Mt. Hope, a city in Fayette County, W.Va., was one of the largest towns in the New River region during the early 1900s. After the decline of the area’s once vast and renowned coal industry, most of the coal mines, coal camps and other physical evidence of the era of “King Coal” have disappeared.
But a trip through Mt. Hope, incorporated in 1895, provides visitors with a rare opportunity to view many of the sites that were once commonplace throughout the coal fields of southern West Virginia.
Its 56-acre mixed-use historic district, divided nearly evenly between residential and commercial buildings, has become the gateway to the New River Gorge region that encompasses 70,000-plus acres of parklands. A paradise of forests and scenic beauty, the region is swiftly becoming part of one of the largest outdoor-recreation areas in the east.
Whether you’re interested in hiking, mountain biking, skiing, white-water rafting or fishing, you’ll find the means to explore here.
New River Gorge
A must-see site for visitors, New River Gorge National River, part of the National Park Service, has rugged whitewater flowing northward through deep canyons and is among the oldest on the continent. The area encompasses over 70,000 acres of land along 53 miles with the most diverse flora of any river gorge in the south and central Appalachian Mountains.
The lower gorge is a premiere white-water rafting location with imposing rapids ranging in difficulty from Class III to Class V.
Nearby, New River Jetboats will take travelers from the rim of the New River Gorge by tram and jet upstream to take in a view of the famous New River Gorge Bridge. Boats are available from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays (closed Wednesdays in the summer). Tickets are $25, $23 for age 60 and up, $10 for ages 5 to 16, free for age 4 and under.
Details: 800-927-0263, newrivergorgecvb.com, 304-469-2525 or newriverjetboats.com
Official Bridge Day
The 876-foot-tall New River Gorge Bridge is a draw for extreme athletes. As the world’s second-largest single-arch bridge, its the perfect spot for the Bridge Day Festival (this year, Oct. 17). It’s one of the largest annual extreme-sports events in the world, with hundreds of BASE jumpers and 80,000 spectators expected to attend.
If you aren’t that daring, there are daily two- to three-hour catwalk tours that cover 11/4 miles. Participants traverse the 3,030-foot length of the bridge on a 24-inch-wide catwalk over the gorge. Guests are securely fastened to a safety cable, but it’s still terribly scary.
Designed by the Michael Baker Co. and erected by U.S. Steel’s American Bridge division, construction on the bridge began in June 1974, was completed in October 1977 and cost nearly $37 million.
Tours, at $69, run from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Details: 304-574-1300 or bridgewalk.com
DuBois on Main
The history of African Americans in Mt. Hope can be explored at DuBois on Main, an educational nonprofit museum that presents the contributions of DuBois High School through intergenerational and interracial gatherings, workshops and exhibits.
In 1906, the county’s first high schools — one for whites, one for blacks — were established in the Fayetteville School District.
DuBois High, named for Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, an illustrious educator and civil- rights leader of the time, was originally housed in the MacDonald First Baptist Church. An official building was erected in 1917.
The schools were integrated in 1956 and renamed Mt. Hope High School.
Former student Jean Evansmore, the museum director, along with other volunteers, offer tours from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Donations are accepted
Details: 304-578-7707 or duboisonmain.org
Exhibition Coal Mine
Hands-on exhibits and an underground coal-mining tour offer opportunities for visitors to learn, explore, interact and share at the Exhibition Coal Mine in Beckley. The area is surrounded by fields, an imposing miner statue and a whimsical 20-foot “Peace Totem.”
The guides are veteran miners who provide first-hand accounts of the daily responsibilities of past and present-day miners. Bring a jacket, because the temperature is always 58 degrees inside the mine.
Visitors can tour the period buildings — the restored Coal Company House, superintendent’s home, Pemberton Coal Camp Church and the Helen Coal Camp School — that give a true representation of early 20th-century coal camp life.
Mine hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily from April 1 to Nov. 1. Tickets are $20, $15 for seniors, $14 for military, $12 for ages 4 to 17.
The nearby Youth Museum of Southern W.Va. is open year-round and features interactive exhibits and a planetarium.
Details: 304-256-1747 or beckley.org
Whipple Company Store
In coal mining’s heyday, the Fayette County Whipple Company Store provided everything the miner and his family would need. It was designed by the coal baron Justus Collins and is the only one left standing. There are daily tours from May to November that show a hand-operated freight elevator, the original post office and telephone operators’ station. There is a secret second floor, the original security system and a third-floor ballroom.
Hours are from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. May 1 to Nov. 1. Closed Tuesdays for private tours. Tickets are $10 to $25, free for age 2 and under.
Details: 304-465-0331 or whipplecompanystore.com
Babcock State Park
The Glade Creek Grist Mill, completed in 1976 at Babcock State Park, is a fully operable grain mill built as a re-creation of Cooper’s Mill.
The re-creation was made with parts and pieces from three other mills. The basic structure came from the Stoney Creek Grist Mill, which dates to 1890. It was dismantled and moved piece by piece.
A living monument to the more than 500 mills that thrived in West Virginia at the turn of the century, the mill provides freshly ground cornmeal that guests may purchase depending on availability and stream conditions.
Details: 304-438-3004 or babcocksp.com
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7889.