A July 2005 trip
to Morgantown by kjlouden
Quote: With its casual, carefree attitude, downtown Morgantown is a great weekend destination, but an extended trip into the area is even better. Relatively unknown, but significant historic sites are within a half-hour drive, and for playing and relaxing on the Fourth, I sure love the backyard!
Lately, I have been enticed by sites outside the city. On
the Mason-Dixon Line only 70 miles south of Pittsburgh, the original (Zaquill) Morgan’s Town lies near the other
end of the Monongahela River, whose navigability brought settlers here after the French
and Indian War. A string of forts along the river protected their land guaranteed them by
the Virginia Charter. Ironworks, nail factories, musket factories, and other businesses
used the river to transport goods to Pittsburgh, as Albert Gallatin’s industries in Point
Early on, national politics focused on development of roads and canals into this area, then considered
the "interior" of the nation. Later, glassworks and railroad construction brought more workers. Then
mining. During the Depression, New Deal projects uprooted mining towns in peril,
established new communities, and caught the nation’s attention again as Eleanor
So, here we grow again with another migration from the east, but before we do, we gather
the history we don’t want to leave behind. That is how I interpret what’s happening here
in north-central West Virginia. I see announcements for sites I haven’t heard of before.
Surprisingly educational Friendship Hill National Historic Site and Arthurdale, first New Deal community in the nation,
are well-established attractions now and offer intimate, interesting tours that have
enlightened me about the area’s rich heritage.
As Andrea Koppel said about China, "Get here before it’s gone." Only it won’t vanish,
because our heritage is being preserved with landmark designations every way from
The reason the first New Deal community, Arthurdale, is new to me can be explained.
Besides the fact that Arthurdale has offered tours for less than 10 years, Morgantown
Chamber of Commerce has begun only recently to promote sites in neighboring Preston
County. This opens new suggestions for Morgantown visitors--and especially interesting
ones, since Deckers Creek Trail, which begins at the river in Morgantown, runs
through Preston County.
In addition to bicycling, the area offers a variety of outdoor recreational resources for
skiing, hiking, boating, swimming, whitewater rafting, fishing, climbing, spelunking,
horseback riding, camping, and more. Our history and culture may be more tied to
Pittsburgh than to the rest of West Virginia, but we "northerners" (to the rest of the state)
are still "wild and wonderful" outdoors.
Morgantown Airport is served by US Airways.
In addition, the city is situated at the
intersection of two major interstates, I-79 and I-68. Route 119 North runs to Point
Marion, PA and Friendship Hill National Park, and Route 857 North connects with a new
Pennsylvania Turnpike Extension (Route 43--much nicer than the Turnpike itself!) that
runs from the state border north to Uniontown, a gateway to the Laurel Highlands. It’s a
great area for outings by auto.
Near the top of the mountain, our ears finally "pop," and then the 3-mile drive from the
gate to the overlook requires me to doff sunglasses in order to see well enough to drive. The
slender thread of road is in dense shade, and the forest is dark and wet everywhere but
near stone outcroppings. Only an occasional sunlight fairy dances on the wet ground, still
covered with the leaves of last autumn. In a rare sunbeam, I catch a bushy black behind
as it disappears behind a fallen trunk. I’m not sure what it is. A bear? Whatever it is, I
see it in the distance again next day crossing the road near Masontown before it
simply drops into sunken woods along Deckers Creek.
Near the rustic concession and picnic area, pavillions with stone fireplaces are already
occupied, and the aroma of wood smoke fills the park.
These chestnut-and-stone structures were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps
(1936-1942) before the chestnut blight, and eleven shelters are on the National Register
of Historic Places. I remember when my lit class--the one with the hippie teacher whose
reading list included only anti-establishment novels--met here one evening in the 1970’s.
Nothing is different. Even clumps of laurel look the same, but we're too early for
blooms. That’s unfortunate, for this moss-covered-stone fairyland of mountain laurel is a
Photo opps aren’t lacking, I assure myself, as I head for the overlook. I remember that
when I look through the viewers, I can see WVU Coliseum, 13 or so miles away!
First, the wheelchair overlook isn’t too intimidating.
I get comfortable here before I attempt the big rock, which didn’t used to scare me at all.
People change! I’m uneasy there now, especially in wet weather, when it may be
Looking out over Cheat River Gorge, I see some rippling whitewater, miniscule
compared to other sections of this wild river that rafters enjoy. The main attractions here
are panorama and laurel forest.
The forest hides some history. Across from the camping area entrance, a trail leads to
Henry Clay Iron Furnace. Nobody knows where the name originated, since Henry Clay
was a Kentucky politician who worked hard to keep the National Road well north of here.
It makes no sense that an owner would name his business after the man whose politics
destroyed it. One hundred houses were once nearby, but the forest has obliterated all
trace of them, just as Ice’s Ferry was flooded to create Cheat Lake. History here fades,
but forests abide.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on July 6, 2005
Coopers Rock State Forest
Morgantown, West Virginia 26525
Gallatin accomplished so much for the formation of this country, every American ought
to know about him, and that is why the National Park Service established Friendship Hill
National Historic Site on the land where he lived forty years. Look at his credentials and
the park’s website.
