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Author Topic: Southern West Virginia/southwestern Virginia  (Read 2341 times)

hbelkins

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Southern West Virginia/southwestern Virginia
« on: July 16, 2016, 05:03:18 PM »

Last Friday, July 8, was the 30th anniversary of my mother's death (she was 50, I was just 24). I needed to get a way and do something I enjoy. Plus, it appears as if some life circumstances may be changing for me, so I decided to get out on the road, which is something I've pretty much avoided the last couple of years because of economic reasons. I've been wanting to get down to Bluefield, Va., to photograph all the signage oddities since I last passed through there but was unable to stop because I was rushing home for a family emergency. I intended to make it just a day trip, but I got a late start leaving and it took longer than I had expected to get there, so I ended up staying overnight and making a two-day adventure of it.

I used US 52 through West Virginia to get there instead of the shorter, more direct route of US 460. I reached US 52 at Delbarton via the Mountain Parkway, US 460, US 23, KY 645 and KY 40 to join US 52 at Kermit, then took WV 65 to bypass Williamson and Buffalo Mountain.

This was my first time to drive US 52 southbound all the way between the Delbarton/Williamson area and Bluefield. I had driven it all northbound, and portions of it in both directions in the past, but never directly southbound. It took longer than the four hours that would have been required had I used US 460.

I took the new routing of the King Coal Highway, which still has US 52 signage and now has added signage such as mileage indicators (Logan, Gilbert and Welch southbound, Matewan, Delbarton and Williamson northbound). There are several places where the fill has settled and the concrete pavement has required asphalt patching. I couldn't tell how much construction has been done beyond the end of the route at WV 44, but nothing is yet paved beyond that point. Despite the mountain climb necessary to get to the new road along WV 65, I think using the new route is faster than staying on old US 52.

Pavement conditions along US 52 are terrible except in places where recent resurfacing has been done. I took a brief detour onto WV 97 to double-check to see if the error "PA 97" signs are still up (they are) and stopped briefly to photograph the closed Walmart near Welch, but otherwise I drove straight to Bluefield. I was once again reminded of the isolation of this area, as it had been several years since I had been to Welch. The area suffers from inaccessibility more than anything else. No cell service whatsoever for much of the trip, either on AT&T or Verizon. Even Iaeger, a decent-sized town, had no cell service. I did note that the Magic Mart at Welch seemed to be doing a booming business. Guess they've benefitted from Walmart's closure.

The older communities along US 52 between Welch and Bluefield are very interesting. Lots of neat architecture despite the closed businesses. And there were quite a few black individuals in those towns, which shoots down the myth of central Appalachia being lily-white.

I just missed a driving rainstorm in the Bramwell/Bluewell area, as the ditches were full of fast-moving water, but i sure got in another storm a bit later.

Once I got into Bluefield, WV, I got onto Stadium Drive so I could drive out VA 102. I got photos of all the signage. There's only one old-style cutout left, but a handful of the interstate-shaped markers and the odd cutouts downtown. I drove out to Falls Mills, cut over to WV 123, then back north on US 52 to Bramwell, from which I took CR 120 (posted with standalone signage) into Virginia, then picked up VA 102 to Pocahontas. This was where the next storm came through. Water was standing in the streets of Pocahontas and I was not able to get any photos of the town's architecture.

I drove back into Bluefield along VA/WV/VA/WV/VA 102, by which time it had quit raining, stopped downtown to get photos of the signage the other direction, then got some pictures of the signage at the various US 460/SR 702 interchanges, then drove US 19 through town looking for cutouts. There is only one set of US 19/460 cutouts left in town, and they're southbound in downtown just before the VA 102 intersection. If there are any cutouts on side streets, I missed them. Fifteen or so years ago there were probably two dozen sets. They've all been replaced with newer signage, and that includes US 460. By contrast, there is no mention of US 460 along US 19 in downtown Bluefield, WV.

After I finished up in Bluefield, I realized that it would be well after dark by the time I got home, so I decided to spend the night in the area. Leaving town, I drove out WV 112 to Oakvale, then the old county route to US 460 near the state line. Crossed into Virginia, drove to Rich Creek, then popped up US 219 into West Virginia, then back to US 460, back through Kellysville and Oakvale on the old road, then US 460 to Princeton. I made a reservation for a motel in Wytheville, then drove down I-77 in a pouring rain that took the joy out of the trip. Got my room at Wytheville and got my MTO fix at Sheetz, noting the location of the state-named I-77 and I-81 markers and the older US 21 and 52 signs for photography purposes the next morning.

