West Virginia Hills by Jeff Ellis

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tamarack: The Best of West Virginia, Beckley

     Now that it's summer and Memorial Day Weekend is almost here, many people will be traveling in and around the state, while many others will be leaving for destinations outside the state. Whatever the case may be, if you plan to be driving on I77 north/south, or on I64 east/west, and will be anywhere near the Beckley area, then I strongly recommend you plan on stopping at the Tamarack, located at the far end of  the ramp of exit 45 (beyond and to the right of the service plaza). For several years, when I would travel back and forth from eastern North Carolina, I drove right past this place, glancing over at its unusual building design with the red peaked roof (which from the air resembles a starburst quilt pattern!), not realizing what I was missing. When finally (thank goodness) curiosity got the better of me and I decided to check it out, I have made a point to build it into my travel plans as either the first break stop I make whether I'm headed east or south, or the last break stop if I'm on my way back home. I have even made it a point of destination since John and I have been together just to share with him how wonderful it is! While it opened in May 1996, I think it took me until sometime in 1999 to figure out what I had been missing. You hear people mention places, and I had heard something or other about the Tamarack, but I think what finally swayed me in its direction was the mention of its food court being managed by the Greenbrier Resort, and that Greenbrier chefs did their training there. I had also heard about how much even a hamburger platter cost at the Greenbrier, and people that I know who had eaten there have said that this was just as good only a whole lot cheaper (though since it is cafeteria style you still have to be a little careful). So as usual, it was the promise of good food that did it for me!
     And it's not JUST the food, though let me tell you about the food! But where to start? To tell you the truth, I go for the dessert, and everyhing else I eat is just "icing on the cake" so to speak. So let me start by mentioning the most decadent two-layered chocolate cake I have ever eaten in my life! I'm not diabetic and I need insulin to eat it! And honestly, I wouldn't even be mentioning it if I thought for one minute that all the pieces would be gone the next time I showed up because I wrote this article about it! I think it's happened to me only one time that I got there too late at night and all the chocolate cake was gone. I'm pretty sure that I had been fairly happy on my trip up to that point, and then WHAM! This is what happens when you live for something edible. Okay, so besides that I can settle for their fresh peach half smothered in homemade Greenbrier style whipped cream! And where do they find those peaches? Those things are gigantic! And I do love them too, and they make a great dessert dish for when you have company, and it just so happens that they can be purchased from the Greenbrier gift shop located directly across from the food court. Because I have wanted to impress my own guests, I have on occassion bought a vacuumed sealed can or two (or three) of them, although the whipped cream can only be had there. Oh, but the food court has many delicious desserts to suite every taste bud, from cheese cake, to bread pudding, to a whole variety of pies, and other things too. And then there are the various main gourmet and down-to-earth dishes of meats and vegetables, along with a few of their signature items such as rainbow trout and fried green tomatoes. They sell a whole assortment of deli sandwiches and soups and salads and breads and pizza, all made right there by those amazing Greenbrier chefs, and so your taste buds get the very best of West Virginia before you head out for your walk to browse around the artisans' shops and galleries (that's because I recommend eating first, though you don't have to).
     The Tamarack, named for the northern conifer that reaches its natural southern extent in West Virginia (and is known for its strength, beauty, and versatality), is the result of a collective vision of Govenor Gaston Caperton, artisans, bussiness men, economists, and others who desired a way to boost the state's economy by fostering a market-driven approach to selling indigenous products. Even from its inception, funds were set aside under the WV Parkways Economic Authority (without tax dollars or toll revenues ever being used), and from the first year it has generated enough revenue to stand on its own without any further support. The idea was to establish a premiere showcase for the state's best artists, crafts people, artisans, and food producers so that people traveling along the turnpike would be able to experience the very best that West Virginia had to offer all under one roof. When it opened in May 1996 it became the nation's first statewide collection of arts and crafts, all chosen by a jury selection process that was set up to insure quality and authenticity of West Virginia made items.
     Today there are over 2,800 artisans representing all 55 counties who sell everything from books and DVDs, to fine art, sculptures, furniture, jewelry, art to wear, fiber arts, toys, glass, WV souvenirs, pottery and ceramics, metal decor, outdoor and garden items, music and instruments, specialty foods, and seasonal and holiday gift items. The 59,000 square foot building also houses an art gallery, a theater, a Hall of Fame Museum, and an information desk! Because so many visitors have wanted to return for group meetings and  the like, a 22,500 square ft. conference center was added in June 2003.
     During the Summer (April - December) the Tamarack is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The food court serves breakfast from 8:00-10:45, and lunch/dinner from 11:00 until closing (but I'd get there before that if you want a piece of chocolate cake!). Over 1/2 million people visit there every year, and I hope to see you there the next time John and I go. If you haven't ever been, don't be like me and miss out on the experience any longer!

