Saturday, January 21, 2017

Park's Gap Bridge

The Parks Gap Bridge is one of the numerous treasures you can find along West Virginia's back roads.  The bridge, which is located inside the nooks and crannies of Berkeley County, was built in 1892.  The bridge carries Park's Gap Road over Back Creek.  The one lane bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1994.



Philippi Covered Bridge

The Philippi Covered Bridge is one of the most historic bridges in West Virginia.  Built in 1852, it is one of the oldest covered bridges in the state and the country.  The Philippi Covered Bridge is the last remaining covered bridge to serve a US Highway.  Currently, US 250 rides over the dual carriageway.

A straight on view from the Philippi side of the covered bridge that carries US 250
The bridge built by Lemuel Chenoweth has survived the first Civil War land battle, floods, fires, along with structural repairs and widening.  The bridge originally had what amounted to one traffic lane but it was widened in 1934 to accommodate two lanes.  Four years later, the wooden deck was replaced with a concrete floor.   A fire in February 1989 closed the bridge for over two years.  The fire was started as a result of an overflow of gasoline from a nearby station that was ignited by a spark from a passing car's exhaust system.  The bridge would reopen 27 months later in September 1991 with it being designed to match the original construction as closely as possible. (1)

A closer view of the entrance to the bridge as you leave Downtown Philippi.
This photo shows the side of the  yellow poplar and Burr Arch Truss bridge that carries US 250 West
In 2004, a bypass route for US 250 was opened to the South.  The bypass is signed as Truck US 250. Mainline US 250 still routes through town and over the bridge.

A close-up of the complex under workings of the bridg
The stone abutment for the bridge

West Virginia Historical Marker discussing the history of the Bridge.

The City of Philippi uses the bridge as part of the city seal.
Sources & Links:

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Small Towns of Virginia Series - Paris

The Ashby Inn makes Paris well known throughout Northern Virginia.
Usually a town of 49 residents is forgotten when it is near one of the largest population centers of the United States.  But amid the rolling hills of Northern Virginia sits the tiny hamlet of Paris which for centuries has attracted many of our nation's leaders.  Originally called Pun'kinville, Paris is named in honor of the Marquis de LaFayette.  The village that sits in a hidden corner of the intersections of Routes 17 & 50 is home of the well-known Ashby Inn & Restaurant.  The 1829 inn has received numerous national reviews for its fine dining and lodging at its Bed & Breakfast.

Paris sits in the middle of one of the largest fox hunt and steeplechasing regions in the nation.  The landscape is full of decades and centuries old farms that create one of the most lush landscapes in Virginia.  Sky Meadows State Park, which is two miles to the south on Route 17, is home to many equestrian paths and many times motorists will share the two lane Route 17 with horse back riders.  The park is a relatively recent addition to the area as it was created out of donated land in 1975.
 
To get to Paris take either Route 50 East or West to where it meets Route 17 west of Upperville.  Head south on US 17 to Route 701 and turn right.

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Small Towns of Virginia Series - New Point Comfort Lighthouse

Over 70 years ago, two hurricanes drastically changed the terrain that surrounds the New Point Comfort Lighthouse.  These two storms - which hit less than one month apart - would isolate the storied New Point Comfort Lighthouse from the mainland by one half mile.  These 1933 hurricanes, along with similar storms, invasions, and other incidents before and after, have threatened or even severely damaged the lighthouse.  But for over 200 years, the beacon has stood watch over the Chesapeake Bay and has become a familiar friend to boaters, tourists, and residents alike.
 
At the end of the 18th century, the United States government had realized the importance of improving the navigation through the Chesapeake Bay to the numerous ports the bay's waters led to.  Beginning with the completion of the Port Henry lighthouse in 1792 (1), the government would commission a series of lighthouses with the goal of improving safety and navigation through the Chesapeake.  A decade later, the Old Point Comfort Lighthouse was completed by Elzy Burroughs.  That same year, Burroughs was again commissioned to build a third Chesapeake lighthouse at the tip of the New Point Comfort Peninsula, slightly north of the entrance to Mobjack Bay. (2)

Burroughs would build the lighthouse through three damaging hurricanes in 1803 and 1804.  The New Point Comfort Light began service on January 17, 1805 when Burroughs first lit the oil lantern.  The completed lighthouse stands at a height of 58 feet and has an octagonal shape.  The structure was built completely out of sandstone, and its design closely resembles the two Chesapeake lighthouses that preceded it, Old Point Comfort and Port Henry.
 
