US 33 IMPROVEMENTS LONG TIME COMING - The Gilmer, Ripley and Ohio Turnpike of 1850, Blue & Gray Trail

(12/03/2017)

By Bob Weaver

Most Calhounians rarely acknowledge that two US highways (US 33-119) goes through the county, US 33 officially created about 1850.

The highway, long designated as the Blue-Gray Trail, has been proposed for an upgrade for over 40 years, but it still clings to its original path.

The road stretches for 61 miles from Mason County at the Ohio River to Glenville in Gilmer County, financed for $30,000 by an act of the Virginia General Assembly, essentially following much of present day US 33.

An original "road" was carved through the wilderness in the 1820's by William Parsons of Mason County who was charged with "cutting a good bridle road."

His efforts ended at the mouth of Steer Creek in the hopes of attracting settlers from the Mon Valley region.

By 1850 the path had grown over when the new turnpike began construction. It called for a road not less than fifteen nor more than twenty feet wide, and nowhere to exceed a grade of four degrees.

Samuel Lewis Hays of Gilmer, father of noteworthy Calhounian Peregrine Hays, was the principal supervisor of construction.

He had no instruments for the surveying or the making of grades, and when the road was upgraded many years later, only one change was made. The roadway generally ran through Letherbark, Arnoldsburg, Sand Ridge, and Bear Fork to the mouth of Steer Creek and by 1858 at least 56 miles of the road had been completed and "was under toll".

Tolls were made on each five mile section - for one horse, mule or jennet (when not hooked to a vehicle) it was three cents. Twenty cattle could be moved for ten cents and one wagon (if tires be less than five inches in width) and for each animal drawing it, three cents. Narrow wheels got charged more because they rutted the roadway more severely.

When the turnpike came to Steer Creek, instead of going through Stumptown, "It went up behind the Oral Stevens place and crossed the right fork of Steer Creek at the low water crossing in front of the Elihue Stump house, then downstream to the swinging bridge and over the hill to Little Bear Fork at the old Carry Stump home, but then generally following present US 33 toward New California (Spencer)".

Heavy traffic on the road during the Civil War caused great damage and it did not recover until the 1870's.

Historian Don Norman says "I remember a time around 1939 when a great fuss was made about a possible visit of FDR to the Glenville area. A lot of clean up and brush cutting was done and mighty preparations were made. I was thinking that was the time that US 33 was designated the Blue and Gray Trail."

Norman recalls as the time drew nearer for the Presidential visit, it was decided that FDR would spend less and less time in Glenville. Finally it was revealed that conditions had changed and the trip wouldn't be made at all.

"The editor of the Glenville Democrat ranted at length and said 'They (the organizing Committee) could take the Blue and Grey Trail and jump into the Pacific Ocean.' Since I was around 10 at the time, that was the sentence that fixed the event in my mind," Norman said.

Efforts to widen US 33 or to convert it to a four-lane modern highway has long been promised by WV governors. There was the premature purchasing of right-of-way along Scott Miller Hill west of Spencer many years ago, an improved section might now be built with the passage of a WV road bond.

The project has been taken off the state project list, has been a distant vision without any planning currently authorized by the WV Department of Highways, as is the Little Kanawha Parkway, a modern road proposal for rural WV since the 1970s.


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