(c) copyright 2010 Travelin' West Virginia All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent. For more information send an e-mail to trvlnwv@live.com

Monday, May 24, 2010

Bobby Maynard "East To West Virginia" Music Video

Bobby Maynard "East To West Virginia" Music Video
"East To West Virginia, Oh Those West Virginia Hills Are Calling Me"

Monday, May 17, 2010

Hillbilly Hot Dogs, Huntington

     Most of the time John and I don't really have a plan for what we're going to do or where we're going to go like we did last weekend. Sometimes we look at the WV calendar of events and make a plan, but since we don't have a lot of extra money to spend on entrance fees, nor can we always afford overnight lodging, tanks of gas, and food, we often opt to stick closer to home. Besides that, we've discussed the fact that we don't want to let what we have done so naturally as a fun hobby turn into something that feels more like a job! So this weekend because we had other work to get done, more specifically, shopping and yard work, plus because I needed to make a trip up to Columbus to visit my daughter and grandsons, that left us with Saturday, which was great because it turned out to be sunny and in the high 70s all day, which meant that it would be a fanatstic day to drive somewhere with the top down. Since we didn't have a plan, or anywhere that we really wanted to go in particular, we chose to head south towards Point Pleasant where we would continue to  follow the Ohio River all the way to Huntington. As usual we stopped along the way to take pictures of wildflowers growing along the roadside (I have decided we need a bumper sticker that reads: This car makes frequent sudden stops for flowers). John, having grown up and having spent most of his adult life in the flower business, loves to photograph wild and domestically grown flowers, or any other plant or animal wildlfe for that matter. He also likes to take pictures of old barns, sunsets, rivers, creeks, and waterfalls (which you'll be seeing eventually as we make our trips).

     About twenty miles down the road we caught sight of a field of beautiful wildflowers as we flew right by; so in usual fashion, we made a U-turn and went back to take pictures. I stayed in the car (which I had backed up into the shade) while John ran across the highway to snap pictures. As it turned out, the property all along there was part of one big farm. The owner's son-in-law, a man originally from New York, took care of the property for her, and  in true West Virginia-style hospitality, when he noticed that we were pulled over, came walking up the road to say hi, and told us to feel free to take all the pictures we wanted of the barn which sat back off the road a ways behind a fence that had a "No Trespassing" sign posted on it (which he said someone else requested that he put up). Apparently he was used to travelers stopping to take pictures of the quilt painted on it, which is part of an Appalachian quilt project that now spans across several states. He pointed out that the quilt on his barn was the twelth one out of fifteen now located on barns throughout Mason County. And to think that the two of us had been so preoccupied with looking at the flowers across the road that neither one of us had even noticed it! (There are quilts painted on barns all over Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia, and we will most likely do a story on them some time in the future.)
     This little stop took up about 20 minutes, and we were back on the road headed once again towards Point Pleasant and the river. We continued our drive southwest following the Ohio River. When we reached Huntington we were both hungry and had already pretty much decided that we wanted to eat lunch at Hillbilly Hot Dogs, a local joint located on the corner of 3rd Avenue and 15th Street. We had passed the original location a few miles back in Lesage, but seeing as there were about 80 motorcyclists parked out front, we opted to drive on. Thankfully, the Huntington restaurant was way less busy, and so we pulled right into a parking spot and got ourselves a nice shaded table outside on the porch. Now, for your information, every now and then John gets a hankering for a hot dog. However, there's only one kind of dog he likes if he's going to eat one. and it's gotta have chili sauce, slaw, mustard, and onions on it to be any good. This constitutes the one and only true West Virginia dog! We have a favorite place in Parkersburg where we usually go to get them, and he always likes to remind me about how the whole time he lived up in Chicago (which was 11 years) he never got a decent hot dog, that in fact, they didn't even have a concept of how to make them with regular stuff on it like he likes them! (And I apologize to any Chicago readers who might feel differently about their own specialized Chicago style dogs. I think they even advertise theirs as being the best in the world, which is just a matter of opinion anyway!) He also has all these fond memories from his youth of when his mother would announce almost once a week that "today is gonna' be hot dog day," and then how she would send him down to the Dairy Bee to get a box of 12 (which came with sauce, slaw, onions, and mustard) for $1.00, and which, along with Mr. Bee potatoe chips and bottled Cokes, would easily serve all the flower shop employees lunch.

