Monday, May 29, 2006

Helvetia, West Virginia

This weekend we visited Helvetia, WV on our way to Elkins, WV.

Helvetia is a little Swiss village high in the Appalachian mountains. On October 15, 1869, a group of Swiss immigrants set out to find new land for farming. Apparently they came by way of Brooklyn NY - I don't know the whole story on that and hope one of these days to read more about the history of the town. Anyway, the travelers went over steep hills and through heavy forests and eventually happened upon an extremely isolated valley-- 75 miles from the nearest railroad-- that reminded them of their homeland in Switzerland. They called their new home Helvetia (pronounced Hell-vay-shuh). (Helvetia is the Roman name for an ancient region of central Europe which corresponded roughly to the western part of modern Switzerland and apparently Switzerland still uses this name on its currency and stamps and is sometimes called "Confederatio Helvitica")

Some history on Helvetia:

We had visited Helvetia once before but it was winter and nothing was open. I felt sure that on this holiday weekend we would be able to tour the original town square buildings that have still been preserved. But, I was wrong. There was nothing special going on. The one store in town was not even open. You can walk around the old buildings but there are no signs for tourists explaining what they are. And the buildings are all locked. The old schoolhouse now houses a library but it was closed. There is a museum but it was locked and there was no information about when it is open. I found a brochure later that said it was open by appointment but I don't think it even gave a contact. So I guess they're simply not big on tourism. We did walk around the see the buildings but I would love to have known more of their history and gone into the museum. They do have several festivals throughout the year and parades where they wear their Swiss clothing and such - maybe we will make it to one of those one of these days.

The original boot and shoemaker's shop.

The old school, now a library.

The museum. I love old buildings. I like to think about the people who built them and what it must have been like to live in them, especially in this region which has harsh winters and wasn't an easy place to survive in.

The two buildings here are actually stores - the "Healing Honey" shop, which was not open. And on the right the "Cheeshaus". Where they make cheese. Except there's not actually any cheese right now. Apparently they used to make cheese here the same way their ancestors had made it for hundreds of years. But that doesn't meet modern standards, so they had to replace all the wooden equipment with stainless steel. They got a grant a couple of years ago, bought cows and replaced all the machinery. They actually have some cheese made now but it is curing. Our waitress at the restaurant we visited said they should have some for sale later this summer. I hope to go back and get some.

We decided to have lunch at the only restaurant we saw, The Hutte (there is another one somewhere, apparently, but we had no idea where and again there wasn't a lot of information around about it). This was a wonderful old house, filled with furniture and paintings and photographs and all kinds of stuff that all belonged to the village's residents and their ancestors. I would love to have known more about the house and its history, but the waitress was too busy to chat and there was no information in any of the available brochures or on the menu.

They sat us at this charming table in the first room. There were several other rooms and I wish I could have looked around more. Even the bathroom was charming, but I neglected to take my camera with me! I am so entranced when I am in old houses. I can almost feel the energy of the people who lived in it and passed through it. I want to just soak it in and wander around and look at everything.

This is the room we were in. They had wool yarn and wool blankets for sale by the Helvetia Shepherds Assocation, with woold from local sheep.

Another picture from the room, but not a good one. There is a large guest book on that table for everyone to sign.

We had our lunch there at the Hutte. They serve only traditional Swiss food. They make their own cheese, sausage and bratwurst. And of course home made bread. They had homemade soups as well, and roast beef, ham, etc. I heard another guest exclaiming over the split pea soup as the best he'd ever tasted and even his 10 year old grandson had loved it.

We each ordered sandwiches. I could have roast beef and ham anywhere so in order to fully experience the Swiss heritage I ordered a sausage sandwich. I really wanted to try the cheese as well but they were out! Dave had a bratwurst sandwich. All the sandwiches come with saurekraut and hot apple sauce.

On the way out we found a kitty sleeping in one of the chairs. She immediately jumped up to be petted.

In back of the restaurant we found some friendly goats. When I talked to them they wagged their little tails! And they really enjoyed being petted.

The river that flows beside the restaurant is a branch of the Buckhannon River. There are flags flying over the bridge, including the Swiss flag.


  1. Anonymous6:54 PM

    wtThank you sooooooooo much for posting this!!!!My crush lives here! You are the best!!!!!!

  2. Anonymous2:49 PM

    The Helvetia swiss cheese is the best. Although you have to catch it in season ot they won't have any. I have bought it many times and it is wonderful. But, I have also been disappointed when they didn't have it. I check every time I am in the area.

  3. Anonymous8:39 AM

    My greandfather was postmaster at the post office there for a short while. My wife (then high school girlfriend) stayed in a chalet right down the road for a summer. Awesome people, good food, and just a great place!