The logging road is muddy; we slide around coming down the mountain. We parked the red truck at the top and hiked in. The yellow leaves are just barely hanging onto the trees; most of the others have already fallen to the ground lying in a carpet across the forest. It is one of those perfectly warm autumn days that make you wish summer would loop back around and start all over again.
This adventure is close to home, it is just downriver from Valley Falls. Sam found some new creeks to investigate for waterfalls. We do this sometimes, we find a creek on a map and just go hike the thing to see what we find. Sam is driven by finding photos that no one else has, he wants the original image. In a world of documenters, this proves challenging.
Sam and I are both curious people, constantly seeking out the history and beauty of a place we visit and wander into. My eyes are always combing the woods as I hike; I have found all sorts of interesting bits of the past among the leaves. Nearly all of WV has been timbered or mined at some point and the trails we follow are often remnants of some old rail grade or road built for extraction and not much more.
Today we hike the logging road that follows the creek. Rhododendron separates us from the water by just 20 feet or so. We listen for the thundering sound of plunging cascades and fight through the thicket several times to find pretty but unexceptional, small whitewater sections.
Because we are curious we continue down the drainage. We are getting closer and closer to the river, the road wraps around the topography of the hillside, following the valley cut by the creek. We wind around a curve and I look into the woods and see an old brick foundation. It isn’t crumbling but it has toppled at some point. The bricks say Fairmont, WV. They are strong and still hold their pretty color.
I was fueled on. There has to be other bits of forgotten life. We walk down the road and the closer we get to the river, the more certain I am that there is nothing left to see. The railroad tracks are in sight, we can see the old pretty arch out of hand-chiseled stone that supports the bridge over our waterfall-less creek. A remnant of a road goes down under the bridge and we follow it down. We see a rough-cut sign made from trash that says, “Please take all your garbage, don’t trash Hammond.”
We walk under the arches and pass to the same side of the tracks as the river. We walk down the road, it is solid. It is solid. That is strange; roads in the forest are usually soft. Sam says, “Is that brick?” I push the leaves back, bricks line up under them. Cobblestone, we are walking on cobblestone. We follow the bricks and they lead us to more bricks, foundations, piles and piles of bricks, chimneys, and more arches, all of them made of pretty brick. Some of them say Bessemer. Some say Tygart and some say Resist. Everything is made of brick, all of it except the bridge under the train tracks.
We hike out; it is a steep climb to the top of the mountain where our truck waits. I go home and begin researching Hammond. I was half expecting a mine or timber camp. It was neither, what it was: a brick factory. It wasn’t just any brick factory; some of those bricks are in the Empire State Building. They were brought to the Chicago World Fair and were the best fire bricks in the U.S. The town burned in 1950 and never recovered. In 1972 the town was bought by a mining company and the road was blocked. So many stories of success in this state end this way.
I am fascinated by these abandoned structures. Did someone live here, did they work here, was this a place where meals were cooked or was it some kind of machine house? The question that will never be answered fully: how is it that it was here, people lived or worked here in this structure years ago and how is it that they are no longer here working or living in it? How is this structure in the middle of nowhere completely uninhabited? This is a story that spans our state. There are structures that were built for function, we may not have assembled them well, they may have toppled, but their pieces are here still. The structure did not stand but the bricks were strong, the bricks stood the test of time.