Saturday morning I got that picture, then headed out Peppers Ferry Road (SR 610) to Max Meadows, then south on VA 121 (another primary route that really could be secondary) to US 52, then VA 94 through (Do You Want) Fries (With That?) to US 58/221, then into Galax. Turned onto VA 89, got pictures of a solo VA 89 cutout and the cutouts at the intersection of VA 89 and VA 97, then VA 97 east (or north, depending on the signage vagaries) to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Took that to US 52, then north to Hillsville to photograph the cutouts that are still standing. From there, it was VA 100 north. I noticed the signage for the WV Turnpike still in effect at the I-81/US 11/VA 100 interchange. Followed VA 100 all the way through Pearisburg (only one set of cutouts remains there) to Narrows, then VA 61 over to US 460, which I followed to Tazewell.

At Tazewell, I snagged photos of all the cutouts and all the old signage along VA 16, Alt. VA 16, VA 61 and the business US routes. Most of the cutouts that I photographed a few years ago are still present, although a few assemblies have been removed and have not been replaced with newer signage. The error wide-shield "US 61" sign is also gone.

I detoured into downtown Richlands on the US 460 business route to see if any cutouts were present. They weren't, but the signage for US 460 and VA 67 appeared to be fairly old.

North of Grundy, I cut over to Breaks on SR 609 to check out the progress of US 460 construction. The VA 80 bridge is complete and carries local traffic, but VA 80 traffic between Breaks Interstate Park and the state line still has to take a detour. The US 460 bridges over SR 610 near the state line, a focal point of the fall 2013 Pikeville meet that are said to be the tallest bridges in Virginia, appear to be complete.

Also complete, and carrying traffic, is a new bridge on KY 80 across the river and the railroad yard in Elkhorn City. The one-lane traffic condition on KY 80 north of Elkhorn City, which was part of the US 460 construction, is no longer in effect.

Once on old US 460, I encountered a reconstruction project to eliminate a curve on the old route near Millard. Traffic along US 23 through Coal Run Village, north of Pikeville, was the lightest I can ever remember encountering, which was surprising for a Saturday afternoon.

US 23 is down to one lane in each direction (two-way traffic in the southbound lanes) in Floyd County as work is underway to remove a massive slide that has caused problems for years. I didn't encounter any major slowdowns i this area.

I have put the photos from Bluefield, Tazewell and Hillsville/Pearisburg online on the Millennium Highway Facebook page. At some point in the near future I will have photos from the entire trip online.

I needed to get away. It felt good to be out "roadgeeking" again.
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Mapmikey

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Re: Southern West Virginia/southwestern Virginia
« Reply #1 on: July 16, 2016, 10:32:26 PM »


The older communities along US 52 between Welch and Bluefield are very interesting. Lots of neat architecture despite the closed businesses. And there were quite a few black individuals in those towns, which shoots down the myth of central Appalachia being lily-white.


Data strongly suggests otherwise.  Non-latino whites are about 62% nationwide, blacks are around 12-13%.

When you look at the data in county by county form (easily seen with the map tab at the link below - 2013 data) for any of the Appalachian areas, Welch and Bluefield do have one of the lowest non-white populations at "only" 89.5% and 91.3% white, respectively.    Virginia's counties west of Roanoke are nearly all 95% or more white.  NC, GA, TN, and KY all have higher white populations in the Appalachian areas than elsewhere in those states and the typical Appalachian county has very similar percentages of white people as states widely viewed as being nearly all white (e.g. UT, ID, VT).

http://www.indexmundi.com/facts/united-states/quick-facts/virginia/white-population-percentage#map

EDIT:  Then I decided to check on the assumption that those 3 states are nearly all white.  This data (sortable in descending order at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demography_of_the_United_States) shows West Virginia as the 3rd most white state (ME is 1st then VT in 2nd...surprisingly, there are nearly 20 states that are whiter than Utah which has a fair number of Latinos)

« Last Edit: July 16, 2016, 10:39:33 PM by Mapmikey »
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hbelkins

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Re: Southern West Virginia/southwestern Virginia
« Reply #2 on: July 17, 2016, 05:42:55 PM »

I failed to mention that I stopped at the I-77 welcome center near Bland, in hopes of snagging a couple of the new Virginia maps, but the building was already closed. There was no map rack in the restroom building, so no maps for me. At least Kentucky and West Virginia make maps available when the welcome center desks are closed.
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Mapmikey

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Re: Southern West Virginia/southwestern Virginia
« Reply #3 on: July 17, 2016, 07:57:21 PM »

I failed to mention that I stopped at the I-77 welcome center near Bland, in hopes of snagging a couple of the new Virginia maps, but the building was already closed. There was no map rack in the restroom building, so no maps for me. At least Kentucky and West Virginia make maps available when the welcome center desks are closed.

