In search of Historical Markers
20-21 July 2016
Back in 2009, I started a project heading up dozens of motorcycle riders to photograph and document each of the 835 Historical Markers around the state of West Virginia. The WV Department of History and Archives used these photos and notes to focus their replacement/refurbishing efforts to the markers than most needed help.
Shortly after that, some riders in Virginia started a similar project. Being the history book that it is, the state of Virginia has over 2,200 markers to find and photograph. As of this writing (July 2016), they had already done several hundred. I decided to combine a pleasure ride with learning some history on our sister state.
My plan: Leave Morgantown WV and ride over to Cumberland MD before getting off the interstate. From there, I would enjoy the back roads of West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle and lots of north-central Virginia. Looping around clockwise, I would go through Winchester VA, Culpeper VA, Harrisonburg VA, and then back through Petersburg WV (to stop and say hi to mom) before heading up through Keyser WV for one last missing WV Marker.
Day 1 - Morgantown WV to Orange VA
(1) Packed and ready to go. My bike is a 2007 Suzuki V-Strom DL-1000 that I bought last November with only 8K miles. I laid out my camping gear (tent, sleeping bag, air mat, etc) as well as 3 days of clothing. Then I whittled it down over several days to where it would easily fit in the luggage. In the end, I had plenty of room for cold Gatorades to combat the 90-degree temps.
(2) Heading out of Morgantown at 6:30am to beat the heat. Crossing Cheat Lake bridge here. I used to swim in this lake when I was a student at WVU.
I would dive off this bridge (underneath where I am standing) and swim over to the other bridge (since replaced with a new one).
(3) Welcome to Maryland. Traffic on I-68 was light to moderate this early. I love seeing the hazy mountains off in the distance.
(4) After getting of at Cumberland, I followed Rt 220 south about 10 miles to Rt 956 East.
This is the beautiful view to the south.
(5) Same view without the motorcycle.
(6) Just a moment later, I was stopped on a bridge with this view of the train tracks heading down the same valley.
(7) Located about 20 miles south of Cumberland MD is Ft Ashby WV.
(8) This is one of about 400 WV Historical Markers that I photographed for our project a few years ago.
(9) Heading south on Rt 28, the Potomac Eagle Excursion Train awaits you at Romney WV. This train takes riders up and down the scenic valley all year long, but is especially popular in the fall to look at the trees changing color.
(10) Romney WV is also home to the West Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind.
(11) Historical marker with details about the school.
(12) Heading out Rt 50 east from Romney. Again, I love seeing the hazy mountains fade in the distance.
(13) Rt 50 at Capon Bridge WV. This section of road was once part of the Northwestern Turnpike.
(14) Historical Marker: Claudius Crozet was a true genius and master of engineering. He planned the train tunnel through Afton Mt in nearby VA. This tunnel involved blasting through over 4000 feet of rock. Two teams started drilling and digging on opposite sides of the mountain and met in the middle within inches of center -- with no GPS or fancy digital instruments, just good surveying and calculations. Amazing!
(15) Welcome to Virginia - Rt 50.
(16) Just down the road was this more scenic welcome to Frederick County VA.
(17) As you come into Winchester VA eastbound on Rt 50, Amherst Diner is on the left. Great food!
(18) Historical downtown Winchester VA. A great place to walk around.
(19) Heading east on Rt 50 out of Winchester. Lots of divided 4-lane, but still a nice ride.
(20) My starting point for VA markers - Fauquier County. After looking at the spreadsheet on which VA markers had already been photographed, I saw a few empty areas like this that I wanted to focus on.
(21) Looks like this marker has seen lots of salt and rough winters. And, apparently, someone with a rifle.
View eastbound on Rt 50 entering Fauquier County VA.
(22) Funny, but the back side (entering Clark County) is not visible to westbound traffic since it's
a divided 4-lane and there is a small hill in between lanes.
(23) Shortly afterward, this beautiful scene opened up to the right (south). I quickly stopped, since there was no traffic in sight.
(24) When I stepped back to get a photo of the bike by the overlook,
I noticed the sign I parked next to - "NO STOPPING STANDING PARKING"
Oops - I was busy watching for traffic when I pulled over and didn't read the sign. Time for a quick getaway.
(25) As Rt 50 straddles Fauquier and Loudoun Counties, another marker comes into view.
(26) Gen. "Stonewall" Jackson was born in Clarksburg WV, about 3 blocks from where I was born. And a few years earlier.
