Road trip the Corridor D towns to appreciate a chapter in West Virginia’s turnpike and rail past.
One thing the Appalachian Corridor system has given us is ready-made road trips. When a corridor follows an old transportation and trade route, it makes for an especially interesting tour.
That’s true of CorridorD between Clarksburg and Parkersburg, built on the path of an early turnpike and alongside a Baltimore & Ohio rail route.
The Northwestern Turnpike opened up trade in the mid-Ohio Valley in the 1830s. By connecting the Eastern crossroads of Winchester, Virginia, with Parkersburg, Virginia, on the Ohio River, it sped the movement of people from the seaboard west and agricultural products east. Then, in the 1850s, a rail line was built from Grafton to Parkersburg that later became part of the B&O’s mainline to Cincinnati and St. Louis. Along with coal, oil, and gas, these transport corridors through Parkersburg advanced the development of the rolling landscape of this part of the Appalachian Plateau.
Tolls and rails are no longer. Around 1970, Corridor D, an easy-travel divided highway, shortened the 75 miles between Clarksburg and Parkersburg to just an hour and a quarter. And after the railroad shut down in 1985, West Virginia State Parks developed the right-of-way as the parallel 72-mile North Bend Rail Trail.
The distance can be a quick drive but, to appreciate the meaning of this old corridor, spend a little time in the old station towns and county seats that sprung up along the way. A great weekend getaway starts Friday night in Clarksburg or Parkersburg and spends Saturday night in lodging midway.
Traveling east to west
It’s easy to spend time in Clarksburg. Family-owned Italian bakeries and restaurants are found all over town. A 2,000-seat outdoor amphitheater hosts live music and free movie nights throughout the warm seasons. Vintage Theatre Company produces improv, Shakespeare, and other performances, and downtown’s 1913 theater re-opens in 2018 as the fully refurbished Robinson Grand Performing Arts Center.
Heading west out of town on U.S. 50, or Corridor D, you soon pass the tiny village of Wolf Summit. This is the eastern trailhead of the North Bend Rail Trail. The rail-trail crosses 36 bridges and goes through 10 tunnels—Mark Twain is said to have called the branch of the B&O it’s built on “the longest subway in the world.” Fans of covered bridges will enjoy the Fletcher Covered Bridge, one of just 17 left standing in the state: Take the Marshville Road exit at about mile 70 and drive a mile and a half north. And for a thrill, at about mile 68, take the Flinderation Road exit. Cross Salem Fork and follow the road a short distance to the right to parking at the rail-trail. Walk east on the trail and you’ll see Flinderation Tunnel, also known as Brandy Gap Tunnel. Some say the voices of the dead buried in the cemetery above can be heard inside the tunnel, and others say they’ve seen the lights of a train that once overtook a railroad worker.
Back on the highway, take the exit at either mile 67 or 65 for Salem. The town of Salem developed around an early 20th-century oil boom. Among many historic downtown buildings are the 1901 Queen Anne–style Pearcy-Randolph House (157 West Main Street), once home to U.S. Senator Jennings Randolph, and the 1913 Romanesque Revival Salem Baptist Church (153 East Main Street). A later building, the 1941 U.S. Post Office (121 West Main Street), houses a 1942 New Deal mural celebrating the town’s industrial history. Depot Park hosts an Apple Butter Festival every October (304.782.1518).
Salem is also home to Salem University, established in 1888 and affiliated in the 1990s with Teikyo University in Japan. If you have time to devote in Salem, check for an event at Fort New Salem, a living history museum of more than 15 relocated frontier log structures (81 Settlers Lane, 304.695.2220, fortnewsalemfoundation.org).
Stop in any day of the week in Salem for one of Bella Pizza’s huge calzones or for a hot or cold sub, pasta specialty, or pizza (128 West Main Street, Salem, 304.782.2591, @bellapizza5 on Facebook). Or for a meal between Salem and West Union, try local favorite Fairview Diner off the Snowbird Road exit (49 Fairview Street, West Union, 304.873.1438, “The Fairview” on Facebook).
