Living in Bluefield
Explore one of West Virginia’s southernmost cities and witness its incredible transition from booming railroad town to leading arts center.
(page 2 of 4)
Betsey Sorrell, a native of Bluefield and a member of the town’s Beautification Commission, believes that her town has three important selling points: small businesses, arts, and outdoor recreation. “We don’t have a mall on every corner or tons of restaurants to choose from, but on any given day I can go to the park and walk on five miles of trails or hike up the mountain,” she says. “Our town is peaceful and beautiful with low crime, low cost of living, and great, affordable homes. It is a nurturing community, and I have never felt that I needed to live somewhere else.”
Driving through the breathtaking neighborhoods of Country Club Hill and Oakhurst, it is easy to imagine Bluefield in its heyday. Captains of industry, physicians, lawyers, and bankers built beautiful Colonial Revival and Neo Classical-style homes in the early 20th century, many of which were designed by architect Alex B. Mahood. More than 250 homes are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Their sweeping verdant lawns and stunning architecture dot the undulating hillsides.
Most of the downtown buildings, built from 1921 to 1925, are still intact and can be enjoyed on walking or driving tours. On Federal Street, the 12-story, limestone West Virginia Hotel, now the West Virginia Manor and Retirement Home, is still the tallest building in southern West Virginia. When the luxurious hotel opened in 1923, it boasted a Paris-trained chef coerced from The Greenbrier Resort. The Bailey Building on Bland Street, the location of the Visitor’s Center, once housed the offices of the infamous Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency.
Another must-visit is Old City Hall on Bland Street. Saved by a community coalition, it is now the Bluefield Area Arts Center and houses a lovely café—the Savory Haven Café, Gary Bowling’s House of Art, the Paine Gallery, Summit Theatre, and several businesses. Next door to the Arts Center on Ramsey Street, is the historic Ramsey School. Listed in Ripley’s Believe It or Not! for its seven entrances on seven different levels, it was purchased on eBay by Tony Szabo in 2009 and repurposed into a banquet hall, theater, two bars, and an on-site bakery.
Eat, Drink, and Sleep
Visitors who love to hunt for antiques will want to check out Landmark Antique Mall, which fronts both Federal and Bland Streets. Its three floors are packed with glassware, furniture, railroad items, and other collectibles. Other noteworthy antique stores are White Elephant Antiques, The Bronze Look, and Peddlers. Just outside of the downtown area on Bland Street are Hearthside Books, a darling independent bookstore, and two women’s clothing boutiques, Casablanca and Bunny’s Suburban Shop.
For lunch, visit the Savory Haven Café in the Bluefield Area Arts Center. You can’t go wrong with the Cheesy BLT Panini, the Pecan Crusted Chicken Salad, or the Blackened Burger. The Internet Café and East River Arts are also local favorites for soup and sandwiches. For dinner there are a couple of options. Key Ingredients, located on East Cumberland Road, dishes out delectable organic and locally grown food. Lunch and dinner is served Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and the menu offers a wide array of healthy options—from salads to entrées to artisan wraps. David’s at the Club, located at the Bluefield Country Club on Whitethorn Street, is the place to go Thursday through Saturday, 6 to 9:30 p.m., for an elegant dinner by candlelight.
While there are national chain hotels and motels nearby, the most beautiful place to stay is the Dian-Lee House. This Jefferson Street home, built in 1904, has been beautifully renovated. Its richly appointed rooms, gorgeous gardens, and gourmet breakfast will make your trip to Bluefield all the more special.
Play and Cool Off
At 2,612 feet above sea level, Bluefield is the state’s highest incorporated community and is known as “Nature’s Air-Conditioned City.” And the town takes this designation seriously. Since 1939, if the temperature reaches 90 degrees, the city serves free lemonade at Chicory Square in the center of downtown. There’s even an hourly “Lemonade Watch” on the Bluefield Chamber of Commerce’s website that tracks the temperature at the local airport. Since its inception, lemonade has only been served 213 times.
Another place to cool off is at The Overlook. Located at 3,500 feet above sea level at the top of the mountain off of Route 598, it gives a stunning panoramic view of Bluefield and the surrounding region.
The Bluefield City Park straddles both West Virginia and Virginia and is a popular family destination. Children and adults can be seen scurrying to Lotito Park to ride the Ridge Runner, a restored locomotive that takes guests for trips around the park. In the summer, baseball fans flock to Bowen Field, home to the Bluefield Blue Jays, the Toronto Blue Jays minor league team, or Hunnicutt Field in nearby Princeton to watch the Princeton Devil Rays, the minor league team for the Tampa Bay Rays. Mitchell Stadium, home field to the two area high schools, is also the location of the popular Second Chance Rocks the Two Virginias, a popular day-long country concert fundraiser created by Atlanta Braves pitcher Billy Wagner and Erik Robinson, co-founders of the Second Chance Learning Center. This year’s concert will be held on June 29 and more than 16,000 people are expected to attend.