“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”—L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
“Fiery colors begin their yearly conquest of the hills, propelled by the autumn winds. Fall is the artist.”—Animal Crossing: Wild World (Nintendo video game)
**Author’s note: This is the first of two installations regarding the Greenbrier Valley area. This piece will focus mostly on Alderson, WV. Next week will focus more on Lewisburg, WV.
It is the time of year when there is an itch that needs scratched like that place on your back that is hard to reach. Beginning in September, a desire to take a Fall weekend escape into the mountains begins to develop in the minds of many. Fortunately, living in the Tri-state, we do not have to travel far as all three of our local states, Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia, offer an array of multihued hillsides. However, if you want to drive a little further off the beaten path, look no farther than the scenic Midland Trail through WV.
This past August, John and I traversed part of the Midland Trail on our way to a weekend stay in Alderson and Lewisburg, WV. Given Interstate 64 construction traffic, it seems more people than ever are traveling along this beautiful and historic trail, first established hundreds of years earlier by Native Americans. Much later, after the invention of automobiles and the unquenchable desire of Americans to travel about the country, U.S. Route 60 became the first transcontinental highway that connected travelers from Virginia to California.
However, there is no need to cross the country for a great fall weekend escape. Instead, focus on the nearby miles of bi-way linking Huntington to White Sulpher Springs and all of the sites in between. From covered bridges to historic cemeteries; from craft beers, ciders, and spirits to exquisite and/or quaint restaurants, diners, and bakers; from antiques/vintages to fine arts and local crafts; from charming hikes and bike rides to fishing, kayaking, and golf—not to mention all of local shops—there is plenty to do along this drive! In fact, on the weekend of our retreat, John and I felt as if we barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do just in the Alderson/Lewisburg areas.
To begin, John used a popular home rental site to find a small, newly restored, and definitely budget-friendly cottage in which to stay in Alderson within walking distance of the Greenbrier River as well as the historic downtown area. While the owner of the cottage was still working a few of the kinks out of the remodel, the cottage was clean, comfortable, and filled with all new furniture, appliances, and kitchenware. It was perfect for our purposes!
We arrived Friday afternoon and used that time to get acquainted with our surroundings. Alderson was quiet, quaint, and quintessentially surrounded by the layered magnificence of the WV Mountains. Additionally, John and I could not help but notice several lion statues as throughout the town.
We would learn that in 1890, there was a town resident who unbelievablely adopted a circus lion cub! Although tamed by the owner, the cat often escaped its owner’s yard only to roam through town. While I am sure this was roaringly (pun-intended) funny, the town ultimately passed an ordinance that required all lions to be leashed! According to our unverified source, that city ordinance is still on Alderson’s books! Thankfully, during our stay, at least, John and I did not encounter any oversized circus felines!
The town’s roots, however, stretch back even further. Several sources point to the belief that this area of WV was initially the site of a fort in the 1750’s. These same sources state that the Shawnee destroyed the fort around 1763 under the leadership of Chief Cornstalk. However, no artifacts have ever been found at this site to verify its existence, but there are several historic documents and letters that reference it. In fact, the Federal Prison Camp just outside the corporation of Alderson, made famous in recent history by Martha Stewart, is built upon the same grounds where the fort supposedly once stood. Most sources, however, credit John Anderson, who organized the first Baptist church in the Greenbrier Valley, for establishing the town in 1777.
During our stay, John and I strolled alongside the Greenbrier River and crossed over the historic, pedestrian Alderson Bridge in order to explore the Alderson Historic District where we discovered Alderson’s Store. This 131-year-old store was charming with an eclectic mix of vintage, antiques, and modern wares. Little did we know until weeks later, that the woman running the shop was none other than Sarah Alderson, direct descent of John Anderson, whose family has lived in Alderson for over 200 years! In addition to this store, there were several other cute shops, a couple of diners, an artisan’s gallery, and the Old Victorian Inn that is directly across from the Historic 1896 C&O Amtrak Depot. In fact, Amtrak will, upon request, make stops at Alderson on its Cardinal Route.
One item of interest that John and I were unable to do during our stay in Alderson was visit the Alderson Visitor Center. This newly created tourist attraction offers visitors a local history museum, a river science center, interactive kiosk, as well as Alderson memorabilia for purchase. (Hmm. I wonder if they have any “Martha Stewart was Here” t-shirts?) Additionally, the center boasts a community market Saturdays 8-12, May-October.
John also used this opportunity to wade and fish the waters of this section of the Greenbrier. He had fun catching a few small mouth bass. One evening, I watched from the riverbank as John fished his way upstream near dusk. While I brought my gear to fish alongside him, I knew my natural inclination to be a klutz might lead me to falling, especially as darkness fell, so I sat this session out. Still, I enjoyed watching John fish as the river waters gently meandered over rocks and around little islands.
Then, it happened, in a split second, John tripped, slipped, and then slid under the waters of the river. My heart raced as I quickly glanced around for help and the best route down the river bank to get to him as quickly as possible. Then, only seconds later, although it felt like a lifetime, John popped up and made his way to a nearby island of rock. Though drenched and a bit bruised, he was, thankfully, fine. Oh, the things he will do to gain my attention!
Overall, John and I found our time spent in Alderson pleasant and oh-so-peaceful. We would love to return during the peak of autumn—we can only imagine the fiery display of the Creator’s pallet in this gentle, river town. In the meantime, add Alderson to your list of close fall getaways. Spend a day, or the weekend, and tell them Steph simply sent you!
Alderson is situated in two counties: Greenbrier and Monroe!