(28) Just east of the junction with Rt 17 is the small town of Upperville VA, site of a historic batlle in 1863.
This plaque and the one in the next photo give details.
(29) Plaque #2 at Upperville VA.
(30) Two of the many scenic old homes in Upperville VA. If those houses could talk....
(31) Continuing out Rt 50 east toward Middleburg VA. It's hard to see in this photo, but there is a solid stone wall all along the tree line to the left. These walls were built by stacking hundreds of thousands of stones up to 12 inches diameter to a height of around 4 feet. I guess when they cleared the fields for planting, they had to do something with all the stones.
(They also built alot of houses with them)
(32) Approaching Middleburg, another marker comes into view. I normally like to get a photo of the subject,
but in this case, it looks like private land all around.
(33) Close-up of marker in previous photo.
(34) This marker is the northern-most one on my list for today. From here, I will head south towards Culpeper.
(35) Close-up of marker in previous photo.
(36) From Middleburg, I headed south on Zulla Road (Rt 709). Here, you can see one of the stone fences and appreciate how much work went into building them. LOTS of horses around this area!!
(37) Farmer getting hay ready. Notice there is no daylight peeking through the stones - tight fit!
(38) I turned right (east) onto Rt 55 shortly after that. Coming into the town of The Plains VA is this sign. Hmmm, wonder why they used a Harley-Davidson? No worry - my bike is quiet.
(39) After a short search, I found the marker I was looking for in The Plains.
Right along Hopewell Road (Rt 601) just north of Rt 55.
(40) Close-up of marker in previous photo.
(41) On Rt 55 at the Fauquier/ Prince William County line was this pull-off with two markers and a plaque.
(42) The plaque.
(43) The first marker.
(44) The second marker. From there, I took a right (south) on Beverly's Mill Road (Rt 600) to New Baltimore.
(45) At the Fauquier/Prince William County line on Rt 15/29, I turned south on Rt 215 for a couple of miles, then west on Rt 602 to find this marker for Grapewood Farm Engagement near Vint Hill.
(46) Close-up of marker from previous photo.
(47) Then it was back to Rt 15 to head west towards Warrenton. Along Rt 15 were these two markers.
(48) Close-up of marker #1.
(49) Close-up of marker #2.
(50) In Warrenton, I reached a bottleneck. First, the directions I had to the markers were vague, then add heavy traffic to the mix. Oh, and did I mention that it is now 90 degrees outside? I thought I found the first marker by the court house, but upon closer examination, it is a private marker from the Fauquier County Historical Society - not a state marker. Still interesting, though.
(51) View of the marker next door to the court house.
(52) View of the Fauquier County Court House.
Luckily, the sheriff and one of the deputies gave me good directions to the other markers.
(53) The first marker was just up the street from the court house.
(54) Close-up of the marker in the previous photo.
(55) Informative plaque near the house.
(56) View of the back of the house from the visitor center.
(57) View of the front of the house.
(58) Following the directions of the two fine police officers,
I found the next marker along Rt 802 just west of downtown Warrenton.
(59) Close-up of marker in previous photo.
(60) After escaping the heat and traffic of Warrenton, I headed northeast a few miles to Dumfries Road and turned off on Rt 670 (Old Dumfries Road). Less than a half mile later, I came up on the next marker.
(61) Close-up of marker in previous photo)
(62) Then, I turned toward the small town of Auburn less than a mile away. I love these scenic back roads!
(63) At Auburn, I saw the marker for Neavil's Mill.
(64) Close-up of marker in previous photo.
(65) View of Neavil's Mill. As I was wrapping up and getting ready to get back on the bike, a gentleman approached me and was happy to hear about my interest in the markers. He gave me a brief history of the area (brief is nice! - some people will talk for hours!) Turns out he is a Gold Wing rider and was also interested in my V-Strom, so I gave him a brief review. Then it was time to move on.
(66) Just around the bend at the junction of Rt 607 and Rt 602 was the next marker and plaque.
(67) Close-up of marker in previous photo.
(68) Plaque in previous photo.
(69) After back-tracking a mile or so, I headed south-east on Rt 667 (Lower Dumfries Road).
The next marker was about a half mile down.
(70) Close-up of marker in previous photo.
(71) Remember the gentleman earlier who was talking to me by Neavil's Mill?
He told me where the field they fought was, in between there and here. This is the site.
