Sandstone & Hinton, West Virginia


Jumping off Interstate 64 at the Sandstone exit, and heading south on Route 20, you quickly plunge into the isolating mountains of southern West Virginia.  Route 20 provides the easiest route to Hinton, an old railroad town that grew up along the New River, near its confluence with the Greenbrier River.

The trip down Route 20 follows alongside the New River, although it’s often quite a ways downhill from the highway.  There’s a viewpoint at the side of the road that overlooks Sandstone Falls, at a point where the river narrows.

You will also be following the railroad tracks, which, just like the road, follows every twist and turn in the river.  Just before arriving in Hinton, there are a couple of interesting buildings…

… on either side of the road.


Just as you would expect from an old mountain town, Hinton has plenty of historic buildings.  The Summers County Courthouse has a special charm to it.  It was built in 1876, just five years after the railroad arrived in town, making Hinton the division terminal.

St. Patrick’s Catholic Church has been standing at the corner of 2nd Avenue and Temple Street since around 1880.

You can find a few ghost signs, if you’re willing to wander down an alley or two, as you explore the town.

One great ghost sign for the Hinton Taxi Company is still visible (including the words Phone 200) at the corner of Summers and 2nd. It would be absolutely great, though, if “The Hair Place” would realize its ugly sign is ruining the whole thing.

I can only assume that this is the secret entrance to an exclusive club, simply known as THE.

Once you’ve explored downtown Hinton, cross the bridge at the end of town (it will be obvious which one I mean) and follow Route 20.

Hinton may have a downtown district, but for me, the real Hinton will always be the stretch of businesses along Routes 3 and 20, on the west side of the New River.  The restaurants and motels that are here, have been here forever.  As a kid, my family and I would cross the mountain from Shady Spring, then pass through here, on our way to Talcott or Athens.  The only thing that’s changed about the Coast to Coast Motel is the awful neon-colors of paint used on the motel’s facade.

Watch for the taxidermy museum (complete with a life-size bear on the roof, over the entrance).  It may no longer be in business — everything looked pretty rough when I passed by.

Also along this stretch of road, watch for the Dairy Queen.  For some reason, this DQ is famous throughout southern West Virginia for its chili dogs.

Okay, not just throughout southern West Virginia.  Apparently the Hinton DQ is known worldwide.  A Facebook group that’s devoted to the Hinton DQ has more than 6,000 members!

At the confluence of the New and Greenbrier Rivers (just a mile or so upstream from downtown Hinton) there are two bridges.  First you cross the New River, then there’s a confusing intersection, and you cross the Greenbrier.  Go all the way, and you can complete the circle loop, ending up back in downtown.  If you only cross the first bridge…

… then follow Route 3, you’ll pass through the Bellepoint neighborhood.  There is one unique landmark here: it’s a round building that looks too big to be a chimney, but too short to be a silo.  The heavily-worn sign on the side suggests it may have once held ice (or perhaps, it just advertised an ice company).

I had planned to go further on Route 3, and return to Talcott for a second day.  I wanted to explore some of the dirt roads that climb into the hills above town, and see if I could find my great-grandfather’s old farm, as well as an old church and cemetery that used to be somewhere up there.   But, it was already too late in the day, so I turned around and rejoined Route 20 for the trip south.

Stop for a moment at the edge of the road, to see the Bluestone Dam.

Bluestone Dam is 2,048 feet long, 165 feet high, and is made of 7,800 tons of steel and 942,000 cubic yards of concrete.  It forms Bluestone Lake, which stretches upstream for about 10 1/2 miles.

From the Bluestone Dam, I continued south on WV Route 20, and eventually joined up with Interstate 77.  Aside from a stop at the excellent Snoopers Antique Mall in Wytheville, I didn’t stop until finding my motel room, outside Mount Airy, NC — a location that set me up perfectly for my drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

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