Number Thirty Two: West Virginia

We spent seven days in Morgantown because (1) rain and fall caught us and (2) a nasty cold caught Doré. She is certain it came from shrinking in fear during the ride along the canal in Maryland.

West Virginia has its points of interest. For example, the Mason-Dixon line is the boundary between West Virginia and Pennsylvania; it’s the part where the WV borders are straight. This puts West Virginia on the ‘Dixie’ side of the line. It  was part of Virginia until the Civil War (or the ‘War of Northern Aggression’ depending how deep in Dixie you are) and this region choose not to secede.

It does however seem ambivalent now about its brand. Historically it has used the tagline “Almost heaven”. Now the license plates say, “Wild, Wonderful”.


West Virginia has Arthurdale, aka “Elinor’s Little Village”. After seeing firsthand the poverty and living conditions in the area, Elinor Roosevelt lobbied relentlessly in all the right places for The New Deal’s planned communities. Arthurdale was the first. Construction started in 1933. By 1937, there were 165 houses and 160 are still there, most privately owned and occupied.

Elinor was very hands-on; insisting on electricity, indoor plumbing, central steam heat, Maytag washers, and Frigidaire refrigerators that she personally selected. She visited frequently, attended dances, and dedicated the new church. Arthurdale High School is the only high school that has had a sitting President as the commencement speaker.

The Frigidaires were especially irritating to the applicants who didn’t get selected. (The Mead household had an icebox until 1950.)

The first 50 houses were “Hodsgon” pre-fab houses, sort of like a Sears kit. When they arrived on site, they were too short for the basements that had already been built. Most got a large front porch or front parlor that hadn’t been planned, or budgeted.

The next 75 were stick-built “Wagner” houses, and the last 40 were stone. The cost was over $2,000 each, which was a lot.

Most of the applicants for the homesteads were struggling share-croppers or out-of-work miners, who stilled owned money to the company store, none with a path or hope to get out of poverty.

Each homesteader got a house, four acres, a cow, three pigs, and some chickens. There was a co-op store, school, church, furniture factory, weaving looms, blacksmith, and craft shop. Health care cost a dollar a month. Most of the rest in the area resented the good fortune of the chosen few.

The families were expected to grow food for their own use and the shops were expected to generate cash flow for the community. Among other things, they built Co-op tractors.

The food thing worked out; the money thing didn’t.

With the start of the War, planned communities were no longer a priority. The houses were sold off at a loss, many to the homesteaders. The shops were closed. The Feds and Congress considered it a failure.

The homesteaders, their children and grandchildren didn’t. In one or two generations, many had completely reversed their family fortunes. In 1985, they came together, raised funds (mostly from themselves), formed the Heritage Association, bought a few of the buildings, refurbished more, and opened a museum.

Deckers Creek Rail Trail

On our first day out riding after Doré spent four days sleeping, we managed a twenty mile round trip on the Deckers Creek Trail. The ten miles going out were all uphill on soft crushed rock covered with wet leaves, high, steep banks down to the creek, and gates at every road crossing. We averaged a little over six miles per hour. The ten miles coming back were all downhill but otherwise the same so we could only mange about eight miles per hour. This is a test of Doré theory that terror causes colds.

Perhaps we should have done a little more research. We knew there was a climb of about 1000 feet over 19 miles which is 1%; no big deal. We parked at mile two and biked to mile 12 before we got tired and went back down. We now know 900 of the 1000 feet are between mile 2 and mile 12, which is closer to 2%. The other nine miles are almost flat.

Otherwise the trail is spectacular, through the woods, under rock outcroppings, following the creek with its many rapids. The best rapids are between miles 2 and 12.

“The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones.” (Thomas Friedman) The end of strip mining coal doesn’t have to wait until we run out of coal or hills to look under. Coal industry advertising not withstanding, there is no such thing as clean coal. Propping up out-of-date technology only delays the inevitable for another generation at most. There is something better to do with the hills and streams of West Virginia than destroy them.

Ding Darling How rich we will be

That seems pretty obvious but that being said, once society decides this is the optimal strategy, the miners, truck drivers, barge workers, and their families shouldn’t be expected to be the ones to bear the brunt of the decision.

Mon River Rail Trails North and South; the Caperton Trail:

“Mon” is short for Monongahela. It is one of the few river in North America that flows north (Minnesota’s Red River is another) ending in Pittsburg at its Tri-River confluence. One hundred and fifty years ago, it was a wild river, barely navigable by canoes and flatboats. Nine sets of locks and dams later, it is the only river in North America that has a nine-foot channel from source to mouth.

It is lined by forests, hills, and bubbling streams, interspersed with heavy industry, power plants, sewage treatment, and barge loading facilities. Prior to the Clean Water Act of 1972, it was heavily polluted; now most coal goes by train and people fish in the river.

Who was in the White House in 1972 during this bipartisan effort?

For some reason, the Caperton Trail is in the middle connecting the North and South Mon River Rail Trails. First we biked north and stepped across the Mason-Dixon Line into Pennsylvania. They didn’t even think it rated a mention.

Then we biked south until we got enough to finish our fifty miles for the state. Renovation along the downtown riverfront and West Virginia University is the best of Morgantown, at least what we saw. They have PRT (Personal Rapid Transit) lines that wander around the area but we didn’t work hard enough to find a station. And because they have enough hills, we weren’t going to do a lot of off-trail exploring by bike.

The PRT isn’t what Prof. Anderson (I think) of the University of Minnesota first envisioned. This I would describe as Light Rail Lite at best. There are lots of ‘pods’ for eight to ten people, not very personal; the tramways look more like the Chicago Loop than anything you would put down Nicollet Mall; it will get you from point A to point B if that’s where you want to go, hardly a comprehensive network.


I keep digressing. The Mon River Trails were a nice ride. The surface was either asphalt or very rideable crushed stone. Minimal public art, compared to other places we have been but they are working on it.



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