The silver bells never chimed as well as those ringing on Buckhannon street corners. With fresh pine accenting bright, black lamp posts and red bows streaming from each, our December Mountain State Mini (a three-day Wild, Wonderful West Virginia vacation) takes us to Upshur County where our family and friends can enjoy the holiday season.
It is that time of year when we need some quiet moments to ponder 2011 events and 2012 dreams. Why not visit Buckhannon, where Methodism is heralded and Christmas is showcased in a blend of hometown atmosphere that helps one to remember the reason for the season and drift toward hopes for the New Year?
I can vividly remember a December winter excursion to the "Game Farm" (now known as the West Virginia Wildlife Center) on W.Va. 20 at Southern Upshur's French Creek. My brother and I toured an outdoor zoo filled with different forest regulars, and it was only fitting that on the way, Alvin and the Chipmunks were crooning their Christmas song on the car radio. What a great day that was.
Photo courtesy of Shannon Bennett Campbell
Friends and families share conversation, coffee and other warm winter drinks at The Daily Grind, which is an example of Buckhannon’s quaint and inviting shops.
Fifty years later, we still seek this fun and pleasure. As families, we develop closer bond if we are able to share hot chocolate, sled rides and sing carols together. And while many seek relationship in their churches, it is important for us to recognize that also sharing quality time with one another is an important part of the season. It should receive as much or more attention than shopping and presents.
Buckhannon could be just the perfect place to spend time together and relax. Wide sidewalks provide space and wait for flurries to add finishing touches to the decorative displays. Shops are numerous and well-stocked. And several possibilities for a tasty break exist, with wonderful coffees, pastries, fruit and yogurt parfaits, soups and sandwiches. Not to be forgotten is the most delicious doughnut selection in Central West Virginia at W.Va. 20's Donut Shop.
Out Tennerton way, Diane's Hallmark has a fabulous array of Christmas cards, paper, spiritual books and presents that can fill a backseat fast.
Want to get further into the Christmas spirit? Stop by West Virginia Wesleyan College Chapel at 4 p.m. this Sunday, where the Larry Parsons Chorale will present its annual Festival of Lessons and Carols. Melody Meadows, chapel organist, will delight visitors with outstanding musical arrangements not unlike those heard in larger metropolitan cities beyond our Appalachians. This activity is only typical of the wonderful arts community that exists in Upshur County.
A new Center for the Performing Arts complements the college's chapel and coordinates with its drama department. The Buckhannon Community Theatre, Choral Society and Chamber Orchestra along with the Augusta Youth Ballet Co. also generate performance offerings. Call Upshur County's Convention and Visitor's Bureau at 304-473-l400 to learn of weekly holiday performances available.
Many do not realize that Buckhannon represents the first permanent settlement west of the Alleghenies. Visitors to the Pringle Tree on W.Va. 20 N can see where John and Samuel Pringle came to the Buckhannon River Valley in l734 and lived in a hallow sycamore tree near the mouth of Turkey Run. Upshur County was not formed until almost l00 years later, and it was named after President William Tyler's Secretary of State Able Parker Upshur, a Virginia jurist. This facility opens for tourists in May.
Another Upshur County first was Helen Reger's pilot kindergarten project, the first in any West Virginia public school during Gov. Arch A. Moore Jr.'s administration. Education has always been a high priority in Upshur County. In l982, this county became the first in the United States to have an all-female Board of Education, according to the National School Boards Association director.
While we become enveloped in the winter holiday season, we are mindful of Upshur County's mild weather offerings. Many family river camps are on three great rivers, the Right Fork of the Buckhannon, the Buckhannon and the Middle Fork. Fishing, boating and swimming are common summer pastimes here.
Audra State Park, Holly River State Park and Stonecoal Lake are nearby. Used by many throughout the year, they are good representations of why our Mountain State is looked at as the recreational mecca of the East Coast.
While Upshur County is only a third the size of Randolph County, there are several small villages surrounding its Buckhannon county seat including Tallmansville, Hodgesville, Rock Cave, Lorentz, Sago, Selbyville, Ellamore, French Creek, Tennerton and Alexander.
We can see that much emphasis is on "community" here. Buckhannon has participated in the West Virginia Main Street Project for many years - and it is reflected by its full and vibrant downtown. Many shops fill its streets, from antique stores to bistros and cafes, to businesses offering fine gifts and books. And, as one heads for the school district past Tennerton, an additional grouping of stores awaits them. These small shops represent cottage industries and are a real key to our future.
It is important to remember that our small shop owners must persevere to ensure us goods for the future. At Ron Hinkle's glassware, the owner not only depends on us, but his trade serves as a good example of who we must depend on for the future as gasoline prices hold high and we are not able to travel so far away to meet our needs.
As one wanders through Buckhannon community streets, visible from many vantage points is the Wesley Chapel steeple. A cause for reflection and meditation, we complete our Upshur visit with some thoughts about Christmas.
I want to share a few words from the Rev. Peter Marshall, who was the l947 United States Senate Chaplain:
"We thank Thee, O God, for the return of the wondrous spell of this Christmas season that brings its own sweet joy into our jaded and troubled hearts. ...
"May we not spend Christmas but keep it, that we may be kept in its hope, through him who emptied himself in coming to us that we might be filled with peace and joy in returning to God. Amen."
And as we spend at least as much time praying for peace in the world as we do opening presents, my Christmas Card to those who have been loyal readers of my childhood memories and Appalachian yarns are sent a Helen Steiner Rice message:
"May you feel the quiet beauty
of that holy, silent night
When God sent the little Christ child
to be this dark world's light.
May you know the peace He promised,
may you feel His presence near,
Not only just at Christmas,
but throughout a happy year."
(Shannon Bennett Campbell served 35 years in both college and public school settings as an administrator, counselor and teacher.)