Visiting West Virginia's Princeton: Its Showcase for Local Crafts and the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial
Promoting West Virginian crafts and honouring local sacrifice
The Visitor Center at West Virginia's Princeton makes for striking impressions on travellers through the state's mountainous and scenic Mercer County. The Center is situated close to Interstate 77 / West Virginia Turnpike.
West Virginia craft items
Contained within the pyramid-like, stone Visitor Center is an impressive 'Best of West Virginia' 'Crafts and Gifts' shop. The State of West Virginia has traditionally been very supportive of local artisans and many products of local talent are on display. The substantially rural character of the state is exemplified by the kind of items which are promoted at this state sponsored craft outlet.
Local craft products available include a range of items of pottery and glassware. In addition, carefully embroidered quilts as displayed, as are wooden items. Bears being a strong feature of this heavily wooded State of West Virginia, carved bear gifts items are a popular feature among available products.
Among locally produced food items are preserves and jams, including peach, damson, cherry, and strawberry.
I was particularly struck by the range of books on local geographical and natural themes.
Vietnam Veterans' Memorial
Adjacent to the gift store in the Visitor Center complex is the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, which was dedicated in 1996.
This circular stone structure is surrounded by well manicured flowerbeds, themselves surrounded by a rugged, rural-style stone wall. There is a fountain, centrally located within the memorial.
The conception of the memorial is deeply symbolic in that the fallen are listed from eight surrounding counties, four in West Virginia and four in Virginia. Names are listed from the following counties.
From West Virginia:
Mercer County; Monroe Country; McDowell County; Summers County.
Bland County; Giles County; Tazewell County; Wythe County.
In addition to the United States' flag and the state flag of West Virginia, the flags of all of these counties fly in circular formation around this memorial.
Thus, while the whole history of West Virginia as a separate state relates to the events of the Civil War, during which West Virginians separated from Virginia in 1863, yet this memorial is a tribute to those from both states who, a century or more later, served and suffered together in far-off Vietnam in the US military. This in itself impresses me as deeply symbolic.
Having visited this site, I could easily have stayed longer, in order to drink in further the sense of local character and history that was very much evidenced here.
When I visited Vermont — a US state with a much smaller population than West Virginia — I was struck by its seeming similarities: the independent spirit of its people and the ever present mountains which have so profoundly affected the characters of each of these states.
Also worth seeing
In Princeton itself, the McNutt House , dating from circa 1840, now houses the local chamber of commerce. The McNutt House is the only extant house in Princeton dating from the Civil War era. During that conflict, Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley — both later US Presidents — were stationed at the House.
Bramwell (distance: 25.6 kilometres) is a town with a number of historic houses, which include the Thomas , Hewitt , Cooper , Mann and McNeer Houses ; some of these properties were originally associated with magnates from this Millionaire Coal Town, as it was sometimes known. Nearby Pinnacle Rock State Park was opened in 1938, with its unusual sandstone rock formation 945 metres high as its centrepiece.
The Bluestone National Scenic River flows through portions of West Virginia's Mercer and Summers Counties.
How to get there: The Visitor Center at Princeton, West Vriginia, is situated close to Interstate 77 / West Virginia Turnpike, approx. 153.7 kilometres from the State capital, Charleston. A number of airlines, including United, Delta, Continental and US Airways fly from various destinations in the eastern and southern United States to Yeager Airport, Charleston, where car rental is available. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.