After lunch, head to the West Union exit, at about mile 53. Check out the imposing red brick 1899 Doddridge County Courthouse (118 East Court Street) and the Veterans’ Memorial and Honor Wall in front. Stretch your legs on the rail-trail right along Railroad Street in town. For primitives and West Virginia-themed decor, stop in and say hello to the sisters who run Our Mother’s House (250 West Main Street, 304.666.1600, @ourmothershousellc on Facebook). And if you’re ready to stop for the night, check out Main Street Estate (203 West Main Street, 304.709.6527, @mainstreetestate on Facebook), a bed and breakfast in a Victorian home built in the year West Virginia became a state.
Route 50 doesn’t follow the Northwestern Turnpike exactly. The village of Toll Gate is one example. Take the exit at about mile 45. Not far from the highway stands a historical marker commemorating one of the gates that operated at every 20 miles along the route. Continue on this stretch of Old Route 50 just a few miles farther west to get from Toll Gate to Pennsboro. A great stop here for history buffs is the Old Stone House museum run by the Ritchie County Historical Society (310 Myles Avenue, 866.363.8416, ritchiehistoricalsociety.com—call for hours). The house served as an inn on stagecoach routes to Parkersburg and to Marietta, Ohio, even before the turnpike was built. Be sure to drive by the depot, too (Collins Avenue and Broadway Street). After the railroad shut down, residents worked to save the depot from demolition; it now serves as a railroad museum and a trailhead for the North Bend Rail Trail. For a snack or a meal in Pennsboro, check out the extensive diner menu and huge portions at Crossroads Cafe (305 Masonic Avenue, 304.659.2777, “Crossroads Cafe” on Facebook).
From Ellenboro, cross U.S. 50 and head south to Harrisville, the seat of Ritchie County. For a little curio shopping, stop along the way at the Route 16 Flea Market (1289 Ellenboro Road, 304.869.4171, @rt16fleamarket on Facebook) or in town at Arlo’s Antique Flea Market and Flower Barn (401 South Spring Street, 304.643.4247, “Arlo’s Antique Flea Market” on Facebook). Take a leap back in time at the famed Berdine’s Five & Dime. Billed as the oldest five-and-dime in the country, it’s chock full of old-timey items like sassafras root and tin and wooden toys (106 North Court Street, 304.643.2217, “Berdine’s” on Facebook). Pottery fans will love Pine Hill Pottery, less than 10 miles south of Harrisville on Smithville Road (7257 Smithville Road, 304.643.2583, @pinehillpottery on Facebook—call first for availability). But possibly the biggest and most unique attraction in Harrisville is Cliff’s Museum of Car Memorabilia (305 East Main Street, 304.643.4227, “Cliff’s Museum” on Facebook), a 13,000-square-foot lifelong passion project “open by chance or by appointment” that must be seen to be believed.
Follow Main Street, County Route 5, west out of Harrisville to head toward North Bend State Park, a great place for hiking, biking, and horseback riding as well as fishing, swimming, and other water activities. It’s another good place for an overnight, too, in its campground, cabins, or lodge. Or for a more historic lodging option nearby with great food, reserve ahead of time at Log House Homestead B&B (647 Homestead Cove Lane, 304.628.3249, loghousehomestead.com).
Just a few miles away is the old railroad town of Cairo, named after Cairo, Egypt, by its settlers for the presence of water and fertile land. You’ll find the North Bend Rails-to-Trails Foundation Headquarters located in the old Bank of Cairo building. Check out R.C. Marshall Hardware, now operating eclectically as part antique store, part old-time barber shop, with Italian scooters on the side (273 Main Street, 304.628.3264, @rcmarshallhardware on Facebook). Grab a snack across the street at Pastry & Petals (298 Main Street, 304.628.3583, @pastryandpetals on Facebook), then follow 31 north to rejoin U.S. 50.
Take the Volcano Road exit at about mile 22 to see the U.S. Submarine World War II Memorial. A few miles farther off the highway is Mountwood Park, a Wood County park with 50 miles of trails, an ATV park, disc golf, archery, and many other activities (1014 Volcano Road, 304.679.3611, mountwoodpark.org). The visitors’ center tells about the Stiles Mansion and the oil boom history of the area, and a historical marker commemorates the Endless Cable System that pumped as many as 40 wells from a central power station in the short-lived boomtown of Volcano.
From here it’s a short distance to Parkersburg. To continue the road trip’s theme, visit the Oil and Gas Museum (119 3rd Street, 304.485.5446, oilandgasmuseum.com). And end your time appropriately at Fort Boreman Historical Park, constructed at the site of a Civil War fort that was built by the Union to protect the B&O and river port facilities.