VDOT has also taken their time in mailing one to me...

Did you notice whether the US 94 shields were still present (at SR 602 halfway between Fries and Ivanhoe)?
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Avalanchez71

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Re: Southern West Virginia/southwestern Virginia
« Reply #4 on: July 18, 2016, 12:05:27 AM »

Is that spur that connects SR 292 with US 52 an inventoried Kentucky state road?  If so what it designated as?
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hbelkins

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Re: Southern West Virginia/southwestern Virginia
« Reply #5 on: July 18, 2016, 10:26:16 AM »

Did you notice whether the US 94 shields were still present (at SR 602 halfway between Fries and Ivanhoe)?

Didn't see them. But if they were at the end of SR 602, I may not have noticed them.
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hbelkins

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Re: Southern West Virginia/southwestern Virginia
« Reply #6 on: July 18, 2016, 10:44:11 AM »

Is that spur that connects SR 292 with US 52 an inventoried Kentucky state road?  If so what it designated as?

Neither spur is. They belong to West Virginia.
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SP Cook

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Re: Southern West Virginia/southwestern Virginia
« Reply #7 on: July 18, 2016, 11:23:25 AM »

52:  Once you get off the new part of 52, and climb down Horsepen Mountain, you see a coal country curiosity, which I call "unofficial signage".  The coal truck drivers have spray painted numbers for each curve, mostly on the state's arrow signs, as the road is inadequate if two trucks met in the middle, the practice being that the downward driver has the ROW by saying "down at 11" or such, and the upward driver will slow down or stop to accomodate.  Even the school buses (who get 100% priority in this unofficial system) have CBs and the drivers watch their language at the appropriate times.  I can think of 3 or 4 other places with a similar system.

McDowell:  The road geek in me says that isolation is a problem, but when a county has lost 5 out of 6 residents, one has to wonder if just getting the holdouts to develop some ****ing ambition and move to town, be that town Bluefield, Charlotte, or wherever, is a better solution.  There are no jobs there and, but for coal, there never would have been any jobs there.  They could build the greatest road in the world and that ain't changing.  As to the black issue, yes.  One of the (many) idiocies the uninformed believe.  Actually McDowell has always been WV's "blackest" county since to coal boom, and is getting "blacker" as more whites than blacks are moving away.  It will be about 15% black in the next census, in a state that is less than 3% black.  And McDowell, like all of Appalachia (reference here FX's totally anti-Appalachian and uninformed "Justified" series)  is probably the most free of racial problems of any place I have been.  BTW, most of the blacks in WV's coalfields are decended from migrants from the deep south from during the coal boom, while other parts of WV have blacks whose people were there from slavery times and, to this day, these two groups of people consider themselves two groups of people and have issues with each other.  Anyway, McDowell has reclaimed the title of shortest life expectancy of any county in the USA.

Did you notice the onion-domed Russian Orthodox churches among the towns between Welch and Bluefield.  Just like blacks, lots of immigrants from eastern Europe.   So much for the equally uninformend idea that everybody is a proto-snake handler.  Unfortunatly the churches have closed as the population dried up.  But there are still ones in Bluefield and Welch.

Not that I recommend drinking poison, but the mom and pop drug store in Bluefield, VA has a soda fountain, which will do flavored Cokes, including an ammonia Coke (it is a tiny amount and chemically different from the household cleaner).  Old time folk cure for a cough or cold, and an interesting taste. 

