Located in the Appalachian region of the United States of America, West Virginia is officially dubbed as the ‘Mountain State.’ Neighboured by Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio Pennsylvania, and Maryland, it is the 10th smallest state in the nation which gained statehood in 1863.
West Virginia is the only American state to be situated completely within the Appalachian Regional Commission and hence, is popularly called as “Appalachia.” The Mountain State’s majestic mountains hills and cool trout waters are famous for several outdoor adventure and recreational activities.
Funnily, West Virginia is the southernmost state in the northern part of America and the northernmost state in the southern part so you could never tell up from down!
Did you know that May 10th is celebrated as Mother’s Day in the whole world? Probably you do. But, did you know that the occasion was first observed in West Virginia on May 10th, 1908?
It is said that West Virginians are great at keeping secrets, so much so that for three decades they managed to hide a two-story bunker which can be used to hide and survive if there is ever a nuclear attack. Speaking of secrets, let us explore some of the hidden gems in West Virginia.
1. Lake Shawnee Amusement Park, Rock
As the story goes, up until 1783, Mercer County was inhabited by Native Americans, however, an attempt by a European family to settle in the area caused disturbances. One day, Mitchell Clay, the head of the European family was out hunting, when a bunch of Native Americans murdered his youngest son, knifed his daughter to death, and burnt his eldest son alive. To seek revenge, Clay killed several Native Americans.
Several centuries later, in the 1920s, Conley T. Snidow, a businessman, purchased Clay’s land and built an amusement park. However, within a short period of time, a little girl died due to a swing accident, and in another incident, a little boy drowned in the park’s swimming pool.
Four more died in various accidents at the park, after which the site was finally left abandoned.
Today, the site is frequented by several paranormal investigators and the ghosts of the little children.
2. Thurmond Ghost Town, Thurmond
Until 1921, there were no roads in and out of Thurmond, but only a single rail line that connected the outside world to the thriving coal depot of Thurmond. However, by the time the lane was constructed, most of the population had moved out.
The prison compound was divided into four sections – the “Alamo” for the most ruthless inmates, the “mainline” for everyday assortments of prisoners, the “Rat Row” for the heightened protection of the snitches, and the “Honor Hall” for the well-behaved “trustees.”
During the time of its operation, the Penitentiary had witnessed a total of 92 executions – 83 by hanging and 9 by electrocution.
Today, the only inhabitants of the prison compound are the “shadow man” (a legendary apparition), a few spirits, and the ghost chasers who like exploring the century-old penitentiary.
3. Mothman Museum, Point Pleasant
Between 1966 and 1967, the inhabitants of Point Pleasant, West Virginia reported spotting a mysterious, man-like creature with red eyes and massive wings. The creature distinctively resembled a moth, and hence, came to be known as the “Mothman.”
The Mothman Museum is a small storefront museum regarded as the only collection of its kind in the world to be dedicated to the namesake insect and the legendary Mothman. Made popular over the decades, the “Mothman” has been the subject of many movies (the Mothman Prophecies) and shows on television.
Newspaper clippings from the time, toys, dummies, and other such artifacts are on display at the museum. The owner of the museum hasn’t only dedicated a book to the alleged Mothman but now also conducts a yearly Mothman festival.
4. Congressional Fallout Shelter at the Greenbrier Resort, White Sulphur Springs
Until 1992, the Congressional Fallout Shelter, formerly known as Project X, Project Casper and lastly Project Greek Island, remained a secret to the common public. Constructed to protect the entire U.S Congress in case of a nuclear event, the shelter is located underneath the Greenbrier Resort.
Surprisingly, the shelter was only meant to house the Congressmen and their aids while their family was supposed to find shelter elsewhere.
In order to maintain secrecy, the nuclear bunker was maintained by a shell corporation named Forsythe Associates. The shelter included standard bunk-style beds, furniture, TV, an incinerator, and a special room for distressed personnel.
Today, the bunker acts as an office to a data storage company and offers weekly guided tours.