     So here we were at Hillbilly Hot Dogs, voted #15 out of the top 100 places to eat by the Travel Channel,with very high hopes of satisfying John's craving for a West Virginia dog. Thank G-d I am happy to report that we were indeed in hillbilly heaven, as these rated among the best WV dogs we have ever eaten! And just so you'd believe it, John took a picture of his. And John almost never takes pictures of food, and if he does, it's probably because I asked him to. But this he did all on his own; that's how much he loves WestVirginia dogs! You've got to see this place to believe it--it plays on every worst hillbilly stereotype in the book--but when the food's as good as it is at this place, who cares? The owners have their own really sweet story. (I was especially touched by their story, which is written up on the back of the menu.) Sonny's a West Virginia native who married Sharie, a California girl (kinda' the opposite of the New York guy who married a WV girl from Mason County, who we'd just met earlier.) They wanted to work at something they could do together, and so they did this. They opened their doors in 1999 in a 12 X 16 building that they built themselves in Lesage. Lots of their customers have helped them "decorate," which has contributed to how and why their establishment looks the way it does. Three days after they opened shop they shut down to get married, and they've renewed their vows 22 times. They say they're still madly in love, and that they have been "honeymooning" ever since, which is something else you have to give them credit for! So for the price of our hot dogs, onion rings, and drinks, we got a sappy love story too. I'd say to that, "All is well that ends well."

     Feeling happy, and with our bellies full, we decided to head back to Ravenswood, only on the Ohio side of the river, which would take us along Route 7 through the small towns of  Chesapeake, Proctorville, and Crown City, and then up to Gallipolis, all places where both of my parents grew up, and then where my grandmas lived when I was younger and they were still living. We made one other stop in Gallipolis to buy some more plants to hang on our front deck which overlooks the river, and for our back porch too before heading on home, where we made it before dark. Not a bad day's outing!

c) copyright 2010 Travelin' West Virginia All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent. For more information send an e-mail to trvlnwv@live.com

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Our Town Ravenswood, West Virginia

Connie and I mentioned that we have both moved back to our home town in Ravenswood, West Virginia. We have reconnected with many of our old friends on Facebook where we post a lot of pictures of Ravenswood and Jackson County. We have received many compliments and thanks for posting these pictures from people, who like us, grew up here but have moved away. We even get requests from people wanting photos of specific places that they would like to remember.

Not much has changed in Ravenswood since we were kids in the 60s and 70s, though there are a few businesses that have sprung up, but that's fairly typical. Most places and scenes are very recognizable to anyone who grew up here. One thing that hasn't changed is the people who are still very friendly, more than ready with a warm greeting when passing on the street, or more than happy to reach out and help a neighbor in need. But overall,  living in Ravenswood doesn't seem to have changed much, and I am happy for that.

Today Connie and I decided to drive around town and photograph some of the recognizable places and compile them into a photo montage which we hope you will enjoy and which will maybe even call up some happy memories for you. Perhaps you will want to share them with your children or grandchildren to show them where you grew up. Whatever your reason for viewing we hope that you will enjoy the pictures as much as we did in putting this together.

(c) copyright 2010 Travelin' West Virginia All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent. For more information send an e-mail to trvlnwv@live.com

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Anna Jarvis Birthplace Museum, Webster

