I had a chance to look around the resort the next morning, after having consumed a day’s worth of tasty calories at breakfast. The Oglebay Mansion started out as a large farmhouse in 1846 and was purchased by our friend Earl Williams Oglebay, who remodeled it for use as his summer residence. Col. Oglebay was born in 1849, attended Bethany College in 1867-1869, and went on to form the Oglebay-Norton Company, making a fortune in iron ore, coal, shipping, and banking. His daughter left the mansion and park to the city of Wheeling; Oglebay Park is now the only self-supporting public park in the country. Even our beloved Flash! (Jody) would have trouble identifying all the flowers in the greenhouse gardens!
The resort includes a total of 5 golf courses, I believe, not counting the putt-putt course. It’s a beautiful place and well worth a return visit.
After mostly coasting down the hill from Oglebay to Wheeling, I finally filled up the poor 335i—discovering in the process that there had been less than half a gallon of gas remaining! I’d driven through
Wheeling dozens of times but without having explored the city at all. I rectified that oversight on this hot August day, starting with the magnificent “Edemar” mansion on the National Road. It was built in 1910-1911 by industrialist Edward W. Stifel and his wife Emily Pollock Stifel and named for their children Ed
ward, Jr., E
mily, and Mar
y. The family donated the property in 1976 for use as the Stifel Fine Arts Center.
The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad was completed to Wheeling in 1852, at which time Wheeling became a major center for transportation, with its Ohio River port, the National Road, the railroad, and the first bridge across the Ohio River. A customs house was built in 1859 to collect duties and perform other government functions. Early in the Civil War, the Customs House was the setting for the decision to withdraw the western portion of Virginia from the Confederacy, leading to the creation of the state of West Virginia. Despite the constitutional crisis set off by these proceedings, President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill for West Virginia to become the 35th state in December 1862, noting “It is said that the admission of West Virginia is secession and tolerated only because it is our secession. Well, if we call it by that name there is still difference enough between secession against the Constitution and secession in favor of the Constitution.”
“Independence Hall,” as it is now known, was one of the first buildings in the country to use an iron framework, instead of wood, to reduce fire hazards. It even had iron shutters and an iron roof—which rusted out after 10 years and had to be replaced. The building has undergone a number of modifications and renovations over the years, as can be seen by comparing the historical photos (courtesy of the National Registry of Historic Places) with my modern one above. Note in particular that the 1890 elevator “wart” and the ca. 1915 fourth floor have been removed, restoring the building to its original appearance. “Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose” indeed!
Speaking of the B&O Railroad, its 1908 Wheeling Passenger Station was right across the street from Independence Hall. It’s now the home of West Virginia Northern Community College.
Let’s see, if my friends Cathy and Kim have recovered from the Forks of Cheat Baptist Church story, then maybe they’ll enjoy this view of the once-mighty First Baptist Church of Wheeling. It was built in the Greek Revival style in 1837 (originally as an Episcopalian church) and served area Baptists for over 100 years. Efforts are underway to rescue “The Blue Church,” but it will be a race against further deterioration. (Interior photo courtesy of the Wheeling National Heritage Area
The first settlement at Wheeling was started by brothers Ebenezer, Silas, and Jonathan Zane in 1769, with their sister Betty and other family members joining them soon after. The threat of Indian attacks led to the construction of Fort Henry in 1774. During the American Revolution, the fort was attacked by Native Americans allied with the British. When the fort ran out of gunpowder, 23-year-old Betty Zane volunteered to run outside the fort to the Zanes’ cabin and bring back more. When she left, the Indians and British soldiers merely heckled her with catcalls. But when she came running back to the fort, they fired their muskets in earnest. At least one bullet passed through her clothing, but Betty was not wounded. With the additional gunpowder, the 100 men, women, and children at the fort held off the 300 Indians and British soldiers for another 2 days, at which time the attackers left. Betty Zane remains a local heroine, and her famous great-grandnephew, author Zane Gray, devoted one of his books to her exploits.
Today, there is nothing left of Fort Henry—even the state historical marker is gone. From the location of the fort on the banks of the Ohio River, I couldn’t help but be entranced by this view of Wheeling Island.
Remarkably, the very first bridge over the river still stands and is still in use. (Okay, trucks are prohibited, and there are traffic lights to limit the number of cars on the bridge at one time, with drivers advised to stay at least 50 feet behind the car in front!)
