Settlers of what is now West Virginia were German, English and Irish, all pushing inland in search of land. They battled wolves and Indians and cleared the rocky hillsides, finding homes in places like Swope's Knob and Wolf Creek Mountain. Some fought for Virginia during the civil war, but some tried to stay neutral, and many fought on the Union side. Finally, in 1863, West Virginia was admitted to the Union as a new State, and added its troops to the growing Union military superiority. Today there are as many or more monuments to Confederate soldiers as to Union soldiers. What this all means is that Civil War history in West Virginia is kind of complex. The very tall monument with a statue of an infantryman sits on top of a large hill, surrounded by a long approach road lined with a white fence Confederate monument, Union, WV

It also means that the historical records of West Virginia prior to 1863 may be included with Virginia historical records, once again giving us new challenges as genealogists trying to track down family members.

We crossed the only covered bridge in the U.S. still part of the Federal Highway system. Part of the bridge burned in 1989 but has been strengthened and repaired and carries plenty of traffic to and from the small town of Philippi, WV. A nice memorial park shows a number of flags flown by Union and Confederate forces over Philippi. The local legend is that Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis held a wartime strategy session on the bridge.

The Weston, WV, library is a rambling old red brick house that looks right out of The Addams Family. It's so big, with so many rooms, that the Library offers a Walking Tour of the House! It was left to the city by the unmarried daughter of a wealthy family. Like too many other West Virginia libraries, the library is supported by a combination of city, school district, motel tax, state, and federal funds, plus private donations. The librarian admitted she spends too much of her time with spreadsheets.

White feathers along the roadside for miles and miles puzzled us until we passed the turkey processing plant -- get ready, America, your turkeys are coming! The metal sculpture is rusty with age, and depicts a skeleton rider on a large metal horse Welded warrior

We enjoy avoiding the freeways, and even the major highways when possible: we prefer snaking up and down the hills at a slower pace, appreciating the scenery and its relative isolation. We're also more likely to find individual displays, like the welded sculptures of skeleton warriors in front of one house.

Dave and Renee made us welcome in their tiny, quiet village in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, where the houses are centuries old and still going strong, and an old mill wheel still sits on the nearby river bank. This part of the state is more closely connected to colonial Virginia, with many descendants of George Washington in residence. Waiting for lunch outside the best local restaurant, we talked to a couple from Baltimore who were spending the three-day weekend in Harper's Ferry, and were bicycling along the C & O canal path. After lunch we toured the panhandle, passing about a dozen firetrucks trying to keep a wildfire from spreading to nearby houses -- the area has experienced a three-year drought. We reminisced about the Reserve Officers Association from the vantage point of those who have retired from the battle.

The next morning we drove through Virginia, up the valley of the South Branch of the Potomac and into the mountains again. Leaving the region of apple orchards (Washington made every tenant farmer plant 4 acres of apples) we drove through an area of livestock farming, with lots of farms raising both cattle and sheep, and then left the valley and climbed into the Virginia hills dotted with mineral springs, passing the exclusive Homestead resort, with many golfers The mural shows deer, bear, eagle, waterfalls, a native american and an early mountain hunter, with row after row of green hills in the background Mural, Franklin, WV enjoying the championship courses on the long weekend. West Virginia has its mineral springs resorts also, including the famous Greenbrier and several less-opulent offerings.

Shortly thereafter we came to Cumberland, Virginia, site of the huge WESVACO lumber processing plant, which seemed at least as large as the plants we had seen in Canada. Then we were back in West Virginia again.

We drove through the tiny town of Union, county seat of Monroe County, WV, where we have more family to seek out. The closest motel is twenty miles north, in Fairlie, site of the West Virginia state fair.

What are we learning about West Virginia? It's a beautiful state, and really quite different from Virginia. For centuries it has been characterized by the words independent, isolated, and poor. In recent years, championed by Senator Robert Byrd, it has developed Robert C. Byrd Highways, Robert C. Byrd Health Centers, Robert C. Byrd Vocational Schools, and more. It is said that most homes have a photo of Robert C. Byrd on the wall. West Virginia is richly deserving of its nickname as The Mountain State; there's hardly a square mile in the entire state that's flat.

The people, too, are unique: country music lovers, stock car racers, not too rich, fiercely independent and proud. They, as much as the land they inhabit, deserve the motto: Montani Semper Liberi.