     Today is a very special day, as it has been designated as the first internationally celebrated holiday in the world--Mother's Day. Like everybody else on this day, John and I both recall our own mothers with special memories of tenderness and love. He and I both lost our mothers (his in 1990, and mine in 1997) to different forms of cancer, and so we understand that strong tug on the heart you get when you see other adults still sharing in that most special relationship. Even when your parents are gone, you sometimes feel so strongly that they're not, that somehow they are still with you, especially in those most familiar moments or occassions particular to you privately, or to your family. This was most likely how Anna Jarvis felt after her own mother passed away on the second Sunday in May 1905 (May 9th). It had been her mother's lifelong desire to have a holiday that honored mothers, and Anna vowed to make that a reality. Immediately she began to lobby groups to found the holiday, having a cause that everyone could agree on during an otherwise troublesome era of women's suffrage and the labor movement. And it was our own home state of  West Virginia that became the very first state to officially declare the establishment of Mother's Day in 1910 (which makes today the 100th anniversary of its celebration in WV). But before that, on May 10, 1908, the first Mother's Day service was held at the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, WV; Anna sent 500 white carnations, her mother's favorite flower, to the church to be given to the mothers who attended (which is how the tradition of giving flowers on Mother's Day, to say thank you for all the love and care, originated).
     Yesterday John and I drove over to Webster, WV in Taylor County. At 2:00 the 12th annual Founder's Festival got underway, honoring 10 decades of mothers, starting in 1914 when the first Mother's Day was nationally celebrated, moving up through the beginning of the 21st century, highlighting a century of changes in the ways women have mothered in terms of the advances made in technology, products, and services, as well as the various changes in social and legal issues that moms have had to concern themselves with. Of course hearing them speak made me think of how different it was for my mom raising us three kids in the 1960s and early 70s versus how it was for me to raise my daughter in the 80s and  early 90s, to how much different it is for her as she raises her two young boys today. Observing all this, it appears to me that life for a mom has gotten so much more busy, complicated, and expensive!
     After the program we took a guided tour of the Jarvis house, where we learned why it was that Anna Jarvis felt so strongly about honoring the wishes of her mother, Anna Maria Reeves Jarvis, to establish a recognized day for mothers. Ann Marie and Granville Jarvis (a successful mercantile businessman) married in 1850, and eventually had 13 children, 8 of whom died before making it into adulthood. Motivated to try to understand what may have caused the deaths of her children, she called on her brother, James, who was a doctor and expert in public health, for help. He was able to explain to her that poor hygienic living was the cause of many of the diseases such as cholera, typhoid, dysentery, and even measles that were rampant among the population. So Ann Marie, who was only 26 years old, got in her buggy and traveled to neighboring towns encouraging women to form Mothers Friendship Clubs through the churches where they could learn what she had learned. Antibiotics were unknown, so the only hope of desperate mothers were taking preventative sanitary measures like covering food, washing diapers, bathing regularly, and cleaning out the wells and privies; this, combined with good nursing eventually resulted in a drastic decrease in the number of deaths.  Another time Ann Marie called on the women's clubs to meet was to determine their part in the war that had by then broken out (the first land battle of the Civil War occurred in the neighboring town of Philippi). They agreed to nurse soldiers from both sides, and pledged to stay united during the war for friendship and goodwill.