Virginia maps:  Oddly enough, you can get these at the WV Welcome Center, which is not a traditonal rest area type one and accessable from both directions, in Princeton. 
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hbelkins

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Re: Southern West Virginia/southwestern Virginia
« Reply #8 on: July 18, 2016, 04:02:21 PM »

52:  Once you get off the new part of 52, and climb down Horsepen Mountain, you see a coal country curiosity, which I call "unofficial signage".  The coal truck drivers have spray painted numbers for each curve, mostly on the state's arrow signs, as the road is inadequate if two trucks met in the middle, the practice being that the downward driver has the ROW by saying "down at 11" or such, and the upward driver will slow down or stop to accomodate.  Even the school buses (who get 100% priority in this unofficial system) have CBs and the drivers watch their language at the appropriate times.  I can think of 3 or 4 other places with a similar system.

I noticed those and wondered what was up. It's the only place that I noticed them along 52, however.

Quote
Did you notice the onion-domed Russian Orthodox churches among the towns between Welch and Bluefield.  Just like blacks, lots of immigrants from eastern Europe.   So much for the equally uninformend idea that everybody is a proto-snake handler.  Unfortunatly the churches have closed as the population dried up.  But there are still ones in Bluefield and Welch.

Now that you mention it, I did notice.

Quote
Virginia maps:  Oddly enough, you can get these at the WV Welcome Center, which is not a traditonal rest area type one and accessable from both directions, in Princeton.

I stopped there to make my motel reservation for Wytheville. The welcome center area was already closed, and the restroom building was open, but unlike the one on eastbound I-64 at Huntington, it had no maps available. They were even out of the coupon books in the "Free, Take One" boxes.
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Super Mateo

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Re: Southern West Virginia/southwestern Virginia
« Reply #9 on: July 18, 2016, 05:20:10 PM »

I drove the entire length of West Virginia's portion of US 52 on my trip from Illinois to North Carolina in May.  There were lots of mileage signs that included Welch as a checkpoint.  I wasn't used to mountain driving at all and it didn't help that i got a steady, heavy rain throughout the WV part of my trip.

Observations from the WV segment (all southbound):
-US 52 splits off from US 119 in Williamson.  Right nearby (in Williamson), US 52 runs down a couple of alley-like one ways for a couple blocks.  I was kind of surprised US 52 wasn't routed around this.
-US 52 is signed N/S. That makes sense from Huntington to Williamson, but the route runs more E/W than N/S southeast of Williamson, including going the opposite direction than the signs at times.
-There were tons of arrows at most curves, but I did not notice any unofficial numbering.
-I did notice, however, that passing lanes would appear periodically, but they almost always appeared going uphill.  I have theories as to why, but I couldn't find an official reason for uphill only.  I would assume it has to do with speed control.
-As discussed in another thread, US 52 has a lot of turns in Bluefield.
-As a fan of the Muppets, I really enjoyed seeing a town named Kermit along the way.
-When I stopped in Welch for some food, I truly had no idea which direction was which.  I guessed that US 52 was heading due south. It was overcast, so I couldn't use the sun as a clue, and there was no phone reception. It turns out US 52 was going east-southeast.

Not a bad trip.  I would like to drive down US 52 again someday through WV, without all the rain.
« Last Edit: July 18, 2016, 05:22:27 PM by Super Mateo »
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hbelkins

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Re: Southern West Virginia/southwestern Virginia
« Reply #10 on: July 19, 2016, 12:25:03 PM »

-I did notice, however, that passing lanes would appear periodically, but they almost always appeared going uphill.  I have theories as to why, but I couldn't find an official reason for uphill only.  I would assume it has to do with speed control.

Those are truck climbing lanes. That part of West Virginia is (or was) coal mining country, and there used to be a lot more coal trucks on the road than there are now. A loaded coal truck is turtle-slow going up those hills, so providing a truck lane (or turnouts, in places where lanes haven't been added) allows faster traffic to pass those slow-moving trucks.
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Super Mateo

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Re: Southern West Virginia/southwestern Virginia
« Reply #11 on: July 19, 2016, 02:21:31 PM »

-I did notice, however, that passing lanes would appear periodically, but they almost always appeared going uphill.  I have theories as to why, but I couldn't find an official reason for uphill only.  I would assume it has to do with speed control.

Those are truck climbing lanes. That part of West Virginia is (or was) coal mining country, and there used to be a lot more coal trucks on the road than there are now. A loaded coal truck is turtle-slow going up those hills, so providing a truck lane (or turnouts, in places where lanes haven't been added) allows faster traffic to pass those slow-moving trucks.

Thanks. That makes sense. I wouldn't want to be stuck behind those trucks. Luckily I didn't see many trucks that day.
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