Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Road More Traveled – A Little Highway History

Too often, due to corrupt out-of-state corporate owners and sometimes equally corrupt state politicians, to many out-of-staters, West Virginia has simply been a place that has to be traveled through to get somewhere else. Over the years, however, many of us who live here have developed the attitude that such a bad rap may be a blessing in disguise by keeping the northern big-city riffraff from settling here while looking for their little slice if heaven. Whichever perspective a person has, the truth is that moving people through the area began early on.

The first of four major routes of the day was the Midland Trail, formed by the Native Americans themselves, as their moccasins travelled from the eastern side of our mountains to the Ohio Valley and beyond, and back again. Generations of back and forth hunting and warfare made the trail obvious enough that early settlers followed it with no fear of losing their way. It’s now at least in its second reincarnation as U.S. Route 64. I generally prefer to drop off the four-lane and travel the two-lane version that I remember from my childhood.

Of the remaining three, the next one to the north is the old Staunton – Parkersburg Pike, created in the early 1800’s to link Staunton, Virginia with Parkersburg, Virginia on the Ohio River. On the Parkersburg end, it’s always been referred to as “the Staunton Pike.” Considering the grudge most southerners carry about losing the Uncivil War, I seriously doubt if it’s referred to as “the Parkersburg Pike’ in Staunton these days. It was this road that my great-grandfather traveled in some form of covered wagon immediately after said war. He’d fought on the “wrong side” by local standards and was probably seeking friendlier territory. Perhaps because of that war, the Staunton Pike has largely fallen into disuse, except for local traffic, and now consists of three different numbered routes.

Moving northward again, we come to the Northwestern Pike, originating in Washington, D.C., and also terminating in Parkersburg, at the Ohio River. I used to read that it was the brainchild of Thomas Jefferson, who sought to further his belief in manifest destiny by getting people quickly to the Northwest Territory. Wiki now lays the idea on a young George Washington, seeking an easier way to check on his western lands. It is now replaced by U.S. Route 50, which in some places, is in its third incarnation and has become a four-lane highway. In nearby Murphytown, WV, the old, and the old-old versions lay in the shadow of the new, and all still in use by locals. In the mountains, though, you have no choice most places, as the government hasn’t yet chosen to spend the fortune needed to make a four-lane through our state’s more scenic parts.

Furthest north, and barely in West Virginia at all, is the National Road. Like the rest, of these east-west highways, it was designed to get settlers to the western lands. It only passes through a few miles of our northern panhandle here in West Virginia, passing through the former steel town of Wheeling, as it crosses the Ohio River. Due to its steel production in the past, there’s a surprising strong business bond between Wheeling and Pittsburgh, and I don’t just mean the old company by that name. Strangely enough, though I’ve traveled the National Road from D.C. to its junction with I-79 (mostly through Maryland), I’ve never traveled the section from I-79 to Wheeling. The National Road has basically been replaced by U.S. Route 70, though many of its parts are preserved as scenic byways.

The four-lanes are certainly a boon to folks who need to get somewhere in a hurry, and I guess they do keep the “furriners” moving so they don’t have time to settle in and do serious damage. Still, when possible, I like the old roads. © 2014


Sunnybrook Farm said...

The last time that I was on old 60 at Lexington Va, it was still called the Midland trail though I don't remember seeing that to the east of town. It is now a county road from there over to Covington I believe and they made 60 the same as I64. At the top of the mountain on old 60 there was a pile of river rock and it was said that each Indian would carry a rock up there on the way home and leave it but who knows. They did come over that trail in the 1750s and killed a lot of settlers. Chief Cornstalk led that raid and later one of my relatives who had lost relatives in that raid had the chief taken out at Point Pleasant. What goes around...
Anyway in Staunton the road is called Churchville Avenue which is only a few miles away. I have never heard anyone mention Parkersville as there is no reason to. It could be near Chicago for all we care. There isn't too much straight flat road on either road unless you are in a river bottom for awhile, everyone uses I64 for the most part.

Gorges Smythe said...

I'm glad you mentioned I-64, SF, that's what I meant to say, rather than 60. I corrected my error. As for calling roads by their old namess, I do it mostly to preserve the history and traditions, though it's a losing battle.

Incidentally, it's ParkersBURG. That's in WEST (not western) Virginia. You know us, we're the bastard child of the Uncivil War! lol

Sunnybrook Farm said...

I meant to say parkersburg, but was thinking churchville and got mixed up. The sheriff over at Covington once said that the best thing to ever come out of West Virginia was an empty bus. Of course he probably saw the bad end of things.

Gorges Smythe said...

As I said, SF, there's a lot of folks that still have a bur up their backside about West Virginia's illegal creation. That sheriff was probably one of them. But what's done is done. Of course, I'm never one to pass up a chance to razz someone, so what can I say?