West Virginia holds another special place in the country’s history. It’s the only state born of the Civil War. Visitors to the Mountain State can relive the days of conflict at one of the many Civil War re-enactments throughout the state. Start at West Virginia’s Independence Hall in Wheeling, where an interactive program allows visitors to learn about the dramatic events leading to the secession of western Virginia from its pro-Confederacy eastern brothers. Civil War re-enactments occur around the state and include costumed re-enactors who set up traditional campsites and relive the battles. Many include special evening events, like Civil War Balls, and every one offers visitors a look back in time in a way no history book can.
Along the eastern borders of the state, heritage has a decidedly national flavor. A young George Washington surveyed in the Eastern Panhandle area and "took to the waters" at Berkeley Springs. The firearms used by Lewis and Clark in their discovery expedition were forged at Harpers Ferry. And it was at Harpers Ferry where John Brown, the fiery abolitionist, seized the federal arsenal in 1859. Historic re-enactments, 26 historic sites and cemeteries in eight counties offer Civil War enthusiasts plenty of places to trace this war of the states. Visitors today can enjoy spas and art, eclectic dining options and history in the Eastern Panhandle.
African American History
Many African American laborers moved to the state's coal fields because, while mining was not easy, the pay was better than it was on southern U.S. farms, and the miners held the same social status as other immigrant and white laborers. In Talcott, visitors can see the infamous Big Bend Tunnel where John Henry, “the Steel Drivin' Man,” pitted his strength against a new steam-powered drill in the race to build railroads across the country. Towns like Institute, Malden, Parkersburg and Huntington offer tributes to some of this country's finest black educators such as Booker T. Washington, Carter G. Woodson and W. E. B. DuBois.
The Green River Area
The Greenbrier River area has a gracious reputation as a place of culture and rejuvenation. Visitors can drive the Springs Trail and see remnants of the once-fabulous springs where wealthy patrons traveled by carriage, train and auto to rejuvenate in the mineral waters. The Greenbrier still offers the ages-old spa treatments along with modern spa techniques to its guests. Along with its customary quality services, guests are reminded of another, less friendly, part of our history when they tour the bunker, built as a safe place for our country's federal legislators during the Cold War.
In the Northern Panhandle and along the Ohio River, historic sites with hands-on programs highlight the changing face of our country in the early 1800s.
Blennerhassett Island (Parkersburg)
Just outside of Parkersburg, Blennerhassett Island offers a faithful reproduction of the romantic frontier life that Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett came from Ireland to find. The tranquility of their country life was forever changed when Harman became entangled in a mysterious military enterprise with Aaron Burr. Today, visitors cross from Parkersburg to the island on a sternwheeler and tour the island on foot or by carriage to see what life on a gentleman's country estate would have been like.
Fort New Salem (Mountaineer Country)
Fort New Salem in Mountaineer Country is a collection of log buildings that represent a 19th-century frontier settlement. Workshops, fairs and festivals throughout the year allow visitors to experience the typical 1790s celebrations, holidays and routine.
Prickett's Fort State Park
Prickett's Fort State Park, just a little farther up the road, offers another interactive site for travelers to learn more about frontier history. Again, festivals, fairs and celebrations managed by knowledgeable staffers bring this historic site to life.
Frontiers can be forged at any time, and Arthurdale in Preston County is a case in point. Arthurdale was the first of about 100 homestead resettlement communities that Eleanor Roosevelt supported. Today, the thriving community with its homestead homes, community hall and business buildings is a wonderful place to learn about the Depression era and the hope many placed in President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal of the 1930s.
West Virginia is rich in industrial heritage, and its visitors can tour family-owned glass factories that continue the tradition of producing fine blown glass that is prized around the world. A wonderful glass museum in Wheeling and a special glass exhibit at the Huntington Museum of Art offer wonderful displays of state work. In southern West Virginia, visitors to the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine and Southern Youth Museum will want to take sweaters. The ride on a real underground mine drops 600 feet below the ground and the temperature won't get above the 50s.
West Virginia's agricultural heritage can be the base for a great family weekend. Consider a late spring trip to the West Virginia Strawberry Festival in Buckhannon. Later in the year, make time for the Pumpkin Festival in Milton. You'll have some hands-on fun decorating your own pumpkins. And, in between, festivals centered around maple syrup, buckwheat pancakes, black walnuts and ramps offer opportunities to experience many Appalachian foods.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the advent of the railroad through Appalachia unlocked West Virginia's buried natural treasures of coal, timber, natural gas and oil. Dozens of bustling towns popped up right next to the tracks as industrial prosperity flooded the hills. More than 100 years later, many of those boomtowns transformed to ghost towns and the chief mode of transportation became the automobile. Increasingly, tourists and adventure seekers have become the payload for scenic rides along formerly industrial tracks. Choose from an antique Shay steam locomotive trip on the steep switchback-laden tracks of the Cass Scenic Railroad or the open-car, diesel-electric runs of the Potomac Eagle through the famous Trough section of the Potomac River. The Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad offers three unique rail rides on three different lines, including a ride that crisscrosses one of the best trout streams in the country and another that features a steam-powered Climax locomotive.
Looking for family history can be a great way to spend time together. Several stops in the Mountain State fit the bill for this kind of family travel outing. Start in Charleston, at the Cultural Center on the state capitol complex. There the Archives has a wonderful collection of information and photographs from around the state, including an extensive Civil War genealogy section. Traveling north, stop at the West Virginia Genealogical and Historical Library and Museum, dedicated to history in central West Virginia. This center is located in the historic Horner School in Weston. In the Eastern Panhandle, the Belle Boyd House, Martinsburg, houses the Berkeley County Historical Society that serves Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties.