Top 5 Reflections
As I reflect on this past year, the new places I traveled to in West Virginia stand out in my memory like mile markers along the interstate—or in my case curve-hugging country roads. Each month was punctuated by new discoveries, new friends, and a new appreciation for what it means to be a West Virginian. Here are five of my favorite discoveries in 2013.
Over the years, I had met a few people who hailed from Hundred, but I admit I really didn’t know where the town was located. I didn’t know if it was in the Eastern Panhandle or in the southern part of the state. And to be honest, I really thought Hundred was just an unincorporated sign with a smattering of houses. This past year, I learned I was wrong—and come to find out this little town of 200 is only about 40 miles west of Morgantown. It has a handful of antique shops and a charming little diner called Sweet Melissa’s Restaurant.
2. New Martinsville
I think out of all the new places I traveled this past year, New Martinsville surprised me the most. I was astounded to find such a beautiful and bustling community on the Ohio River. It was much larger than I had anticipated—with great local restaurants, like Quinet’s Court, Barista’s Café and Pub, and Presto Lunch, and a vibrant arts community. Architecturally significant homes on flat, tree-lined streets made me think Norman Rockwell himself could have painted it.
3. Big Ugly
I hate to disappoint you, but Big Ugly is neither Big nor Ugly. It is, however, a little difficult to find. But I had the good sense to pull into a car dealership on Route 119 and sheepishly apologize for not being interested in a car, just directions to Big Ugly. Thirty minutes later, after the car salesman, local author Mike Collins, finished telling me that he had won the Bram Stoker Award under the nom-de-plume Michael Knost, I was on my way along Big Ugly Creek Road. There’s not much to say other than for a nondescript unincorporated community, it has a very descriptive name. (And for those of you who always ask me where we get our story ideas, they often come from visits to car dealerships or gas stations in off-the-beaten path places.)
During a trip to McDowell County, where I was bound and determined to find the unincorporated community of Cucumber, I unexpectedly drove through the state’s “Southernmost City,” War—it’s located 13 miles from the Virginia border. I admit I was slightly disappointed that peace banners weren’t flying from the power poles, but I’m planning to return to their Fall Festival, where at noon on Saturday the town reenacts a version of an old shootout. I may try to convince the locals to abandon the shootout idea and instead embrace the tagline “War: the most peaceful town in the world.”
I love Pendleton County, and I’ve spent a good bit of time in the Seneca Rocks area, but I had never been to Franklin—and it’s the county seat. It’s a darling tiny town with a couple of small local restaurants anchored by a locally owned pharmacy, a hardware store that has the fortune to be named Ernest Bowman & Bro’s Do it Best, and the charming offices of The Pendleton Times. Right outside of town is the beautiful McCoy Mill, Priest Mill, and the historic Pitsenbarger Farm. On the way back to Morgantown, I pulled over at the Germany Valley Overlook on U.S. Route 33—and the views of the valley rocked my world. Now, Pendleton County means much more to me than just Seneca Rocks.