April 2006 Issue
West Virginia Wonders
Fans of West Virginia appreciate the state's spectacular vistas and much-heralded place in our country's history. On your next visit, explore a few of the Mountain State's eclectic tourist attractions.
You won't spot Elvis holding court at the Graceland Inn. Instead, you'll find an opulent mansion with wraparound porches perfect for whiling away the day and watching the sun set, and elegant suites that are truly fit for a king.
Restored as an inn by Davis & Elkins College, this Victorian beauty was built in 1893 by West Virginia Sen. Henry Gassaway Davis. (The house is named in honor of one of his daughters.) Constructed of native sandstone and featuring sweeping hallways and staircases made of West Virginia oak, bird's-eye maple and walnut, the stately retreat is the epitome of elegance. All traces of the fraternity house it once was have vanished, replaced by a cherry-paneled library, stained-glass windows and antiques-filled suites with canopy beds, Oriental rugs, mountain views and marble-lined bathrooms with clawfoot tubs. The inn's dining room is known for its regional, American and continental cuisine. During the summer, guests can drink in the Appalachian landscape while dining on the veranda. Graceland is just minutes away from the antiques and specialty shops the town of Elkins is known for, and provides a soothing haven for outdoor enthusiasts who enjoy hiking in the Monongahela National Forest or partaking of such campus amenities as tennis and swimming. (The Graceland Inn, 100 Campus Dr., Elkins, 304/637-1600, www.gracelandinn.com)
Check into the General Lewis Inn, and you'll take your place in history: Statesmen Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson registered at the very walnut and pine desk you'll be using - which dates back to 1760 - when they stayed at the Sweet Chalybeate Springs Hotel nearby. A hotel since the 1920s, the inn dates back to 1834 and, like the town where it's located, it's named for Revolutionary War-era patriot Gen. Andrew Lewis, who distinguished himself in war by organizing the Virginia militia in 1774 for a significant skirmish against Indian tribes and leading his forces to victory in the Battle of Point Pleasant, thought to be the first battle of the American Revolution.
The Civil War left its mark on May 23, 1862, when the Confederate forces of Col. Henry Heth clashed with Union troops under the command of George Crook. Although the Union side won, Lewisburg remained a Confederate outpost for most of the war.
History buffs in particular will appreciate the fact that most of the beds in this 25-room country inn are more than a century old. Slices of early American history are everywhere - from the stagecoach once occupied by Presidents John Adams and James Monroe to the walls of Memory Hall, filled with tools, guns, musical instruments and relics made from wagon wheels, to the decorative crocheted coverlets.
Downtown Lewisburg is ripe for exploring, filled with art galleries and antiques stores and boasting its very own Carnegie Hall, which stages exhibits, concerts and film series. (Call 304/645-7917 or visit www.carnegiehallwv.com for more information.) Those wishing to commune with the great outdoors can do so along the Greenbrier River Trail, which affords opportunities to hike, bike, fish and canoe. (General Lewis Inn, 301 East Washington St., Lewisburg, 877/817-7730, www.generallewisinn.com)
Pass the schnitzel. That's just one of the tastes of Old Bavaria you'll find in Shepherdstown. Built in 1930 as a private residence, The Bavarian Inn complex serves as a bastion of fairy-tale charm. Inside, 73 staterooms feature sitting rooms, fireplaces and canopied four-poster beds. Four chalets on the property sport an Alpine motif, complete with frescoes of woodland scenes and bathrooms enhanced by turrets. Sip a traditional German cordial before the fireplace in the intimate Rathskeller or tuck in to a plate of sauerbraten or spaetzle in the Hunt Room, which, true to its moniker, is appointed with a three-foot chandelier made of deer horn.
There are plenty of places nearby just right for roaming. Spend the day becoming acquainted with the area's rich Civil War history, including the town of Harpers Ferry, located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. It was here on October 16, 1859, that abolitionist John Brown led a raid on the federal arsenal. He was captured by federal forces led by Robert E. Lee and hanged for his crime. Rent a bike and take a picturesque ride on the paths overlooking the Potomac River or go fly-fishing, white-water rafting or canoeing. (The Bavarian Inn, 164 Shepherd Grade Road, Shepherdstown, 304/876-2551, www.bavarianinnwv.com)
When it comes to overnight accommodations, would you prefer reposing in a manor house, lodge or villa? The choice is yours at The Resort at Glade Springs in Daniels. From an intimate weekend to an all-out family reunion, the resort has what you're looking for in rooms for two to 40, as well as activities and ambiance - from a spa featuring aromatherapy salt scrubs, massages and detoxifying wraps, to wagon rides, an 18-hole championship golf course, fly-fishing classes and an equestrian center offering horseback riding lessons. (The Resort at Glade Springs, 255 Resort Drive, Daniels, 800/634-5233, www.gladespringsresort.com)
Feeling a little adrift? Check into the Stonewall Resort in Roanoke. In addition to 10 fully furnished Adirondack-style lodges with lake views, the resort offers guests the option of staying in a houseboat on Stonewall Jackson Lake (named after the Confederate commander who was shot during the Civil War battle of Chancellorsville and died of his wounds). Each of the four houseboats available for rent features queen-sized beds, a living room and bathroom with shower, and comes with an hour-long training session on how to navigate up and down the lake. (Stonewall Jackson Resort, 940 Resort Dr., Roanoke, 304/269-7400, www.stonewall resort.com)
A variety of popular tours and stops make West Virginia a vacation-worthy destination.
