This little town enjoys a harmony other places only dream about, and it shows.
If lush floral displays are the downtown equivalent of a genuine smile, then the little West Virginia town of Buckhannon is famously in good health and a welcoming frame of mind.
“We are known around the region as the City of Flowers,” says mayor Robbie Skinner. “It’s absolutely beautiful. People come from all over to shop, eat, and enjoy our flowers—I get calls from cities around the state asking how we do it.”
This community of 5,500 is full of pleasant surprises. “When people come to Buckhannon, they’re always taken aback by how beautiful our downtown is, how alive it is, how much it has to offer,” says Skinner, a Buckhannon native and graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College in town. “Small-town America has not weathered the years very well—but Buckhannon has, and we’re very proud of that.”
A walk down Buckhannon’s Main Street shows a community that’s loving life—“a modern-day Mayberry,” in Skinner’s words, that embraces its history and celebrates its small businesses.
The several-block-long downtown displays an outsize amount of character. Shopping includes antiques and no fewer than three women’s fashion boutiques as well as Artistry on Main, an artists’ cooperative gallery. The downtown dining scene is eclectic and satisfying, from the coffee, craft beer, and small plates at Stone Tower Brews to longtime bar and grill C.J. Maggie’s and the globe-spanning menu at World’s End Restaurant. A particular source of community pride is Fish Hawk Acres, the hybrid “grocer-aunt” of Upshur County native and regionally beloved chef Dale Hawkins, where shoppers can find locally grown produce and meats as well as prepared foods and sandwiches and fresh-cooked meals to go.
Buckhannon wears its love for the arts on its streets. Trader’s Alley, between Main Street and Jawbone Park, is painted as a swirling yellow brick road and displays public art, including four murals by renowned graphic artist and native son Charley Harper. Lascaux Micro-Theater shows independent and international cinema in an intimate venue, and the old 1924 Main Street theater is in redevelopment as the Colonial Arts Center for the visual and performing arts.
Follow Main Street a half-mile east of downtown to find the campus of West Virginia Wesleyan College. A United Methodist–affiliated institution of not quite 1,000 students, WVWC works closely with the town to maintain a relationship that benefits both.
“West Virginia Wesleyan College is proud to call Buckhannon home,” says WVWC Interim President James Moore. “We have always valued our partnership with the city of Buckhannon, and we consider it a privilege to be a part of this community.”
Outdoor enthusiasts love Buckhannon. The Buckhannon River, which forms a long oxbow in town, offers flatwater kayaking as well as rapids upstream that range up to class IV. Scenic Audra State Park, known for its Alum Cave boardwalk, is nearby, as are Stonewall Jackson Lake and Stonewall Resort State Park. “And we’re very close to our state’s ski resorts and West Virginia’s mountain playground,” Skinner says, “so we’re a great spot for mountain biking, hiking, photography—you name it.”
Located just a dozen miles from Interstate 79—near the geographic center of the state that’s at the geographic center of the eastern U.S.—Buckhannon connects easily near and far in all directions.
Buckhannon and Upshur County have a healthy economy with a diversity that gives it stability: In addition to West Virginia Wesleyan, major employers include St. Joseph’s Hospital, Corhart Refractories industrial ceramics manufacturer, and a Weyerhaeuser engineered wood products facility. And many residents work as part of the vibrant community of small shops and restaurants.
The town has a lot to offer families. “We have six parks within our city limits of 2.8 square miles, so each neighborhood has a park,” Skinner says. “And a plethora of youth sports opportunities take place throughout the year.” The West Virginia State Wildlife Center—a zoological park of native birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians and home to French Creek Freddie, the state’s official Groundhog Day meteorologist—is nearby, too.
It’s a town that gathers often for celebration and fun. “In the summertime we have Festival Fridays in Jawbone Park downtown,” Skinner says. “There’s live music, and local vendors sell food and produce, and people bring their lawn chairs down to the park and enjoy the company of their neighbors. It’s a really nice community-unity event.” And attended by people from many counties around is the annual May Strawberry Festival, when the town themes itself around all things strawberry for a full 10 days that culminates in a carnival, live music nightly, and a grand feature parade.
Buckhannon is reaping the fruits of a decade-long renaissance in which the town has remade itself. Moore, at the college, sees a bright future ahead. “New collaborations, initiatives, and opportunities are absolutely on the horizon for the college and the city, and we know that great things are in store for all of us.”
Mayor Skinner attributes Buckhannon’s positive outlook to collaboration. “One of the keys to success in a small town is getting everybody in the same boat, rowing it in the same direction,” he says. “We have worked hard to have a community collective vision for how we want to see ourselves and where we want to be, and we have a lot of people working toward that central goal.”
And the secret to all the flowers? It’s as simple as putting the resources behind that community intention. “The city hires a horticulturalist and a summer crew that is dedicated to doing nothing but planting and watering the flowers and keeping the beds weeded,” Skinner says. “We’re proud of our downtown and that’s an important part of our tourism, so we do it.”