Naturally I drove across the Wheeling Suspension Bridge to the island, trying to ignore the fact that my 335i convertible weighs almost as much as a base model 2015 Ford F-150 CrewCab… I mean, how dangerous could it be? After all, there hadn’t been any cable breaks since 2013.
Once safely across the bridge, I opened my eyes and enjoyed the charming old houses. Even the one that had been converted to the Bow Wow Boutique.
Before leaving Wheeling, I had one more site to find. I’d happened across an old postcard showing a stone railroad bridge and tunnel, and I was anxious to get a current-day photo of the same scene—if it still existed. After a considerable amount of satellite snooping, I located what looked to be the old bridge, sandwiched in-between the intersection of modern Interstate 70 and Highway 250. More work identified the site as the Hempfield Viaduct and Tunnel No. 1 and showed a possible way to get there.
First, of course, I had to drive back over the Wheeling Suspension Bridge. This time I even kept my eyes open! Then I had to navigate some of the more rundown sections of Wheeling and find an obscure park entrance underneath Route 250. There was no one in the park, although the grass had been mowed, and I left the 335i sitting nervously by itself while I hiked around until finding a trail down to Middle Wheeling Creek. I was getting close! That’s when I almost stepped onto a 4-foot-long snake… I looked for a long branch to shoo him away but had to settle for one that was only 8 inches. Fortunately, he slithered into the bushes after I whacked his tail with the twig. (Where was this nice West Virginia lady when I needed her??)
Finally, I reached the creek and found the following view:
Since the tunnel entrance was obscured by foliage, I retraced my steps back up the path (making sure that Snake had not brought in reinforcements) and found my way up onto what is now a bike and hiking path over the viaduct. The tunnel was still there, although minus any tracks. It is said to be haunted (of course), since it runs directly under an old cemetery. The first credible ghost sighting was reported by the Wheeling Intelligencer
in July 1869. I only saw one person as I walked through the tunnel. I’ll admit that I hadn’t noticed him until he was almost right in front of me, and when I commented on how hot it was outside the tunnel, he didn’t reply. A little later, I looked behind me toward the exit of the tunnel, but either I couldn’t see him in the bright sunlight or he just wasn’t visible anymore. (I report, you decide. I will note for the record that for once this is a true story.)
I left Wheeling, following the Ohio River southward to Benwood Junction, WV, hoping to find the Benwood railroad bridge—where the climactic scene of the movie Unstoppable
was filmed. With little trouble, I found a good vantage point and obtained this photo of the exact location where Denzel Washington and Chris Pine managed to keep the runaway train full of hazardous chemicals from crashing down onto the helpless town below:
As I was walking back to the BMW, an older local fellow asked whether I was looking for “the bridge from the movie.” When I said that I’d found it, he replied, “Most people passin’ through here are lookin’ for the Ohio
side, where they did the filmin’”…
He kindly gave me directions across the river and down to Bellaire, OH, where there actually is a town full of people right under the bridge. I found the old B&O Union Station without difficulty, noting the tall stone viaduct next to it.
In an effort to get a better photo of the bridge, I hiked partway up a hill for the following result. The Unstoppable
tracks are on the left, and the much older stone viaduct is on the right. Both sets of tracks used to merge to a single line across the Ohio River. Using a somewhat similar vantage point, Tom Habak captured the second picture below while the movie was being filmed in Bellaire (see RailPictures.net
I still wanted a better look at the bridge. One way or another, I ended up on top of the old stone viaduct, walking toward the bridge in the distance. The viaduct was completed in 1871. At 20 feet high and nearly 8,600 feet in total length, the Great Stone Viaduct was a remarkable accomplishment. Walking along the viaduct produced a very odd sensation: if I looked directly ahead of my feet, it felt like the path and I were stationary
, while the ground 20 feet below was moving! It created such a dizzying effect that I had to consciously look well ahead along the way. I’ve never been afraid of heights, thankfully, and I occasionally looked back down at my feet just to enjoy the odd sensation again.
Eventually I reached the merging point for the two approaches and took this photo back toward the Unstoppable
curve. These tracks are still in active use, and I was hoping to get an action shot of a train crossing the bridge—but none appeared.
