It is Saturday, and as I go out on my front porch to retrieve The Inter-Mountain, what a wonderful aroma has caught a ride in the breeze. There's only one place in this state I could be for this Mountain State Mini (a three-day Wild, Wonderful West Virginia vacation). Randolph County is the home of outdoor, hand-turned, barbecued chicken - juicy, roasted-to-perfection and tender-to-the-bite.
The never-go-hungry, happening place where we are proud to invite travelers anytime to Elkins and the surrounding communities, a county of steeples and cultures. The population size suggests typical, but its quantity of events and activities are tremendous. West Virginia University studies verify that the area's largest industry is tourism. You will see as we flip the calendar open and look at the next 90 days.
Of course, as you read, the annual Mountain State Street Machines car show has moved into the city park located behind the Randolph Avenue Henry Gassaway Davis horse statue, and the Chamber of Commerce Independence Day Celebration lit the skies last night with many colorful fireworks after the Texaco Country Showdown competition. Today, find residents and visitors lingering in the park sharing stories while admiring vintage automobiles.
Photo by Shannon Bennett Campbell
Sure Catch Fish Farm is a ‘must find’ destination for families who enjoy fishing. From Elkins and before getting to Montrose on U.S. 219/250 north, take a right at Stalnaker Run. Follow the signs about five miles and two large lakes of trout and catfish await you.
If you enjoy memories, as I do, of favorite trips or drives through the countryside, walk to the park and see the cars where you spent many afternoons cruising around roads you swore followed snakepaths. If anything is different around Randolph County, it is that we have a four-lane road heading most every direction to and from Elkins. No wonder people think they have made it to the metropolis as one pulls into our main intersection.
When my education career began here in l977, I was very interested in the county's history because between my grade school's "Weekly Reader" and TV's "Wonderful World of Disney," colonial history and Civil War fighting were common topics. Both of these subjects were part of community histories I read to learn of first teaching assignments at Coalton, Harman and Pickens. I discovered that the Snyder family was very involved in Harman's beginnings and Mennonite influence was evident. Coalton was populated with many Italians who came to work in the area coal operations and brought with them their Roman Catholic heritage. And Pickens, once larger than Elkins, had Catholic worshipers and a shared workforce with those in nearby Helvetia, a Swiss colony whose lineage was primarily Presbyterian.
All of these groups had influence on the county's early beginnings, but it was Robert Files and David Tygart who explored the Tygart Valley River and brought their families about l753, according to E. Lee North in "55 West Virginias - A Guide to the State's Counties" (l998). North, also, notes that "much of the early fighting in the Civil War in West Virginia took place in Randolph County."
In fact, near Beverly, one of the oldest towns in West Virginia founded in l790, all eyes will focus on the July 6-11 Sesquicentennial Commemoration of the Battle of Rich Mountain. RMB Foundation members have planned an entire week focusing on this l50th anniversary. More than 200 re-enactors are expected for the big skirmish five miles west of Beverly on July 11 at 2 p.m. The many activities planned can be found at www.richmountain.org or by calling 304-637-7424.
While in Beverly, stop by the museum, the Foundation's gift shop, get primitives at Cornucopia across the street and leave with Campbell's Market meats and home-grown farm items or fresh-made lunch from Bobbie's Service Station as you make an Elkins return.
If continuing south toward Pocahontas County, make a stop at the Dailey Grill and Fudge Shoppe for a fine meal and 14 kinds of fresh-made fudge. Moving onto Valley Bend, find a tasty raspberry-vanilla swirl cone (or all raspberry for those who like to pucker) or delight in some creme pie varieties (butterscotch being great) at C and J's Dairy King. Two long-time lady cooks here have fed Valley folks for what must seem like forever. A stop must be made at Bob's Mini-Mart or the Huttonsville Exxon if some snacks are needed for a Cheat Mountain campout. These are last stops for grub and supplies before scaling the mountains or fording bigger streams. If Snowshoe is the destination, ham salad sandwiches are available at the Valley Head Market, along with coconut creme pie that is totally rich and unforgettable. Getting hungry in this "neck-of-the-woods" is not possible.
Another "great find" is located in Helvetia, usually driven to from Mill Creek (Route 219/250 south), but accessible from Mabie onto Adolph off Route 33 or Corridor H east of Elkins. The Hutte Restaurant is among West Virginia's favorites. Guests come from many locations to enjoy the Swiss Village and partake of German foods, homemade Swiss cheese, light desserts and Sunday noon smorgasbord specialties. The late Eleanor Mailloux spent much of her life inspiring community members to build their tourist attraction, and it has won the hearts of Embassy leaders in Washington, D.C., who have often attended Swiss National Day celebrations. This year's Helvetia Fair is planned for Sept. 9-11, and all are welcome to enter canned goods and other items for judging. Saturday is most busy with exhibits, dinners, a parade and square dancing. For more information, call 304-924-5835. Overnight stays can be arranged at The Beekeeper Inn by calling 304-924-6435. This same number can be used for Hutte reservations, strongly recommended on Sundays.
