• A visit to Union 2013. If you grew up in Union, West Virginia and you have not been able to return to Monroe County recently, chances are you will enjoy a little tour of Union and the area.

    View a Picture Tour of Union & Monroe County.


“Monroe County – Make it a Road Trip” by Su Clauson-Wicker

The Roanoke Times-Roanoke, Virginia

December 15, 2013 

Monroe County, W.Va.: Make it a road trip

Monroe County, W.Va., is the scenic-drive capital of the Mountain State.




As the crow flies, it’s about 9 miles from Union, W.Va., to the Virginia border on the flank of Peters Mountain. But where the crow goes hardly matters because West Virginia’s sinuous secondary roads seem to wander along with minds of their own, adding a few extra miles and a shimmering harvest of rural scenery.

In fact, Monroe County, W.Va., deserves the title of Scenic Drive Capital of West Virginia for its wealth of stunning backroads tours. They can be interesting in any season. The tourism office has brochures for a historic mill tour, a covered bridge tour and more than a dozen country road tours to places such as Bozoo and Turkey Creek.

Almost 60 quilt squares of patterns with names like Confederate Rose and Honeybee adorn barns, historic buildings, schools and local businesses to form the roaming Monroe Quilt Trail (monroewvquilttrail.com). Some of the pieces pictured are based on actual quilts, including one created from Confederate uniforms.

And then there’s the new Mountain Music Trail along U.S. 219 through Monroe and four northern counties. The trail officially kicked off with a festival at the old Salt Sulphur Springs Resort outside of Union. Other concerts will be held there in the warm weather.

In the early to middle 1800s, Monroe County was one of the most fashionable places for lowland Southerners to take the natural healing spring waters in summer. Grand hotels accommodated hundreds of guests. The Springs Trail leads past sites where only a bathhouse or sign remain as well as a community of native stone lodges where Salt Sulphur Springs still hosts weddings and concerts. The sprawling lodge of Sweet Springs, designed by a Thomas Jefferson protege, stands like a West Virginia Versailles at the eastern end of the county.

Bird-watching wonder

Monroe County’s highest point, the ridge of Peters Mountain at just over 4,000 feet, makes for the best spot to watch the proverbial crow fly. Or the golden eagle, the osprey, the peregrine falcon, or the goshawk — they all have been spotted in numbers from Hanging Rock Observatory, balanced on a narrow ridge of the mountain, during the birds’ fall migration.

The southward migration typically begins in early September and runs through November. Birds seen last year include bald eagles, most Eastern species of hawks, and the first ever sighting in West Virginia of a gyrfalcon. Volunteers at the small observatory counted more than 5,000 hawks and almost 200 bald eagles during the fall migration.

To reach the observatory from the village of Gap Mills (known for its Mennonite cheese shop and bakery), take Zenith Road southwest from West Virginia 3 and go 3.5 miles to Limestone Hill Road, where you take a left up the hill. In 1.7 miles, look for a parking area. Follow the ridgetop footpath about a mile south to the observatory. Visitors should be aware that the unheated building has no electricity or plumbing, but the views are spectacular in any season.

Fall on the farm

Monroe County is truly rural. You won’t see a stoplight or a fast food franchise anywhere within its boundaries. Some of fall’s most entertaining events are down on the farm. Byrnside Branch Farms, a mile outside of Union, welcomes visitors to its corn and hay bale mazes. Open Friday through Sunday during the fall, it features tractor-powered hay rides or horse-drawn wagon rides to the pumpkin patch for jack-o-lantern picking and a crackling bonfire. byrnsidebranchfarm.com.

Morgan Orchards, off U.S. 219 on Neff Orchard Road five miles north of Union, is a great place to pick your own apples (Fuji, pink lady, granny Smiths and Yorks now) or pick up a peck and some cider at their store. Open Sunday afternoons and Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., except Wednesdays. Call (304) 772-3638 or visit morganorchardwv.com to see if your favorite apples are ripe this week and what’s being featured at the farm market.

Centuries of history

Union, the county seat with a population of 565, is chock full of history. A mile outside town limits the oldest Protestant church west of the Alleghenies sits in a dimple of the hill. Rehoboth Methodist Church, built in 1786 when Shawnee Indians raided the region, may have been intended to double as a fort.

Visitors following U.S. 219 through town see the big Confederate monument sitting lonely in a field just outside of town and scratch their heads. “What’s this doing here, in a town named Union?”

Actually the village was Union long before the Civil War began. The town was settled in 1774, chartered in 1799, and named Union because its massive oak tree was a rendezvous site for troops gathering during the French and Indian War. Although this county was claimed by the West Virginia faction when it split from Virginia in 1861, Union itself had more Confederate than Union sympathizers. The village produced Gen. John Echols, commander of Confederate forces in the Kanawha Valley, and Capt. Hugh Tiffany, the first Confederate officer killed in the war.

Though both armies passed through town repeatedly, they were kind to Union — 29 ante bellum structures still stand in Union’s downtown, enough to make an interesting walking tour. It wasn’t until 1894 that the idea for a Civil War monument came up, at a Confederate reunion in Union.

Why the monument was banished to the end of Main Street is not really known. Some say the town was expected to grow out to meet it; others postulate a pro-Northern majority of town leaders made the Southerners place their statue out of town. Still others say the monument was placed on the land that was donated for the purpose.

“It wasn’t their intention to have it out there by itself,” said Monroe County Commissioner Craig Mohler, who claims both Union and Confederate forebears. “That I’m sure of.”

The county’s active historical society owns five buildings scattered throughout town and headed into the home stretch of a fundraising campaign for a carriage house to house their horse-drawn carriage collection that is capped by a 1880s Omnibus used to transport spa guests.

The society’s walking tour includes its own museums, the 1810 Clark-Wiseman log house, General Echol’s home, school buildings, log houses, churches and a four-story, pillared mansion now being renovated as an inn and restaurant. The home, Elmwood, was owned by Hugh Caperton, who served in both the U.S. and Confederate senates. Brochures for the walking tour may be picked up on the museum porch on South Main Street.

Where to stay

If you’re inclined to spend the night in peaceful Monroe County, you have several options.

Willowbend B&B just outside of Union is a sprawling farmhouse with five well-appointed guest rooms. 304-772-3454; www.willowbendbedandbreakfast.com.

Creekside Resort (www.creeksideresort.net; 800-691-6420) near Greenville hosts guests in secluded cottages with hot tubs and spa services.

In Union, Parker’s Rentals (304-772-3081) and Stoneway Inn (304-772-3931) rent suites by the night or by the week.

For more information, see www.travelmonroe.com.



We would like to thank the Roanoke Times and Su Clauson-Wicker for this wonderful article about Monroe County.