Blennerhassett Island State Historical Park
At Blennerhassett Island State Historical Park outside Parkersburg, visitors can learn about the fascinating lives of Harman and Margaret Blennerhassett. Their palatial mansion burned to the ground in 1811, but over the years, the mansion has been restored to its original grandeur. But the fascinating drive does not end with the turnpike; the four backways alongside this famous roadway have an enthralling history all of their own.
Camp Allegheny Backway
Starting on the West Virginia/Virginia border, the Camp Allegheny Backway follows the original route of the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike. Coming down from Allegheny Mountain, this short 10-mile drive passes the former Confederate stronghold at Camp Allegheny. The Confederates fought desperately to protect this mountaintop camp from the onslaughts of Union troops coming from neighboring Cheat Summit Fort. The camp’s earthworks and gun positions can still be seen and the Monongahela National Forest provides interpretation of this fierce battle. Further down the road, the smaller Confederate encampment at Camp Bartow can be seem complete with its own earthworks.
Back Mountain Backway
Traveling west from Camp Allegheny, visitors will soon come to the Back Mountain Backway. This backway served as the main route around part of Cheat Mountain until U.S. Route 250 was built in the 1950s. You’ll be thankful that this backway is fully paved as you navigate the switchback at the base of Cheat Mountain. In Durbin, railroading fans love to check out the Durbin Rocket, powered by one of only three remaining Climax engines in the entire world. Both the rail excursion and the Back Mountain Backway are a great way to take a leisurely look at West Virginia’s beautiful mountains.
Cheat Mountain Backway
Only a few miles from the Back Mountain Backway, the Cheat Mountain Backway allows motorists to visit the former Union fort at Cheat Summit. General George McClellan ordered that a fort be built at the top of Cheat Mountain to prevent the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike from falling into Confederate hands, thus giving them an easy gateway to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. The Confederates’ failed attempt to take the fort largely doomed Robert E. Lee’s campaign for western Virginia. Today, staff at the Monongahela National Forest help to provide historic interpretation of the great importance this fort had in protecting the turnpike. There are also numerous trails and an overlook allowing visitors to get a more personal experience of the fort and battlefield.
Rich Mountain Backway
Besides also being on the original route for the turnpike, the Rich Mountain Backway makes its way through the Rich Mountain Battlefield. During the middle of July in 1861, Union troops came upon a small Confederate outpost guarding the mountain pass beside Rich Mountain. Utterly surprised, the Confederates were soundly defeated and General George McClellan, top commander in the area, was given command of the entire United States army shortly afterward. Interpretive trails cross the mountain leading up to the battlefield and both Union and Confederate structures can be seen in the nearby area.
Together, these four backways and the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike are a perfect way to learn about West Virginia’s Civil War heritage. There is so much to do and see, there is no way anyone could spend just one day taking in the sites and who would want to anyways?