5. Nuttallburg, Fayetteville
John Nuttall, a coal prospector foresaw the town’s popularity in the coal mining trade and built the Nuttallburg facility. Around hundred house constructions and a large ore refinery were added to the town.
In the 1920s, the thriving mining town was acquired by Ford Motor Company who used the complete output of the mine to provide power to their automotive facility in Michigan. Ford expanded the mine to a great length, unfortunately, however, in 1928 the operation had to be shut down, most likely due to railroad guidelines.
Today, the old mining facility and its surrounding ghost town remain abandoned at large except for a few curious urban explorers who like hiking around the area every now and then.
6. Mystery Hole, Ansted
What’s America without its many thousands roadside attractions and oddities that have kept the families amused for decades? In Ansted, West Virginia a man named Donald Wilson opened the Mystery Hole to the public in 1973 – he claims that the underground area works mostly against the rules of gravity.
Inside the chambers, balls and water seem to roll uphill, humans stand at a slant, and furniture stands atop impossible surfaces. However, the room is not the only attraction in the area.
Above ground, Wilson built a gift shop that is painted in the most bright colors and is covered in strange yet intriguing artwork, for instance, a Big Gorilla hovering over the store and an old Beetle crashing into the store.
Today, new owners Will and Sandra Morrison run the store just like it was in the 1970s.
7. New Vrindaban Palace of Gold, Moundsville
Tucked away in the Appalachian Mountains, New Vrindaban is a religious community and an unincorporated village owned and managed by the “Hare Krishna” group. Founded in 1968 by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, creator of International Society for Krishna Consciousness, the inhabitants of the community aim at practicing and preserving the teachings of Hindu Lord, Sri Krishna.
At its peak, the community was home to over 400 permanent residents, though only 100 occupy the village now. The “Palace of Gold” was constructed between the 1970s and 1980s by a group of untrained devotee volunteers and cost approximately $600,000 in building material including onyx, teak, marble, and several 22-carat gold leaves.
Though the Swami in-charge was charged with fraud and racketeering and was sentenced to 20 years of jail time in 1996, the current residents still continue to preserve their culture and religious beliefs as best as they can.
8. New River Gorge Bridge, Fayetteville
The New River Gorge Bridge is regarded as one of the finest mega-bridges in the world and is often considered a huge challenge for fellow motorists. However, every year, on the third Saturday of October, it is legal for anyone and everyone to jump off of the bridge!
Constructed in 1977, the passageway connects either side of the West Virginia Gorge, and for several years, it was the longest of its kind in the world. At 876 feet above the rapids and 3,030 feet-long, the staggering Gorge Bridge became a hotspot for BASE jumpers within just two years after it was opened to the public. Burton Ervin was the first man to discover the possibility and make the first BASE jump.
Today, the “Bridge day” is an annual event that sees a group of selected 450 BASE jumpers from all around the nation and the world gather here and jump from the bridge.
9. Mount Wood Castle and Cemetery, Wheeling
Wheeling in West Virginia is known to be super rich in mythology. Apparently, the town was once home to more millionaires than anywhere else in America – traders, tycoons, and gangsters.
As the story goes, in 1925, the Mount Wood Castle property belonged to a doctor who wanted to transform into a dream project for his wife. Unfortunately, the poor doctor got caught up in drug trafficking and was sent out to prison before his project could ever be completed. And, his property was donated to the City of Wheeling.
The Mount Wood Cemetery is located next to the property and is the final resting place of several first settlers of the city. Some of the graves date as far back as to the 1700s. Though most of the castle and the cemetery is sitting dilapidated now, it is still a beautiful sight to explore, especially for ghost chasers and urban explorers.
10. Archive of the Afterlife, Moundsville
Dubbed as the “National Museum of the Paranormal,” Archive of the Afterlife is filled with artifacts related to history, and in certain cases, paranormal or the afterlife (of course!).