Our first visit, we tour only the home on a biting cold day, but we learn about trails
(9 miles) and picnic areas and resolve to return in summer. This Fourth of July, we
revisit the site 3 miles north of Veterans Bridge in Point Marion, Pennsylvania, twenty minutes from Morgantown. This time, we walk a portion of Gallatin’s original farm that
predates roads into this part of the nation, then frontier. As senator, Gallatin was first to
propose to Congress a road to link the country, but the National Road (U. S. Route 40)
was not begun until 1811. (See NationalRoad.) Gallatin
began his home in 1789. For his first 32 years here, his only access was the Monongahela
River. An outlook is just steps from the house.
This river was the sole route west to the Ohio Country. Folks travelled north on the
Monongahela to Pittsburgh, where it meets the Allegheny to form the Ohio. So, Gallatin
planned to get rich by building industries here. Son of a watchmaker, he emigrated from
Geneva, Switzerland, created a town called New Geneva, and started New Geneva
Glassworks (1797), first glassworks west of the Alleghenies. He started a musket factory,
sawmill, gristmill, and other industries, none of them successful. Why? The man was
too talented, too involved in the founding politics of this country to stay home much, even
though he loved his western Pennsylvania estate.
We enter at the side of the restored home.
A hologram greets us. A vaguely familiar man I must have seen in history books recounts
his incredibly numerous accomplishments. As fourth Secretary of the Treasury under
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, he arranged financing for the Louisiana Purchase
and Lewis and Clark Expedition. His speeches to gun-wielding rebels quelled the
Whiskey Rebellion. As U.S. Minister to France, he entertained Lafayette here and worked
in Europe to end the War of 1812. (He did more after he moved to New York!) Portraits of him decorate this country, including Independence Park.
We see some of his belongings and writings, and one room reveals how sections of the
house were joined when Gallatin added on. Since visitors are sparse, talking with the
ranger is possible and informative, so we linger in the bookstore. The 675-acre estate offers good history lessons related to others in western Pennsylvania. As we walk,
we see this land and river as they were long ago.
Friendship Hill National Historic Site
223 New Geneva Road
Point Marion, Pennsylvania 15474
Amanda is alone at her desk preparing for the 2005 New Deal Festival July 9th and 10th.
We study photos of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt interacting with homesteaders in
the 1930s, while Amanda gets keys to show us around. She knows everything about the
Roosevelts, the New Deal, this area of West Virginia, and government-sponsored
industries that were supposed to transform life for transplanted coal miners from Scott’s
Run. We have her to ourselves for two hours this Tuesday morning and are glad we haven’t opted for
only the driving tour.
Originally Reedsville Experimental Community, also called "Eleanor’s Little Village,"
Arthurdale National Historic District was first of 99 New Deal communities. When Eleanor visited Scott’s
Run, she saw extreme poverty among unemployed miners and cautioned Franklin (and
wealthy philanthropists!) that workers might turn to socialism--ironic, but a brilliant
wife's maneuver! She had a church, built in 1857 near Masontown, taken apart
piece-by-piece and moved to Arthurdale to become Center Hall (now restored), where
she danced many a square with local folks.
We tour the hall (where one can still square dance--third Thursday each
month), Administration Building (where homesteaders paid rents), forge (which made
pewter and copper items), Esso gas station (which saw little business during the
Depression), and a Wagner home (one of three types built here, all
Amanda expounds on the school, taught by Eleanor’s appointee, Elsie Ripley Clapp, a
student of John Dewey; the kindergarten, hygiene, and nutrition programs; and many craft
and other industries sponsored here, including farming, furniture-making, pottery,
weaving, tractor manufacture, and more. Eleanor envisioned a self-sufficient
One hundred tractors were made here, and one of these antiques has been retrieved and is
being restored for the festival this weekend--they found it on eBay! Arthurdale furniture
is valuable, but few items are found locally, because homesteaders couldn’t afford
finely crafted items resembling those made at Eleanor’s Valkill estate. We view some (many Godlove chairs!)
and learn that more pieces are willed to Arthurdale.
The restored Inn--toured by appointment--is where Eleanor, Franklin, and Cabinet
We buy jelly in the gift shop, well-stocked with West Virginia handmade items. This
farming and craft community, prototype for 99 others, is much the same as it was in the
1930’s. With 165 homes, root cellars, cemetery, and WVU’s Experimental Farm (the
original community dairy), Arthurdale includes numerous sites that dot the hayfields--and
the two-lane is quiet here!
