Special Olympics in 1979. His ski school was the first in the country to allow instructors on Nordic equipment to teach alpine lessons. The ski patrol was also one of the first to allow patrollers on telemark equipment. Canaan Valley also pioneered ski classes for college credit with four West Virginia colleges offering ski physical-education credit. Several world-class skiers have skied at Canaan, including World Cup downhiller Holly Flanders. Skiers from the area have gone on to become race directors at Aspen Highlands and Copper Mountain, CO, and to hold supervisory positions in many other large ski areas. Canaan Valley has produced excellent powder skiers. In the 1970’s, skiers started climbing the mountains around Canaan and skiing powder through open woods and down right-of-ways, including Bald Knob. The last thirty years have produced an average snowfall of 167 inches at the 3400’ elevation of the north face.
Canaan Valley has had a long and rich ski history and at this time offers the best skiing in the East south of New England. The skiing at Canaan Valley and Timberline Resorts combined with the abundant snowfall and beauty of the area make Canaan Valley an excellent ski vacation experience. This area has also consistently attracted people who love the sport and believe in the quality of the Valley’s skiing.
Skiing has improved the area’s overall prosperity and quality of life. Many people have been able to remain here and find employment that otherwise might have had to move away. The large numbers of skier visits have spawned other businesses and have increased West Virginia’s tourist industry.
Come and visit for yourself. Go ski!
From “Skiing from Top to Bottom: The History of Skiing in Canaan Valley” by John Lutz
For a more complete version of the history, go to:
for more information on skiing in West Virginia.
By Alex, PAWV VISTA
Hawks Nest State Park is located on 370 acres in Fayette County near Ansted, West Virginia. Hawks Nest State Park has welcomed visitors since the mid-1930s. The park first opened in 1935 as a roadside park when the state purchased 51 acres. The planning was done by the National Park Service.
The original building, now a gift shop and museum, was built as a CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) project in which Eleanor Roosevelt was a driving force to build State Parks in WV and other areas. CCC Camp Lee (1935-1942) men built the concession building, public toilet building, and other facilities at Hawks Nest. CCC Camp Beaver (1937-38) men built the picnic shelter and museum building. These structures are unique and a great place to rest and picnic. Hawks Nest Lake was built in 1967.
The hydro-electric project tunnel that passes underneath nearby Gauley Mountain was the scene of the tragic Depression-era Hawks Nest Tunnel Disaster. It was a large-scale incident of occupational silicosis as the result of the construction of the Hawks Nest Tunnel near Gauley Bridge, as part of a hydroelectric project. This project is considered to be one of the worst industrial disasters in American history.
Hawks Nest State Park is nested in whitewater country. The New River was designated an American Heritage River on July 30, 1998. There are currently fourteen American Heritage Rivers in the country. With great views, some good trails, and plenty of wildlife, Hawks Nest is a good destination to visit in West Virginia in all seasons.
By Alex, PAWV VISTA
While events and adventure sports take a brief hiatus around November in the Mountain State, the beautiful hills and winding roads remain for West Virginians to enjoy. This November, take a trip down Route 219. However, don’t just drive down this route, learn about the deep, rich history in this part of the state at “Traveling 219: The Seneca Trail,” found at http://www.traveling219.com/. The project “Traveling 219” is a history and writing project following the tradition of the Federal Writers’ Project from the 1930s. Those working on the project collect stories and help put more local voices from those communities on the radio, newspapers, and the web.
This website is full of oral histories, photos, and written stories about the history along this route. It covers everything from carriage houses to black bear hunting. Read about these great buildings and locations and then proceed to visit them in person along Route 219. Take a short afternoon to see a few of the sights or a few days’ vacation exploring the whole stretch.
Those located more north in the state for whom 219 is a bit too far for a short excursion, can peruse the original 1930s documents written on onion skin paper in the West Virginia and Regional History Collection in the WVU Library. The archives of the West Virginia Federal Writers’ Project are stored here and can be view upon request. The West Virginia and Regional Historic Collection is open to the public and contains floors of archives, history books, and microfilm about the history of the state.
By Alex, PAWV VISTA
West Virginia has a long history of local festivals celebrating everything from buckwheat to strawberries. The largest of these festivals is the Mountain State Forest Festival held in Elkins, WV. The Forest Festival is also one of the oldest festivals in the state of West Virginia. It is considered a major homecoming for those who have lived in the Elkins area. It’s also a time when first-time visitors and tourists come to participate in the festival events and activities.
