Exploring West Virginia’s Allegheny Plateau

My friend Ben and I were excited to explore West Virginia, aiming to visit locations featured in the Fallout 76 video game. Despite Ben’s tight schedule, we hoped to see key sites like the New River Gorge, Seneca Rocks, Mollohan Mill, and Dolly Sods. However, the extensive driving distances and winding mountain roads required us to condense our plans.

My friend Ben and I were excited to explore West Virginia, aiming to visit locations featured in the Fallout 76 video game. Despite Ben’s tight schedule, we hoped to see key sites like the New River Gorge, Seneca Rocks, Mollohan Mill, and Dolly Sods. However, the extensive driving distances and winding mountain roads required us to condense our plans.

Our journey began near the heart of West Virginia, close to our campsite along the New River Gorge’s northern edge, in Thurmond. This historic town, once a bustling center for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, offered us a glimpse into its past as we explored its old town center and remnants of its coal and sand operations. A highlight was witnessing the Amtrak’s Cardinal train cutting through the town, a reminder of the area’s rich railway heritage.

Next, we visited Nuttallburg, a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit of John Nuttall, a coal mining pioneer from England. Starting in 1870, Nuttall acquired lands rich in coal along Keeneys Creek and the New River. By 1873, with the completion of the C&O Railway, Nuttallburg emerged as a significant mining town, known for shipping “smokeless” coal to the east. The town featured innovative coal processing technologies, including a conveyor system and coke ovens, essential for converting coal into high-carbon coke for steel production. Coal mining operations in Nuttallburg ceased in 1958, marking the end of an era.

Our travels then took us through Winona, a former coal camp named after Winona Gwinn, reflecting the area’s deep mining history. Despite modern changes, some original structures remain, echoing the community’s past.

Abandoned Winona House

As the day waned, we raced against the sunset to reach Mollohan Mill in Webster County. Built in 1894, this mill stood as a symbol of resilience, surviving floods and technological changes until its closure in 1953. Arriving just in time to catch the sunset, the mill’s silhouette against the golden sky was a sight to behold.

The next day, we explored Seneca Rocks, marveling at the towering crag that offers challenging hikes and climbing routes.

Nearby, Harper’s Old Country Store, in operation since 1902, welcomed us with its historic charm and a glimpse into the area’s retail history.

Harpers General Store
Harpers General Store

Almost hidden by design but within an earshot of the country store is the former Seneca Motor Company building. which was the location of D. C. Harper’s Ford dealership from 1946 to the early 1960s.

Nearby is a collection of white clapboard sided tourist cabins that date back to the early days of automobile travel. They were simple in appearance and simple in function with only the bare of amenities—including an outhouse for bodily functions.

Tourist cabins and houses were some of the earliest forms of lodging available for motorists in the early 1910s and declined in popularity as “motor hotels” offering inexpensive, easily accessible overnight rooms began to be developed along major highways starting in the 1920s.

Nearby was a long-abandoned 110-year-old residence, its function supplemented and then replaced by a more modern (and now equally abandoned) split foyer building on a farm. Inside were some remnants of prior occupants, including a vintage Symphonic Vintage Record Player Model 1701 and a crocheted turkey decoration.

Our journey led us to Helvetia, a community established by Swiss and German immigrants post-Civil War, seeking a new life in America’s rural landscapes. Here, we experienced the continuation of Swiss traditions and savored a meal at The Hütte Restaurant, enjoying outdoor dining amidst the pandemic.

Helvetia is a relatively isolated community that was settled by Swiss and German-speaking immigrants in 1869. After the end of the American Civil War, a group of Swiss and German-speaking immigrants calling themselves the Grütliverein (Grütli Society) was formed in Brooklyn, New York. The members agreed that they would emigrate to a more rural area of the country together.

Isler, a member of the Society, surveyed large areas of the eastern West Virginia mountains and reported back on the richness of the country. A committee of six men was assembled and left Brooklyn for Clarksburg by rail on October 15, 1869, and from there, the men trekked 75 miles by wagon, horseback, and foot over the mountains and along the valleys of the forks of the Buckhannon River before reaching a plot of land that was for sale. Although the group was disappointed in how wild and rugged the land was, it was reasonably priced; they also received offers of other assistance from the land agents in Clarksburg if they would encourage further settlement in the area. After returning, the Society all decided they would emigrate to some bottomland along Trout Run.

In 1978, Helvetia was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and today it is an area known for its Swiss traditions, festivals, food, and folklife.

As Ben returned home, I continued to explore, discovering remnants of local education and rural life. I came across the abandoned Norris School was a larger four-classroom school, whereas Georgetown School was a simpler one-room facility. Both have been closed for decades, victims of consolidation.

Driving the back roads, you never know what you’ll encounter. Nestled on the side of Pen Run valley is a rustic two-story clapboard-sided house, still standing after decades of disuse because of its tin roof and sturdy construction. It appears to have functioned as a hayloft more recently.

Further south at the Upshur and Webster County line, I spied from the corner of my eye a rustic country church surrounded by autumn colors. Founded in 1892, the Cleveland United Methodist Church served the local community that was named after President Grover Cleveland. Because of declining membership and dwindling finances, the church was closed for regular worship in the 1992 and made into a memorial church, serving the community for funerals, special events, and for an annual homecoming held each August.

Following a very early alignment of West Virginia Route 20 along Short Run Creek, I came across a directional sign that commemorated the nearby rocks where Union soldiers killed Confederate Captain James McCray in 1862 as he and two others lay in wait for the Union men to pass. McCray had been granted a commission and was in the process of forming a local militia unit. He is buried in the nearby McCray Cemetery.

Tucked away atop a ridgetop is a lonely general store and post office that is chock full of vintage clothings and wares, including a retro Westinghouse refrigerator, an adding machine, a Truetone Radio, and a Black & Decker coffeemaker. According to its business license and calendars that were strewn about, the store was last operated in 1991 or 1992.

This expedition through West Virginia was not just a journey across landscapes but a voyage through time, revealing the enduring spirit and rich history of its communities. As the trip drew to a close, the experiences and memories of West Virginia’s storied past and scenic beauty remained, marking the end of a remarkable adventure.

1 Comment

Add Yours →

That general store in Nuttallsburg looks more like a lone prison cell or perhaps a bank. The place seems to have 12″ thick stone walls. Aside from that questionable gripe, the photography here is, as usual, stunning. I live in Lancaster, Ohio, and just south of here lie ghost towns in gay abandon,: though unlike those in the Old West ours tend to rot rather quickly. The forests were all clear cut by 1900 and the coal mines closed in 1929, never to re-open. Nobody hung around, so now the remains of paved streets run through utterly isolated second-growth forest.

Leave your comment!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Discover more from Abandoned

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading