A May 2004 trip
to Beckley by kjlouden
Quote: After exploring the exhibition coal mine, we were glad for sunny mountaintops!
Skipping from one to another by car, we studied the New River Gorge, sampled WV crafts, and enjoyed a luxurious resort. Amazing superhighways (the envy of the nation) bring traffic, and area attractions are traffic-stoppers!
The interstate was the highest point in the terrain, and I was in the passing lane looking
down on a soaring eagle. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of birds were celebrating
the dawn with a huge racket way below, and as far as I could see from my heavenly
highway, emerald glistened through the mist with diamond dew.
The scene was overwhelming; I had to get out of the passing lane--and off the road.
Tears welling up stupefied me! I hadn’t cried since Salieri in Amadeus asked
God, "If you couldn’t give me the talent, why give me the desire?" Okay, I cry at
odd times--call them "glimpses into pure inspiration" if you want to be kind. I’m not
normal, but neither is the majesty of southern West Virginia! One can’t compare to it the
panhandles, Ohio Valley, or northern slice of the state. The exact location of "almost
Heaven" is below a slanted line through Charleston and Elkins. This first trip back to the
southern portion to explore, we aimed for the intersection of two interstates, Beckley, a
base from which to discover state parks, the National River, history, and resorts.
Don’t throw away those invitations for free nights at Glade Springs Village.
Management is very accomodating, and the resort isn’t far from Beckley and all area
Do observe speed limits, as troopers here are notorious. They will ticket you for a few
miles over the limit--or even stop you for "failure to dim your lights on a bridge." (I
know.) These great highways are "cash cows" for many small towns feeling growing
A vehicle is necessary not only to get there, but also to get to rentals. Our
presidential suite in building Washington is 2.1 miles from check-in. We
followed the map the desk had given us and circled Mallard Lake and the hill to the
Convention Center. From our suite, we could walk or bicycle to clubhouse, heated pool,
equestrian center, spa, and Roberts, open from breakfast for fine dining and lounge. I-64
is 5 miles north--2.1 of that is to the gate! Sister resort Winterplace is 8 miles south.
Once situated, we relaxed for 4 days.
Our suite was quiet! Our second-floor porch was deep, so rain couldn’t reach us sitting
there. Mornings, I was well-rested in my Glade Springs’ robe enjoying coffee on the
porch with nothing on my mind beyond what the cats in the yard here were after. The
bedroom, too, was relaxing with triple windows faced with plantings of purple-leaved
plum and other trees that shielded the view. I could lie on the king bed with curtains
open and watch squirrels scampering across the branches in front of me. Walking
outside, I talked to a deer so tame she didn’t run away at first. What a change from our
last trip--Paris! This time, we went home rested.
I got used to golf pictures in the living room. Our furniture looked like Pennsylvania
House, Sheraton styling in two-tone wood. The sofa in the living room opened into a bed
for extra guests. Our suite had everything we needed: two televisions, three phones,
iron, coffeepot, coffee and tea, extra towels, clock radio, personal items, and ice bucket.
A little icehouse in the parking lot had soda and ice machines. We had no kitchen.
Second morning, we took the required (for non-paying guests) "tour" of the property.
Our salesperson Sarah made a list of property prices (lakefront, golf front, woods, etc.)
and showed us the house she is building and others of differing values from $200, 000 to
a million. Wooded lots start at $25,000 with utilities; lakefront is $160,000. One can build his own
home or hire any builder. The investment looked and sounded reasonable
all around. As I understand, a $6,500 lifetime membership for golf club and spa is
included in property prices. This is as far north as Cooper will ever go to develop land,
so that prices stay low for themselves and customers. The presentation and tour lasted
less than 2 hours and was enjoyable, laid-back, and informative. For this, we received 3
free nights worth $600. I was glad I hadn’t thrown away the invitation this year!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on May 23, 2004
Glade Springs Village
216 Lake Drive
Beckley, West Virginia
1 (800) 228-7328
Now for fun! Most folks know that early miners took canaries down with them to warn
of methane gas buildup. Charlie, our guide, knew more: men bought canaries from the
Company Store, of course, at a cost of 75-cents in an era when that figure amounted to a
half-day's salary. Wanting to save, some miners used chickens. Only problem was that
chickens can tolerate more methane than humans, so in Charlies’s words, "When
humans keeled over, the chicken knew it was time to get out!" Other
stories presented workers as "inventive losers," who missed out on millions by neglecting to get
Once he had our attention, Charlie demonstrated by installing different types of roof
bolts. The best one utilized a glue made by Dupont, an item everyone wanted to buy at
the Company Store! (Anything that held up four feet of stone could be useful at home.)
