Nestled at the foot of the 3,400-foot East River Mountain, Bluefield is the most elevated town in West Virginia, at 2,655 feet above sea level. The town is sometimes called "Summit City", because of its high altitude, and "Nature's Air-Conditioned City" for its pleasant summer temperatures. Since 1941, the Chamber of Commerce's "Lemonade Lassies" have passed out free lemonade on days when the temperature exceeds 90 degrees. The airport thermometer is used to determine this, which is at the highest point in Bluefield. It can often exceed 90 in downtown Bluefield during the summer.
The area was first settled in the 1780s and incorporated in 1889. Named for the blue chicory fields in the area, Bluefield was a booming Norfolk and Western Railroad hub for the coal industry until the decline of coal in the 1960s. Today the city has an air of faded 1950s glory; some of the lovely homes have seen better days, the downtown is largely deserted, and passenger railways have given way to freight cars. Happily, the city is beginning to embark on an aggressive revitalization scheme, by restoring old buildings, attracting specialty shops and restaurants back to downtown, and focusing on tourism as a promising source of revenue. The town still retains its small-town Appalachian charm, with friendly people, beautiful scenery, and very low housing costs.
One of the best-known local residents is John Forbes Nash, winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize in economics and the subject of the 2001 film A Beautiful Mind. The town has yet to capitalize on this connection, however, so if you're a big fan of the man or the movie, you won't find a lot of related activities or sights in the area. Nash's boyhood home is currently undergoing renovation, and will likely be a listed historic site in the near future.
Bluefield is located just off I-77, between Beckley in the north and Wytheville, Virginia in the south. Most people will use exit 1, although if you're travelling south to Bluefield, you may see a sign recommending that you get off at exit 9; this, however, is only a needless detour through Princeton. At Bluefield, I-77 becomes the West Virginia Turnpike; if you continue north from Bluefield, you'll encounter toll booths.
Greyhound Bus Lines, 511 Commerce Street, 304-325-9442.
Mercer County Airport, 304-327-5308 or 800-523-3273. Located six miles from Bluefield. Flights are available to Washington-Dulles three times on weekdays and twice on Saturday and Sunday via ColganAir.
Bring your car! Be aware that the area is rather mountainous, so if you stray from the main highways, you'll probably end up in some hilly terrain. It can be treacherous, especially in winter; but the upside, of course, is that the scenery is often spectacular.
There are also several streets in town that are very steep (Jefferson and S Mercer being good examples); traversing them in warm weather is nail-biting enough, but when the streets are covered with snow or ice, you definitely don't want to attempt it without four-wheel drive.
Bluefield Area Transit, 1642 Bluefield Avenue, 304-327-8418 or 866-759-0978, . Buses run Monday through Friday, with limited weekend service to Athens; closed on holidays. Services Mercer and McDowell Counties with routes into Bluefield, Princeton and Welch. Fares $1 - $2, or $20 - $25 for a monthly pass.
Downtown Bluefield, with its architecture dating from the 1920s. There are self-guided walking tours available.
First Fridays, Chicory Square. Live entertainment and food on the first Friday of each month.
Bluefield Area Arts Center, 500 Bland Street, 304-325-8000. Housed in the historic Old City Hall, the Arts Center features an art gallery with rotating monthly exhibits, a top-floor artists' studio featuring local artisans, the Summit Theatre and a restaurant. The Mercer County Convention and Visitors' Bureau is also located in the building.
Summit Players, 500 Bland Street, 304-325-8000, . Performs four plays per year. $25 for dinner theatre, $12 for matinees.
Bluefield Orioles, . A minor-league affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles since 1958, and part of the Appalachian League. Cal Ripken, Jr. played for the team in 1978. Home games are played at Bowen Field, a historic park built in 1939. (Note, the Orioles ended their affiliation at the end of the 2010 season. 2011 will see them become the Bluefield Blue Jays.)
