Sunday, April 29, 2012

Once Upon a Pavilion in West Virginia

An early spring snowfall blankets the White Sulphur Spring.
PERHAPS NO IMAGE OF WEST Virginia hospitality is more enduring than that of the pavilion at The Greenbrier at White Sulphur Springs. Since the 1830s, the dome that shelters its famous mineral spring has come to symbolize the brand of gracious accommodation for which the southern Allegheny Mountains of the state are renown.

But the pavilion at White Sulphur is only one of several that decorate such springs in the Virginias. I asked Dr. Robert S. Conte, resident historian at The Greenbrier, what he knew of the tradition. Conte and author Stan Cohen have traveled the region together before, seeking out such landmarks. Conte says these buildings appear to take two forms, depending upon their function. Those that shelter springs in which the visitor is expected to bathe are usually enclosed by bathhouses. Those in which the water is imbibed most often take the form of the pavilion.

Endangered pavilion
at Blue Sulphur Spring
Why a pavilion? Why the columns? Conte says it's no surprise that mineral springs would attract attention in a classical form. "If you think about it, springs are pretty miraculous. They're places where a life-sustaining force issues out of the ground. And in this case, we're not talking about just any water."

Mineral springs such as those at The Greenbrier, at Bath, England, or at Bath, West Virginia (better known as Berkeley Springs), have long been thought to be imbued with healing properties, and the tradition of visiting them for the purpose of health is traced back to Classical times in Western society.

Pavilion at Pence Spring
So it's not surprising to find a statue of Hebe, the Greek goddess of youth, adorning the dome at White Sulphur Springs, nor should it be surprising for the Classical form of a columned pavilion to be found at White Sulphur Springs or at other springs in the region. The equally massive pavilion at Blue Sulphur Springs, now endangered, is a second example of the style on a monumental scale (and is all that survived destruction by Union forces at the site.)

Pavilions at Salt Sulphur Springs
In West Virginia, spas took on added importance. Wealthy residents from the South could also escape the summer heat when they visited the mountains. In a verifiable sense, Conte said, their vacation saved them from diseases which flourished in the southern heat. The elite would spend much of the season traveling between spas. As might be expected, a prevailing sense of taste and pageantry developed around the custom of visiting the spas in a circuit.

Pavilion at Barger Springs
As a result of the demise of the Antebellum economy during the Civil War, many spas fell into economic ruin. Some, such as The Greenbrier and the nearby Pence Springs Hotel, were invigorated by completion of railroads later in the century. Others wholly collapsed. Still more exist in some intervening form -- stable, endangered, undergoing restoration.

I've had the chance to visit many of these landmarks and have mapped some in hopes of encouraging interest. Several pavilions, such as the example at Blue Sulphur Springs, are in dire need of restoration, but all deserve appreciation.

Lee Spring, Lost River State Park
For more information on mineral springs in Virginia and West Virginia, I recommend what many enthusiasts consider the seminal work on the subject "Historic Springs of the Virginias: A Pictorial History" by Stan Cohen. I've also created a rudimentary map of spring pavilions in West Virginia at Google Maps, which includes these and other pavilions and springs -- West Virginia Spring Pavilions.

Monday, April 23, 2012

John Henry Statue to be removed for repairs Wednesday afternoon

Detail of John Henry statue near Talcott, W.Va.
Photo courtesy West Virginia Explorer
Motorists who are accustomed to passing the world-famous statue of John Henry on Big Bend Mountain over the last 40 years have one more day to enjoy the ritual.

At 1 p.m. on Wednesday, according to state officials, the 2.5-ton bronze likeness of Henry will be removed from its pedestal along W.Va. Route 3 and will be reconditioned by a local wright before being installed near the mouth of Great Bend Tunnel at Talcott, W.Va.

Since its installation by the Hilldale-Talcott Ruritan Club in 1972, the statue has been repeatedly vandalized and repaired. Many bullet-holes pock its thick casting. The likeness has often been painted black to help cover graffiti.