     In 1861 General George B. MClellan, with Mrs. Jarvis' permission, began using her house as his first Civil War headquarters, taking over her front room and tying his telegraph into her local line. The house was strategically located on the highway (the Wheeling-Staunton Pike) that connected the two main cities of Virginia: Wheeling and Richmond. His soldiers, sometimes numbering into the hundreds and thousands, camped across the road. This lasted for four years (the front room of the Jarvis house has been preserved as a memorial to McClellan and the Civil War). After the war resentment was so strong on both sides that it often became dangerously life-threatening to be outside, so once again Ann Marie called on her Mothers Club for help. She asked each member to bring a soldier to a meeting in Pruntytown, where they would celebrate a Mother's Friendship Day. Dressed in gray and accompanied by a wife of a confederate soldier who dressed in blue, Mrs. Jarvis asked the band to play "Dixie," while the lady in blue asked them to play "The Star Spangled Banner." Cheers and laughter followed, and then Mrs. Jarvis delivered a speech in which she begged the soldiers to lay down their arms and get on with the business of life, and to forgive their enemies and lay their hard feelings aside. The band then played "Auld Lang Syne," which brought the crowd to tears. No further shots were ever fired.
     In 1864 Ann Marie gave birth to Anna. Mr. Jarvis was quite prosperous by this time, having invested in land, timber, and the railroads, and so eventually moved his family to Grafton. When Anna was old enough she was sent to school on Staunton, Virginia (the Augusta Female Seminary, which later became Mary Baldwin College) where she studied Latin, math, literature, music, and the arts. While there she met Woodrow Wilson, with whom she became a lifelong friend. Anna returned to Grafton to teach for seven years before moving to Philadelphia. When her father died in 1902, her mother and sister also moved to Philadelphia where her brother Claude had a very successful taxicab company. He gave her shares in his company, plus she had inherited a very sizeable amount from her father's estate. When her mother died in 1905 she began a writing campaign, sending letters to every governor in the nation and every head of state around the world. In 1907 Congress authorized, but President Theodore Roosevelt did not sign off on it, a proclamation designating the second Sunday in May as Mothers Day. It wasn't until 1914 that President Woodrow Wilson signed the proclamation stating, "The American mother is the greatest source of our country's strength and inspiration." By 1908 forty-five states, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Canada, and Mexico joined in observing Mothers Day. On June 20, 1932 West Virginia Governor Conley invited Anna Jarvis to be the keynote speaker at the dedication of the $10 million capitol building in Charleston. Then began her battle to prevent the commercialization of Mother's Day, railing against florists, candy makers, and card makers who were making millions off of "her" holiday. She attended their conventions and castigated them for their profiteering, telling them that they owed it to mothers to put aside a portion of their profits to establish a fund for indigent mothers. She spent at least $100,000 of her inheritance for postage, stationery, clerical work, and educational leaflets to make people aware of the huge profits being made by these industries, all to no avail. By 1944, at the age of 88, she was penniless and broken-spirited. Found wandering the streets of Philadelphia with pneumonia, she was sent to a sanitarium where she spent the last four years of her life until she died on November 24, 1948. Ironically, and maybe because they felt guilty, the Florists Exchange, one of the groups she despised, paid the bill in full for her stay in the sanitarium.
     Anna Jarvis now holds a place of honor as the first woman to be memorialized in the WV Capitol, as the Anna Jarvis Memorial Bust was dedicated on November 9, 2001 at the WV State Capitol Rotunda.  Thunder on the Tygart Foundation sponsored the sculpture, which is now in the state's permanent collection. 
The Anna Jarvis Birthplace Museum opened in 1996, two years after the present owners, Tom and Olive Dadisman, were handed over the keys in 1994 by the Willis Preston Felton heirs. The house was declared a historical site in 1974, and in 1984 the Daughters of the American Revolution received a sizeable grant to restore the house, but over $90,000 of it went towards studies, while the remaining monies went towards repairing the foundation and painting it. When the Dadisman's got the house it was falling down, and was in such a mess that they spent the first year just cleaning up the yard. What is now the gift shop parking lot and pavilion was at that time mostly swamp, which they had to clear and fill. Olive said that all the work s done was with the help of volunteers who came from all over West Virginia. While they have received several grants over the years to help fix the furnace, repair the porch, replace the windows, and exterminate termites, they have not received any grant money for the past seven years. It wasn't until 1998 when Mrs. Hova Underwood, who was being honored as the first Mother of the Year, learned that there were no public restrooms on the premises when she inquired as to their whereabouts, promised that she would secure the funds necessary to change that situation! In 2001 the area across from the Jarvis house was flooded, and everything was lost and had to be rebuilt, which is when someone donated the bridge that now crosses the creek. Also, everything in the house is 95% authentic, either to the Anna Jarvis family or to the time period, much of which has been privately donated to the museum.Thunder on the Tygart, Inc. is a non-profit foundation begun in 1994 to create jobs in WV, preserve historic sites, and educate today's youth about their heritage and the wealth of history that occurred in the great state of West Virginia. They will gladly accept tax-deductable donations, while they strive to keep the cost to visit the Jarvis Birthplace Museum still very low at $5 a person (children under 6 get in free). Besides the Mother's Day Founders Festival Weekend, they sponsor an Old Fashion Christmas Tour during the month of December. Having just visited there myself, and having met the wonderful people who own and work the museum, I'd strongly recommend a drive to Webster, WV. It's a treat for Moms and Civil War buffs alike!

