The Exposition Hall, once a part of the West Virginia Exposition & State Fair that operated in Wheeling until 1937, burned to the ground yesterday.
Once considered outdated and redneck, dirt oval racetracks have made a resurgence across the rural swaths of America as unending regulations and expensive fares making it hard to justify trips to a NASCAR race track. Local dirt track racing has come back full throttle, although that resurgence has not spread to the abandoned West Virginia Motor Speedway near Parkersburg, West Virginia.
Several years ago, I embarked on a winding trip through the Winding Gulf coalfield of West Virginia, to explore and discover the history of this once-bustling part of the nation. The Winding Gulf coalfield rapidly developed in the early 20th century with the advent of deep underground mines that required thousands of miners—and their families.
Ghost towns along the New River in West Virginia are aplenty but what makes these three unique is that they lay within the New River Gorge National River. Prior to the creation of the national park in the late 1970s, much of the land was used for the production of coal and coke. Small, company-owned towns were developed for the miners and their families, and when those mines closed out—so did the communities.
Several years ago, I made my way into the heart of West Virginia to photograph several waterfalls along the Holly River and its tributaries. But as I made my way further and deeper into the recesses of the valleys and higher atop the mountains, I came across lands that were forgotten and fallow. Residences that once tended to untold acres of crops and pastures now lay abandoned and in waste.
West Virginia has many miles of fantastic rail-to-trails, or railroads that have been abandoned and converted into recreational corridors. Most of the trails are not paved, and many contain impressive bridges and tunnels that make any trip exciting. And quite a few of them have remnants of their coal mining past remaining, whether it is abandoned mine portals or discarded equipment.
Several years ago, I traveled to Hawks Nest State Park along the US 60, the Midland Trail, to hike along the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad (C&O) Hawks Nest Subdivision. The 3.4-mile line was originally as a narrow-gauge railroad alongside Mill Creek in Fayette County, connecting the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad (C&O) at Hawks Nest Station to Ansted and is today a rail-to-trail.
After a recent drive through Cairo, Illinois (article forthcoming), and seeing the effects of decades of racial segregation and violence, and then economic decline and population loss, I wondered what other major and minor cities in the United States has experienced such steep and dramatic losses? Besides Cairo, Detroit and Wheeling, I asked my Facebook readers of other examples.