Two-hour Trips From the MOV: Weston offers look into West Virginia’s past

Photo by Amy Phelps The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum is the largest hand-cut stone masonry building in North America.

While visiting the former site of a mental hospital may sound strange for a family trip, there are plenty of educational opportunities within the walls of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum.

“The Asylum is a great place to visit because of all the history,” said Chrissy Richards, executive director of the Lewis County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There’s the history of the building and architecture, the Civil War, the history of mental health and history of the farm through agricultural tours.”

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was constructed between 1858 and 1881, according to its website, and is the largest hand-cut stone masonry building in North America. It is also purportedly the second largest in the world, next to the Kremlin. Architect Richard Andrews designed the building following the Thomas Kirkbride plan, which featured long wings in a staggered formation, to ensure a maximum amount of sunlight and fresh air through the many windows. The facility was designed to be entirely self-sufficient, with a farm, coal mine, a large dining area and even a theater and ballroom to provide the patients with a variety of outlets for mental and physical activities. Classes were also available for the patients.

The original hospital was designed for 250 patients in 1864, but the website says it reached its peak in the 1950s with 2,400, causing overcrowded conditions and overworked staff. With the use of medications to help treat mental illness and the building falling into disrepair, the facility closed in 1994.

Inside the Asylum, visitors can now take various tours, including a standard first-floor tour, a four-floor and medical center tour and add-on tours of the criminally insane building or the farm and cemetery tour. These tours all focus on the history aspect of the facility.

Photo by Amy Phelps Todd Turner does a glassblowing demonstration at his family’s store, Appalachian Glass.

For those visitors that like to hear paranormal stories, there are daytime paranormal tours available, as well as a late night paranormal tour and several overnight ghosthunting trips available.

Along the first floor, there are several museum rooms filled with artifacts and information about the hospital and even an art gallery of the former patients’ work.

Another historic landmark in Weston is the Farmstead at WVU-Jackson’s Mill. “Families can learn about Stonewall Jackson and Civil War history at the 1840s farmstead,” said Richards. Weekends offer families a chance to try various activities and watch artisans show how things were done in the 1800s.

Other museums in Weston include the Mountaineer Military Museum, which focuses on military history in the area and state and the Museum of American Glass, which has a kids’ display.

For those interested in glassblowing, the West Virginia American Art Glass and Appalachian Glass companies in town offer live glassblowing demonstrations. “It gets kids involved, it’s very interactive,” Richards said. Both also have a shop to visitors can buy some of the glass they saw made.

Photo by Amy Phelps The visitor’s center for the WVU Jackson Mill’s Homestead is one of the historic buildings visitors can see on the property.

Restaurants in town include Deb’s Diner, Thyme Bistro and Hickory House. “They are all good family local restaurants,” said Richards.

Stonewall Resort on Stonewall Jackson Lake, has three restaurants, golf courses, a spa, trails and a kids activity center. The lake itself has activities for kids and is known for its fishing.

Another outdoor feature for the family is the Lewis County Park, which has camping, tennis, putt-putt golf and large swimming facilities. “It’s like a mini water park,” Richards said.

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Hitting the Road: Weston, W.Va., is Worth the Trip

Photo by Amy Phelps One of the former wards stands in disrepair.

Getting there

* Weston is about 100 miles away from Parkersburg, a 1 hour and 40 minute drive via US-50E.

Eating

* Local restaurants include Deb’s Diner, which offers sandwiches and breakfasts, Thyme Bistro, which has a bit more upscale dining and Hickory House, which focuses on barbecue.

Shopping

Photo by Amy Phelps A restored hallway shows how the property looked when it was first operating.

* Roshell’s Antiques is available. Appalachian Glass and West Virginia American Art Glass have live glassblowing demonstrations.

Outdoors

* Stonewall Jackson Lake offers fishing spots while the Lewis County Park has putt-putt golf, camping, tennis and a large swimming facility.

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Find It Online

Photo by Robert Lucas The staggered layout of the building was designed to maximize sunlight and fresh air.

* Lewis County CVB: stonewallcountry.com

* Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum: talawv.com

* Farmstead at WVU Jackson’s Mill: jacksonsmill.wvu.edu

* Appalachian Glass: appglass.com

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Events in Lewis County

June

* WV Heritage and Wine Festival

* Weston Week

July

* Annual 4th of July Celebration

* Glass Fest

* Lewis County Fair

* Jamboree at the Mill

* Spiker Bullride

August

* WV Biggest Yard Sale

* Asylum Civil War Weekend

September

* Jackson’s Mill Jubilee

* Jane Lew Fireman’s Festival

Photo by Robert Lucas The main entrance welcomes visitors. 

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