Let us hurry and return to Elkins, because as the Rich Mountain Battlefield guns go silent, the banjos and fiddles are being tuned for the Davis & Elkins College Augusta Festival. Six weeks of Cajun, blues, Irish, bluegrass, swing and old-time music, craft, and folklore instruction begins complete with short, evening, mini-classes for $55 that are still open for students. For more information, visit www.AugustaHeritage.com or call 304-637-1209. Augusta's Tuesday/Thursday evening concerts, their Juried Arts and Crafts Show Aug. l3, Pickin' in the Park and public dances at the college's pavilion are all special venues. A complete weekend package of their activities will be Aug. l2-l4 as they showcase their 39th season.
One Elkins feature that is repetitive is its city park. Among many gifts given by the Davis Family, (Graceland, Halliehurst, the land for the college, the Davis Memorial Presbyterian Church and other community acquisitions), the Elkins City Park across from Davis & Elkins College is certainly one of the most beautiful in small-town America. Maintained by the city of Elkins and cared for by park patrons, it is used year-round and houses several major events including Mountain State Forest Festival exhibits and the annual Elkins area bands' Corn Roast. Family picnics, children's playground use, teen basketball or just enjoying the park benches to read or write are welcome activities. Residents take great pride in the tall trees and many kinds of wildlife that can be found there. Respect for it and those who love its peace and calm are appreciated by so many who believe it is part of their Randolph County home.
As we walk from the park toward the Town Square at the Railroad Station, we notice trains on the track being readied for destinations. The New Tygart Flyer or the Cheat Mountain Salamander tickets can be had by calling 1-877-686-7245. Saturdays are busy at the station because a full-fledged Farmer's Market operates from 9 a.m. to noon. Fresh vegetables and meats, farm eggs, wild flowers, baked goods, jellies, hand-picked berries, honey and much more are common fare. Bring a basket and enjoy filling it as your great-grandmother did. Consider the olden days where buying straight from the producer had advantages of barter, a baker's dozen or other benefits.
Next door to the Railroad Depot is the American Mountain Theater in its fifth season. A spectacular display of music, song and spirit await showtime people. I do not compare it with Branson-style, because I am sure it is better with Randolph County's own Heckel Family taking the lead in the singing roles. The yearly program has varied performances and are best reviewed on the web at www.americanmountaintheater.com or by calling 1-800-943-3670. Special Christmas performances and guest gospel appearances also can be seen.
The Gandy Dancer, another evening entertainment option, features a dinner with the performance and is very new in town. Reservations are a must at 304-636-4935. Plan on lots of toe-tapping and fun.
Camp Pioneer, home to 4-H boys and girls, is also a lively place. The annual Ox Roast will take place July 28 and features deep-pit barbecued beef. This is a complete meal with coleslaw, baked beans, homemade desserts and beverage. The price has gone up a little, but is there a worthier cause? All who can get there, do so, for the 4-Her's have done a lot to build this county.
Likewise, visit the Randolph County Fair there Sept. l5-l8. Agriculture is the name of the game and you will have a special experience being back-on-the-farm. Sept. l7 will find Camp Pioneer busy with the State Open Banjo and Fiddle Contest to complete upcoming events.
An ample supply of hotels, restaurants and shops exist to make any Randolph County vacation enjoyable. The Randolph County Convention and Visitors Bureau has already sent more than 25,000 Visitor Guides this year and is pleased at the number of tourists stopping by the Information Center off of Corridor H's Elkins exit. Its staff is available each day to answer questions by calling l-800-422-3304 or using randolphcountywv.com. A good Rail-Trail is beside the building that houses almost 400 brochures about this area. Bicycle by and see what is offered. Overwhelming is not being "too dramatic." This is a major operation and may be why they chose the motto, "Randolph County - The Heart of West Virginia."
As we think about our county and our country at this historical time of remembrance, I am reminded of when I represented the American Legion Auxiliary's l969 Rhododendron Girls State as one of two senators to Girls Nation in Washington, D.C. We had two Japanese ambassadors visiting our group on the last night we were there. I decided that someone should be making these foreign friends feel more welcome at a reception we were having. I looked around the room and started over to their location. As I got closer, only one of our nation's senators was standing with them. She was Ellen Brown from Elkins.
I stood there realizing that all I ever believed about being from this Mountain State and being from Appalachia was true. We cared with a compassion that made us compelled to live our better impulses - not think them, or profess them, but to do them. And because of Ellen's sense of caring that evening and my own, I knew having a heart was native to us - not just imagination, but reality.
On this July 4th, if people want to take some time to relax and reflect, they might determine how they can care more where it will make a difference. Will it be for friends, family or faith? Will it be for commitment to profession, country or self?
In America's past, people have cared. Some have cared more about themselves. Most have cared about others. People give every day of their time, talents and treasures. Does it have anything to do with all the church steeples we see here? Probably. Are we affected by the War Memorial saluting God and America? Of course. In Appalachia, there is a very serious attitude to be sincere in what is done for God. And that spirit carries us on, and its ceasing is not in sight.
(Shannon Bennett Campbell is a freelance writer and photographer and is involved in puppet ministry while completing post-doctoral studies at Wesley Theologival Seminary in Washington, D.C.)