(72) Heading south on Rt 667 (Lower Dumfries Road). Love these back roads.
(73) Soon, I reached Rt 28 and the town of Catlett. And, the next marker.
(74) Close-up of marker in previous photo.
(75) Heading south-west on Rt 28, the next marker was just a mile down the road.
(76) Close-up of marker in previous photo.
(77) The next marker was just a short detour off Rt 28 onto Rt 643 (Meetze Road).
(78) Close-up of marker in previous photo.
(79) This was a tough one. Located on Rt 28 near Midland. The marker was hidden in the bushes and I sailed right past it the first time. There was an endless string of cars going both directions, so it was hard to stop and turn around. When I did get back in position, there is no shoulder on the road. I had to park with traffic whizzing by just a couple feet away. When I was done, I counted about 100 cars I had to wait for before I could pull out. Did I mention it was still 90 degrees?
(80) Close-up of marker in previous photo.
(81) After a long, hot ride, I was anxious to meet up with a friend in nearby Orange VA. Lou is a retired Marine (I am retired Air Force), and he was a member of our church in Morgantown WV before moving down here a year ago. He was kind enough to offer me a place to stay (inside with A/C!) instead of camping. I rewarded his kindness with dinner out at his favorite Mexican restaurant. BTW - Lou is fortunate to be able to tell you what it feels like to have been shot with an AK-47 and survive.
(82) Fajitas!!! After dinner, we headed back for a couple hours of Marines vs Air Force stories.
I was a bandsman and paralegal, so his stories are much more interesting.
Then it was lights out for reveille at 0500.
Day 2 - Orange VA to Morgantown WV
(83) The next morning, I was on the road by 6:30am (oops, 0630) and enjoyed a couple hours of free A/C before the heat kicked in again. This is Rt 20 about 6 miles south of Orange.
(84) At Barboursville, I headed west on Rt 33 towards Harrisonburg. It was a nice mix of divided 4-lane and some curvy 2-lane. Here, I am about 25 miles out of Harrisonburg heading west on Rt 33.
(85) Another scenic spot along Rt 33.
(86) And yet another scenic spot on Rt 33. The mountains are waiting!
(87) Rt 33 turns back into 2- and 3-lane going over the steeper mountains. Nicely paved and ready for some enjoyable riding. Kind of wish they had used a motorcycle on this sign.
(88) Rt 33 curves - westbound about 20 miles from Harrisonburg.
(89) More Rt 33 curves near Skyline Drive.
(90) Rt 33 passing under Skyline Drive about 15 miles east of Harrisonburg.
(91) Close-up of marker in previous photo.
(92) Where Rt 33 and the Skyline Drive meet, there is this turnoff and marker on the top of the mountain.
(93) Close-up of marker in previous photo.
(94) Plaque on the large stone in previous photo.
(95) Nearing Elkton east of Harrisonburg on Rt 33, I passed this nice looking family-owned place to stay - Country View Motel. www.countryviewlodging.com (540) 298-0025 Tell Wayne I sent you. He is a retired police officer.
(96) I decided to stop in and take a look for future reference.
(97) In addition to regular motel rooms, there are several 1- and 2-bed cabins.
(98) They were very gracious to open up one of the cabins for a look inside. Very clean!
(99) Soon, I turned left (south) off Rt 33 onto Rt 276 at Peales Crossroads. There is a lot of farmland surrounding Harrisonburg, and it is home to many Mennonite families. On any given Sunday morning, you will find many horses and buggies on these roads.
(100) I turned west onto Rt 682 (Frieden's Church Road) en route to my next marker.
Along the way, I passed the road's namesake.
(101) The church sign.
(102) Across from the church sign, I had an audience gathered in the shade.
(103) The next marker is found at the junction of Rt 11 and Rt 257 just west of I-81 in Mt Crawford.
(104) Close-up of marker in previous photo.
(105) Entrance to the Bridgewater College campus on Rt 257 just south of Harrisonburg in Bridgewater. Affiliated with the Church of the Brethren, it was the first private liberal arts college in Virginia to accept women.
(106) Looks like the student center.
(107) There is another historic marker for Bridgewater College located about 5 miles west in Spring Creek.
I rode out the scenic Rt 727 (Spring Creek Road) and found it in this quiet town.
(108) Close-up of marker in previous photo.
(109) Community Christian Fellowship Church located in Spring Creek near the marker in previous photo.
