For most of my life the name Greenbrier County, West Virginia has danced through stories and legends about caves. Way back in the mid 1900s, cave explorers from all over the east coast visited Greenbrier County to explore the massive caves hidden underneath the gently rolling hills. I visited the county for the first time a few months ago to attend a convention specifically about caving, and I also took time to explore the really interesting history of the area.
I arrived in Lewisburg, West Virginia late in the afternoon, found my hotel, then drove down to the historic downtown district. I could tell I’d like it.
The town is named for General Andrew Lewis, who first came to Greenbrier County in 1751 as a surveyor for the Greenbrier Land Company. He located an nice spring, later named Lewis Spring, near the current town, and set up a camp there. The town actually grew up around this spring, and settlers built a stone spring house around it to protect it. When the Revolutionary War broke out, Lewis joined the Continental Army, fighting in the war until 1781 when he died from a fever. In its early years, Lewisburg was part of Virginia, as West Virgina was not yet established. The Virginia General Assembly formally recognized the town of Lewisburg in 1782.
Downtown Lewisburg features a nice grid of old buildings that have been transformed into modern businesses. I saw a few buildings made from faded orange brick that I could tell were really, really old. Tiny little historic markers in front of the buildings described what they were, but I couldn’t read them from my car. After driving around a bit and getting the lay of the land, I checked into my hotel (Hampton Inn). I wish I’d been able to stay and the historic General Lewis Inn smack in the downtown area, but by the time I’d decided to attend this event, it was full. Oh well.
One day in the middle of the week I drove back downtown, parked, and got out and walked. My first stop was the North House museum, right on the outskirts of downtown. It’s a lovely old house, built in 1820, and was long just a home of local residents. but now showcases artifacts from the time of the Revolutionary War through World War II. There didn’t seem to be anyone around when I arrived, so I walked into the lobby, a lovely bright room with beautiful wood accents. A docent was sitting at a desk and asked if I wanted to take a tour. Yep, that’s why I was there. She’d heard of the cavers and wanted to know if I was really camping all week. Nope.
We started the tour, which mostly features period furniture, clothing, and home accents from various periods. One room has displays furniture from the mid to late 1800s, and it’s gorgeous. I’m always struck by how sturdy and indestructible old furniture seem. So much better then the flimsy stuff we have now. Some of the furniture has a “maker’s mark” in the trimwork, a carving that looks almost like a small bat head and bat wings. The docent pointed out this feature in many pieces of furniture throughout the museum. The rooms I saw included a living room, dining room, a bedroom, and a period room focused on the Civil War and WWII. I walked in to the last room and saw huge rows of giant dolls sitting high on a shelf looking down at me. I find pretty much any doll with a ceramic face pretty creepy so I didn’t much care for this room. I kept thinking about the movie called “Dolls” where tiny dolls in a spooky house come to life and jump on unsuspecting visitors. I kept watching the dolls to see if they were moving.
After the tour, I wandered down the street to look at a church I’d noticed on the way to the museum. The walls were made of weathered gray stone, and it looked old, so it must be worth a visit.
I discovered that the church is an old Presbyterian church that is still in use today. The original church, built in 1796, is really very pretty. A newer addition was added in 1830, and the whole church has an interesting history. It served as a field hospital for a while during the Civil War.
The old church was locked so I couldn’t look inside. Instead, I walked around the corner to the old graveyard behind the church.
Now, I’ll admit that I both like and dislike cemeteries. I love reading all of the old names and inscriptions on the grave markers, especially those with the gorgeous flowing script. It makes me wonder what life was life so long ago when the world was so different, and living so much harder. I especially wonder about that when I see markers for young children.
On the other hand, I think cemeteries are creepy. Maybe it’s because I watched too many scary movies at a young, tender age, but I also always picture the people, or rather, the skeletons, lurking beneath the soil. But I did enjoy this cemetery. Most of the markers were quite old, and many of them had elegantly carved sculptures as markers. Although again, I think some of the angels are sort of creepy, probably because I had just watched the Doctor Who episodes about the Weeping Angels. That’s another story, though.
I found an area reserved for Confederate graves, and later realized that many of the graves had probably been relocated from Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park that I’d visited on the previous day. I also noticed a sign pointing to another Confederate cemetery and decided to check it out too. It’s not much of a cemetery, more like a small gated park with several mounds inside the gated area.
I didn’t see any distinct grave markers. Some reading about the cemetery revealed that the cemetery is actually a mass grave for 95 unknown Confederate soldiers killed in the Battle of Lewisburg on May 23, 1862.
After poking around in the cemeteries, I made my way back to the downtown area of Lewisburg. I spent the rest of the day visiting art galleries, small shops, and local restaurants. It’s a lovely town, full of history. If you’re in the area, stop in for a few hours. You’ll be glad you did.
- Lewisburg is located in eastern West Virginia right off of interstate 64. Just look it up online.
- Lewisburg has a fabulous Visitor’s Bureau located downtown. Lots of signs point the way to it. There you can find information about things to throughout the area and the employees are very helpful.I suggest that you stop there first.
- Here’s a source of all of the businesses in downtown Lewisburg, including hotels and campgrounds. This list actually includes areas not in the historic portion of the town.
- The town is actually very popular so if you want to stay in town overnight, it’s best to try to make advance reservations. The Greenbrier Resort hosts huge golf tournaments every so often, and if you happen to visit during a big tournament you won’t be able to find a room.
Resources about the history of the area:
- Historic Lewisburg
- Lewisburg History
- General Lewis Inn, History of the Area
- Greenbrier County Information