Columns/Opinion, John Samsell

Webster peaks with mountains and valleys

If you are interested in West Virginia’s mountains and valleys, you can find your fill by going to the south central part of the state.

Webster County, named for Daniel Webster, has three  main mountains to navigate to reach the county seat of Webster Springs. It all depends on which direction you choose to reach the county seat, once named Addison, for Addison McLaughlin, who donated the land for the courthouse.

Its became better known as Webster Springs, for at one time it was a popular spring or “salt lick.”  The “lick was discovered in 1785 by Abraham Miers. Through time one lick was covered by sand as the rivers changed direction and covered the salt.

My route down the mountains from this direction was down Miller Mountain into Webster Springs. The first time was back in the 1940s with the Morgantown Junior High Band. The school bus driver stopped at the top of the mountain and shifted into a lower gear before trying to slowly steer the bus down the curves and steep slope to Webster Springs, where the band marched in a parade.

I’ve traveled that route many times since. Two other routes out of town are McGuire and Point Mountain, the tallest.  When the county decided to replace Webster County High School it chose the route over McGuire to a flat area called Upper Glade, near the town of Cowen.

The county’s estimated population in 2015 was 8,755, down from 9,719 in 2000. The county’s area is estimated at 556 square miles.

Interstate 79 has made the trip into Webster Springs a lot easier. The best route is to exit at Flatwoods and follow Holly River to Diana, then right toward Webster Springs. A turn left goes toward Holly River State Park, and Hodam Mountain, a curvy, steep route that was the way to go before I-79 was built.

The Back Fork of the Elk flows from a mountain top to merge with the Elk in Webster Springs.

If you spend enough time along the Back Fork you might see what mother nature can provide at times.

I once was standing on a swinging bridge on the Back Fork, watching the sunfish and  crabs in the calm, low stream. Suddenly I hear a noise and down the stream was a rush of water about two feet deep. In a flash it was a rush of water caused by an upstream rainstorm.

Webster Springs for years has been host to wood chopping competition that had been watched worldwide, thanks in some measure to the Cogar family, headed by Arden and his son, a WVU law graduate.

In addition, the county recently was host to the week-long West Virginia Conservation Camp. For years Camp Caesar hosted the state 4H camp.

Webster Springs once was called Fork Lick for the salt at the “lick” location. The first permanent settler was Polly Arthur in 1860, at the “lick.”

The town was known as a health resort in the early 1900s. Sen. Johnson Camden built a 300-room hotel. It had Russian and Turkish baths. The hotel was destroyed by fire in 1926, and was never rebuilt.

The  county is in the Allegheny Plateau and partially in the Monongahela National Forest. For years it was supported by coal mines, lumber industries, fruit and tobacco farms, livestock and hunting and fishing.

Webster was the last county created in the state before separation from Virginia, in 1860. The state was created on June 20, 1863.

Daniel Webster became a noted orator in the  late 1800s, about the time Webster County was born.