(c) copyright 2010 Travelin' West Virginia All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent. For more information send an e-mail to trvlnwv@live.com

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Blennerhassett Island, Parkersburg

     Yesterday John and I made a trip to Parkersburg to visit Blennerhassett Island, a West Virginia historical state park. Blennerhassett Island, located on the Ohio River, has a rich history that spans from Ice Age hunters 9,000 years ago to Native American tribes who lived on the island almost continuously until white settlers began to arrive in great numbers into the Ohio Valley in the 1780s. While I vaguely remember being taught about the various Indian settlements along the Ohio River in my 5th grade West Virginia History class, I more readily remember the story about Aaron Burr and his military conspiracy. In 1798, Harman Blennerhassett, a wealthy Irish aristocrat, settled on the island and built a magnificent mansion. Unfortunately, in 1806 he became mixed up in an elaborate scheme with Aaron Burr (who had dueled with Alexander Hamilton in 1804), who wanted to conquer part of Texas territory, along with northern Mexico (which was Spanish territory), in order to create a new empire which he would rule. President Thomas Jefferson accused Burr (a former U.S. Vice President who had tied with Jefferson in the presidential elections, and with whom he was bitter enemies) and the other men of committing treason.  Blennerhassett fled the island, but was captured and put in a Virginia state prison, while Burr was arrested in Kentucky, then tried and acquitted with help from his young attorney, Henry Clay, and a ruling made by Chief Justice John Marshall that declared Burr protected by the 1st Amendment which gave him the right to voice public opposition to the government. The trial went to a jury, but based on Marshall's ruling the jury had no choice but to find Burr not guilty as there was no proof of assembling men for treasonable purposes. However, both men's lives were ruined. Burr, whose name was forever marred, went back to England, while Harman Blennerhassett, who was released from prison after Burr was acquitted, moved down south and then eventually back to Ireland where he died. After Blennerhassett was put in prison, Virginia militiamen had ransacked his island estate and burnt down Blennerhassett's mansion, the foundation of which was rediscovered by archaeologists in 1973 (who worked almost 2 decades digging on Blennerhassett island), and through careful historical and architectural research, was recreated. Work on its interior furnishings are still  in progress, but visitors may take guided tours of the mansion by period costumed volunteers, or docents, and may also visit the Blennerhassett Museum of Regional History (located in downtown Parkersburg on 2nd and Juliana Streets) where they may trace the history of the Ohio Valley, the city of Parkersburg, and the islands through exhibits of 18th, 19th, and 20th century relics.
     Adding to the beauty of the island are the thick hardwood groves, a walnut plantation, and a great Tulip Poplar (the 2nd largest east of the Mississippi) which all offer welcomed shade, the long beaches that encircle the island, and the wide open fields that provide a habitat for white-tailed deer, water fowl, and other birds. Blennerhassett Island also has an inlet cove which was used in frontier times by canoes and smaller riverboats to access the island, which in about 1840 began to silt in and by 1900 had become dry land. And to top it all off, to get to the island today visitors must take a 19th century-style sternwheeler, run by Captain Harry Batten, who designed and commissioned the boat to be built for himself back in 1994 (which he named the Jewell City). (Now I'm not altogether certain that I have the following information straight, so if you decide to visit Blennerhassett Island, you might ask him yourself to clarify it for you when you see him.) What is interesting is that he sold the sternwheeler to a man in Illinois (and somewhere in this whole story he worked for Rubles, who made a bid on the boat and lost either before or after the man in Illinois), who then eventually sold it back to the state of West Virginia, and Captain Batten, who has been operating sternwheelers on the Ohio River for 26 years, is now back home on his own sternwheeler, which in 2009 was renamed the Island Belle (so named by a class of elementary school kids who won a competition with other classes from other area schools), taking almost 32,000 passengers a year back and forth to the island from May 1st through October each year. (Whew!) In any case, the man is extremely friendly, and will let passengers making the ride across visit him in the pilot's house and steer the boat for a minute or two! When John and I were headed over, he invited a group of 7th - 11th graders who were visiting the island from Mid-Valley Christian School in Middleport, Ohio to go in one by one and get their pictures taken with him.