We saw demonstrations with chest augers, scooters, dust-catchers (for lack of a better
word), loaders, imaginary explosives, and antique helmet lights--now valuable. Nothing
required us to get out of our carts on rails. Only Charlie had to walk on the sometimes
wet floor while we watched from our Epcot-style vantage-point, padded seats. As we
learned the entire historic process of extracting a seam of coal, we asked questions. Yes,
children worked in early mines, mostly to lead mules, blind from being left underground
24 hours a day. Most of what we heard about sociological issues confirmed that the
industry’s abuses paralleled those of English coalfields described by D. H. Lawrence.
This tour brought us to the 1930’s. The mine, listed on the National Register of Historic
Places, actually operated from 1890-1916 with no name but "the Phillips family mine."
Some of the equipment demonstrated would not have been invented yet at the time of
this mine’s operation, but was added to extend the historic process to the beginning of the
modern era. Typical of low-seam family operations at the turn of the century, this
attraction, owned by the city of Beckley since 1953, is an important heritage site. Its
location under Beckley’s New River Park is marked with signs from I-77 Exit 44, Harper
Road. Tours are conducted April through October.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on May 22, 2004
Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine
New River Park
Beckley, West Virginia 25801
Attraction | "I Brake for Tamarack"
Across from a travel plaza on I-77 near its intersection with I-64 at Beckley, Tamarack is
a "must stop." Signs announce its approach 30-40 miles out. The round red roof of
"mountain peaks" is distinctive. We have friends who exhibit there, so we stayed long
enough to find their goods, a goal which necessitated circumnavigating the ring-shaped
building twice. Resting by the exit after our first round, we heard reinforcement for our
own incredulity: "Can you believe those prices?"
I’m not one to begrudge an artisan’s "just do" and expect to pay triple for "handmade."
Still, I was shocked. Turning to small clothing items was no help either, as a shawl for
$130 was woven with acrylic fiber. Other tags revealed "polyester." I had
thought an unwritten law forbid artificial fabrics and "handmade" from marrying in any
I had to find two $10 gifts and succeeded in the foods and dried flowers sections. There
are also candles, leather, jewelry, stained glass, rustic furniture, quilts (some $1,400),
metal sculptures, paintings on slate, and more. I admired pottery, Fenton art glass, and
etched crystal, huge displays each. Aside from Fenton Factory Outlet near Parkersburg,
this may be the place to buy that name, as the selection is large. Most other items are
made by independent craftspeople.
My favorite department is Food Court--no ordinary one, but a cafeteria sectioned into
deli, grill, and bakery, all run by Greenbrier, recognized for decades as best gourmet
restaurant in the state. Fried green tomato sandwiches, WV rainbow trout, Greenbrier
peaches, and spicy chili are specialties. My catfish sandwich was good, but . . . breaded.
Again, the marriage astounded me! (Grill-gourmet-breaded?) The bakery presented
none of this incongruity. (I must eventually sample every item.) This time, I passed
bread pudding with cinnamon sauce, several nut and "chess" pies, and cheese cakes for
key lime pie. Jimmy Buffet, eat your heart out! I didn’t find it this good in the
keys and will remember it as best ever, deliciously tart and authentic.
Circling back to the exit, I smiled at "Grandma" in the swing while bug sculptures
nodded their heads and tails. We could see a potter and other artisans hard at work in
their glass-fronted studios. Tamarack is referred to as "the best of West Virginia." I have
to agree that it is the best rest stop along the most amazing superhighway
any state offers. Famous for scenic overlooks and outdoor sports, southern West Virginia
has another traffic-stopper: Tamarack.
One Tamarack Park
Beckley, West Virginia 25801
Attraction | "Stopping by Bridge on a Sunny Morning"
Construction was finished in 1977 after 4 years, and then it was the longest single arch
span in the world. Now it’s only the longest in the Western Hemisphere. Why so
much enthusiasm still? It might as well be the Pittsburgh Steelers! Built by American
Bridge Division, U. S. Steel, a Pittsburgh company, the giant is a monument to what
"local" boys can do. Likewise, The Visitors’ Center is a monument to what U. S. Senator
Robert C. Byrd can do--and says so! A plaque expresses our "indebtedness" to Byrd for
his support of the state of West Virginia and New River Gorge National River, a support
which "contributed greatly to the completion of this and other park facilities." As I said
before, Byrd made sure our highways were the best to bring traffic through the state, and
his second focus has been to get folks to stop--and spend money.