"The chill of cold, steel cells. The isolation of solitary confinement. The impending consequences of death row ..." This fitting web site introduction describes the former West Virginia Penitentiary, now open for tours. Constructed in 1866 and closed in 1995, the prison's interior gives visitors an authentic taste of what it was like to be an inmate there. Tourists can be fingerprinted and photographed before being led down a corridor to the dungeonlike cells awaiting them. Last stop is in front of the electric chair that killed nine men before being retired in 1965. Before departing, visit the gift shop that's filled with a souvenir-worthy assortment of tin cups, handcuffs and prison garb. In addition to tours offered Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April through November, monthly Ghost Hunts are also conducted from 8 p.m. to midnight, featuring pizza and a movie, along with the chance to chat with a paranormal investigator. (West Virginia Penitentiary, 818 Jefferson Ave., Moundsville, 304/845-6200, www.wvpentours.com)
The old adage, "when in Rome, do as the Romans do," also holds true at Berkeley Springs State Park. For three centuries, the curative powers of the park's spring waters have been heralded by visitors, including George Washington, who made regular pilgrimages here. Tourists can replicate a similar experience by taking a dip in one of the park's eight Roman Baths, built in 1815 on the site of the original bathhouse. A ceramic-tile, walk-in private tub (which can be shared with a pal of the same sex) is filled with 750 gallons of mineral water, heated to a maximum temperature of 102 degrees Fahrenheit. The state park spa also offers Swedish massages, a steam room and infrared heat lamp treatments. Reservations are recommended (Berkeley Springs State Park, No. 2 South Washington St., Berkeley Springs, 304/258-2711, www.berkeleyspringssp.com.)
You won't find Elvis at Graceland, but he performs Saturday nights at 7 p.m. at Wheeling's historic Victoria Vaudeville Theater, built in 1904. Earl Brown sings a medley of The King's hits while clothed in dazzling duds patterned after those Elvis wore in his "Aloha from Hawaii" special. On April 15, the theater will host a gospel show spotlighting local talent. (Victoria Vaudeville Theater, 1228 Market St., Wheeling, 800/505-SING, www.victoria-theater.com)
A stop at the Ferguson Tea Room is a sure cure for what ails you - whether it's hunger pangs or a prescription for stress relief. Lo- cated in Hurricane (named after a comment George Washington and his surveyors made in 1774 when they noted that all the trees at the mouth of the Kanawha River were bending in the same direction, resembling "the place of the hurricane"), the quaint eatery serves high tea with scones (those made with lavender sugar are favorites), finger sandwiches of chicken salad, cucumber dill and tomato basil, and a decadent assortment of desserts, including the ever-popular coconut date ball.
Adjoining the restaurant, Root Cellar Herbs is stocked with such take-home favorites as soothing lavender, energizing red raspberry tea leaves and sassafras to calm an unsettled stomach. (Ferguson Tea Room and Root Cellar Herbs, 2739 Main Street, Hurricane, 304/562-4139, www.fergusontearoom.com)
The wonders of the ancient world are yours for the touching in Organ Cave. (The name comes from a stately calcite formation resembling a pipe organ.) Named a Natural National Landmark, the cave is the second largest commercial one in the eastern United States, with more than 45 miles of mapped passageways and 200 known ones yet to be explored. The sea coral and fossils visible here comprise several chapters in the history of this underground chamber, discovered by colonial pioneers in 1704. During the Civil War, the cave served as headquarters for 1,100 troops under the command of Gen. Robert E. Lee. Year-round guided tours of the Chapel Room, a 365-by-97-foot space where religious services were held, give visitors a glimpse of the way the men lived. The cave also houses the largest collection of wooden saltpeter hoppers - the same ones the soldiers used to make gunpowder by mining sodium and calcium nitrate from the dirt surrounding them. Be sure to check out the gift shop, home to artifacts such as the forearm of a three-toed sloth and the skull of a saber-tooth cat. (Organ Cave, U.S. Rte. 63 between U.S. Rte. 219 and U.S. Rte. 60, Organ Cave, 304/645-7600, www.organcave.com)
The magic of glassmaking draws visitors to Fenton Art Glass Company, the largest manufacturer of handmade colored art glass in the country. During daily tours, visitors can watch glass blowers at work, crafting the multicolored Carnival glass that's been prized by collectors since it was introduced in 1907, or the Burmese line of pastel pinks, yellows and greens. The company's 101-year-old history is on display at the adjacent Fenton Museum, which spotlights such gems as pieces of hobnail and hand-painted vases and pitchers. (Fenton Art Glass Company, 700 Elizabeth St., Williamstown, 304/375-6122, www.fentonartglass.com)
Mining coal is hard and sometimes dangerous work. Get a glimpse of what it was like a century ago at the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine, a working mine from 1905 to 1953. In a journey that's not for the faint of heart, visitors travel 1,500 feet beneath the hillside of New River Park in authentic cars staffed by veteran miners. Once underground, they learn about the history of mining from the pick-and-shovel days to modern mechanization. Self-guided tours feature stops at authentic early-20th-century coal-camp buildings, including a church and a miner's house.
Also located here, The Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia has re-created a village on the property that spotlights life in a mountain settlement between 1840 and 1910. Trained interpreters lead tours of a weaver's shed containing a spinning wheel and loom, as well as a one-room schoolhouse, barn, blacksmith shop and general store. The museum's planetarium may be small in stature - the dome is only 15 feet high - but it helps explorers of all ages reach for the stars with a series of programs about seasonal constellations, special celestial celebrations and mythological lore. (Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine and Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia, 513 Ewart Ave., Beckley, 304/256-1747, www.beckleymine.com)
For more information about tourist attractions, call 800/CALL-WVA or visit www.callwva.com.