A Midland Trail Scrapbook
by James E. Casto
The Midland Trail is a highway to history. In the countryâ€™s earliest years, it carried the tide of settlement westward. During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate troops marched along it. In the years before World War I, it became a link in a great transcontinental roadway. When numbered highways were introduced, it was designated U.S. 60. Today, thereâ€™s history waiting around every bend of its 180 miles.
BOOK REVIEW: 'Highway to History: A Midland Trail Scrapbook' Showcases West Virginia's Scenic and Historic Road
Wednesday, November 2, 2011 - 17:26 Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
If you want to travel across the Mountain State in a hurry, take Interstate 64, advises James E. Casto, author of "Highway to History: A Midland Trail Scrapbook" (Quarrier Press, Charleston, WV, 112 pages, $17.95, distributed by West Virginia Book Co., Charleston, www.wvbookco.com, and statewide bookstores). If you want to travel what author William Least Heat Moon calls "Blue Highways" (the title of his acclaimed 1982 philosophical travel book), take Route 60, West Virginia's beloved Midland Trail.
The Midland Trail winds from the VA-WV state line and White Sulphur Springs 180 miles to Ceredo-Kenova on the Kentucky line and its scenic and built attractions are displayed to great advantage in vintage postcards from Casto's own collection and supplementary photographs in a book every West Virginian will want to own. Casto is a retired Herald-Dispatch reporter and the author of many books on West Virginia history -- and several contributions to the invaluable West Virginia online encyclopedia.
â€Actually, I-64 is wonderfully scenic in many ways, but it's dangerous to sight-see on an Interstateâ€ â€“ James Casto
The Midland Trail lives up to its title as a "a highway to history." In the country's earliest years, it carried the tide of settlement westward. During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate troops marched along it. In the years before World War I, it became a link in a great transcontinental roadway. When numbered highways were introduced, it was designated U.S. 60. Speaking as a former motorcyclist, I can attest to its charms as a road for people who love two-wheeled travel.
In just over 100 pages in this large-format paperback book, Casto manages to include just about everything on the Midland Trail, including many scenes of White Sulphur Springs, Lewisburg and Rainelle in Greenbrier County, the winding stretch of the road in Fayette County, Montgomery, Charleston, South Charleston, Milton, Barboursville, Guyandotte, and of course Huntington and the towns beyond. I was enthralled with the book and it made me more than a little homesick for a state where i lived (in Hinton, Summers County) from 1992 to 2008.
I've read a number of Jim Casto's books and they're all good reading by a master writer; "Highway to History" is no exception I can't think of a more scenic state than West Virginia and Casto's book captures the often subtle beauty of the Mountain State -- as well as its historic wonders like The Greenbrier resort, the State Capitol building, designed by Cass Gilbert, who was also the architect a few years later of the U.S. Supreme Court Building. (Gilbert also designed New York City's Woolworth building and the state capitol buildings of Minnesota and Arkansas). Of course, Casto describes and includes several photographs of the Keith-Albee Theater, as well as describing its history and preservation as a performing arts venue.
Book Review: Charleston Gazette 11/12/2011.
by Rick Steelhammer
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The route U.S. 60 follows as it traverses the breadth of Southern West Virginia has gone through a number of name changes.
Known first as the Buffalo Trail in deference to the bison that trod out a pathway between grazing grounds and watering holes in the era before pioneer settlement, the route was later used by American Indians, European settlers, Civil War supply wagons and long-haul truckers.
"It was called the Lewis Trail, after Col. Andrew Lewis used it to take his militiamen from Lewisburg to fight Chief Cornstalk in the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774," said James E. Casto, author of "Highway to History: A Midland Trail Scrapbook. "Then, in the 1820s, it became the James River & Kanawha Turnpike," after the state of Virginia converted the pathway into a 66-foot wide toll road.
Following the Civil War, when armies of both sides used the road to move personnel and supplies between Lewisburg and the Kanawha Valley, the route became the Midland Trail, an unpaved road connecting Washington, D.C., to California. The Midland Trail was equipped with signs and opened to vehicular traffic in 1913, with the West Virginia section of the road initially designated as State Route No. 3.
According to a 1916 auto guide to the Midland Trail, the West Virginia section of the route, "generally speaking, is in very good shape and gives the average traveler no trouble," if travel is postponed until after the first of July. "In other words, don't even think of tackling the drive in anything other than mid-summer," Casto said.
In the late 1930s, the Midland Trail became U.S. 60, the state's first paved and numbered road.
Today, the road is known as U.S. 60, with Midland Trail remaining its official National Scenic Byway designation.
Once the main east-west route through the southern part of the state, the Midland Trail is now largely bypassed by long-distance travelers who prefer the easier, faster ride available on nearby Interstate 64.
In an effort to encourage more drivers to discover the history, scenery and small-town charm available along the Midland Trail's slow lanes, Casto wrote "Highway to History," and used more than 200 postcard views and vintage photographs to illustrate it.
"I've been haunting estate sales, eBay and antique stores for years, collecting vintage postcards and old photos, and I've used them to illustrate some of my earlier books" Casto said. "After driving back and forth over the Midland Tail so many times over the years, I started outlining an illustrated book about it in my mind."
Many of the postcards used to illustrate the book show scenes that can no longer be found along the Midland Trail, including the Kanawha, Fleetwood and Ruffner hotels in Charleston, the J.J. Jimison Tourist Camp at Culloden, and timber booms on the Big Sandy River at Kenova.
Others show towns along the route as they appeared in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
For the few points of interest along the route not depicted in postcards or archived photos, "I got in my Buick and took my own photos," said Casto, the former editor of the Huntington Herald Dispatch.
"There's history around every bend of its 180 miles," Casto said of the highway. "Travelers willing to take their time and drive the two-lane blacktop of the Midland Trail can get a glimpse into history that's denied those who hurry along the superhighway. If you like history, scenery and roadside novelties, you need to drive it."
About the author:
James E. Casto, a Huntington native and Marshall University graduate -- with a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's degree in Engish -- is the author of a number of books on local and regional history. He was a reporter and editor at the Huntington Herald-Dispatch for more than 40 years before he retired in 2004. He makes frequent first-person presentations as railroad tycoon Collis P. Huntington. Jim retired in 2004 from The Herald-Dispatch, where he was a reporter and editor for more than 40 years. He is now senior public information specialist at the Robert C. Byrd Institute for Advanced Flexible Manufacturing. Also, recently the Cabell County Public Library's genealogy research center was renamed "the James E. Casto Local History Room" to honor Casto for his many years of service to the library and his years of serving as president of the Friends of the Library. In addition, it was also in recognition of his many books and publications about the local area