Climbing around on the viaduct was a good adventure, but I still had many miles to go. Back in the car, I pressed the “Maximum” button on the A/C and headed to Moundsville, WV. I found the Grave Creek Indian Mound easily, in part because this burial site is massive—approximately 62 feet high and 900 feet in circumference. It was built by Adena Native Americans in stages during 250-150 BC and was originally surrounded by a 40-foot-wide moat. The Adena and their ancestors had lived in this area for as long as 10,000 years. The burial mound was excavated on several occasions, starting in 1838 when two log chambers were discovered, containing skeletons wearing ornamental jewelry. (Some reports claim that the female skeleton was 7 feet 4 inches tall and the male over 8 feet, leading to all sorts of Biblical Nephilim speculation
.) As for the more modern stone ruins near the mound, I have no idea what they used to be.
The former West Virginia State Penitentiary resides next door, perhaps keeping a watch out for wayward Nephilim. The prison was built in 1876 using a design similar to the Joliet Correctional Center outside of Chicago (think Jake and Elwood Blues), and it was widely considered to be model of safety and efficiency. Overcrowding became a serious problem, however, with 3 prisoners sharing each 5-by-7-foot cell, and after a colorful history of executions, murders, riots, and escapes, the penitentiary closed in 1995. It is now open for public tours. (Think twice before sitting down on “Old Sparky.”)
Did I mention that it was a beautiful day but with high humidity and a temperature above 90 degrees? That made Johnny Shar’s Big Dipper Ice Cream Parlor
a welcome site, and ice cream has seldom tasted so good. Plus it was nice to cool off in the air conditioning, enjoy the eclectic furnishings, and chat with the nice ladies running the store.
Highway 250 runs across Ohio and West Virginia and seems to curve over and around every elevation change in both states. At one time, it was the major northwest-southeast highway in the area, and much of it remains very rural. So imagine, then, if you turn off of rural Highway 250 onto narrow, poorly paved McCreary’s Ridge Road. You would probably expect to find various abandoned houses, farms, and churches, such as this one:
You would probably not
expect to find a veritable palace on top of the mountain—but there it was.
The unincorporated community of New Vrindaban, WV was founded in 1968 by followers of the Hare Krishna religious movement. The Palace of Gold was initially intended to be the home for A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1986-1977), but the Swami passed away before its completion. The palace now serves as a shrine in his honor, welcoming 50,000 visitors annually. It was quite a place, even in its somewhat deteriorated condition. The Palace of Gold is currently undergoing renovation.
I left New Vrindaban, crashing and banging my way back down the potholed road to Highway 250, and continued southward in search of another hill and the rather more modest burial shrine on top of it. John W. Spencer was born in 1842, served in the Union Army guarding Wheeling during the Civil War, and died in 1914. Effie Spencer, his wife, is buried next to him. Their shared monument stands 10 feet high, comprising two tree trunks with intertwined branches and an ivy vine that encircles both. Separate log carvings marked “Father” and “Mother” mark their graves, immediately in front of the monument. It is a touching tribute to this couple, and I’ve never seen anything like it.
Incidentally, as you can see from the late-afternoon shadows in the photo above, the graves are facing to the east. In fact, the great majority of U.S. graves prior to 1900 face this direction. The most common explanation is that the dead are sleeping, awaiting resurrection when Christ returns to Earth, which is expected to occur in the east. When that happens, the dead will arise from their slumbering positions and be facing their Savior. Starting around 1900, religious practices in the U.S. changed to the belief in immediate resurrection following death. The “sleeping position” no longer mattered, and graves were located much more randomly—just in case you were wondering!
I believe this is the old Rock Lick Presbyterian Church, from the mid-to-late 1800s. And yes, all the graves in its cemetery point east.
Next on my tour were three classic old covered bridges. This is where the 1915 Wyit Sprowls Covered Bridge should have been in West Finley, PA. No one bothered to tell me that it had been moved 4 miles away to East Finley in 2001… (Strike one!)
Eight-tenths of a mile farther on, this is where the Crawford Covered Bridge should have been… (Strike two!)
As I was despairing of ever finding any of these landmarks, I finally found the Miller Covered Bridge exactly where Wikipedia said it would be—except it proved in actuality to be the missing Crawford
Bridge. Later sleuthing, back home, revealed the Miller Bridge’s true location to be almost 2½ miles farther east. I knew that Wikipedia’s geographic coordinates are sometimes a bit approximate, but this set a new record. (Strike three?)
