We took one of the more inefficient routes from Wheeling to Morgantown, West Virginia. There didn’t appear to be any decent, straight-line way even if we’d wanted to use it. However, we pushed it to an extreme. The third day involved a long U-shaped path that rambled along the Ohio River for awhile before dipping down to US Route 50, then turning decidedly north on Interstate 79.
Our route involved county counting at its finest, our biggest day of captures. I added Marshall, Wetzel, Tyler and Pleasants in West Virginia, and Monroe in Ohio, to my lifelong tally.
Grave Creek Mound
Even so, the total route involved barely more than three hours of driving. I needed to fill the rest of the day with interesting tidbits along the way. Luckily Moundsville sat on the banks of the Ohio River just south of Wheeling on our direct path. Moundsville sounded like an unusual name and the Twelve Mile Circle audience knows how much I enjoy unusual names. Would there be mounds? Well yes, of course, with one particularly noteworthy mound in mind. Grave Creek Mound grew right in the middle of town. The mound rose upward a solid 60 feet (19 metres), unmistakable in stature and appearance. It dated to the Adena culture of mound builders of about two thousand years ago. The Adena flourished along the Ohio River valley during what came to be known as the Early Woodland period, leaving their signature structures scattered throughout the area before they faded from the archeological record.
Apparently the State of West Virginia built a really nice museum next to the mound. I emphasized "apparently" because they decided to close it on Sundays, a vestige of the old Blue Laws I supposed. I could understand Monday closings because those tend to be the lightest traffic days at any attraction. Closing on Sunday eliminated fifty percent of the weekend hours and I’m sure dramatically cut the number of potential visitors. That included us. A large iron fence circled the entire complex so we couldn’t even climb to the top of the mound. What purposed did that serve? I could only stand outside the fence, slip my camera between the bars, snap a few photos and pine for what I missed.
West Virginia Penitentiary
I shouldn’t complain too strenuously. The real reason to stop in Moundsville, the true attraction stood directly across the street from the Grave Creek Mound. Here, the state of West Virginia operated its maximum security penitentiary until 1995. It began in the earliest days of statehood, a stockade designed to corral Confederate prisoners of war. It seemed like a pretty convenient place to house criminals afterwards so they simply recycling what already existed.
The state decided to keep the West Virginia Penitentiary standing as a tourist attraction once it built newer, more modern prisons. Now anyone can tour it and get a taste of what it must have been like to live behind bars.
My son and I both enjoyed the tour led by someone who used to be a guard at the prison. She told a lot of wild stories of deviously clever prisoners with nothing but time on their hands: smuggling; escapes; violence; revenge and the like. Some channeled their energies more creatively as expressed by prisoner artwork covering many of the walls. One particular prolific prisoner painted detailed landscapes until another prisoner poked his eyes out with a pencil. Even art critics behaved differently in prison.
The facility remained untouched since its abandonment. Paint peeled, cement crumbled, dust gathered. We walked through old cellblocks and even got to stand in a cell (at our option) while the electronic gates clanged shut behind us. It was quite an experience both from an emotional and an educational perspective. I’d recommend a visit to the old penitentiary for anyone traveling through the area.
We spent the middle part of the day following the prescribed route. I had hoped to ride the Sistersville Ferry across the Ohio River as I began initial planning. Unfortunately the ferry closed for the season a couple of weeks before our intended dates. I’ll have to wait for another opportunity to add that to my ferry list. I mentioned this only because someone may want to replicate my route someday in the future. The ferry might provide a nice addition (map).
I’d driven past the outskirts of Morgantown several times, always on the way to somewhere else. I knew very little about the city other than West Virginia University anchored it in place. Morgantown served as our final destination for the day so we got a chance to check it out in person. For instance, I didn’t know that the residents held the comedian Don Knotts who passed away in 2006 in such high regard. Some might remember Knotts as Barney Fife, the bumbling deputy on the Andy Griffith Show. Others may recall his role as Ralph Furley on Three’s Company. Anyway, he was born in Morgantown and graduated from West Virginia University. The town loved him enough to place his statue right on High Street (map). They also named one of the major thoroughfares leading into Morgantown, Don Knotts Boulevard (map).
Morgantown turned out to be a good place to stop, with an attractive, walkable downtown right on the edge of the University.
Articles in the Counting West Virginia Series:
See Also: The Complete Photo Album on Flickr