Randall Reid-Smith, West Virginia’s Commissioner of Culture and History, gives a tour of Barboursville, his Cabell County hometown.
Nestled at the confluence of the Guyandotte and Mud rivers, the village of Barboursville is filled with great memories for me of a treasured childhood. Its streets were my playground. Friends were divided up by street blocks, only to be united in reading clubs at the library. There was wiffle ball in the summers, sandlot football in the fall, and basketball games during the winter months. We stayed out until the porch lights came on playing cops and robbers on bikes. Skateboarding was big in our neighborhood, too: three of the four streets that made up our block had a wonderful slope, but Kuhn Street was on a long hill and served many times as a very challenging course for the budding daredevils among us.
I have always felt happy here in Barboursville. In the village I am safe in my surroundings and still find support from so many mentors, teachers, and friends. You hear there is no place like home. Well, there is no place like Barboursville. You also hear that you can never go home again. I spent 14 years living in Europe and traveling around the world, but I never really left home because Barboursville is something I always take with me. And it is a place where I am always welcomed back.
Heritage and History
With its natural highways of rivers, Barboursville flourished in its early years as an industrial center and manufacturing town. And as highways and railroads connected our town to the wider world, our little village became the ideal home to settle and raise a family.
Where Main Street and Central Avenue meet has always been known as “Uptown.” The larger town 12 miles due west located on the bigger river that separates West Virginia from Ohio was known as “Downtown.” We had little reason to go there, however, because we had everything in the village one could ever need or hope to have.
Our beautiful historic buildings housed Wagner’s Grocery where, as children, we would go and buy Mary Janes, Clark Bars, or a cold RC Cola and a Moon Pie and put the purchases on our parents’ charge accounts. Today, the old storefront is Petiquette Canine Charm School and Salon.
Then there was Plyburn’s Pharmacy—where our town pharmacist Bill Plyburn was also a surrogate father to everyone who came into the pharmacy—and the Brady Hardware Store, where a hardworking boy could purchase a single nail for a construction project. I can close my eyes and remember the smell inside. The hardware store now serves creative folks of a different stripe. It’s the home of WV Quilt, owned by my high school friend Michelle Hill. It’s the ultimate quilt supply shop, where you can get any type of fabric you desire and take classes to learn this fine traditional craft.
Growing up, I particularly loved Barboursville Junior High School and its rich history. The building served as the Cabell County Courthouse from 1813 until 1888. When the county seat moved to the larger town to the west in 1888, the courthouse became part of Barboursville Conference Seminary, renamed in 1901 as Morris Harvey College. In 1935 the college moved to Charleston—where it later became the University of Charleston—and the building became our junior high school.
The junior high building is long since gone, along with my elementary and high schools. Our beloved Barboursville High School was long ago consolidated with Milton High School to form Cabell Midland High School, but Barboursville residents still live for fall and Friday night football games, where we have learned to cheer on the Scarlet Knights even as we still hold dear to our Mighty Pirates. After all, God only made football so we can have a halftime show and we all know in the eastern end of Cabell County that we have the winningest “Best Band in the Land.”
In some ways, our village is quite different today than it was when I was a boy. But in many other ways, Barboursville is still a wonderful place—a place you need to come and visit.
When you come to the village, you will find everyone who lives here enjoys spending time with one another. The 750-acre Barboursville Park serves as a popular recreation area. Lake William, named for our beloved pharmacist at Plyburn’s, is surrounded by a wonderful walking trail where you can catch up on the town happenings while keeping fit.
The park is a true community center with picnic shelters, tennis courts, an amphitheater, and soccer and baseball fields where our fierce athletes play and our fiercer parents let you know you have played a game in the village. There are special events happening almost every week, from children’s scavenger hunts and outdoor movie nights to a farmers’ market and outdoor yoga on Saturday mornings.
Sometimes, of course, the weather isn’t suitable for outdoor activities. That’s when Barboursville heads to the mall. The Huntington Mall—which, despite its name, is located within our town limits—offers all the shops a person could ask for. It’s a great place to walk and the movie theater is absolutely fabulous. There are also plenty of dining options in and around the mall. I love to grab a cheeseburger at Fat Patty’s, a regional chain of restaurants founded by some Barboursville natives. And the Tortilla Factory is a favorite stop when I have dinner with the Cabell Midland High School marching band boosters—they have great margaritas.
Downtown Barboursville offers plenty of delicious restaurant options, too. Christopher’s Eats features elegant food, beautifully presented. Their weekend brunch is amazing. I always order their omelet—and their $8 bottomless mimosas. But if you stop by for lunch or dinner, be sure to order one of Christopher’s gourmet flatbreads. They’re topped with house-made sauces and dressings before being baked in a coal-fired oven, which gets the dough perfectly crispy.
One of my new favorites is Oscar’s Breakfast, Burgers and Brews. Oscar is the name of the owner’s dog, and he even has a burger named after him. One taste of that is truly like biting into heaven. And for dessert, try the Ice Cream Taco—it’s a taco shell filled with ice cream, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce.
I was sad to see our beloved Black Hawk Grille, a longtime Central Avenue staple, close down recently. But there’s good news. Marshall University basketball coach Dan D’Antoni and Christopher’s Eats co-owner Jeremy Adams are preparing to reopen this storied establishment as an Italian restaurant. I cannot wait to try it.
Barboursville is home to many seasonal events throughout the year, but my favorite is the Barboursville Fall Fest, which offers a variety of fun for everyone in attendance. A temporary fairground is set up across the Guyandotte River on the old Sadler Field before the bridge into the town. The best event by far is the parade.
For me there was nothing better in the village than a parade through town. After all, as a young lad I practiced for hours strutting up and down Park Avenue, baton in hand, crafting just the perfect routine so one day I could lead the Barboursville High School “Pride of the Village” marching band.
Today, the parade is led by the Cabell Midland High School Marching Knights, the aforementioned “Best Band in the Land.” I train the majorettes at the high school and love walking the parade route with the band as hundreds of friends say hello.
Our village is beautiful not just because of the buildings and the stories they tell, but mostly for the people. We have forged lifetime friendships. We went to school together. We went to church together. We worked and we played side by side. We grew up with parents who were hoping for a better life and a brighter future for their children and for each other.
Now that I am older and have returned to my native Barboursville, there is nothing I cherish more than seeing friends from childhood. We share memories because we have never lost a moment of our village life.
WRITTEN BY RANDALL REID-SMITH
PHOTOGRAPHED BY STEVE BRIGHTWELL