A hometown historian revives Webster Springs’ Lovers Lane.
David Gillespie was born in Webster Springs in 1938. His father was a coal miner and their family home was only 200 yards from Lovers Lane, a simple wooden boardwalk that allowed townspeople to walk the three-quarters of a mile to the Conrad Hotel and grist mill without trudging through the mud that often covered Bell Street.
His older siblings used the boardwalk often. But by the time Gillespie graduated from high school in 1957, the boardwalk was gone, and the rapidly declining coal industry forced his father to move to Ohio for employment.
After serving four years with the Air Force, Gillespie attended Glenville State College, only 60 miles from Webster Springs. This began a long career in academia as a historian and librarian, and eventually as two-term mayor of Glenville.
“I’ve always been interested in West Virginia history,” Gillespie says. His work with local nonprofits, historical societies, and other organizations earned him the title of West Virginia History Hero 2018, an honor awarded annually by the state Department of Arts, Culture, and History.
When Gillespie retired at the age of 75, he returned to Webster Springs. After buying two plots of land near his home, his knowledge of the town’s history suddenly sparked a thought.
“I realized with a couple more, I would have just about all the land of the original boardwalk.”
The first plot of land was easy to buy—the city had no more use for its old pump house—but the lady who owned the final plot wasn’t interested in selling. After striking up conversations with her over the course of three years, Gillespie finally convinced her to lease him the 40-foot-wide strip of land needed to rebuild the boardwalk.
As people in Webster Springs heard about the plans, they began to offer help. Gillespie started accepting donations and, over the following 17 months, 150 people made various contributions of time and money to revive a small piece of their local heritage. “I think it helped them have a sense of pride that they were building something back that belonged to the town many years ago,” Gillespie says.
The boardwalk is now complete and is part of a two-mile trail ending in a large field that Gillespie refers to as “the bottom.” “I get a lot of satisfaction out of people walking on it,” he says of the scenic path. “It’s like walking through a park, it really is. There’s lots of rhododendrons and pine and other dogwood that has been on the land. It’s a beautiful piece of property. I get even more satisfaction seeing children play in the bottom. There’s not many places they can play anymore.”
With the boardwalk project, Gillespie has tried to put his own love of West Virginia history and community care into action. “There’s a great need for people to put their skills to use when they retire and come back to live in their hometowns,” he says. “They shouldn’t stop working just because they’re retired. Volunteers should step forward and make a contribution without feeling they have to be paid for it.”