A guide to Stonewall Country, West Virginia, where curvy roads offer new adventures and discoveries
West Virginia never ceases to amaze me. Every time I think I’ve seen every nook and cranny of its hills and hollows, I’ll go around another bend in the road and find something I’ve never seen before.
One of my favorite towns to explore is Weston in Lewis County. This charming little hamlet, nestled beside the West Fork River, is filled with a creative spirit that infuses everything from the work of local artisans to the cuisine served in locally owned restaurants.
The town is also full of stories from centuries past; ever evolving and ready for your family to step right in and make some stories of your own. You’ll learn about famous locals and old industries, as well as some of the dark corners of local history. But beware: you might find it difficult to leave. The deeper you travel into Stonewall Country, the more you’ll find to explore.
If your family is looking for something adventurous—and perhaps a little hair-raising—the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum has just the tour for you. The asylum looms large in Weston, literally and figuratively, and is regarded by paranormal experts as one of West Virginia’s most haunted sites. Driving into town from the interstate, this huge stone building—topped with a striking white clock tower—is one of the first things you’ll notice. It’s the largest hand-cut stone masonry building in North America, and probably second-largest in the world behind the Moscow Kremlin. The asylum was the cornerstone of Weston’s local economy before it closed in 1994, and has since attracted legions of ghost hunters as well as a few national television shows.
The faint of heart can enjoy a 90-minute daytime tour (little kids might prefer this one) of the wings that once housed the criminally insane and the most deranged. But for real thrills, take one of the two-hour nighttime tours. Guides will lead you to four of the asylum's paranormal hotspots. That includes the former Ward R, one of the most active—and creepy—parts of the asylum allegedly haunted by a ghost named “Lilly.” Many guests have reported hearing banging noises and otherworldly whispers and laughs.
The asylum does not take an official position on the hauntings—personally, I take the stories with a pinch of salt. But, it’s up to you to decide what’s real and what’s not. And let’s be honest, that’s the fun of ghost stories.
While certainly not as imposing as the asylum, the Mountaineer Military Museum is also difficult to miss. The brick building, located next door to the Weston Fire Department, flies the flags of each branch of the military on its front lawn. Step inside and you’ll find hundreds of pieces of military memorabilia ranging from the Civil War to today’s conflicts in the Middle East. It’s the work of Ron McVaney, a Vietnam War veteran. While serving as pallbearer at a friend’s funeral in 1969, he made a graveside promise: “I’ll never let anyone forget you guys.” McVaney made good on that promise, building his collection for decades with personal items from soldiers and military equipment that still bear the scars of battle. I thought the most moving exhibit in the museum was its “Hall of Heroes.” Featuring photos, uniforms and medals from more than 500 West Virginians who served in the military, the hall is a good reminder that wars aren’t just stories in history books—families had to fight on the battlefield and at home.
For military history with a slightly different twist, drive a few miles outside Weston to WVU Jackson’s Mill. This is the boyhood home of legendary Civil War general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, who came to the farm in 1830 after his father died.
Today, the park bustles with activity just as it must have in Jackson’s time. Visitors can tour the original grist mill, which is still used to grind corn and wheat. Get the full immersive experience by watching experts, some wearing period dress, show off their skills in weaving, spinning, blacksmithing, candle dipping and more. Many of these exhibits allows visitors to try their hand at these old-timey occupations. I highly recommend creative kids check out one of the paper marbling demonstrations—mixing inks and pigments to dye a piece of paper that looks like it was just sliced from a marble quarry.
I don’t know about you, but history makes me hungry. No matter the cause of your hunger pangs, Weston’s locally owned restaurants do not disappoint when it’s time to chow down.
On your way back into town from Jackson’s Mill, stop by Hickory House. This laid-back joint—think big, comfy booths with license plates and vintage posters covering the walls—is known for its dry-rubbed ribs, pulled pork and brisket. Every table gets two bottles of barbecue sauce: one sweet and one spicy. I couldn’t choose which sauce I liked best, so I doused my brisket with both. Although the tender, flavorful barbecue takes a starring role, the restaurant’s signature sides of baked beans, tangy coleslaw and cinnamon apples more than hold their own.
Just across the river from the asylum, Kanes Grub & Pub’s lunch menu has a great sandwich selection. Try the Pulled Bacon on Dutch Crunch, featuring bacon that’s brined for seven days, baked and topped with red slaw, jalapeños and mayo. Dinner service begins at 5 p.m. with a children’s menu that might make mom and dad jealous: personal pizzas, a grilled cheese on Tuscan bread and a West Virginia-style hotdog. Finish your night—if you have room—with a cup of coffee and a slice of the restaurant’s housemade cheesecake.
Now that your belly’s full, it’s time to get back to exploring. West Virginia is known for our many beautiful mountains, friendly residents and a certain coonskin cap-wearing collegiate mascot, just to name a few. But at one time, it was known for the hundreds of glass companies in business all across the state. Only a few remain, but the craft is very much alive and well.
A good place to begin your journey into this tradition is the West Virginia Museum of American Glass in downtown Weston. The collection includes plenty of expertly crafted art glass pieces, but kids will enjoy the collection of old pop bottles. Favorite brands like Coke, Pepsi and 7-Up are all present, but check out the names now forgotten to history. Anyone remember what Kickapoo Joy Juice tasted like?
And don’t leave without checking out the museum’s marble display. There are colorful orbs from makers like West Virginia’s own Marble King. There’s also the museum’s oldest artifact: a glass marble found in Oxyrhnhus, Egypt, which dates from somewhere between the 1st and 4th century AD.
It’s strange to think, but the process of making glass hasn’t changed much in the centuries since that marble was made. It still requires silica sand, a source of intense heat and a talented artisan who can shape the molten orbs into something special. Weston has two glassmakers, each with a distinct style that keeps this mesmerizing craft alive.
Just up the street from the museum, you’ll hear the low roar of the gas-powered oven as soon as you enter West Virginia American Art Glass. Master glassblower Scott Meyer offers regular glassblowing demonstrations, giving you an up-close look at how the shop makes its colorful, swirling designs for a variety of pieces, from large platters and vases to smaller ornaments and marbles.
Appalachian Glass’ three-generation shop also offers demonstrations. Watch as grandfather, father, and son trio Matt, Chip and Todd Turner turn out their signature speckled designs. The gift shop features hand-blown treasures—the most popular being the “friendship ball,” which can function as a suncatcher or a tree ornament.
I’ve got my friendship ball hanging in my kitchen window. It’s a great reminder of the adventures I’ve had with my family while traveling in Stonewall Country. And each time the morning sun brings the ornament’s colors to life, I start thinking about all the things I’ve yet to discover.
Begin your exploration of Lewis County.