My reward for all this unsuccessful milling about was this photo of a late afternoon harvest, which is one of my favorites from the trip. I could hear the farmers running their harvester in the distance, trying to get a few more bales before the rain started. Just as I took this photo, however, I heard a really loud bang and the immediate cessation of the harvester’s engine. As they towed their broken equipment up their farm lane—which, uh, I happened to be blocking as I turned around—I decided it was not a good time to ask them about where the other covered bridges had gone.
I reached Waynesburg, PA after an hour of driving back roads. I tried to find the Brownlee Covered Bridge along the way, but it’s gone, too—moved to Claysville in 2008. In the process of looking for it, however, I unknowingly came within 800 feet of the missing Sprowls Bridge! Thankfully, in Waynesburg I found Charles and Sadie Heasley’s mansion right where it was supposed to be, complete with a pretty sky in the background. It was built in 1903-1905 in the Châeauesque style and features 20 rooms inside, with 4 chimneys, 4 spires, 6 dormers, and a pinnacle on the roof. The house remains virtually original, except that the gaslights have been converted to electricity. What a place!
It was now approaching 8:00 PM, and I needed some dinner and a place to stay. The local Holiday Inn Express had one room left, and they felt empowered to demand nearly $200 for it! After delivering a brief lecture on the importance of not gouging loyal customers, I drove to the local Super 8, which had no rooms left. I called the Econolodge and was pleased—sort of—to learn that one of their rooms had just opened up, hmmmm, and that they would hold it for me. They were located right in Waynesburg, although my enterprising BMW navigation system indicated it was about 7 miles away. I should have been perplexed, but, tired and hungry, I instead set off following the nav directions.
It turns out that there is another Miller Lane, 7 miles south of Waynesburg that is in the honest-to-goodness middle o’ nowhere in Pennsylvania. I kept following the turns instructed, with each new road being narrower and bumpier than the last. I finally turned onto Miller Lane, only to discover (i) that it was a rocky dirt road, and (ii) that my headlights showed a collapsed wooden bridge dead ahead. My steel-trap mind began to suspect a problem of some sort. I backed out of the dark dirt road, managed to find Interstate 79, made it back to the Waynesburg exit, and was immediately greeted by the Econolodge sign (within 100 feet of where I had started). All’s well that ends well.
The next day’s touring got off to a good start when I found the rustic 1890 King Covered Bridge without mishap. Apparently someone forgot to move it…
This little stone dam on Dunkard’s Creek wasn’t a planned stop, but it was sufficiently scenic. It’s near the almost-nonexistent town of Brave, PA, yards shy of the Mason-Dixon Line and the West Virginia border. The small lake above the dam had served as a cooling system for the People’s Natural Gas Company that operated a gas compressor here from 1906 to 1959, pumping natural gas to industries and homes in Pittsburgh. The process warmed the creek waters significantly, much to the delight of area kids who could swim here for 6 to 8 months of the year.
Southwest Pennsylvania and the upper panhandle of West Virginia are once again major producers of natural gas as a result of the current hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom. Throughout my trip, I couldn’t help noticing the many pipelines, chemical tanker trucks, and construction workers in the area. In fact, the crowded motels in Waynesburg were a result of the many fracking crews living there for months at a time. Economic boom or environmental disaster—or both?
While passing through Brave, an older Mercedes Benz sedan caught my eye. I believe this is a late-1950s 190 “Ponton” sedan. (Although the 190 and 220 sedans are not in great demand, a 220 coupe or cabriolet in good condition can fetch as much as $90,000 these days, with 300S cabriolets going for several times that amount.)
Investigating further, I realized that I had discovered the legendary Mercedes’ Burial Ground, long sought by explorers and car fanatics from around the world. A rough count using Google Maps’ satellite view shows almost 100 old Benz’s at the graveyard. Gosh I love America!
Just over the line in West Virginia, I stopped to explore a triangular, Norfolk Southern railroad junction (one-third of which is visible on the right). The eastern and southern branches carried coal from mines in West Virginia (one of which is still active) northward to the major Brownsville, PA rail yard. The switches appeared to be manually operated—but with no one around to do so!
