The community of Pipestem and its nearby state park are named after the Spirea alba, or pipestem bush. Native Americans and early settlers used the plant's hollowed out stems as shafts for their pipes. Between 1963 and 1965, the state acquired the land overlooking the deep gorge of the Bluestone River, an area long regarded as one of the region's most scenic attractions, for development as a state park. With President John F. Kennedy's support, the federal Area Redevelopment Administration, a program designed primarily to boost employment in economically depressed areas, provided funding. Concurrently with Pipestem, two other West Virginia resort state parks, Twin Falls in Wyoming County ( WY4) and Canaan Valley in Tucker County ( TU4), were also established. Unlike Depression-era state parks, resort state parks were envisioned as more urbane, country-club-like facilities, complete with golf courses, tennis courts, riding stables, and other amenities. The Architects Collaborative (TAC), of Cambridge, Massachusetts, designed all three parks.
Pipestem officially opened on Memorial Day 1970, and by 1971 the facilities at what was considered the “crown jewel” of the state park system were complete. The total cost was the thenstaggering sum of more than $13 million, of which less than half a million had been spent on land acquisition. Two lodges, the Canyon Rim Center, and twenty-five cottages are the main structures, although there are many subsidiary buildings.