Among the museum’s collection are the lost execution cap of “Old Sparky,” the execution chair used by West Virginia State Penitentiary, battle-damaged relics from World War II, and a huge room filled with items that are allegedly haunted or cursed. As the museum claims, some of the haunted items on display are more “charged” than others, for instance, the execution cap, the Annie portrait, and the defaced effigy doll.
Other objects on exhibit at the Archive of the Afterlife include embalming tables, service display caskets, and a range of signposts and promotional pamphlets of various funeral homes in the area.
11. Curious Rock, Spencer
A 20-feet table rock formation in Spencer, West Virginia has been confusing onlookers for ages – some say it is a geological formation while others claim that it could be an ancient Native American totem.
A two-hour-long hike takes you to the Curious Rock, in the middle of nowhere, looking like a “God” meditating on a mountaintop with a large stone cap.
While there isn’t any certainty as to when these rocks were formed, there is, at least, a definitive name for this kind of rock formation, a “table rock formation,” as opposed to “Turnip Rock” or “Jug Rock.”
The Rock and the surrounding area is open to the public, however, the current landowner is still trying to get definitive information on the rock’s age and history.
12. Spruce Knob, Riverton
Spruce Knob, the peak of Spruce Mountain, at 4,863 feet is the highest point in West Virginia and is enclosed by a thick, spruce forest, hence the name.
You can reach the peak via walking trails as well as a paved road, and enjoy the summit view from the stone lookout tower. A picnic space and restroom facilities are also available at the peak.
The term “knob” is primarily used to denote the highest point on a ridge in the southern Appalachians. From the top of the Mountain, you can observe the picturesque vistas of the Germany Valley and North Fork Mountain in the east and the Allegheny Plateau in the west. Spruce Knob is also the highest tip in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
Reportedly, the mountaintop is submerged in 180 inches of snow and makes the approaching roads almost impossible to access from autumn till spring.
13. Cass Scenic Railroad, Cass
Located in Cass, West Virginia Cass Scenic Railroad is a state park that comprises an 11-mile-long railroad, the former Cass company town, and a section of Bald Knob, the highest point of Back Allegheny Mountain.
Established in 1901, the town was meant to serve the state’s Pulp and Paper’s company town to bring lumber and other products to and from Cass mill. Once upon a time, the mill was regarded as the largest of its kind in the world.
In 1942, the mill and the town were sold to Mower Lumber Company, however, in 1960, both were shut down for business as a result of a rapid decline in the timber industry in the area.
Today, the state park’s railroad consists of heritage converted log cars that operate on the same trail as that from 1901. You can take a two-hour round trip to Whittaker station, a five-hour round trip to Bald Knob, or a five-hour round trip to Spruce Ghost Town.
14. Berkeley Springs Castle, Berkeley Springs
Samuel Taylor Suit was lucky in a lot of things (politics, business, whiskey distillery), but love wasn’t one of them. His first wife passed away during childbirth and the second wife left him after 20 years of marriage. However, he wasn’t one to give up. In 1883, he married Rosa Pelham and decided to build his beloved wife a castle.
The castle property overlooked the famous Berkeley Springs spa town and was, in fact, the place where the couple first met. Suit laid the first stone of his dream castle in 1885, unfortunately, however, he passed away in 1888, before the construction of the castle could be completed.
After Suit’s death, Rosa continued building the castle and it was completed by 1891 and lived a lavish life. It turned out that she hadn’t anticipated that money could run out, which it did, and in 1913, the Berkeley Springs Castle was publicly auctioned.
Today, the castle is available to rent as an event space.
15. Kenova’s Pumpkin House, Kenova
Located in the far west of West Virginia, Kenova is a town of 3,000 residents, but come Halloween each year, the town also becomes home to 3,000 pumpkins, all used to decorate the former mayor’s historic home into a grand Halloween extravaganza.
Ric Griffith, the former mayor, owns the Queen Ann style home on Beech Street, Kenova, and every year, he spends three weeks before Halloween to adorn his house with pumpkins.
