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Two Stories Become Three in Lexington, Va.
US 60 Part 2
David McLane (davemclane)     Print Article 
Published 2009-11-17 14:44 (KST)   
With a population of over 6,000, Lexington, Va. is hardly a small town, but it's been there for who-knows-how-long and was quite small at first. It's home to the Washington and Lee University (founded 1749) and the Virginia Military Institute (founded 1839) and has a wonderful information center with separate displays for various points of interest.

Visitor Center, Lexington, Va.
©2009 D. McLane


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ty that day was Frederick Bloom, a licensed tour guide, who told us how the buildings outside on Washington Street were originally two stories with a cellar but are now three stories with the original first floor up in the air as the road was lowered to take out some of the ups and downs.

One stands at the corner of Washington and Main, the Alexander-Withrow House, where a wrought iron balcony marks what used to be street level.

Alexander-Withrow House, Lexington, Va.
©2009 D. McLane

Another, the Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson House, up the street from the information center on Washington Street has wooden stairs to allow access to what used to be the ground floor.

Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson House, Lexington, Va.
©2009 D. McLane

While this section of US-60 is now called the Midland Trail, a National Scenic Byway, its history goes back much further than that, as it follows the route of the historic James River and Kanawha Turnpike, an early road linking canals in the James River in Virginia with the navigable portion of the Kanawha River in West Virginia. The canal and turnpike combination was originally proposed by the young George Washington in his surveyor days before the American Revolution as the key for Virginia to compete with northern states for rich trade to the west.

Native Americans who populated what is now called the James River in the late 16th and early 17th centuries called it the Powhatan River. The English colonists named it "James" after King James I of England, as they constructed the first permanent English settlement in the Americas in 1607 at Jamestown along the banks of the river.

So there you have it, 400 years of history: the river called the Powhatan by native Americans gets renamed as the James in honor of Kings James I of England becomes part of the James River and Kanawha Turnpike, and eventually becomes part of US-60, the Midland Trail, a National Scenic Byway.

PUSHING WEST FROM LEXINGTON, US-60 twists back and forth around Interstate-64 for the next 30 or forty miles. There must be five or six original service stations dating from the late 1920s or early 1930s. Near one of them was a curious arrangement of three crosses, obviously having some connection to the small church behind them on the hill.

Three Crosses on US 60 near Rockbridge, Va.
©2009 D. McLane

The church was closed, the service station looked like it had gone out of business a long time ago so we searched the internet that evening and found they were put up by Bernard Coffindaffer who became a Christian with a vision to "plant crosses" when he was 42 years old.

He eventually raised and spent $3,000,000 planting 1,864 trios of crosses in 29 states, Zambia and the Philippines. West Virginia has 352 sets of crosses, the most of any state. Mr. Coffindaffer died in 1993. His crosses are now cared for by the people who own the land, or by nearby churches who adopt the crosses.

As for the other service stations, here's one that's been turned into a living space with the roof that extends out from the building sheltering the original gas pumps serving as a car port.

Stonewall Service Station, near junction of US 60 and Interstate-64
©2009 D. McLane

THE FIRST TOWN IN WEST VIRGINIA IS WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS with its Route 60 American Grill, "Good Eats & Ale on the Midland Trail."

Route 60 American Grill & Bar, White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
©2009 D. McLane

Linda Holiday, Route 60 American Grill & Bar
©2009 D. McLane
The population of White Sulphur Springs is small, only a little over 2,000, but it has a long history as the standard summer destination for wealthy Virginia low-country residents seeking relief from the heat and humidity. That much I already knew from reading up on the place. But the American Grill didn't look like a place for wealthy people, so I investigated.

On duty was Linda Halliday. Overall, she thought White Sulphur Springs was doing OK.

They said the big deal in town is The Greenbrier hotel, famous because, "All the members of Congress come there." Shops in town get overflow from The Greenbrier which has been down for the past six months due to renovations in progress to include a casino.

For sure, we should go see the place as it was just on down the road across the street from the AMTRAK station. This sounded like the place for wealthy Virginia low-country residents. And was it ever!

The hotel can't be seen from US-60, as it sits at the end of a long curving driveway. All you can see is the gatehouse where we were immediately stopped and told to park across the street in front of the AMTRAK station. From there we could take a shuttle to the hotel but we declined saying we'd like to walk to get a feel for the place.

Due to the construction, we had to walk around to the north entrance:

The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.
©2009 D. McLane

Just behind where I stood to take the photo is a bronze plaque which read:
1858 - 1922
HERE STOOD A FAMOUS HOSTELRY
AFFECTIONATELY KNOWN AS
OLD WHITE
ONCE THE PRIDE OF THE OLD DOMINION

WHOSE GRACIOUS HOSPITALITY, BEAUTIFUL SURROUNDINGS AND HEALING WATERS GAINED NATIONAL RENOWN AND MADE IT THE OBJECT OF MANY A PILGRIMAGE.

HERE GATHERED FROM THE NORTH AND SOUTH GREAT GENERALS, FAMOUS STATESMAN AND PHILANTHROPISTS, LOVELY LADIES AND REIGNING BELLS "WHO LEFT UPON THE SILENT SHORE OF MEMORY IMAGES AND PRECIOUS THOUGHTS THAT SHALL NOT DIE AND CANNOT BE DESTROYED."

ERECTED BY ITS SUCCESSOR
THE GREENBRIER
1940
Looking up the details later on I found The Greenbrier is a National Historic Landmark and has 721 rooms, three championship golf courses, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, and a 40,000 square-foot (3,716 square-meter) spa. Average daily rate for two adults runs $200 - $375/day.

Curiously enough the United States government financed The Greenbrier's West Virginia Wing addition back in the '50s as the hotel permitted the simultaneous construction of a bunker beneath it. This provided the initial cover story for the digging of a congressional hideaway
with the government employees posing as on-site TV repairmen in order to blend in with the townsfolk. The first tours of the bunker began in 1995 exclusively for Greenbrier guests. Now anyone can get a guided tour for $25.

LATER ON, AT THE END OF THE DAY, we came to a service station that captured the mood I get into when I see such places. Obviously somebody thought it would be a good idea to put the building where it is, and a fair amount of work went into making it happen. But times change, and it's no longer needed so it's left to the sun, wind and rain.

Service station, near Rainelle, W.Va.
©2009 D. McLane


I will also be posting this story to Open.Salon a few days after it I've sent it to OMNI and will then send a newsalert containing links to both websites to my mailing list.
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David McLane

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