Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mystery Falls

After storytelling yesterday, I came home by way of US Route 60, the same trail we followed two weeks ago to Clifftop. On that trip we stopped and took photos of Cathedral Falls. This time, I wanted to visit two of the other falls along the road. I do not know the names of them. But the one I want to show you today is breathtaking.

This falls is almost hidden on the side of the road because the growth around it is so lush. I actually passed it and had to turn around. Located near a small community called Charlton Heights, the falls have created a natural canyon of rock cliffs. But mingled with the natural stone were the most amazing stone walls. Who built them, and why?

There is no sign to explain the presence or purpose of the stone walls which were obviously laid with great skill. Dry-laid, is what Larry would call it, meaning the stones were laid without mortar or concrete.

Here you can see the intricacy of the wall, the careful placement of the stones to fit neatly together and hold strong over the years.

I wondered at the purpose of the holes near the top of the wall. Were they made to channel the water, or were they created when some of the stonework fell out of the wall during freezing and thawing or strong rains and floods? They look to me as if they were part of the construction of the wall, and had a definite purpose. But what was it?

Far below, the water mists on stones that may once have been part of the wall.

The wall curves around the natural stone canyon, following its shape. I could not see the beginning or end of the wall. Does it extend beyond the waterfall grotto? Maybe I will return in winter to find out.

I wonder if it was built during the days of the Civilian Conservation Corps? That seems likely, since those men did a lot of stonework along our highways. Was this once a little roadside park, with tables and picnic shelter? That might explain the decision to build a wall here.

Another possibility is that the stonework around the waterfall might have been built by the Italian immigrants to the area who worked in the steel mills along the river. In other locations in West Virginia, beautiful stonework was done by immigrants during the booming industrial period in our state. If anyone knows anything about this lovely waterfall and its stone wall, I'd sure like to hear the story.

This sign, not far from the waterfall and its wall, discusses ancient stone walls on the other side of the Great Kanawha River from where the sign is located. It does not mention any walls on this side of the river.

The ancient works in themselves are a story, surrounded as they are in mystery. There was a local legend that the walls were built by a race of tall white people who once inhabited the Kanawha Valley. There are some early reports, like this one by Captain William N. Page, about the ancient walls. His photos are fascinating. A report written in 1884 describes the burial mounds within the walls, stating that,"A skeleton 7 feet 6 inches long, and 19 inches across the chest,' was removed from a massive stone structure that was likened to a temple chamber within a mound." (American Antiquarian, v. 6, 1884, from the website ).

In the 1960's, a study of the area revealed that "Excavations of the bottomlands in 1961-62, established that there were likely three main occupations in this area: Hopewellian, from about A.D. 500; Woodland Era, of about A.D. 1000; and Fort Ancient Era, a town of about A.D. 1500." (from the West Virginia Cyclopedia).


Farm Girl said...

Oh, so interesting! I love a good mystery! Who did this? Why? I want to know! Very intriguing! Hope someone has more info for you!

Granny Sue said...

All I have learned so far, Farm Girl, is that these were very early, perhaps 1-500 AD (Roman empire time?). And that there were burial mounds enclosed within the walls, and Kanwha Flint, a black stone prized for arrows and spearpoints, was quarried within the enclosure. I am sure the ancient stoneworks and the wall I photographed are not of the same time period, since the ancient wall is mostly fallen down and this one is intact for the most part. But the mystery of who was there remains, and it is very intriguing.

In the Appalachian mountains you here many tales of the Melungeon people, a race not Native American who were living here when the first white explorers came through. I expect that there were many people who visited and perhaps settled these lands prior to what we consider "discovery" of America.

I want to hike back to the old wall, perhaps this winter, and see it for myself. It's so intriguing.

Janet, said...

Very interesting. There's lots of mysteries in WV to solve. I used to want to be an archeologist and dig up the past.

Angela said...

I see that waterfall everytime we drive up to Hawk's Nest. I always wonder about it when we drive by. I've never stopped to take a picture of it though. I'm glad you did! Looks like we both have a love of waterfalls! I've been posting a lot of them lately on my blog. lol I've always wondered about the reason behind the stonework around the falls. I sure hope that someone can shed some light on that subject!

Angela said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Granny Sue said...

Angela, I'll be by to see your waterfall photos. I love them. I have photos of Blackwater, Sandstone, Kanawha, Cathedral, but although I've visited them twice I don't yet have Hill Creek Falls, which are just gorgeous. I'm sure there are many others I've missed.

Anonymous said...

Wow, thanks for posting this, I must visit WV, your state is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing!!!


Jason Burns said...


John, who is from the area, told me that the one down at Charlton Heights was an old grist mill. He said the holes in the rock are similar to an old grist mill dam that is located at Cotton Hill near Fayetteville.

The stone wall looks very similar to Italian immigrant stonework. If you ever drive through the backroads around Clarksburg and Fairmont, WV, you will see many houses built in this exact same way. The large Italian population there is the source of that.


Granny Sue said...

That's what I thought might be the case, Jason. I have photos of the mill at Cotton Hill; it's beautiful. The photos were on my blog last September; here's the link:

The stonework in Clarksburg and Fairmont is beautiful. When I was reading the history of Harrison County it mentioned the Italian stonemasons who did most of that work. Also I believe in West Union some masonry work was also done by the Italian immigrants.

Jeannie, come visit WV anytime. There is something beautiful to see anywhere you look.

bayouwoman said...

Wow! Absolutely gorgeous! It's so hot here I can't even imagine such a cool looking place!

BTW, come on down the bayou and "finish the story". I know you could really come up with a doozey of an ending!!!!


Tipper said...

So interesting. Just amazing how they have lasted-wow.

I think you have hunters in your family-here is a deer hunting giveaway if you want to check it out.

Susan at Stony River said...

Wow--that's just begging for stories! And it's so stunning to look at. If we can get these renovations done I really want to go see.

We have a similar construction at home in Ireland, in the Burren---a long tall stone wall that runs for yards and yards in one direction, then turns and runs yards and yards in another. The walls are far too long to be a house, far too tall simply for livestock... and all ancient and dripping with moss. Intriguing and wonderful.

laoi gaul~williams said...

amazing post! we call them dry stone walls here and they fence off many, many miles of farmland around the country. there are conservation holidays people go on to learn the skill of dry stone walling and they help re-build parts of walls that have fallen down.
the walls you have there are amazing~just the kind of mystery as a fledgling historian loves!

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