The West Virginia. Cyclopedia

Giles, Fayette and Kanawha Turnpike

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Marker along the turnpike route at Bluestone State Park
Turnpike in Old East Beckley

Largely due to the efforts and influence of General Alfred Beckley, founder of present-day Beckley, WV, the Virginia General Assembly in 1837 passed an act incorporating the Giles, Fayette and Kanawha Turnpike Company that empowered the company to build a road between the Kanawha salt works and the Giles County Courthouse in Pearisburg, Virginia. According to the book Slavery in the American Mountain South, the Giles, Fayette and Kanawha Turnpike used slaves for road construction and repair.

Like most Virginian turnpike companies of that era, it was established to build a public road to be funded by private investment and by tolls to be charged travelers at gates erected along the route. The road was to traverse the wilderness of Giles, Fayette, and Kanawha counties in western Virginia, coursing between the valleys of the upper Kanawha River, in the north, and middle New River, in the south. The road would also link two important east-west thoroughfares -- the Midland Trail, which it joined in the north at Kanawha Falls, and the Wilderness Road, which it joined in the south at Giles Courthouse (present-day Pearisburg). Its route was planned by renowned French engineer Claudius Crozet, who was charged with the design of much of the Virginian transportation system of the period.

The company's subscription books were opened under the direction of the following: In Charleston, under James A. Lewis, William Whitaker, Sr., John Welch, John F. Fore, and Thomas R. Fie. At the house of John Jones in Kanawha County, under Felix G. Hansford, Benjamin Morris, Philip Buster, John Richards, and Luke Wilcox. In Peterstown, Monroe County, under John Peters, James McLaferty, Jr., James Byrnsides, Conrad Peters, and Jacob Peck. At the house of Dillon Vandal in Fayette County, under Oliver Waite, Hiram Hill, Dillon Vandal, John Marrs, and William Blake.

On March 19, 1841, the Assembly authorized the company to extend their road to the furnace of Foar and Peyton on the south side of the Kanawha River. The turnpike was completed by 1848, according to the West Virginia Division of Highways, however the report of the directors of the Giles, Fayette and Kanawha Turnpike from September 1949 tells a slightly different story. An except from the report follows:

The road is at present completed from Kanawha the western terminus to Fayette courthouse upon which three gates for the collection of tolls have been erected. From Fayette courthouse to New river the road is now under contract about twelve miles of which is completed and received by the company and upon which a gate will be erected soon and the balance we hope will be finished early the next season with the exception of about five miles. The contractors are making every exertion and the work is progressing rapidly. From New river to the mouth of Indian creek a distance of about twelve miles the road is not under contract the company not having the funds to justify them in placing the same under contract. From the mouth of Indian creek to the Red Sulphur springs a distance of about six miles the road is completed and from the Red Sulphur springs to the second crossing of New river where the road will intersect the Fincastle and Cumberland gap road the road is now under contract and will be completed during the next summer.

From the foregoing report the Board of public works will see that the whole line of road from Kanawha to the intersection of the Cumberland gap road is now either completed or under contract with a fair prospect of completion during the next season except about seventeen miles.

An act of the the Virginia General Assembly passed March 7, 1850 authorized an additional subscription of $6,000 to the capital stock of the Giles, Fayette and Kanawha Turnpike.

The company's report for the year ending September 30, 1854, noted that the road was still incomplete, saying:

The completion of this road has been much delayed by an unexpected amount of old debts pressing for payment which will leave the company without the funds to complete the road. About seven miles of the most difficult of the unfinished part of said road is now nearly completed which will leave still some sixteen miles unmade. And although the means of the company are not sufficient to complete the whole yet the most difficult parts may be made so as to induce the travel upon it next summer.

The Giles, Fayette and Kanawha Turnpike Company's report for the year ending September 30, 1860 indicated that the company had collected $10,290.12 in tolls since the road's beginning to date.

Movements of troops and wagon trains of equipment all but annihilated the route during the Civil War (1861-1865), and the newborn State of West Virginia was too impoverished to maintain the road following the conflict. Parts of the road in more populated areas, such as at Beckley, and Fayetteville, remained in use and survive to this day.

Route of the Giles, Fayette and Kanawha Turnpike

The turnpike coursed northward from Pearisburg, Va., to Red Sulphur Springs, WV, in Monroe County, then followed Indian Creek to its mouth on New River, where it forded. The pike then followed the western bank of the river northward to the mouth of the Bluestone River, forded the Bluestone, then ascended Bluestone Mountain to the area of present-day Nimitz and to the Jumping Branch of the Little Bluestone River. From the Jumping Branch it ascended White Oak Mountain, the highest elevation along its route, to a gap leading into the upper drainage of Glade Creek. From White Oak it coursed northwestward across the uplands of present-day Raleigh County, through Shady Spring, crossing Shady Spring Mountain, descending to the junction of Beaver Creek and Piney Creek, then ascending to the town of Beckleyville. There it turned northward again, ascended to the summit of Maxwell Hill, proceeded along a series of ridges through the present-day communities of Prosperity and Bradley, and descended into the valley of Dunloup Creek near the site of present-day Mount Hope. There, William Blake established an inn, known as the Blake Inn, that provided accommodations for travelers of the turnpike. From Mount Hope, the road ascended into the ridges west of the creek and its tributary White Oak Creek to Oak Hill, where it reached the level plateau region south of Fayetteville. At Fayetteville, its coursed turned northwestward again as it ascended and descended Cotton Hill to the banks of the Kanawha River at Kanawha Falls. A short distance below the falls, travelers might be ferried across the river to the James River & Kanawha Turnpike. Two other turnpikes joined the Giles, Fayette & Kanawha along its route. The Raleigh, Wythe & Greyson Turnpike joined at Shady Spring, and the Guyandotte Turnpike joined at Beckleyville.

Route of the Turnpike Today

As well designed as such a route could be, much of the turnpike has been absorbed into the existing network of roads and highways in southern West Virginia. North Kanawha Street and South Kanawha Street in Beckley follow the route of the turnpike precisely. Wildwood, home of turnpike proponent Alfred Beckley, stands along this leg of the route. A disused length of the turnpike in Bluestone State Park is now preserved as the park's Turnpike Trail.

Incorporation of the Giles, Fayette and Kanawha Turnpike

The following is from Acts of the General Assembly of Virginia: Passed at the Session of 1836-37 .... Visit Google Books to download a PDF of this book.