Griffith also owns the town’s pharmacy, Griffith & Fell Drug Store. Apparently, the tradition started here at the pharmacy with just four pumpkins at first. He lived at the top of the drugstore at the time. Eventually, Griffith moved to the house with his family and the number of pumpkins grew to 500, then 1,000, and by the year 2,000, the number had grown to 2,000. Volunteers involved with the decoration wanted to stop at 2,000 but Griffith insisted to make it 3,000 – one pumpkin for one resident each.
No fee or donation is required to visit the house which has been a popular attraction in the area for nearly three decades.
16. George Washington’s Bathtub, Berkeley Springs
When George Washington was only 16, he worked as a surveyor’s assistant and paid frequent visits to the spa town of Berkeley Springs in West Virginia. Eventually, he purchased a property in the town and kept frequenting the “bath” for a relaxing bathing experience.
Before being surrounded by modern bathhouses in the 1780s, the primitive warm springs offered hollowed-out trenches filled with fresh water springs that maintained a constant 72 degrees temperature and were lined with sand and stones. Men and women had separate bath times and privacy was maintained.
Even though the stone structure isn’t the same one from George Washington’s time, today, the bathtub attracts tourists, hikers, and locals alike. Every year, mid-March there is a celebration marking the day the first president of the United States of America first visited in 1748.
17. Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine, Beckley
Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine, also known as Phillips-Sprague Mine in Beckley, West Virginia is a historic coal mine established around 1889 and was intended to be used as a drift mine. The development of the mine started in 1905 and it was first put to use in 1906 for shipping coal.
Unfortunately, in 1953, the mine shut down for business and was purchased by the City of Beckley.
The Exhibition Coal Mine was founded in 1962 and it was the first sight to be dedicated completely to the study of coal mining. The exhibition comprises 1,500 feet of restored walkways and 3,000 feet of historic tracks.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1988, the exhibition coal mine offers daily tours of the area and a history lesson on Appalachian coal mining.
18. Alderson Academy, Alderson
Opened in 1901 for the very first time, the Alderson Academy serves as a private school for the young children of the town. In a period where education was limited to a privileged few, the school was a huge success but only for a short period of time since free public schools soon began to emerge.
In 1911, the school was given to West Virginia Baptist General and was renamed as the Alderson Baptist Academy. However, it still struggled to function. At some point during that time, someone suggested that it be changed to a junior college offering two-year college level programs.
After a few more attempts throughout the 1900s, the academy served as a rental apartment space till 1990s, however, the structure today stands in a dilapidated state with floors collapsing and certain areas completely inaccessible.
19. Green Bank: A Town for ‘Wi-Fi Refugees’, Green Bank
In this super-social and extremely-connected world, don’t we all sometimes wish to get away from it all?
Green Bank, West Virginia is a rustic town perched on the rolling hills of Appalachia which is designed for those who suffer from “Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity.” In other words, the town provides respite to all those who wish to stay away from the all-consuming social world that surrounds us all day, every day.
The residents of the town are not only bothered but physically pained due to all the electromagnetic activities that are found otherwise outside of the town. Hence, they have been grouped in a category of “Wi-Fi refugees.”
As ironic as it may seem, Green Bank is home to the largest fully directional telescope in the world, however, any and all communication, such as police and fire radio, have to be strictly regulated and coordinated with the scientists at the research station.
While most researchers visit the town to observe signals from the cosmos, most come here to take refuge at the town which falls under the National Radio Quiet Zone.
20. Mummies of Philippi, Philippi
Graham Hamrick spent several years practicing his embalming techniques on fruits and vegetables before he was certain that he could try it on real corpses. The process, as opposed to what people expected, worked.
Once Hamrick completed mummifying the corpses, they traveled as a part of P.T Barnum’s circus. Attracted by the embalming procedure, the Smithsonian Institution offered to put his mummies on display, on the condition that Hamrick will have to share his secret procedure with the institution. But, Hamrick denied the offer.
