Living in Kingwood
The cornerstone of West Virginia overflows with character and charm.
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In the corner of the Mountain State lies what many call the foundation of West Virginia, from its role in seceding from Virginia many years ago to the example it provides others through warmth and preservation. In Preston County, 20 miles from Oakland, Maryland, rolling hills lead to history and hospitality, unique shops, and great eats—all in a town of 3,000 friendly faces.
Everything has a story in Kingwood. From the old Esso service station that is now home to countless artifacts (think your grandfather’s old work uniforms, oil cans, an antique cash register, and license plates from all over) to the historic Bishop House (established 1872) and McGrew House (established 1841), more than 100 historic buildings stand in the small town. Residents in Kingwood say the city has a feeling all its own, steeped in community and pride. Take an afternoon drive through the neighborhood, and you can expect to see rocking chairs and porch swings with neighbors sitting outside.
“Kingwood is like a little Mayberry,” says Darinda C. Westbrook, whose family has interests in virtually all aspects of life in the town. Westbrook owns and operates Westbrook Design Concepts downtown, while her husband owns the must-stop photo opportunity that is the Esso station-turned-museum. The couple also bought the old Kingwood High School, turning it into “Haunted High” for Halloween.
Westbrook says practically everyone in Kingwood is involved in the town, and most are connected through the ever-popular Buckwheat Festival, which dates back to 1938. This year’s festival takes place September 27 through 30 and will include arts and crafts, rides, music, and of course, buckwheat. “Everything centers around the Buckwheat Festival. Everyone in the community really rallies around that,” she says, conjuring up images of neighbors planting mums and sweeping off porches. Tens of thousands of visitors attend the festival each year.
But visitors are welcomed in Kingwood year-round, as attractions like the McGrew House, on the National Register of Historic Places, always offer tours. James C. McGrew, one of West Virginia’s founders, built the structure, which his family also called “The Pines.” The 14-room building is being restored and includes a growing exhibit of antique furniture, old photos and newspaper clippings, and recent photos from in and around scenic Preston County. The home also includes a veterinarian exhibit, displaying old tools and instruments. Outside, large trees brought back to McGrew from around the world provide shade over a picnic table and well-kept lawn. Next door, the attached Gift Shoppe offers post cards, photos, local crafts, and toys. The building was once a smokehouse, chicken house, and coalhouse before becoming an apartment and then the store. McGrew House itself can be rented for receptions and events.
Also in town, the restored Bishop House can be rented for special events, too. The banquet facility is a must-see for lovers of architecture and classic design, and it attracts attention from visitors who marvel over the historic home’s many rooms and past uses. Now used for everything from beauty pageants to parties, the federal-style home originally belonged to Charles M. Bishop before being purchased by the Board of Education in the late 1930s, becoming a bed and breakfast many decades later. The property still includes its original carriage house, built in 1889, and four outside suites are available to rent for overnight stays in addition to the rooms in the main house. “It’s one of the most important restored historical landmarks in Kingwood,” says Claudia Atkinson, who caters at Bishop House and helps with reservations.
Another important restoration can’t be missed as you drive down Main Street, past the Visitors’ Center—the historic Preston County Inn, built in 1857. Owner Jean-Manuel Guillot slaps the sturdy walls, made of horsehair and plaster so many years ago. “That’s what they used in the old days,” he says.
The large brick building also boasts a wrap-around porch with enough rocking chairs for the whole family, and a cocktail lounge with library inside, eight guest rooms, a banquet area, an outdoor patio, and dining rooms serving lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch. Guillot and his wife—a Preston County native—bought the inn and restaurant, Maxime’s at the Inn, two years ago after moving from Seattle. They returned to Kingwood to remodel the three-story inn—re-carpeting, re-painting, installing air conditioning, and upgrading rooms. With hardwood floors, plenty of antiques, and a touch of contemporary flair, the historic inn gets great reviews. “You’ve got people who are traveling through who don’t want to stay at a typical hotel, so they stay here,” Guillot says.
The Preston County Inn also hosts events throughout the year, including movies on the lawn during warmer months and a Halloween party in the fall.