     Blennerhassett Island hosts several special events throughout the season, and today John and I went over to experience the "Rendezvous on the River," a four-day event which started in 1989, where muzzleloaders and mountain men gather to recreate 18th and early 19th century frontier life with authentic camps, demonstrations, and period costumes. John was extremely excited about visiting this recreated event, as he has always wished that he could have lived back in those days, often making mention of that fact whenever he recollects some backwoods outing he went on during his younger days. And I have no doubt that he could, indeed, have been a lone mountain man (but thank god he's not!). We also met a couple on the boat ride over, Art and Ann Linger, who for the same reason as us, were making their first trip ever to Blennerhassett Island in their 37 years as Parkersburg residents. Interestingly, this event was being sponsored by the West Virginia Muzzleloaders Association, a group of muzzleloader shooters, builders, hunters, and history enthusiasts, who in 1977 formally organized in order to promote and preserve the traditional style of muzzleloader shooting. And thanks to this group's active involvement in legislative matters and the Department of Natural Resources policy matters, they have worked to improve conditions for the sportsmen and women of WV, and have secured a muzzleloader deer hunting season in West Virginia! We got to meet several of these individuals (many of whom have been doing this for 20+ years) who generously gave of their time during the afternoon to talk with us about what they do, and to show us their pre-1840s camps, plus let us take a peek inside their tents (all of this where they are living, cooking, and sleeping for the 4 days).
Among the people we met were Linda Reed, and the 1830s mountain man, Raymond "Ugly" Leeper (who explained to us the period costuming and camps), both from Grafton, WV; Monte Pearson (a very interesting guy dressed in 1700s frontier costuming who's 1/2 Mohawk and Shawnee, and 1/2 Welsh, who builds period rifles, plus throws a mean tomahawk and knife!) from New Manchester, WV; and the Benson family from Ripley, WV: Marlin (who was cooking made-from-scratch biscuits in a cast iron pot over an open fire, that were delicious, by the way!), and Beckey (who was spinning wool from sheep and angora goats and llamas that they raise themselves), and Casey (who was sitting in the shade reading--which would have been my favorite activity!). John and I both learned so much from talking with all of these people. They really knew their frontier history, and they seemed to love sharing it! Next year they expect to have about 40 camps set up, which ought to make for a spectacular event for visitors of all ages.
     By 5:00 we had to catch the last run of the sternwheeler which would take us back across the river to our car. As we drove back home we talked about how we both felt like we had made a few new friends that day, and how we thought that we could so easily just have pitched our own tent, made a camp, and stayed there with them!
If you would like more information about visiting Blennerhassett Island, go to  Blennerhassett Island State Park .

(c) copyright 2010 Travelin' West Virginia All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent. For more information send an e-mail to trvlnwv@live.com

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Governor's Cup Regatta, Charleston

     Ask people what they think of when they hear West Virginia mentioned, and whether it's their beloved home or whether they've just passed through on their way to someplace else (and especially if they've never been here at all), it's highly unlikely that anybody would think of crew shells racing on the Kanawha River. In fact, even the biggest sports officianados might not know that Charleston is host to the annual Governor's Cup Regatta, a nationally prominent crew racing invitational that brings teams from all over to compete in various race distances and team combinations. This year's event took place on Saturday, April 24th behind  the campus of the University of Charleston (UC), and was co-sponsored by UC and Huddleston Bolen, LLP, a law firm with offices in Huntington and Charleston, WV, and Ashland and Louisville, KY.
     I really wanted to make the trek to Charleston this year because, thanks to Facebook, I have recently gotten back in touch with some of my old school friends from Parkersburg High, including one of my very best friends who was on the PHS crew team, and who, after graduation, along with several other of the guys who rowed in 1976, went to Morris Harvey (it was still named that back then) to row on their team. And me? I was a crew groupie! For two seasons my girlfriend, Cindy, and I followed them around as they traveled from state to state to compete. In the early part of the seasons, as we stood on the rivers' banks, we'd about freeze to death as we strained our eyes watching the shells come into view, hoping that our guys were in the lead, and in the later part of the seasons we'd about melt from the heat of the sun. But it was all worth it to watch those guys row! Talk about SMOOTH. And they were tight with each other! So much so, that this year they decided to all get together on the UC campus for the Governor's Cup Regatta and alumni reunion. And what a reunion it was! The weather had called for rain, but fortunately it sprinkled only a little bit before noon, and then the temps climbed high into the upper 70s with the sun out in full force the rest of the day! But even with the good weather I'm not sure that any of us caught even one race result for all the talking and hugging and picture taking that went on all afternoon! And from what I heard afterwards, the UC crew reunion went on well into the night!  John and I left around 4:00 to go hang out with his brother, Mike, and his family who live just up the road in Kanawha City. We pretty much collapsed when we got there, and settling into some soft cushiony chairs felt good after sitting on hard ground for most of the day. Plus, we were more than ready to quench our thirst when Mike offered us cold bottles of lemonade and icy Cokes before the two guys went back outside to cook hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill. After we ate, John and I stuck around until almost 10:00 while he and Mike kept me in stitches reminiscing about people from their past and stuff they did when they were young; so it was a great day all around!
     As we crossed the bridge back over the Kanawha River to get to the interstate, we could see the lights shining all the way down Kanawha Boulevard on the one side, with the capital building standing prominently on the river's north bank; and we could see the lights shining all the way down MacCorkle Avenue on the other side, with the University of Charleston standing prominently on the river's south bank. High above the water, we could  feel the heart of the Kanawha River as it flowed through West Virginia's seat of government, still beating vibrantly with life! As we drove back in the cool night air north on I77 to Ravenswood we knew without a doubt that this place would always be a welcoming beacon to light our way home.
     (And now a little bit of info for anybody who's interested and may not know: the University of Charleston is a private residential university with close to 1400 students who come from 37 states and 22 countries. From the campus one can be awed by its amazing panoramic view of the West Virginia hills, the Kanawha River, and the state capital building and governor's mansion. It shares its lawn with 1000s of guests for such annual events as Symphony Sunday, Wine and All That Jazz, and Blues, Brews, and BBQ. The college was originally founded by the Southern Methodists in 1888 as Barboursville Seminary in Barboursville, WV,  became a college in 1889, and was renamed Morris Harvey College in 1901 in honor of a prominent donor. During the Depression, the college moved to Charleston, but it wasn't until 1947 that construction of the present facility, which is located on the south bank of the Kanawha River, got underway. In 1942 the college disaffiliated itself from the Methodist Church, and in 1978 the Board of Trustees changed the college's name to the University of Charleston.)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Say hello to my new partner/contributor