Sculptor Chales O. Cooper, of Williamstown, Mich., was commissioned to create the eight-foot tall statue, according to Rick Moorefield, project director for the John Henry Memorial Park.

The statue will be unveiled in 2013 when the John Henry Memorial Park is officially opened in the valley of the Greenbrier River upstream of Big Bend Mountain.

Henry joined the ranks the world's greatest folk heroes during construction of the Big Bend Tunnel in the early 1870s. According to legend, Henry, who was employed to drive steel wedges into the rock, was able to win a contest against a driller who was operating a steam-powered drill. The contest reputedly cost Henry his life.

By David T. Sibray
West Virginia Explorer

Spring wildflower programs hosted again in the New River Gorge

Red Trillum, a favorite flower in the gorge in April
Photo courtesy National Park Service
Every April the National Park Service in southern West Virginia hosts a cavalcade of events celebrating the appearance of spring wildflowers. Wildflower lectures and workshops are sponsored throughout the month, but the highlight coincides with the peak of the season, generally the last weekend of April.

Please feel free to join me and a dozens of other lovers of the outdoors on at least one of these outings. If you know next-to-nothing about wildflowers, that'll soon change. Rangers and other enthusiasts, expert and amateur, will be happy to share their knowledge.

Friday, April 27, 2012

1-2 p.m. -- Wildflower Wonders Lecture in auditorium at Tamarack, at Beckley, W.Va.

1-3 p.m. -- Blooms of Glade Creek Leisurely two-mile stroll along a mountan stream, near Prince, W.Va.

6-7:30 p.m. -- Basics of Field Guide Skills Bring your field guide for the easy walk at at Babcock State Park, near Clifftop, W.Va. field guides are available (at cost) at Tamarack and at the National Park Service's visitor centers at Sandstone and Canyon Rim, both of which are open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.

7-8 p.m. -- Not Just a Pretty Face Lecture on the edible and medicinal uses of wildflowers at Hawks Nest State Park, at Ansted, W.Va.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

7:30- 8:45 a.m. -- Early Birding at Grandview Bring your binoculars to Shelter No. 4 at Grandview

9 a.m-1:30 p.m. -- Hike Into Spring A leisurely 2.5-mile descent along an old trail from Grandview Shelter No. 4 to the New River. We'll return by shuttle. As this hike is popular and requires shuttle service, reservations are requested by April 24; please call 304-466-0417.

2:30-4:30 p.m. -- Youth Art at Grandview Art projects for youth in the amphitheater at Grandview, W.Va.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

9-10:30 a.m. -- Spring Birding at Babcock Stroll diverse habitat in search of more secretive birds at Babcock State Park, near Clifftop, W.Va.

10 a.m.-1 p.m. -- Falls & Flowers A 2.5 miles round-trip hike along Brush Creek on this easy 2.5-mile round trip walk. Caravan from Pipestem State Park near Pipestem, W.Va.

11:30 a.m.-Noon -- Youth Art at Canyon Rim Art projects for youth in the amphitheater at Canyon Rim Visitor Center at Lansing, W.Va.

3-5 p.m. -- Hawk's Nest Wildflower Stroll A moderate one-mile wildflower scavenger hunt from the lobby at Hawks Nest State Park in Ansted, W.Va.

Dutchman's Breeches
Photo courtesy National Park Service
For more information on these spring wildflower hikes or associated lectures, please visit the Ranger Programs page or contact either of the two visitor centers for the New River Gorge National River:

Sandstone Visitor Center (304) 466-0417
Canyon Rim Visitor Center (304) 574-2115

All spring wildflower hikes and lectures are open to the public and free of charge, though reservations must be made by April 24 to participate in the "Hike into Spring" excursion on Saturday at Grandview.

Reported by David T. Sibray
For West Virginia Explorer