Blacksville, WV seems well along the path toward becoming a ghost town. Although once home to a post office, several stores, shoe and boot makers, a wagon factory, a marble business, a hotel, an undertaker, and (later) one of the aforementioned coal mines, today many of its houses are abandoned, and there is an unmistakable feeling of poverty about the place. The town’s main industry seems to be a massive junkyard covering much of the adjoining mountain.
The old Blacksville Methodist Church is alive and well, however, and continues to hold regular services and special events. On this same site, 240 years ago, John Baldwin built a wooden blockhouse and stockade fort for defense against Shawnee and Delaware Indian attacks. Fort Baldwin was subject to a number of attacks during 1777-1791, the last of which is described in a hair-raising account at A History of Blacksville, West Virginia
Another, much smaller salvage yard is situated just east of Blacksville. I’ve always been fond of a good wrecking yard, but this one really stands out for what I believe is an F-84F Thunderstreak jet fighter sitting out front. Now that’s style! These aircraft were developed toward the end of World War II and first saw service in Korea.
With my tour drawing to a close, I continued eastward toward Morgantown on Route 7, the Mason-Dixon Highway. During the 4 years that Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were surveying their way westward, they encountered many Native Americans and established friendly relations with them. When they reached Brown’s Hill in October 1767, however, their Iroquois Indian guides warned of hostile Shawnee and Delaware warriors in the area and would proceed no further. This circumstance ended Mason and Dixon’s work; they placed a wooden post here and headed for home. (The remainder of the Mason-Dixon Line was not surveyed until 14 years later.) Today, a stone marker from 1883 records the westernmost terminus of Mason and Dixon’s extraordinary effort. (Photo courtesy of Allen Browne’s excellent report, Three Flags Over Brown’s Hill
I was hoping to locate the 1883 marker, but at the Mason-Dixon Historical Park I learned that the trail through the park is extremely steep and requires more time than I had available. After identifying the marker’s coordinate location on Google Maps, I decided to try an alternative approach that might allow me to drive
much of the way there. I put on my Brave Little Toaster Reconnoitering Hat, locked the 335i in first gear, and set off on the narrowest of dirt roads bordering Dunkard Creek. I made it through a number of mudholes for about 7 tenths of a mile before encountering a ford across Ripley’s Run. At this point, the “road” became a major bog, perhaps traversable by an X5 with off-road tires, but not a nice, low 3-series convertible with summer performance tires. Although this location was within a quarter mile of the marker stone, a direct route there would require climbing a high stone cliff. With great reluctance, I admitted defeat, selected reverse, and began backing the longsuffering 335i out of the wilderness. Eventually I found a slightly wider section of the road, executed a 17-point turn, and drove the rest of the way back to civilization facing forward. (No BMWs were harmed in the making of this adventure.)
Once back, I discovered this very unusual wooden bridge over Dunkard Creek. It’s sort of like a covered bridge without the covering. Surprisingly, it was built in 2004 as a test of alternative materials in cooperation with the University of West Virginia. Along with its wooden arches, it has a 35-foot-wide decking made of fiber-reinforced polymer, and its length of 149 feet makes it the longest 3-hinge, timber arch bridge in the world. Who knew?
My final destination before hotrodding on home was to find an unassuming little street in Cassville with an unusual name. Remember when Inspector Clouseau
ran into an organ grinder and his monkey in one of the Pink Panther
movies? Clouseau, of course, pronounced the name of the primate “minkey,” and, ever since, my friends and I have used the term to denote someone acting idiotically. Naturally I had to see what a street named “Minkey Row” had to offer.
As it turned out, it offered important evidence that West Virginia is making an economic comeback: after all, instead of the usual dilapidated Fords and Chevys in the front yard, now you’re apt to find a BMW!
I will leave you with this photo of the confluence of Scott’s Run and Pointer’s Run in Cassville. I wonder what ill-advised bicycle stunt led to this result??
All in all, it was a great 2½ days of touring, with exciting roads, an outstanding means of conveyance for enjoying them, and layers of interesting history across every square mile. As I write this in late September, the weather is still great (even for you Canadian types, Dave), so let’s all get out there and put our Bimmers (and/or Beemers) to work!
PS: Unless otherwise noted, historical photos are from the Library of Congress.