Tuesday, December 13, 2016


When we heard about the New River Gorge 100 Mile Challenge last year, we knew that we wanted to participate. We love The Gorge, we love hiking and we love challenges, so the idea of putting in 100 miles in the calendar year seemed perfectly suited for us. We wasted no time, putting in our first 5 miles on New Year's Day on the Fayetteville Trail.

New Year's Day - When 8.3 miles per month seemed like cake.
A goal of only 8.3 miles per month seem easily attainable when the challenge was announced in late December of 2015. For us, huddled under snuggies on our couch, hot, humid summer days were like a distant memory, but as the heat and humidity increased, our hiking productivity fell.  We actually didn't log a single mile in July or August, which meant we had a lot of catching up to do once the more comfortable days of fall returned.

Our prize!
We  also had a lot of catching up to do with our hiking peers. It seemed like everyone we knew started the Challenge like a house afire (not all of them quite like Melvin Hartley!) and we felt the pressure of falling behind in mileage to our friends Gary & Gary and Bill & Sally. But we pressed on and last Sunday we were able to complete the challenge with a final hike to Long Point. Then we immediately jumped in the car and headed over to the Canyon Rim Visitor's Center to register our accomplishment with the authorities. There we were told that we were hikers # 108 & 109 to complete the challenge and received a nice little window sticker to officially proclaim our achievement to the world!

Kudos to the National Park Service for coming up with this challenge that motivated so many people to get out and enjoy everything the park has to offer! We really enjoyed it and I'm sure that many others did as well.

For our next hiking challenge, we've decided to branch out in 2017: Our goal is to have hiked in every West Virginia County by year's end. Wish us luck!

In the meantime, here are some of our favorite photos from this year's hiking in and around The Gorge.

In early spring, 7 miles from Anstead to Fayette Station with friends.
Beautiful silver maples on Gwinn Ridge Trail

Sometimes it pays to get up early - The Endless Wall in September.

Beautiful woodland scene along the Burnwood Trail

This Chicken of the Woods came home with us for dinner!

Amy cools her feet while a deer crosses the Bluestone.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Announcing the 2017 New River Gorge Winter-in-Residence!

We are pleased to announce that Kathleen M. Jacobs has been selected as this year's New River Gorge Writer-in-Residence. Kathleen, who currently resides in Charleston, is the author of the recently published Young Adult novel Honeysuckle Holiday. Her second book is scheduled for publication in the spring of 2017.

Kathleen will live at Lafayette Flats for three months this winter, where she will work on her third book, a children's book set in Fayette County. She says of her selection for the Residency, "Being gifted the opportunity to work on this story in the area where it takes place is a tremendous opportunity for me to get it exactly right -- to take in all the sights and sounds and flavors of the county firsthand, to truly engage all five senses and watch as they make their way into the story."

This year’s residency marks the third consecutive year that Lafayette Flats has hosted a writer for the winter. The first was novelist Eric Shonkwiler, and last year’s resident was Mary Ann Henry, also a published author. We are thrilled to have yet another talented writer to continue the tradition of excellence for this residency. That Kathleen will be working on a story that is set in Fayette County is icing on the cake.

We know that all of Fayetteville will look forward to welcoming Kathleen to town in January, and that everyone will enjoy getting to know Kathleen through her contributions to this blog.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Flattery will get you everywhere

It's what we live for. Really.

A word cloud made up from our guest's comments
We love it when our guests are blown away with what they find at Lafayette Flats, and we love it when they tell us about it either in person or in reviews left online. We love it when people recognize how hard we work at cleanliness and use words like "immaculately clean." We love it when people say "it's like sleeping in an art gallery" because that is exactly what we tried to create. We love it when people write about the comfort of the spaces and how we have thought of every detail, because we work very hard to make our guests feel perfectly at home. And we love, love, love it when people ask us "can I just move in and live here?" because believe it or not, that was a goal that was stated in our business plan when we first came up with the idea for Lafayette Flats.

We also love it when people compare us to a Certain Historic Hotel in a Neighboring County (that we'll call CHHNC to respect trademarks). This happens more often that we ever dreamed. One of our first guests told us that she had stayed at the CHHNC many times and in her opinion Lafayette Flats was as luxurious and even cooler because of the art. One recent VRBO review stated categorically that our "Rooms are better than [CHHNC] Resort rooms!" One guest who stayed with us last Bridge Day wrote, "Lafayette Flats is the [CHHNC] of Fayette County!"

Having stayed at the CHHNC a couple of times ourselves, we understand why people make the comparison. Both places are historic and built from cut stone. While Lafayette Flats is far smaller (having about 700 fewer rooms), we think we have a better art collection. And while we don't have multiple restaurants inside our facility, we do have some of West Virginia's best locally-owned eateries within walking distance. And though we don't have a staff to cater to your every whim, we are located in one of the friendliest towns you are ever likely to find. And while we don't have acres of groomed grass surrounding us, we have this gigantic outdoor playground called the New River Gorge just a short hike away.

