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Running the West Virginia River Towns--Part I: Wellsburg, WV

The Montour Trail was out of commission for much of the winter (a victim of Hurricane Ivan). I was hence in search of a venue for some long--and preferably flat --runs. Because this was my main criterion, it occurred to me that the flat, quiet streets of one of West Virginia’s nearby Ohio River towns would be an ideal place! An added attraction out there was the newly-constructed “Brooke Pioneer Trail,” an asphalt-topped, riverside recreational trail that extends from Wellsburg, WV roughly four miles south to the Ohio (WV) County line, where it then becomes the “Wheeling Trail.”

Playing hooky from work, on Monday, March 7th I headed out to Wellsburg to check out these running prospects. I wasn’t disappointed. To get to Wellsburg, by the way, you drive about 30 minutes west from Robinson Twp. on Rt. 22, then south out of Weirton on Rt. 2 for just a few miles. It’s south of the “World’s Largest Teapot” (Chester, WV); northwest of the Hare Krishna “Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold” (New Vrindaban, WV); and directly north of the notorious “Big Bertha’s Gentlemen’s Club” (Wheeling). Our Ricardo could tell you all this, as he used to work there--(in Wellsburg...not at the club!)

Wellsburg, the county seat of Brooke County, is a formerly prosperous river port town. It’s now a bit tired looking, but still a great place to explore. Once you get off Route 2--the main drag with the predictable fast-food joints, gas stations, etc.--you’ll find an old-fashioned downtown, the courthouse square area, and a vast expanse of residential housing fronting on nice broad streets, ideal for running.

With various detours, I was able to make three long loops of the town constitute a 13.1 mile course. I started at the south end of town, near downtown and the courthouse, and ran northward. At the start, a 1791-vintage log cabin, of which the town is very proud, stands pristine and impressive. I parked across from the cabin and directly in front of the “His Place” Christian Bookstore. These bible merchants were displaying in the window copies of the Rev. Joel Osteen’s latest book. His smiling but at once rather alarming and not particularly Christ-like visage haunted me during the rest of my otherwise pleasurable run!

At mile .2 I crossed the little courthouse square, and passed the “Judge’s Chamber” Barber Shop (see back of this newsletter)--regrettably closed on Mondays...I wanted to hang out! At mile 1 or so I came across the Pampered Pups Dog Grooming salon, and later, at mile 5, encountered the biker crowd at Black Widow Cycles (304-605-HOGS). On the north end of town (mile 3), I found a large box factory that featured a very old-fashioned “no help wanted sign.” As if in response to the same, a block or so later an aptly-named saloon appeared. (Photos omitted.)

Crossing the main drag and turning south I found some better, or at least newer, neighborhoods, built up along a ridge. Here I also located a few very grand homes and some challenging hills to run.

On this ridge is Wellsburg’s most exalted historic site, the 1890’s Vancroft Mansion. I wasn’t dressed for a tour, obviously, but I picked up the promotional brochure. The now-benign tourist attraction is said to have had a “sinful beginning,” as the “personal pleasure palace” of tycoon Joseph B. Vandergrift. “This exotic estate,” we are told, “had one purpose, to feed Vandergrift’s love for gambling, womanizing, drinking, and hunting.” Sinners reaping what they have sown, the fun didn’t last for long. The flyer continues, “Plagued by rumors spread of his wife and a lover, one of his son’s deaths, and a mysterious fire, Vandergrift was forced to abandon his estate.” (Had this occurred years later, he would have been sent to New Vrindaban to do penance!)

Wellsburg is also famous for being the home and burial place of Patrick Gass, the last surviving member of the Lewis & Clark Expedition; and for being the hometown of Glenn Davis, an Olympic champion who won the 400 meter hurdle in the 1956 and 1960 Olympics... Note: For information on the Brooke Pioneer Trail, see