West Virginia’s Best Small Towns
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photographed by nikki bowman
Many towns boast a family-friendly atmosphere—a strong school system, parks, and safe streets are often the benchmark. And Bridgeport, a small city near the booming I-79 High Technology Corridor, can honestly say family life, schools, and community spirit are some of its greatest attractions. “From a very young age, our students see the schools as a huge part of our identity,” says Matt Demotto, Bridgeport High School assistant principal. “Our schools are all located within a quarter mile of each other. One elementary school, the middle school, and the high school are beside each other. This area is also the location of the city park. It’s a high traffic area and the hub of activity in the community.”
With a growing population of more than 8,000 people, Bridgeport is changing fast, bringing in new businesses and attracting residents with its proximity to economic drivers like biotechnology, forensic science, biometrics, and aerospace manufacturing companies. Its convenient location—at the crossroads of historic U.S. Route 50 and Interstate 79—means Bridgeport is in a perfect position to continue its upward growth, and residents are passionate about the town’s prospects. “Our residents are the biggest asset we have,” Matt says. “We are competitive and fair. If you are willing to work hard, be a good neighbor, and raise responsible young people, then Bridgeport is your kind of town.”
People in Bridgeport live for school sports—be it high school football, softball, or a WVU Mountaineers game. Bridgeport High School (BHS) alumni pack the stands on game days even years after graduating, cheering for the next generation. Consistently scoring high on national standardized tests, BHS, like many Bridgeport schools, boasts great educators and passionate administrators in an ideal, small town setting, and several other local schools have won awards for excellence. Matt says an emphasis on keeping community members involved in preparing the next generation is key. “Our schools are strong because the overwhelming majority of parents support the schools at all levels.”
Bridgeport isn’t only known for its great schools; it’s also a retail and recreation destination. People from more than 14 counties converge on the Harrison County town for an all-encompassing shopping experience at Meadowbrook Mall (now undergoing a $5 million upgrade that will be complete October 2013) and the plethora of restaurant chains right off of the interstate. The Benedum Civic Center—childhood home of multimillionaire oil tycoon and philanthropist Michael Benedum—is a center of the community as well, housing organizations like Connect Bridgeport, a strong online community and visitor resource. And when the weather is agreeable, you’ll find Bridgeport residents flocking to the city’s pristine parks, walking trails, ball fields, as well as the new $8 million recreation complex featuring four baseball fields, a one-mile walking trail, and a large multipurpose field. Coupled with growth in the White Oaks business park and the United Hospital Center, the city is adding new opportunities for residents to succeed at every turn. “All these areas have thrived. Really, it has helped make Bridgeport a destination for business, recreation, and health care,” says Randy Spellman, director of community development for the city.
Small businesses, too, have been stretching their legs in Bridgeport, especially along its winding and newly revitalized Main Street. Riversong Spa offers all the services required to help this professional community look and feel its best, including makeup artistry, waxing, and facials. Blooms Florist, also in the business of aesthetics, opened its sophisticated and inviting retail space in 2007 and has become a phenomenon in West Virginia and the region, offering full event and wedding planning as well as florist services from a convenient Main Street location. Little shops like Mustard Seed Primitives and Country Peddler provide a diverse assortment of unique gifts, home décor, jewelry, and more.
Don’t let Bridgeport’s small size fool you, though—this city has an appetite for beautiful art and great food, and if the two can coexist in the same location, all the better. The Shoppes of Averil Place on South Virginia Avenue is a colorful locus of creative energy, complete with a wide front porch and cozy chairs perfect for contemplating a crisp fall day and sipping espresso from the Provence Market Café and Marketplace. Hungry visitors can grab a bite in Provence Market’s dining room, which offers a taste of France and an award-winning wine menu, browse Artworks’ gallery of art and unique gifts, or take up knitting at The Nest—all under one roof.
The city’s vibrant cultural life stems from a growing amount of diversity. Events like Jazz at Charles Pointe and the year-round Bridgeport Farmers Market (both held in the Bridgeport Conference Center) attract everyone from families to young professionals. The sheer popularity of other yearly community gatherings—the fall festival, Christmas parade, Easter egg hunt, and Bridgeport Scottish Festival, to name a few—give the impression that this small town has somehow managed to find a unique balance between economic growth and small town charm that bolsters local pride and gives Bridgeport its winning spirit. “The community supports the community,” Matt says. “We have great leadership within our businesses, and many of these leaders give back.”