Now, two female corpses of the lot rest at the Mummies of Philippi, though there is no certainty that they are the original mummies hand-crafted by Hamrick. Seeming mostly wooden and with no hair, one of the women (according to a letter from her brother) is a former resident of the Weston insane asylum.
21. Grave Creek Mound, Moundsville
Located aptly in the town of Moundsville, West Virginia Grave Creek Mound may seem like an unremarkable grass hill, but in reality, it is a prehistoric burial site which is regarded as the largest of its kind in the United States of America.
Formed over a century, the Grave Creek Mound dates back to between 250 to 150 BCE and holds the remnants of prehistoric residents of the state of West Virginia. Researchers claim that the formation of the 69-foot-tall hill must have taken around 60,000 tons of earth!
Originally discovered in the late 1700s by Joseph Tomlinson, an English Immigrant who built his home just opposite the mound, the human remains buried in the mound were actually discovered by his descendant Jesse, who dug tunnels into the mound and found two burial chambers.
Today, the Grave Creek Mound has an adjacent museum and research center that is dedicated to the findings and study of the prehistoric burial site.
22. John Brown’s Fort, Harpers Ferry
On October 16th, 1859, John Brown gathered 22 men, including his three sons and five black men, and declared war on the Harpers Ferry federal complex as a way of retaliating against the practice of slavery. The plan was to simply seize all the arms and ammunition from the complex and use it to equip an abolitionist army to fight against slavery.
Brown and his gang succeeded in their mission, however, they were discovered by the militia the next morning who surrounded the group and cut off their only escape route. With no other choice left, Brown took nine hostages from the federal complex heist and held them at a smaller engine house within the building. The building later came to be known as John Brown’s Fort.
After a treacherous fight between the two sides, Brown was finally captured and executed in 1859. Two years later in 1961, Civil War began and till date, Brown’s act is regarded as quite the stepping stone for the historic war.
23. World’s Largest Teapot, Chester
The 14-feet-high and 14-feet in diameter teapot was installed sometime in the 1900s as an advertisement for Hires Root Beer in Pennsylvania and housed a small souvenir shop that also sold refreshments to visitors.
However, in 1980, the teapot was shut down for business and after a decade later, it was moved to its current location. A new spout and a new flooring were added and the glass ball “knob” atop the teapot was replaced by a gold-colored basketball.
Loved and maintained by the residents of Chester, West Virginia the structure has gained the respected title of the largest teapot in the world since 2015. After almost 50 years, the “teapot” has been opened once again to sell refreshments to visitors.
Today, the world’s largest teapot stands together with a small creamer and attracts visitors from all around.
24. Whipple Company Store, Scarbro
Located smack in the middle of the Appalachian mining country, Whipping Company Store is an unusual storehouse, built in 1890 by a coal company as their headquarters for all their social, financial, and logistical activities.
Built in an octagonal shape, the store was operational until 1954. After that, it changed hands a few times before being acquired by a local couple in 2006. The couple’s aim was to change it to its original purpose and use it for the purpose of education.
What most of us ignore is the fact that the abundance of coal and the trades involved with coal mining is what helped the United States of America to be built. And, the Whipple Company Store is dedicated towards the role of coal in the transformation of the nation’s history and the men and their families involved in the trade.
25. Birthplace of the Steamboat, Shepherdstown
As most of us know, Robert Fulton is credited as the inventor of the steamboat. However, that is not correct. The steamboat that was “apparently” demonstrated by Fulton was built on the foundations of a technology invented by James Rumsey. Unfortunately, Rumsey passed away during a fundraising campaign for his newfound technology and everybody forgot about the actual creator. However, in Shepherdstown, West Virginia Rumsey is still regarded and revered as the creator of the steamboat.
The Shepherdstown Museum houses a half-built replica of Rumsey’s steamboat. Rumsey invented and designed the technology behind the steamboat in 1787, approximately two decades before Fulton demonstrated “his” Steamboat in 1807.
Though the two inventors had around 20 years in between them, needless to say, that they were equally talented, and both men contributed heavily to the American innovation.