I love these old country churches.
(110) After that, I headed up to Ottobine and turned right onto Rt 257.
Very scenic area with farms and mountains.
(111) I wonder if this is where the "Halls of Montezuma" lyrics came from? Answer: No. The Halls of Montezuma are in Mexico City and the war in which the phase "Halls of Montezuma" refer to was the Mexican War of 1847.
(112) Next stop was the marker for the first church in Rockingham County, located on Bowman Road in Dayton VA, on the south side of Harrisonburg. I was having trouble finding it, and a city police officer was very helpful giving me directions. The church is long gone, but the cemetery remains.
(113) Close-up of marker in previous photo.
(114) From Dayton, I backtracked to Ottobine and took Rt 613 (Clover Hill Road) north to meet up with Rt 33.
More great scenes along the way. This is Rt 257 near Ottobine.
(115) Nice scene on Clover Hill Road looking towards the mountains.
(116) Back on Rt 33 west heading for the West Virginia state line. I love this stretch of road through a "tunnel" of trees.
(117) Rt 33 crossing the mountains into West Virginia is a curvy, challenging road. Apparently, some motorcyclists like to push the limits a bit too far. This is at the base of the mountain just before it starts the steep climb to the summit.
(119) Climbing Rt 33 towards WV. Several miles of curves and twisties.
Great for motorcycle riding, not great if your passengers get carsick.
(120) Back in West Virginia. Rt 33.
(121) Rt 33 coming down into West Virginia. You had better have good brakes on your car/bike.
(122) Some fellow riders enjoying the roads.
(123) A panorama of one of the big curves. Years ago, this was a very narrow 2-lane with very sharp hairpin curves. After too many people were killed or injured in accidents, the state widened the road and rounded off the curves.
(124) Rt 33 between Oak Flat and Brandywine, looking back to the mountains I just crossed.
(125) Another view on Rt 33 between Oak Flat and Franklin, looking back at the mountains.
(126) At Franklin, I took Rt 220 north. Here is a scene near Ruddle along the South Branch Potomac River.
(127) Another scene northbound on Rt 220 around Upper Tract.
(128) I stopped by the farm to have lunch with my mother. This is her birthplace and childhood home. She still comes out and spends a few weeks at a time here when the weather permits.
(129) A little closer look at the farmhouse.
(130) Pretty easy creek crossing unless it rains. It can go from 12 inches deep to 3 feet deep in just a couple of hours. Note the swinging footbridge. I've been crossing it since I was a kid, so I can walk across carrying things in both arms and not holding on to the hand rails. Woo-hoo!
(131) After a nice lunch with mom, it was time to head back to Morgantown. This is Rt 220 just north of Petersburg WV.
(132) I decided to take Patterson Creek Road (Rt 5) north to Keyser to photograph a West Virginia marker. This is a scene near Lahmansville. Lots of farmers baling hay today.
(133) Just before Greenland Gap, I pulled off for this nice view. The cut in the distant mountain is where the new Corridor H passes through from Wardensville to Davis.
(134) Rt 220/28 just south of the junction with Rt 50 at the appropriately named town of Junction.
(135) I stopped near Piedmont WV to get this WV marker photo. It was listed as being located at another location where this road also crosses back and forth into Maryland. Since we didn't find it at that location (like the previous survey crew many year before), it was listed as missing. Looks like the state repainted or replaced the marker. It is located on Rt 46 at Beryl WV, about 3 miles west of Piedmont.
(136) Close-up of the marker as you enter West Virginia.
From here, I was anxious to get home. It was 4pm, temps in the 90s, I had already ridden 250 miles and had another 80+ miles to go. So, I broke my usual rule of "No Interstates" (because they're usually boring) and zipped up to I-68 in Frostburg MD then home. I shouldn't say "zipped", because I got stuck behind a dump truck belching plumes of black exhaust and driving about half the speed limit. By the time he pulled off 20 miles later, there were about 30-40 cars behind us. Nowhere to pass. Oh well.
I had a great time and enjoyed this ride. I learned a little Virginia history, enjoyed great scenery and great roads. I got to see a friend I had not seen in over a year, and enjoyed a great fajita dinner with him. The V-Strom was a great bike for the trip, offering comfort and speed as well as the room to easily carry my conservative load of "stuff", including my camping gear. And I averaged 42MPG.
Hope you enjoyed riding along with me. See you next time!