For over the next century, the New Point Comfort light weathered a series of storms by both nature and man.  Less than a decade after Burroughs completed the structure, the light was captured by the British in the War of 1812.  Held by the British Army for only four weeks, the army ransacked the grounds, burned down the lightkeeper's house and oil vault, and did considerable damage to the lantern and the lighthouse itself.  Burroughs was asked to repair the grounds, light and rebuild the keeper's home.(1)  Nearly fifty years later, another war, the U.S. Civil War, brought damage to the lighthouse.  Confederate troops rendered the light inoperable in an attempt to hamper Union shipping through the Chesapeake.  Although the damage was significant, it was less than the damage done by the British years before.

Just after the turn of the 20th century, a group called the New Point Comfort Development Company formed plans to create a bayside resort with the New Point Comfort Light as the centerpiece. (At left: the 1904 New Point Comfort Development Company Plans.)  Plans called for numerous streets and residential homes to be built with a grand hotel near the light. (2)  However, various costs, including those to fill in the surrounding salt marshes and building new beaches, would prove too much and the company would file for bankruptcy not long after.
 
Weather would leave the biggest impact to the fragile peninsula.  Hurricanes and Nor'Easters would continue to eat away at the shoreline.  In 1847, the storms began the formation of a new inlet slightly north of the lighthouse.  Five years later, the inlet had cut through the peninsula and the lighthouse now was the focal point of a new island.  (The inlet can be seen at the top right corner of the 1904 map.)

However, Mother Nature's biggest blow came from the wrath of two successive hurricanes in 1933.  The first storm on August 23, 1933 crossed directly over the Chesapeake.  Less than a month later on September 16th, a second hurricane would move off the Virginia Coast, and although this storm did not cross over the Chesapeake, heavy winds and storm surge affected the bay.  The results of these two storms, twenty-four days apart, on New Point Comfort and the peninsula were devastating.  The lighthouse - still standing - now sat on its own tiny island a half mile south of the mainland.  A second island remained between the lighthouse and the tip of the peninsula.  If the 1904 development was built, the damage to the area would have been even greater.

The next 13 years were the most challenging to the lighthouse.  Left open to anyone, the lighthouse and immediate grounds fell victim to vandalization.  The lighthouse did receive status as a National Historic Landmark in 1972, and three years later the property was acquired by Matthews County.  Immediately after, the New Point Comfort Restoration Committee was formed and began to restore the lighthouse.  In 1981, the restoration efforts were completed.
 
Today, the lighthouse is still subject to vandalism.  There is no direct or safe public access to the island or the lighthouse.  However, it is accessible by boat.  To compensate for the lack of public access, a boardwalk (shown at right) was constructed at the southern tip of the peninsula within the New Point Comfort Preserve.  The boardwalk allows for great views of the Chesapeake, surrounding salt marshes, native wildlife, and of course the New Point Comfort Lighthouse.
From the boardwalk and across the salt marshes, the New Point Comfort Lighthouse.
Preservation of the salt marshes is a key concern of the New Point Comfort Preserve
An example of the serene surroundings, a small boat sits quietly in the water.
Directions:
  • From Richmond: Follow I-64 East to Exit 220 (VA 33 East).  Continue East on VA 33 (19 Miles) to VA 198 South in Glenns. Follow VA 198 South (22 miles) to VA 14 East near Matthew.  Follow VA 14 East through Matthews and the peninsula to Secondary Route 600.  Route 600 will continue straight while VA 14 bears right.  Follow Route 600 to the highway's end at the boardwalk and Preserve.
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Sources & Links:

  • (1) Lighthousefriends.com. "New Point Comfort, VA." http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=442 (December 10, 2006)
  • (2) Newpointcomfort.com. "History of the Lighthouse." http://www.newpointcomfort.com/history/history_html/lh_history.html (December 10, 2006)
  • New Point Comfort Lighthouse ---LighthouseFriends.com
  • NewPointComfort.com ---Overview of the entire peninsula
  • New Point Comfort Light ---Chesapeake Bay Lighthouse Project
  • NewPoint Comfort Preserve ---The Nature Conservancy
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    Sunday, January 15, 2017