Hi Everybody!
 My name is Connie. Like John, I was born and raised in West Virginia--over on the western side of the state in the Mid-Ohio Valley region. Actually, we grew up in the same town of Ravenswood, our fathers both attracted by employment opportunities at the newly established Kaiser Aluminum plant, as were so many other men with young families during the late 50s and 60s. A new section of town literally sprang up over night in order to meet the needs of its newest residents: streets were laid out and paved, and ranch style homes with attatched carports were built on almost every portioned out lot;  a new strip plaza which housed new businesses that would compete with the older downtown businesses was built; and finally, all around this new construction grass, and bushes, and trees (that have since grown large into full maturity) were planted as quickly as new residents moved in. John and I grew up only 2 blocks away from each other over on the north side of town, and were one year apart in school. We were close friends in high school (especially between 9th and 10th grades when he practically lived at my house), and he was the first boy I ever kissed (he was so sweet about it, stopping on the walk home from school to my house--carrying my books, I might add--in order to ask me in a very gentlemanly fashion if he could kiss me!). I was really too young to date, and my parents would have killed me if they thought for even one minute we were "serious," so the whole business just naturally went the way of most all young romances. Unfortunatley, my parents got divorced early in 1975, and after that school year I moved with my dad and brother to Parkersburg. A few months later John left Ravenswood to join the Army. It would be almost 35 years before our paths would cross again. I eventually left the state in 1977 to go live near my mother in California, but returned to Parkersburg in 1982, where I lived until 1989. Since then I have lived in Ohio, Eastern North Carolina, and Kentucky, teaching English at several different colleges. I have also spent time over the last decade traveling extensively throughout the Middle East, Western Europe, and the Mediterranean region, which I am currently blogging about at  http://dancingamongtheruins.blogspot.com/ . You are welcome to follow me there, if you'd like, as I attempt to bring the world of Biblical archaeology and the culture of the Middle East to life.
     As for me and John, our story picked back up in 2009 when we found each other on Classmates.com and quickly rekindled that old flame! Realizing that the spark between us had turned into love (after tons of phone conversations, emails, and a couple of visits), we  decided to move back together to our hometown of Ravenswood, where we now share a little house right on the Ohio River down at the old ferry landing. And for most of this whole past year, whenever I've not been teaching my classes at OU or WVU-P we have jumped in the car and taken either short day trips or longer weekend  drives all around this beautiful state, visiting not only places that had once been familiar to us as kids, but to almost every nook and cranny of about 45 of our 55 counties. Still, it sometimes seems to both of us a little unbelievable that we are back here, and yet we both feel in our hearts and in our souls that we have truly returned HOME. Together we have decided to share it with you through words and pictures as we continue our travels and explorations all over this wild and wonderful state. If you like, please feel free to make comments or share your own favorite places with us. Thanks so much for visiting our blog, and hope to see y'all real soon as we go travelin' West Virginia!