Around this time of the year the fall foliage begins to change and so called “leaf peepers” also join the festival crowds making the small town of 10,000 into a bustling 100,000 for the week. The Mountain State Forest Festival originated in 1930 and has continued to be a vital part of Elkins history. The festival features Queen Silvia (selected from West Virginia) along with her maids of honor (selected from Randolph County) and forty princesses from across the state.
By Alex, PAWV VISTA
Smoke Hole Caverns is located in Grant County on Route 55, between Seneca Rocks and Petersburg, WV. Formed over 200 million years ago from an underground stream, this extensive cavern is named “Smoke Hole” by early settlers after the smoke that often wafted out of the cave when the Seneca Indians it for smoking meats.
Because of the vastness of the cave and separated rooms, it was often used as shelter. During the Civil War both Union and Confederate soldiers used it as a resting place. Later, use of the caverns included the making of West Virginia corn whiskey. It is speculated that as many as 20 moonshine stills operated at one time. An original still remains on display and can be seen as part of the tour.
The caverns opened to commercial visitors in May 1942 and have been open for tours ever since. Smoke Hole Caverns is also home to the world’s largest ribbon stalactite, measuring 16 feet long, 13 feet wide, and weighs approximately 2.5 tons. Other features include ‘Crystal Cave Coral Pool’, the ‘Queen’s Canopy,’ and the ‘Room of a Million Stalactites.’ Smoke Hole Caverns has some of the highest ceiling clearances in the world, making the tour and easy walk through the underground.
The Smoke Hole Caverns tour is a guided tour lasting approximately an hour. A guided tour is the only way of viewing the caverns. Visitors are told to bring a jacket as the cave stays at 56 degrees year round. Prices for the tour are the following: $15.00 Adults, $13.00 Senior Citizens/ Military Personnel, $10.00 Children (Ages 5 thru 12 years of age) and no charge for children under the age of 4.
A large and elaborate gift shop stands beside the caverns. Tickets for the tour can be purchased here. The gift shop features many West Virginia souvenirs and a café. In November 2009, the gift shop and restaurant suffered a devastating fire but have since rebuilt and are now a thriving WV tourist stop, known as the largest gift shop in West Virginia.
By Alex, PAWV VISTA
West Virginia is known for having the best 4-H camping program in the country. This, in part, is due to that fact that 4-H camp began among these hills. The first recognized county 4-H camp took place at Elkwater in southern Randolph County in July 29-31, 1915. Verus Shipman, the Randolph County 4-H agent and his wife organized the camp. The idea of the camp was to learn to live with other children of their own age and understand problems that are not theirs. About 20 boys and girls camped for three days, sleeping in Jackson Crouch’s barn and cooking outside over an open fire. Each camper brought a tin plate and cup, silverware, an empty mattress tick and blankets, toiletries, potatoes, vegetables, bacon, and a live chicken for the pot. From that moment on, camping became a vital part of 4-H in West Virginia.
Beautiful view at Kumbrabow State Forest
Although Randolph County 4-H camp is now held in a different location, it is definitely worth a visit to this original camp site. A historic marker tells the story of this camp and open field where the camp was held greets you. Mountain and forest surrounds the area. Across from the Camp Good Luck site you can enjoy a trip through Kumbrabow State Forest. Here you can hike, picnic, or fish the day away. Kumbrabow also have several cabins for rent as well as a camping area. Take the day to see some history in a beautiful natural setting.
By Danielle, Executive Director
PAWV recently had a delightful day spent touring sites along Rt. 19 and the Midland Trail in Fayetteville (Fayette County). The Midland Trail is a National Scenic Byway of 180-miles cutting through the midsection of West Virginia. There is so much to see in Fayetteville. Between the historical and natural sites, there is no way we could fit everything into one day. So for our trip, we visited with a few local folks working on preservation projects, and our tour guide, Adam Hodges of the New River Gorge Redevelopment Authority, picked some of the must-see historical, re-development spots for us to visit. The focus of these tours is to meet with local residents and discuss potential or current historic preservation projects.
On our first stop we met with a local deconstruction contractor. We discussed the possibilities of architectural salvage at demolition sites. The contractor explained that some of his work projects include historic building demolitions. Rather than let the historic building materials go to the landfill, the contractor often works to find homes for the really great stuff, like hardwood floors, glass, and window frames. With the growing demand of historic buildings materials all over the country, we created a Facebook group, SAVE (Salvage Architectural Vestiges Exchange) with the goal of opening a dialogue about exchanging, buying, selling, and donating historic building materials. This initiative is in its infancy, but we welcome all to join the group and post about building materials they have saved from the landfill. Also post if you’re willing to donate, sell, or looking for something for your own building project.