Arthurdale, First New Deal Community
Route 92 South
Morgantown, West Virginia 26520
It’s the best place around for a lavish Sunday brunch. For $13, you can get a
made-to-order omelette, plus help yourself to the buffet that compares with any. My
family loves Lakeview for Thanksgiving dinner, when their chestnut dressing can’t be
beat--except by dear old Mom’s oyster dressing. Lakeview always has the best chefs
around, and the resort is also famous for its wine list. (As a former wine stewardess here
one year during grad school, I am qualified to recommend their wine list.) Even with the
good food, wine, and bar, the best part of any meal is the view of Cheat
As soon as we arrive, we agree that not much has changed in decades. Sometimes,
permanence makes me feel good! Some folks might think the lodge needs updated, and
decor in the bar and dining room have had a facelift. But I imagine that staying with a
good thing is what keeps costs reasonable. Nothing here is outrageously priced. Hotel
rates compare with those for the Radisson downtown.
Even though it is a resort and conference center that could command higher prices (like
nearby Nemacolin Woodlands), the community is included in the consumer profile.
Management has taken steps over the years to keep locals coming: dinner theater, annual
antiques fairs (February), spa memberships, and at present, karaoke in the bar. So, out-of-towners don’t have to stay off to themselves on the property. There are plenty
of opportunities to meet the locals.
Rooms and condos are attractive, and they overlook the 18-hole championship golf
In the main lodge are games for kids. There is also Kids Club (supervised play that keeps
the tots busy while Mom and Dad go for a hike--or a massage). A family pool is outside,
and the full fitness center offers climbing wall, tennis and basketball courts, lap pool, hot
tub and sauna, and a physical therapist to plan your fitness program. For those who
would rather be pampered, the spa offers full massage, facials, manicures, pedicures,
makeovers, hair styling, and more. The pro shop is reputed to be excellent. I’ve often
thought that I could stay here a month!
All this is in addition to what goes on in the bar and on the lake. Music is frequently on
the Tiki Deck, and Friday night is Ladies Night in the bar, Legends, where ladies drink
for $1. Heck, enter that karaoke contest, and you’ll drink for free--well, maybe, if
you’re any good! By now, you get the picture that there is usually something going on at
Lakeview. In addition, Cheat Lake has swimming beaches, horseback
riding, and marinas with boat rentals--you can even rent a pontoon and take the family.
Sixteen miles upstream and east at Albright in Preston County, locals raft the Cheat
River. The Cheat is a powerful waterway, and quite perilous just across the Maryland
border, so check with a reputable outfitter in Albright.
One word of caution: Snake Hill is nearby, and the name isn’t meaningless. In the
1990’s, new residential communities shot up like poppies all around the lake. Eventually,
somebody recognized the need to clear the area of reptiles so that little children would be
safe in their yards! Signs along the roads for miles around advertised "Snake
Hunt--Cheat Lake!" I was glad for a friend who had had to kill snakes in his
house, and we’re not talking blacksnakes, either. They were copperheads on his
Working at Seven Springs Resort one summer and driving these roads every week, I saw
for months those signs all the way into Pennsylvania. Remembering some past experiences,
I feared that my car would break down after dark and vowed not to get out of it onto the
two-lane--or into the ditch--if it did.
One might assume that heroic local boys adequately decimated the population. After all,
everyone knows what excitement groups of the manly type find in the hunt, and to be fair,
I must admit that it was quite chivalrous of them to slay the evil dragons so that young
damsels could sunbathe and go out at night without distress. I wasn’t sure ecologists
would agree, but I didn’t care. Then I saw the lake drained for a while and surmised that
authorities had got into the act. Yes, snakes swim
like gold medalists. I had reptilian company side-stroking alongside me twice. I
remembered a movie about this problem that sometimes accompanies residential
development of a wild area, and I wondered if this neighborhood could be the source of the
story. (The lake is filled and beautiful now.)
I have never seen a snake on Lakeview Resort's property.
I have faith in the local effort. Still, just to be on the safe side, I wouldn’t walk around
the area outside the resort property at night with sandals on my feet. I have seen the
cold-blooded things myself on at least four occasions--but those predate the hunt! I
mention the mischief-makers for reasons of self-interest, and that means just in case
any cowboys out there who pack a mean shovel want to come on down and double-check
to make sure the local boys did a thorough job--damsels would be ever so grateful for the extra
In all seriousness, the area is a little less "wild" and even more "wonderful" than it used
to be, and many of the WVU athletic department pay a lot of money to live near the
lake--with their children. The neighborhood with expensive housing just a few miles
outside the city offers the good life to residents and vacationers alike. And, development
of the area is a lesson in progress, a lesson about ecology or the chain of being, however
you see it.
Ecologists disagree, but I think the Lake community is better now. As a visitor, you are welcome to get into the dialogue, too. I’m sure property
owners agree with me, and I think you will, too, if you visit. Just remember that state
slogan: "Wild and Wonderful, West Virginia." We have just the right amount of both in
"the North" of the state.
David and I enjoy coffee and cheesecake at Lakeview Resort. Sitting by the window, we see
all sorts of pleasure craft on a blanket of blue, a proper shroud for the old iron-working
settlement of Ice’s Ferry, gone with the politics that built the National Road a half-hour
north of here. That’s where we’re headed.
Lakeview Resort will pick you up at the airport.
West Virginia, United States