The East River Mountain Overlook, at the top of the mountain along Route 598 (off Route 460), 304-327-2401. Gives visitors a 3,500-foot-high view of the Bluefields and East River Mountain. Observation deck, hiking trails, picnic shelters, tables and grills.
The National Coal Heritage Area encompasses 11 counties in southern West Virginia, and aims to preserve, protect, and interpret lands, structures, and communities associated with the coal mining heritage of the state. Bluefield is the southern terminus of the Coal Heritage Trail, a 97-mile scenic drive that passes mine-owners' mansions, miners' homes, company stores, coal tipples and state parks, before ending at the Exhibition Coal Mine in Beckley.
Eastern Regional Coal Archives, 600 Commerce Street, 304-325-3943. Open Monday through Friday afternoons; closed holidays. If you're interested in the coal-mining heritage of the area, this public history research center, housed in the Craft Memorial Library, highlights the history of West Virginia coal fields. Along with research material, the center houses exhibits, photographs, mining implements, memorabilia, music and films.
If you just want a relaxing family afternoon by a gentle stream, haul your picnic basket out to the Bluefield city park, 1750 Stadium Drive, 304-327-2448. Picnic area with 4 pavilions, grills, playground, softball fields, football stadium, youth center with recreational equipment, tennis courts and gymnasium with indoor goals.
There are two fitness centers in town:
Bluefield Wellness Center, 418 Federal Street, 304-327-1695. Indoor track, treadmills, Nordic Trac Skiers, recline bicycles and Lifecycles, stairmasters and Lifesteps, rowing machines, whirlpools, saunas, steam rooms and tanning beds. Day passes $5.
Greater Bluefield Community Center, 703 College Avenue, 304-325-5707. Swimming pool, basketball, racquetball, gymnastics, aerobics, swimming and lifesaving classes, weight room and Nautilus. Day passes $6.
Bluefield holds several festivals during the year:
Mountain Festival, Bluefield City Park, . For a week around Memorial Day Weekend, the festival features live entertainment, dancing to oldies and beach music, a carnival, fireworks, sporting events, contests, an antique car show and the Miss Mountain Festival Pageant.
Lemonade Days Festival, 304-327-7184. Celebrated in early August. Free lemonade even if the temperature isn't above 90 degrees, along with sales in downtown shops, entertainment, vendors, an auction, the Downhill Derby and a parade.
Bluefield Coal Show, Brushfork Armory Civic Center, Route 52 N, . For three days every other September, this professional show displays what the future holds in the way of equipment and any new innovative technology being developed in the coal industry.
Italian Festival, Bluefield City Auditorium, 304-589-3317, . Held in early October. Friday night includes Italian dinner (spaghetti, lasagna, chicken cacciatore, salad and dessert) and dancing; Saturday features Italian food, homemade desserts, artisans and vendors, fashion show, and live entertainment. Admission free.
Holiday of Lights Festival, Bluefield City Park. Held yearly from Thanksgiving through the first full week in January. Open 6 - 10 pm weekdays, 6 - 11 pm weekends. Admission is free but donations are gratefully accepted. The city park is festooned with Christmas lights, displays and scenes, which can be viewed from the warmth of your car as you drive along the marked trail.
Bluefield High School, 535 W Cumberland Road, 304-325-9116, . Home of the Bluefield Beavers.
Bluefield State College, 219 Rock Street, 304-327-4000 or 800-344-8892 or 800-654-7798, . A four-year historically black college located on the north side of town, first established as a teachers' college in 1895 and integrated in 1954. Bluefield State specializes in career and technical two- and four-year programs, enhanced by a selection of liberal arts courses.
Mercer Mall, Highway 460 and Route 25, 304-327-2508, . Open Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 9 pm, and Sundays from 1 to 6 pm. Over 70 shops and restaurants, and an on-site movie theatre.