I’m happy to report to the Senator that the Visitors’ Center was well-used this Friday
morning. Teens in the lobby were intently watching the video on construction of the
bridge. Several people were studying in the museum (left off lobby) with displays on the
state’s logging, railroad, coal, and other industries. Many commented, "Nice
Everyone shot a photo of the gorge from the lobby or porch. The wildflower display was
consulted by those energetic enough to attempt trails, and even the elderly were huffing
back up 161 boardwalk steps from the lower outlook--they told me I "just have to go
down" for a closer look at the bridge. I had an excuse: "Been there"--years before. I stop
here because I love sunny mountaintops, and the gorge after rain makes me love them
more. The higher boardwalk provides photo ops (shown here with zoom) without
Sometimes the bridge sports a rainbow; other times, a fierce storm may cause you to
pause a long while. (Then you can read how engineers dealt with mine tunnels on the
hillside, where the bridge is supported.) Third Saturdays of October, a quarter-million
people attend Bridge Day, when hundreds of parachutists from around the world
Other nearby Visitors’ Centers have information on the gorge and National River. One is
at Grandview Park. All close at dark (5:00 off-season). Picnic facilities are still open.
New River Gorge Bridge
Beckley, West Virginia
As with the Visitors’ Center at New River Bridge, don’t underestimate the power of this
actual "attraction": Grandview Visitors’ Center. Like the other three in the national
area, it is a valuable source of information on the history and geography defined by New
River Gorge. (Did you know that this "new" river is older than the Appalachian
Mountains themselves? Geologists love this gorge!) The area extends from north of
Fayetteville to Hinton in the south, and anyone with time here should plan to visit all four
Information Centers: Canyon Rim (at the bridge on Route 19), Thurmond Depot (and the
designated historic district where the railroad boomtown once existed), Grandview, and
Sandstone Centers. For an 8-stop itinerary, see New River Auto Tour. All are
supposed to close at dark--perhaps after Memorial Day, but we found them all closed at
5:00 in mid-May.
I believe there is a second lookout we didn’t visit, but the main one is an eye-popper.
Seven mountains create a stupendous panoramic view. A few feet from the main lookout
are two trailheads: Tunnels (.4 mi.) and Castle Rock (.5 mi.). To hike (or "climb" is
more accurate) Castle Rock, one must be a minimum age, and I forget what it is. Unsure
footing is the issue, so anyone with children should probably check with information.
The two short trails we walked were enchanting--I’m sure this is the domain of elfin
fairies! Interesting rock formations decorate the forest floor and make it unsuitable for
bicyclers--we left ours on the car at Grandview. Driving back to I-64 via Route 9, we
saw signs to "Share the Road" with bicyclers. This 6-mile stretch follows a ridge that
would be good for bikes, but the trails on top of the mountain may be too strewn with
rocks. The longest trail is only about 2 miles. Longer trails for bicyclers are nearby, so
check at the Visitors’ Center or here.
Beckley, West Virginia
Every miner was a "victim" of the company, and that is addressed underground and in
Company Store museums. Particular injustices to black miners are evidenced by
the two-room schoolhouse moved here from Helen, WV. Helen is located "up a hollow
called Berry Branch," and the coal company built the school there (1925) for the children
of black miners. Some of these men were convicts forced to work without pay. (One
must wonder how much back-scratching worked this deal!) Even after serving their
sentences, they were paid only half white miners’ salaries! We learned this and more
from the black attendant, and this is why I like this site. The schoolhouse,
superintendent’s home, and miner’s house have guides who talk and demonstrate whatever
they can. The schoolhouse is also a virtual museum of antique schoolbooks. I didn’t find
my Jim and Judy first-grade reader, but McGuffey is on hand.
In the superintendent’s house, two guides showed us the stove and refrigerator.
The stove uses coal, of course, and a compartment holds hot water. We had
questions about dinner services displayed in kitchen and diningroom, and these were
answered. The house was built in 1906 by Samuel Dixon, a coal baron who envisioned a
"beautiful," ideal coal town in Skelton, WV, named after the town where he was born in
England. The city of Beckley dismantled the house in Skelton and moved it here, and the
piece-by-piece reassembly took three years. Sociological issues weren’t really addressed
by the guides at this house, but they didn’t need to be. All one has to do is to walk from the "super’s"
to the laborer’s, and the differences in lifestyles are apparent.
First thing I noticed in the miner’s house was the picture of John L. Lewis on the wall.
Two pictures of FDR also decorate the livingroom. These people had "heroes" they
depended on for a better life! They had no power to scratch backs! Floors are
linoleum, and the furniture is mostly 1930’s. Dinner service is surprisingly
Wedgewood, just like the super’s. (I remembered that even my poor grandma had good
dinner service and good Sunday dresses.) The town seemed authentic.
We visited the church--no attendant there--and a one-room shanty where a bachelor
miner lived or itinerant miners staying for the week and commuting home on weekends.
It was a pleasant afternoon, a history lesson, a touch of nostalgia. It’s world-heritage
material, American-style--without the designation.
New River Park Mining Camp
New River Park
Beckley, West Virginia
West Virginia, United States