    Small Towns of Virginia Series - Millwood

    Quiet Store and Homefronts in Millwood
    Hidden away from the modern highway that carries routes 17 and 50 sits the small community of Millwood, a community that dates for over 200 years.  Millwood's lifeblood for numerous decades was the Burwell-Morgan Mill completed in 1785 by Colonel Nathaniel Burwell and Daniel Morgan.   The mill ran as a commercial operation until 1953.  The mill served as a merchant mill providing various milled goods to local residents. The mill is open to visitors Thursdays through Sundays from May to October.  Besides being a museum of the mill's past, the mill also serves as the location of artwork and art shows for local artisans.  This program is known as "Art at the Mill".

    The Burwell-Morgan Mill has recently been restored to 1780s conditions and machinery.
    Millwood is known for its many antique shops, bed-and-breakfast's, and general stores.  Many of the structures in Millwood are old frame houses with various stone facades and lined with limestone fences.  The Clark House, built in 1842, was a meeting place during the negotiations of Confederate Colonel John Mosby's surrender.

    One of the many centuries old stone buildings in Millwood
    Millwood is located in Clarke County.  It can be reached easily from Winchester and Washington.  From the East or West via US 17/50, Millwood is easily reached via VA Route 255.  From the North or South via US 340, Millwood can be reached from Route 723 in Boyce.

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    Saturday, January 14, 2017

    Small Towns of Virginia Series - Hanover

     The Historic Hanover Courthouse Building built in 1735.
    The small village of Hanover sits as the County Seat of growing Hanover County.  Surrounded by centuries of history, this town of nearly 500 people along US Route 301 has lodged many famous dignitaries at an over two centuries old tavern and has been the birthplace of many notable names in American History.  The historic courthouse that sits off of the main highway was built in 1735.  Patrick Henry would make a name for himself here when he argued the Parson's Case in 1763.

    The well-known Hanover Tavern
    Directly across from the historic Courthouse building stands an equally historic location, Hanover Tavern.  Since 1733, a tavern has located its site.  The oldest part of the current building dates to 1791.  Many well-known names in early American history stayed at the Hanover Tavern site.  George Washington, Marquis de LaFayette, and Lord Cornwallis spent time here.  As did Patrick Henry when he argued the 1763 Parson's case.  The tavern would see years of use diminish as the automobile era lessened the need for overnight stays.  The tavern would remain active through World War II, but by the 1950s, it would sit almost empty.  In 1953, a group of New York actors would buy the tavern, restore it, and start the Barkdale Theatre.  It was a very popular Richmond destination into the 1980s.  In 1990, the Hanover Tavern Foundation was formed, and they purchased the building and the surrounding land.  The group began a restoration in the mid-90s and in 2004-05 began another restoration.  Today, the Hanover Tavern hosts dinners and banquets, art showings, historical reenactments, and other civic events.
     
    The Hanover Cafe adds to the charm of modern day Hanover.
    Today, Hanover is a small village that sits on US 301.  It is full of history and is worth taking 30 minutes out of your travels to walk around and experience.

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    Thursday, January 12, 2017

    Small Towns of Virginia Series - Charlotte Court House

    This sleepy little rural town in Central Virginia can easily be overlooked.  Located miles from the Interstate or four lane US and Virginia Highways, Charlotte Court House in many ways is easily forgotten.  However, this tiny town of slightly over 400 residents holds a lot of Virginia and American History.

    VA 47 and VA 40 run through Charlotte Court House.
     In 1799, Charlotte Court House saw the passing of the torch from an aging Patrick Henry and a young John Randolph.  The great debate over states' rights was the last for the fiery Henry and the first in public for Randolph.  Randolph would go on to serve in the US House of Representatives and U.S. Minister to Russia.  Henry, who was serving in the Virginia General Assembly representing Charlotte County at the time of the debate, died three months later.
     
    Charlotte Court House is not the original name of the town.  Originally named The Magazine, then Daltonsburgh, followed by Marysville (which was the town's name at the time of the Henry-Randolph debate), Smithfield, and finally named Charlotte Courthouse at the turn of the 20th Century.  However, that was not the last name change for the Charlotte County Seat.  In 1989, Charlotte Courthouse became Charlotte Court House, which it remains today.  Fittingly, there are still many listings of 'Charlotte Courthouse' today. 

