The bleakness of the winter landscape in south-central West Virginia was a constant reminder of the season’s harshness. Despite the original plan to capture the beauty of the frozen waterfalls and snow-covered landscapes, the reality was quite different. The warmer-than-average winter and lack of precipitation had stripped the land of its usual colors, leaving behind swathes of brown that only added to the cold, forlorn feeling of the place.
As I wandered through Glen Ferris, an abandoned brick building alongside the railroad caught my eye. The building, constructed around 1900 as a warehouse, was once part of a bustling industrial complex along the Kanawha River. It was formerly operated by the Merchants & Manufacturing Warehouse Company under lease with the Willson Aluminum Company. After the purchase of Willson Aluminum by the Electro-Metallurgical Company in 1907, the building served as a freight depot for the Kanawha & Michigan Railroad and then as a recreational hall and bowling alley for employees of Electro-Metallurgical and Elkem Metals. Today, the building is nothing more than a shell of its former self, void of its original purpose and charm. It is the sole structure left from the Willson Aluminum Company, with the mill having relocated to Boncar (Alloy) in the 1930s.
As I drove over Middle Ridge, my eye was caught by the desolate steeple of an abandoned church atop a hillside. Despite traveling this particular roadway for years, it was the first time I had noticed it. The church was a haunting sight, standing alone in the desolate landscape. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that it was Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church, built in 1903 and remained in use until 1963 when the congregation relocated to Oak Hill. Its walls had once echoed with the voices of the faithful, but now it stood silent, abandoned, and forgotten.
The next day, I ventured toward Gilmer County, with my first stop at the abandoned Stouts Mill Bridge over the Little Kanawha River. It was a reminder of the once-thriving river community. The first grist mill was established in 1812, and by 1882, Stouts Mill boasted three general stores, a flour and saw mill and a hotel. Most businesses were located on the south side of the river, while the residents inhabited the north side. In 1897, a community member submitted a petition to the county requesting the construction of a bridge which led to the erection of a Baltimore camelback through truss by the Canton Bridge Company. It was once a lifeline for the bustling businesses and inhabitants until January 1998, when its replacement opened upstream.
In the sleepy village of Trubada lies the historic Duck Run Suspension Bridge, which once carried County Route 30 over the tranquil river. Constructed in 1922 with the help of volunteer labor, the bridge boasted four reinforced concrete towers and two wire rope cables, likely produced by the esteemed Roebling Sons Company or the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. This suspension bridge was built during the national Good Roads Movement, which aimed to improve America’s roadway network after World War I, and was a pivotal moment in the history of rural transportation.
The Duck Run Cable Suspension Bridge was replaced in 1992 by a newer, more modern structure upstream, rendering the old crossing abandoned and forgotten.
While exploring a historic truss bridge over Butcher’s Run, I stumbled upon the Cedar Creek Methodist Church, a quaint and rustic structure built circa 1876.
The church’s Vernacular style featured clapboard siding, a standing seam metal roof, and a square cupola with a spire, adding to its quaint charm. It also had decorative scrollwork and diamond-shaped shingles and louvers in the tower, as well as two entrance doors with transoms and pedimented hoods, complete with 1/1 windows. The church later merged with the United Methodist sects and became the Burke United Methodist Church.
Elsewhere, the Dust Camp Methodist Church was built circa 1904, following a similar Vernacular style as the Cedar Creek church. With its clapboard siding, corrugated metal roof, and collapsed square cupola, the Dust Camp church’s appearance had suffered over time. It also featured a modern veneer door with a transom and 2/2 windows. Although the church merged with the United Methodist sects, it closed in the 1950s and was only reopened in 1959 by Rev. Robinson.
As I continued my journey, I stumbled upon two old churches that seemed to have been long forgotten by the world around them. The first one, atop a desolate mountain on narrow one-lane roads, is the Locust Knob Church of Christ, which dates back to the year 1893. And then there is the Edmiston Church, which hasn’t seen any active services for decades. It’s currently undergoing structural renovations and being transformed into a private residence.
The Moore & Wiants General Store, a relic from 1897, stands at a prominent corner in the small community of Sand Fork. Its Commercial-style architecture is a testament to a bygone era, featuring a false parapet wall that covers the end gable on the front elevation, large 2/2 storefront display windows, divided transoms, and German siding. Despite the passage of time, the building still retains much of its original character, although even the most cherished of treasures can fall victim to neglect and decay.
To wrap up the trip, I visited the Court Street Bridge over the Little Kanawha River in Glenville, a historic structure that has stood the test of time despite repeated flooding. Its origins date back to 1845, when Glenville was established as the county seat for Gilmer County. Michael Stump conducted the first land survey that identified the town’s infrastructure requirements, recommending the construction of roads and bridges. In 1884, the Stewart, Shirreffs & Company was contracted to design and construct six wrought iron highway bridges at a total cost of $13,132. The county was responsible for conducting substructure work, while the company had to complete construction by July 1, 1885. It chose to build a combination Pratt through truss with two pony trusses with components sourced from the Wrought Iron Bridge Company of Canton, Ohio
The Court Street Bridge was effectively bypassed in 1929 and closed to vehicular traffic in 1963. It remained accessible to pedestrians until February 2010, when floodwaters damaged one of the pony trusses. Of the six bridges that Stewart, Shirreffs & Company designed and erected, the Court Street Bridge remains the only one that stands today.