Finally getting around to reading The Blackwater Chronicle

Giles Snyder
3 min readMay 20, 2022

You might be wondering why I’ve waited until now to mention The Blackwater Chronicle in this newsletter.

After all, it’s the first of what I’ve come to think of as “The Mountain Trilogy,” which includes A Visit to the Virginian Canaan and the ten-part series The Mountains.

I’ve made a big deal out of The Mountains and Canaan has figured prominently in my work so far. But The Blackwater Chronicle?

Nothing.

Not a word.

Why the short shrift?

Well, that’s the dirty little secret I’ve been keeping — and now it’s time to come clean.

For some reason, I’ve yet to make it all the way through TheBlackwater Chronicle.

I know, I know.

It’s sort of shocking.

How can a guy who writes a newsletter about our friend David Hunter Strother have not read THE FIRST BOOK IN THE CYCLE?

I have no excuse, really. I keep picking it up, reading a few chapters and then getting distracted, probably by a Star Trek episode that I’ve already seen a gajillion times — or maybe by that bottle of applejack sitting on my kitchen counter.

The Blackwater Chronicle (TBC) is an account of the first expedition that DHS and his cronies took in 1851 to what is now West Virginia’s high mountain backcountry. It’s not to be confused with the second trip the following summer that became the basis for The Virginian Canaan, the Harper’s Magazine article that made DHS a star when it was published in late 1853.

But while one followed the other and are obviously similar, Strother did NOT write TBC, as he did Canaan. That honor belongs to his cousin and good friend Philip Pendleton Kennedy. DHS was, however, the artist behind TBC’s illustrations. And without that book, it seems safe to say thatI likely would not have a Porte Crayon to write about today. DHS used the sketches he drew on that first expedition to secure a commission from Harper’s that resulted in Canaan.

The rest is Porte Crayon history.

While I have not yet finished reading The Blackwater Chronicle (stop shaking your head!), I have made it beyond the first chapter where I encountered this Strother illustration, which inspired this week’s newsletter.

Dudes being dudes whooping it up on the old Northwestern Turnpike.

The beginning of TBC finds our heroes on the historic graded road that Virginia began building in the 1830s. It stretched from Winchester to Parkersburg on the Ohio River and opened up western Virginia to commerce.

It is as it always was.

The Corridor H four-lane divided highway is also billed as a growth stimulator for the region. But to say it’s had a controversial history is an understatement. It was one of the big environmental stories when I was a reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting in Charleston.

Corridor H seems to be nearing completion now. Funding to extend it from Wardensville to the Virginia line and to finish other segments was included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill President Biden signed last year.

Anyway, the old Northwestern Turnpike — it’s known as Route 50 today. My wife and I will be driving a portion of it to get to Ice Mountain in Hampshire County.

I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward this weekend’s hike.

Originally published at https://gilessnyder.substack.com on May 20, 2022.

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Giles Snyder

NPR Newscaster and Porte Crayon newsletter writer.