    The Charlotte County Courthouse built in 1823.
    Charlotte Court House saw minimal action during the Civil War.  In June 1864, a Union foraging party entered the town after destroying rail lines in nearby Keysville, Meherinn Station and Burkeville Junction.  The brief Union occupation went rather uneventful and many residents were relieved when Union forces did not burn any parts of the town down.

    Within the courtyard of the Charlotte County Courthouse sits a Veterans and Confederate Soldiers Memorial.

    Today, Charlotte Court House is a charming small village that takes pride in their history.  There are numerous historical building within the town.  In addition to small inns, shops and restaurants.  In recent times, the 1993 movie "Sommersby" was shot here.

    A small general store in Charlotte Court House.

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    Wednesday, January 11, 2017

    Small Towns of Virginia Series - Cape Charles

    The Pavilion Gazebo is the centerpiece of Cape Charles Pier and Boardwalk
    Once the hub of all of Virginia's Eastern Shore transportation modes, Cape Charles today is a quieter  shadow of its once hustling self adjusting to find a new niche along the Eastern Shore.  Located approximately 11 miles north of the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula, Cape Charles was founded in the mid-1880s when a Pennsylvania Congressman by the name of William L. Scott purchased the land for a sum of $55,000.  The reason for the purchase was that the location was to be the southern terminus of the Delmarva branch of the New York, Philadelphia and Norfolk Railroad.  Immediately after tracks were laid ferry service began transporting passengers, freight, and mail to the mainland in Norfolk; but just as importantly, commerce from the urban areas in the North.  To some Cape Charles was a southern expansion of its Northern brethren as the town was a complete opposite of the sleepy agricultural villages along the peninsula.

    The Palace Theatre (1941) was once the regular home of the 'Miss Virginia' pageant

    The early days of the automobile era added to the prosperity of the town.  The automobile ferry "Virginia Lee" began operation in 1928 and within five years three round trip excursions occurred daily.  Also, a second ferry to Ocean View began operation.  In the years after the Second World War, it is estimated over two million people a year passed through Cape Charles.  The ferries were a key part of the Ocean Highway, a highly publicized route from New York to Florida.  The image at right shows the Cape Charles Ferry and how it was the key connection from the Peninsula to Norfolk.  However, this brief period would be the peak of Cape Charles role as the Eastern Shore's transportation hub.  In 1950, the Virginia Ferry Corporation moved the ferry terminal six miles to the south to Kiptopeake Beach.  The automobile ferry era on the peninsula would end fourteen years later when the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel opened and provided a continuous link between the Eastern Shore and the Mainland.  The town received another blow in 1953 when passenger rail service was discontinued.  The town still serves as a ferry terminal for freight rail.  But the lost of passenger revenue, auto and rail, has removed the once "City of Cape Charles" from a gateway to the industrial North and transformed it to a quiet fishing, agricultural, and tourism driven town like many of its sister Eastern Shore communities.


    The Harbor Grille, an example of Cape Charles redefining itself.
    Today, Cape Charles is a village .  Its downtown has emerged from the shadows of its bustling heyday.  This rebirth is anchored by the Hotel Cape Charles, a boutique hotel that has attracted many new visitors into town.  Meanwhile, the residential areas of the town glow in the charm of the Eastern Shore's laid-back atmosphere.  Many homes are nearly 100 years old with a good number dating back to the turn of the 20th century.  Many of these older homesteads have joined the cottage industry of Bed & Breakfast's.  Others are sought out for summer and year-round homes.  Much of the town has been designated a 'Historic District' which has added to the town's new 'tourist' charm.

    One of the many older homes of Cape Charles.
    To get to Cape Charles, take US 13 from either direction and take VA 184 (Old US 13).  This road will take you directly into the town.  US 13 has many modern amenities (gas and food).  Also, the Tidewater area is only a 30-45 minute drive to the south via US 13 and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.

