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Central West Virginia

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As a recent state-sponsored publication noted, this part of West Virginia “is short on bright lights and big-city thrills.” One reason is that no city in the five-county region has a population exceeding 6,000. Buckhannon, the Upshur County seat, comes closest, with a 2000 population of 5,725. Weston, the Lewis County seat, is next, with a 2000 population of 4,317. Central West Virginia is, above all, a land of country roads, fields, and woods, where vernacular architecture, mostly rurally oriented, predominates.

Weston, one of the state's architectural treasure towns, offers examples of highstyle architecture that contrast with the regional norm. The Weston State Hospital ( LW1), a gargantuan cut-stone edifice, now closed and awaiting adaptive reuse, was begun by the Commonwealth of Virginia just before the Civil War but completed only in 1881. Weston also has the state's premier Art Deco building in its Citizens Bank ( LW3; 1928–1930). Several miles from Weston, Jackson's Mill was established early in the twentieth century as the state's 4-H camp ( LW16). Soon, various counties built cottages to house representatives at camp sessions and conferences, creating a remarkable collection of frame and shingled bungalows. Far to the south, Webster County's Holly River State Park ( WB2) has a notable collection of rustic park structures dating from the 1930s.

In recent years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has constructed a number of lakes in central West Virginia. Although flood control is the purpose of damming smaller streams flowing into the Kanawha and Little Kanawha rivers, the resulting lakes have become popular recreational destinations, thanks in part to the easy access that Interstate 79 now gives them. At Bulltown ( BX6) in Braxton County, the Corps has reconstructed and assembled a collection of early vernacular structures—many of them farm building types that have all but disappeared from the landscape—that the Burnsville Lake would otherwise have inundated.

Travelers in central West Virginia can hardly fail to notice groups of wooden crosses looming close by many roads. Each identical cluster contains three crosses: the tallest, a central cross rising 25 feet, is painted yellow; smaller flanking crosses, standing 20 feet tall, are painted blue. Constructed of rounded Douglas fir posts from California, the crosses were the inspiration of the late Reverend Bernard Coffindaffer. After the businessman-turned-evangelist underwent successful openheart surgery in 1982, he had a revelation calling him to blanket the state, the nation, and eventually the world with these crosses. He sponsored the first group alongside Interstate 79 near Flatwoods in 1984. From then until his death nine years later, Coffindaffer spent more than $2 million erecting approximately 1,900 cross clusters (his term for them). They also appear in twenty-eight other states, mostly in the East and the South. Coffindaffer erected them as far afield as Zambia and the Philippines and at one time employed seven full-time crews to carry out his mission. Whether one considers them inspiring, kitsch, or roadside clutter, the effectively placed groupings—visibility from a road or highway was Coffindaffer's only requirement in locating them—are a very noticeable part of central West Virginia's built environment. How long they will continue remains to be seen.

Writing Credits

Author: 
S. Allen Chambers Jr.

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