This little town is brimming with fall fun.
It’s tempting to write off milton as a place between other places. It sits along the Mud River in Cabell County, just off Interstate 64 and smack dab in between Charleston and Huntington. Even back in the 1800s, when the C&O railroad opened a line from Huntington to Richmond, Virginia, Milton was the natural stopping point in between. It became a convenient spot to ship goods and materials on that railroad, and the town grew up around its bustling post office; eventually it was named after the town’s first postmaster, Milton Rece.
But this community is much more than just a pit stop. The plucky little town is full of people who are always willing to welcome visitors from around the world or one town over. Milton might be conveniently located, but it would be worth the trip even if it weren’t.
Town of Glass
You probably already know about Blenko Glass, the iconic West Virginia business and one of the last companies in the country to produce hand-blown glass. But did you know its headquarters are in Milton? That means that on any given day, Blenko workers are there pulling molten glass out of big furnaces, blowing it, and shaping it into brightly colored vessels. “It’s like a glass ballet,” says Dean Six, vice president for marketing and sales at Blenko. And because Blenko’s workshop has a public viewing area, you can watch it all happen yourself. “You can actually see a team of glass artists work on different products,” Dean says. “The guys carry the hot glass from the furnace to the worker who’s seated on his bench and back to the artisan. They all have these long metal rods, and the hot glass itself is something great to see. It’s all pretty wonderful.” Glassblowing is a quick affair—a simple piece can be built in just a few minutes—so viewers can often watch the team build one of Blenko’s iconic pieces from start to finish. And after you’ve watched Blenko artisans carry on traditional glassmaking techniques in the present day, be sure to check out the free glass museum. It traces the company’s history back 100 years, to its origins making leaded and stained glass.
For some reason—no one seems quite sure why—Milton has a special flair in the autumn. And it’s more than just the splendidly colored leaves that envelop the town. Each year, just when the air starts to take on that slight chill that has you doubling back for a sweater before you leave the house, the town becomes preoccupied with all things fall.
“It’s like the town turns into a big giant pumpkin,” says Barbara Brooks. “It’s a fall ritual.” Barbara is the volunteer secretary of Milton’s Pumpkin Festival, one of the state’s largest, most popular festivals, and a tradition in Milton since 1986. The festival was conceived as a way to help local pumpkin farmers sell their wares, but over the years has grown into so much more. It now brings more than 10,000 people to the town every day over the course of the four-day festival. There’s a large, juried craft show, a petting zoo, exhibits where people make apple butter and sorghum the old-fashioned way, a beauty pageant, a parade, a 5K run, a zipline, and a lot of food—oh, the food. “If you come you need to eat,” Barbara says. There’s a bakery on-site with pumpkin-flavored baked goods, and most food vendors feature pumpkin on the menu in some way. Don’t leave without trying the pumpkin-flavored soft serve ice cream.
The fall fun in Milton isn’t limited to just those four days. If you’re looking to pick your own pumpkin or navigate your way through a corn maze—and really, come October, who isn’t?—Cooper Family Farms is for you. The farm has been in the Cooper family since the 1840s, but for most of that time was used for more traditional agricultural pursuits, like growing crops and grazing cattle. Then, in 2001, Kim Cooper read a magazine story about a corn maze, and something clicked. “I thought, ‘We need this here.’” he says. “Everybody thought I was nuts, but I thought it could work.”
It did work, and in a big way. These days, Cooper Family Farms is an autumn destination for families across the region. They come to pick their own pumpkins from the farm’s patch, take a ride on a zipline, play games, and, of course, try their hand at the 8-acre corn maze. Each new year comes with a different maze design, though Kay isn’t telling how they’re made. “If I told you that I’d have to hunt you down and kill you,” he says. “It’s a trade secret.” During the last few weeks of October the mood of the maze changes at dusk—it’s taken over by ghouls, ghosts, and monsters. The haunted maze is perfect for older children, adults, and anyone who likes a good scare, while the daytime maze is great for kids and families. “The maze takes on a whole different atmosphere at night,” Jay says. “It gets really creepy in there.”
Kay thinks Cooper Family Farms is special for a lot of the same reasons Milton itself is: It’s unique and fun, but not complicated or fussy. “I think people are looking for a way to get back to their roots, to bring back memories from going to grandma and grandpa’s place,” he says. “This is a place where families can come to spend quality time together.”
written by Shay Maunz | photographed by Lavender Photography