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    Tuesday, January 10, 2017

    US 48 - Corridor H in Virginia

    (Seth Dunn)
    In April of 2003, new signs were erected on VA 55 west of Interstate 81 and Strasburg.  The new signs are for US 48, the approved designation for Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) Corridor 'H'.  Corridor H is one of three ARC routes that run through Virginia.  The others are the nearly completed Corridors 'B' and 'Q' which run in Southwestern Virginia.  Most ARC highways are not full fledged Interstate Highways; typically they are multi-laned partially controlled access roadways.  There are interchanges and grade separation for most routes, though some do include full freeways which Corridors B and Q in Virginia do have.  Further, some have been converted to Interstates, Corridor B (I-26) in North Carolina, is an example.  As of September 2015, nearly 88 percent of the ARC highway system is complete.

    Corridor H is legislatively routed from Interstate 79 near Weston, West Virginia to Interstate 81 near Strasburg, Virginia.  Construction began on the I-79 to Elkins, WV segment in the 1970s and was finished by the mid-1990s.  Corridor H from Weston to Elkins carries US 33 in its entirety and parts of US 119 and 250.

    1994-96 WV State Map showing Corridor 'H' and US 33
    entering into Virginia and terminating at Interstate 81
    After completion of the highway to Elkins, West Virginia began a push to complete the entire route into and through Virginia.  Then Governor Cecil Underwood made it a point of his administration to "...move aggressively toward construction of every segment of Corridor H as we have been financially and legally permitted to do so." (1)  Underwood's aggressiveness was clearly demonstrated in the 1994-96 Official West Virginia Transportation Map.  The map showed the entire proposed routing of Corridor H, including showing the highway's possible route in Virginia. (See Map on Left) West Virginia also gave the new route the designation of US 33.

    However, Virginia did not share Underwood's aggressive approach towards building the highway and in 1995 announced that the Commonwealth was not interested in completing their portion of Corridor H.  West Virginia, in turn, lowered the priority of completing the highway west of Wardensville.  As of 2017, WV intends to begin construction from Wardensville to the Virginia state line in 2027

    Since the mid-1990s, West Virginia has begun to build portions of Corridor H from Elkins to Wardensville.  There have been various amounts of opposition and other obstacles, but since the late 1990s small pieces of the highway have begun to fall into place.  During that same time period, West Virginia had begun talking about designating all of Corridor H as US 48.  Finally, on October 11, 2002, AASHTO approved the designation for both states.  Although Virginia has signed US 48, it has not changed its position to not build their section of Corridor H.  Though prior to the 2012 MAP-21 transportation funding authorization by Congress, Virginia had told the federal government that they would complete their section of Corridor H by 2030.  However, since that point there has been no movement within Virginia towards completion of this route.

    US 48/VA 55 BGS (Exit 296) on I-81 North  (Oscar Voss)

    US 48 West and VA 55 Shields (Oscar Voss)

    US 48/VA 55 BGS (Exit 296) on I-81 South  (Oscar Voss)

    US 48/VA 55 Shields (Seth Dunn)
    Navigation, Sources & Links:
    • Continue West on US 48/Corridor H into West Virginia
    • US 48 @ Virginia Highway Project - Adam Froehlig & Mike Roberson
    • Seth Dunn
    • Oscar Voss 
    • (1) Murdock, T. Micheal. "Gov. Underwood Dedicates New Section Of Corridor H." Huntingtonnews.net. Jan. 6, 2001 

    Sunday, January 08, 2017

    Small Towns of Virginia Series - Dillwyn

    Downtown Dillwyn, VA along US 15
    Dillwyn is a small town located in Central Virginia along the James Madison Highway.  This Buckingham County town of around 450 residents sits just north of the intersection of Virginia Route 20 and US 15.  Dillwyn is not far from the physical geographic center of Virginia which is about eight miles west of town in Mount Rush.

    The former Buckingham Farm Supply store.

    Dillwyn is home to the Buckingham Branch Railroad.  The rail is Virginia's largest short-line railway company operating nearly 275 miles within the Commonwealth.  The rail line began in 1989 when the Bryant family purchased 17 miles of a branch line from Dillwyn north to Bremo Bluff from CSX.  The company grew in 2004 and 2009 when it entered leasing agreements with CSX and Norfolk Southern respectively.

    The Buckingham Branch does offer seasonal excursion trains out of Dillwyn in the Spring and Fall.  In addition, during December they offer a train ride with Santa Claus.  The railroad partners with the Old Dominion Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society for these excursions.


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