Bluefield City Flea Market, Route 19 Princeton Avenue, 304-327-2401. Open March through October. Up to 200 vendors selling antiques and collectibles.
Coal City Gift Shop, 848 Bland Street, 304-325-7945. Open 10 am to 5 pm Monday through Saturday, by appointment (ring the doorbell at the Coal City Auditorium two doors down); closed Sundays. Local souvenirs and unique gifts from West Virginia.
New to You Consignment Shop, 1116 Bluefield Avenue, 304-325-3480. Local landmark offering a wide selection of clothing, jewelry, books, and small appliances. Closed Sunday.
Bluefield isn't quite a mecca of cuisine these days; if you like fast food, you're in luck, but otherwise there aren't a whole lot of options.
The Breadman Bakery, 616 Federal Street, 304-323-1605, . Open 8 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday. Wide variety of breads, cookies, cakes and more, including the hottest cinnamon rolls you're ever likely to taste; be sure to ask the owner about the health benefits of his baked goods.
Dairy Queen, 3138 E Cumberland Road, 304-325-6652; or, 1901 Bluefield Avenue, 304-325-6657. Locally-owned and renowned for serving the best hot dogs in town. Locals claim that the very best slaw dogs (fine chili, onions and coleslaw on split toasted buns) are found at the Bluefield Avenue location.
David's at the Club, 1501 Whitethorn Street, 304-327-9822 (extension 222 or 224). Located at the old Country Club, now the Elks Lodge.
Golden Oldies Cafe, 1125 Bluefield Avenue, 304-323-2043.
Los 3 Amigos, 3200 E Cumberland Road, 304-325-8989. Open daily. Traditional Mexican cuisine.
Main Street Cafe, 411 Federal, 304-323-3030. A casual cafe serving wholesome homemade meals.
Tudor's Biscuit World, Route 52, 304-589-3383.
Valley Country Restaurant, Bluefield Princeton Road, 304-325-8556. Open all day. Homestyle country cooking.
Bluefield News and Brew, 413 Federal Street, 304-325-6397. A tea- and coffeehouse also serving baked goods, soups, salads, sandwiches and wraps. Try their hot dogs (on toasted buns), the award-winning homemade chili, the Asian chicken roll-up and the egg salad BLT. 2 varieties of coffee available daily, along with green and Tazo teas, chai, frappes and hot chocolate. $3 - $4.
The Bar in Bluefield, Inc., 1600 Jefferson Street, 304-324-8770.
Hampton's, 1508 Jefferson Street, 304-324-0001.
Kelsey's Dance Club at the Bluefield Holiday Hotel and Conference Center, Route 460, 304-325-6170. Open 11 am to 2 am. Pub food, drinks and a large dance floor.
Bluefield Knights Inn, 3144 E Cumberland Road, 304-325-9131. Complimentary continental breakfast, and on-site restaurant. Rooms from $39.
Econo Lodge, 3400 Cumberland Road, 304-327-8171 or 800-55-ECONO, . Complimentary continental breakfast. Rooms from $48.
Economy Inn, 3206 E Cumberland Road, 304-325-9111.
Bluefield Holiday Hotel and Conference Center, 3350 Big Laurel Highway, 304-325-6170. 120 rooms. Full-service dining room, cocktail lounge, fitness center, sauna, game room, and seasonal heated outdoor pool. Rooms from $90.
Country Chalet Bed and Breakfast, New Hope Road, 304-487-2120, . 3 rooms. A rustic house in an acre of woods, with a wood-burning fireplace, outdoor deck, free wireless DSL service. Spa weekend packages and romance packages available. $75 - $85 plus tax.
Dian-Lee House Bed & Breakfast, 2109 Jefferson Street, 304-327-6370, . Victorian-style furnishings, restored oversize tubs, Austrian crystal chandeliers and a wraparound verandah. Full gourmet breakfast served. 3-diamond AAA rating. $70 and up.
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