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Homer L. Wells

Midland Trail’s Mystery Photographer

By Bob Moore

Photographs by Homer L. Wells

On the Midland Trail
“On the Midland Trail near Ansted, W.Va.” Homer Wells parked his car and climbed the bank to take this photograph. It’s 1924. Although spring or early summer, the road must have been muddy, as close examination suggests chains on the rear tires. The guardrail is steel cable strung to a series of wooden posts. Today, the road is much wider and bordered by thick foliage. Photograph by Homer L. Wells, courtesy of Bob Moore.

The Midland Trail was one of the first coast-to-coast automobile roads created in the early 20th century. From the California coast, it stretches 3,300 miles across America to Washington, D.C., and Newport News, Virginia. The 189-mile section through West Virginia is much older than that. As the James River & Kanawha Turnpike, it was among the earliest migration and trade routes used to settle lands west of the Alleghenies. Today, it’s U.S. Route 60, also known as the Midland Trail Scenic Highway.

There’s a lot of history on this road, and a few mysteries, as well. With more than 50 years of personal memories scattered along this highway, my research into the history of the Midland Trail in West Virginia still reveals some amazing discoveries. This is one of them.

I’ve been collecting West Virginia picture postcards for years. Some of them date to the 1890's — mostly photographs featuring carefully hand-colored images, often touched-up to enhance local scenery. Details were often retouched or enhanced by artists who had never been there!

Occasionally, I’d find a black-and-white photo on a postcard. Many were produced by local photographers and were offered for sale to the tourist trade. While anyone with a Kodak box camera could take photographs and have them turned into postcards, there were some images that clearly stood out. That’s how I discovered Homer Wells.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.