In Greenbrier County, West Virginia, the Irish Corner area is mostly made up of large family farms, the remains of old mills and factories, country churches, and stately homes. Before, the rough terrain and lack of good roads kept people away. Now, more people are moving to the rural area, which could change the way it looks and feels.
I went to the Irish Corner area many years ago and took pictures of some of the churches and homes I saw while driving around on back roads. My girlfriend and I went on a hike through the area not too long ago to see what had changed.
We started the day by going to the Prince train station on the spur of the moment when the Amtrak Cardinal line made a short stop to let a few people off. The Art Moderne depot was built for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad in 1946. It was made by the Cleveland architecture firm Garfield, Harris, Robinson & Schafer. It has Streamline Moderne stainless steel letters that spell out “Prince” on the outside, and an embedded “Chessie” kitten logo is in the terrazzo flooring on the inside.
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On Route 41, up the hill from the Prince train station is the ironic Laurel Lodge No. 104, with its famous letters made of blond brick. What I thought was an old building was built in 1964 to replace a Masonic building in Lawton that had burned down. Furniture and flooring for the new building came from the Thurmond Lodge in Thurmond, while brick, roofing materials, and slate came from the old McKendree Hospital.
Then we took a different route down to Lewisburg and found a unique but lonely residence from 1929. Earlier in the year, it was surrounded by a grove of wildflowers because the trees and plants around it had just been cut down. But when I went back a few months later, the ground was bare and sad. Inside, the building wasn’t in great shape, but it was stable. From the old Zenith TVs, rusted antique radios, and bottles of instant coffee, it was clear that no one had lived there for a very long time.
As we drove south through the Mountain State, we got farther away from people. This part of the state is made up of long, narrow ridges and wide, open valleys. Agriculture is much more important to the local economy than coal, and sprawling development doesn’t really bother the sparsely populated area. Here, you’ll find family farms that have been in the same family for generations, as well as oddities like covered bridges and winding roads. We found some Stick-style houses in this area as we climbed over Baker Mountain and along Back Creek on an unimproved one-lane path.
On US Route 219, north of Union, we found something more rural. The Erskine family used to live in the tenant house for the nearby Walnut Grove Farm, which was built around 1800. The clapboard siding that was once on the log cabin was taken off around 1975 to show off the hand-sewn logs underneath. It doesn’t look like the building is being used, but it is still in very good shape.
As the sun went down, we went down to the plateaus south of the Greenbrier River and reached the Irish Corner area. Most of the early Scotch and Irish settlers were sons and grandsons of Presbyterians who left Ulster, Ireland in the 18th century. The name of the city originated from this fact. Others from Great Britain came in the middle of the 1800s.
We stopped at the closed Mt. Zion Methodist Church, which was built around the turn of the last century. The only interesting thing about the building is its Gothic-style windows. For a church that doesn’t seem to have been used in decades, the grounds and building have been well taken care of.
When you turn onto Hokes Mill Road, you can see big family farms. We came to a bend in the road as the sun was setting. To the right was the Middle Ridge Farm, which had a stately red barn with an American flag painted on it. Gap Mountain in the distance made this beautiful scene even more beautiful.
A broken-down dairy barn from 1938 is close to Organ Cave. It was once planned to be torn down to make room for the Stony Glen residential subdivision. However, the process was put on hold when the county commissioners didn’t act on a petition to add the subdivision to the city of Ronceverte. The developers from out of state went to court. To make a long story short, the case went through the court system, and it was decided that the annexation petition was invalid because the houses would not be next to the Ronceverte’s boundaries, because illegal votes from non-people in favor of Stony Glen were counted, and because potential environmental problems were not taken into account. After no more appeals could be made, the Stony Glen subdivision was quietly put on hold. Even though the roads were paved, they are slowly becoming farmland again, and the only foundation for a house was left behind.
On the surface, it doesn’t look like much has changed in the Irish Corner region. When I went back after a long time, the barns, churches, houses, and back roads that I remembered from my first visit all seemed familiar. Some new houses were seen dotting the landscape, but the agrarian landscape has been kept safe by the lack of infrastructure, preservation easements, and agricultural lands trusts. For now, it looks like time has stopped in this part of West Virginia.