Hawk’s Nest Golf Course was a short stop on our trip, but it proved to be fruitful for informational purposes. We could only see the golf course from the side of the road because it is closed. As far as we know, there are no plans for re-using the golf course site as it’s difficult to develop the area because Hawk’s Nest Tunnel is under the golf course. The tunnel diverts water from the New River for hydroelectric power. It was built to generate power for Union Carbide’s Alloy plant. It is not only important for generating power, but it is also the location of a major disaster where workers developed silicosis on a large scale. Workers built the tunnel through silica, which is highly toxic when breathed. Hundreds of workers died as a result of working without masks – it is unknown how many workers actually died. While looking out over the golf course, we talked about what could be done with the site. Some saw it as a great spot for an archaeological field school. Others thought an ATV track would be appropriate. Maybe even another golf course could re-open. What do you think?
Moving along the Midland Trail, we came across a tie-dyed quonset known only as the Mystery Hole – very mysterious indeed! It is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and we unfortunately couldn’t tour it. I plan to return, and think it would make for a fun Excuse for an Excursion. We all thought it would be a unique addition to the National Register of Historic Places too. Have you ever been there? Is it as mysterious as they say?
It was not the last stop on our journey, but the Prince Depot was one of the more notable spots. The Amtrak station still functions as a passenger rail stop a few days a week. From Prince, you can go to New York or Chicago three days a week. A one-way ticket to Chicago is $113, and the trip takes about 17 hours. The station’s streamline architecture dates back to the Art Deco era. I really loved seeing it as I have been hearing a lot about it! It is unique to West Virginia, and one of our Preserve WV AmeriCorps members is working on a National Register Nomination for the site. The hopes are to apply for grants specifically for listed properties with the goal of restoring the historic station.
We had a delightful time touring Fayetteville, and I can’t wait to return! I have a running list of all the things I want to do there, including a Jet Boat ride on the New River. This tour was part of a new historic preservation initiative and partnership between PAWV and the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority. From April – August 2014, Preservation Alliance of West Virginia is participating in the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority’s Bridges to the Past Historic Preservation Initiative. As part of the initiative, PAWV gives monthly presentations and its traveling exhibit, Preserving West Virginia: Saving Communities, will be displayed in five different locations in the New River Gorge Region. Currently it’s on view at the Fayette County Court House. The exhibit is unveiled in each location during a special presentation, and PAWV staff take a tour of the locale’s historic assets the following day. Each tour is arranged by New River Gorge Regional Development Authority staff. The initiative is made possible through grant funding from the National Coal Heritage Area.
Cool Springs – it sounds great already, doesn’t it? Cool Springs Park (and restaurant and gas station and hardware store and souvenir shop) is the best place to pull off the road on your way to many of the state’s beautiful state parks or just a fun partial-day trip. Established in 1929, it is located near Rowlesburg, WV off of US 50 (George Washington Highway) in Preston County.
As a native north-central West Virginian, I visited Cool Springs on many a family trip. This is the perfect stop for all ages. Inside, you can get their famous footlong hot dog or buckwheat cakes along with a long list of diner foods. Sit at the lunch counter or in a bright red booth. Prices here are absurdly low; you can get a full meal and pay the tip with a ten dollar bill. You can also purchase some local produce, or there are always beautiful potted plants.
The other parts of the one-room building consist of a souvenir shop with everything from mini license plates to pickled beets. The other side of the lunch counter includes camping and hunting gear — they even have generators.
What makes Cool Springs a park is the “explore on your own” yard and small farm outside. Here there are chickens and ducks pecking about, goats and llamas grazing, and usually some kittens hopping around the lazy dogs. An unkempt tractor museum sprinkles the yard along with wagon wheels, and other old farm parts. There’s a bridge across a stream often populated with fish and picnic tables scatter the main yard. You never know what you’ll come across on these grounds from wild mint to turkeys to a rusty model-T.
Last fall, I got a bag of Grimes Golden Apples, one of two apples native to West Virginia. WV honey is also popular here as well as jellies, jams, and other canned goods. Cool Springs is quite charming. You won’t only hear about it from West Virginians, but also mentioned by travelers, including a great story about how Cool Springs inspired Nate Damm to keep walking in his book Life on Foot: A Walk Across America. Currently, Cool Springs is stocked with some great garden plants. Stop on by!
News and Notes
Subscribe to our mailing list to receive e-news updates on historic preservation news and events in West Virginia.