As West Virginians, we grew up with the notion that the CHHNC was the crown jewel of the state, and it causes us great pride for Lafayette Flats to be compared so favorably to it.

Monday, June 20, 2016

2017 New River Gorge Winter Writer's Residency

It is a dream for many writers to be able to spend time practicing and perfecting their craft away from the hustle and bustle of regular life. Lafayette Flats is proud to host the New River Gorge Winter Writer's Residency that affords this opportunity to one deserving writer each year in Fayetteville, West Virginia.

Applications are now being accepted for the third New River Gorge Writer's Residency, January 1 - March 31, 2017. We are looking for the perfect candidate to help us create an alternative narrative for West Virginia, continuing the tradition of excellence set forth by past residents Eric Shonkwiler and Mary Ann Henry.

The successful candidate will live at Lafayette Flats for three months during which they can work on a writing project of their choosing, and will contribute to the Lafayette Flats blog. The primary benefit of the Residency will be the use of the Corten flat as a private residence and writing space for a three month period during the winter. This luxurious flat is fully furnished, beautifully decorated and will provide the Writer with a place to relax, muse and create. Fayetteville is in the heart of The New River Gorge and provides opportunities to commune with nature in one of the most beautiful areas of the United States.

Winter in Fayetteville, which for three seasons is a bustling tourist town, provides a quiet and slow-paced background for the Residency, and the people of Fayetteville become a special part of the landscape as well. As 2016 Writer in Residence Mary Ann Henry wrote, "One of the unexpected bonuses of coming to Fayetteville - and I truly I did not expect this - was that I was surrounded by amazing people in a progressive community. These people are not just background/wallpaper to the town. They are front and center, committed to making it a healthy, thriving, fun community. And it is a community in the truest sense."

Perhaps you - or a writer you know - would like to be chosen for next year's Residency? Applications will be accepted until October 15 and the winner will be announced on November 1st.

Complete information on how to apply can be found at www.lafayetteflats.com/writer-s-residency.html

Friday, April 15, 2016

2016 Art Fund Purchase

"Local, original art will be a key design feature of Lafayette Flats."

This was a line in our business plan when we first dreamed up the idea of Lafayette Flats, but it was more than just words on paper. It is really little piece of the heart and soul of our project. We are committed to each year acquiring a new work for the Lafayette Flats permanent collection. You can read about last year's acquisition here.

For this year's purchase, we were pleased to be able to acquire a fantastic painting by our Charleston friend and nationally acclaimed artist Paula Clendenin. "Ambition," one of Paula's 2006 works, now hangs over the main stairwell of Lafayette Flats. The painting's dominant visual element, a ladder, is very meaningful to us, hearkening back to our ambitious nine-months of toil resurrecting the Malcolm Building and turning it into Lafayette Flats (a time during which we spent many hours on ladders!).

Paula Clendenin
Paula was born in Cedar Grove, Kanawha County. She has earned national acclaim for her paintings, richly colored, textured shapes that merge West Virginia’s mountain landscape with mystical and spiritual symbols. Her work has been featured in more than a dozen solo exhibitions and in numerous exhibitions with other artists, including ‘‘The Spirit Within, Four West Virginia Artists,’’ sponsored by the West Virginia Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington. More than 25 corporate, private, and public collections display her paintings. Paula’s paintings also appear in collections at the Library of Congress, and Dallas Library Commission in Texas. Paula has won several honors including the Governor’s Award three times in the West Virginia Juried Exhibition, and the Award of Excellence at Huntington Museum of Art’s ‘‘Exhibition 280.’’ Paula lives in Charleston and recently retired from teaching at West Virginia State University, where one of her former students was Lafayette Flats co-owner, Amy McLaughin!

"Ambition" is not the first work of Paula's in Lafayette Flats but its placement over the main stairs makes it one the most prominent pieces of art in the building. We couldn't be happier with this year's Art Fund purchase!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Leaving West Virginia

(Editor's Note: Mary Ann Henry is the 2016 New River Gorge Writer-in-Residence at Lafayette Flats. This is her fourth and final contribution to this blog.)

     Scratchy eyed from a restless night spent checking the train status on my cell phone, every hour on the hour. Nerves are on edge with anxiety: how does a person flag down a train? For that is the very definition of a flag stop. And that is what Thurmond, West Virginia is. No real train station there. Just a beautiful restoration of the original, which serves as a tourist attraction for three months out of the year and then an empty shell for the remainder. If you’re actually trying to catch a train, there are no attendants.  So, you better know where to stand. And you better have your hand signals ready.
Mary Ann atop the Endless Wall

     My friends Rick and Janet came to Fayetteville to spend the last weekend of my writer’s residence with me. Somehow, our saying goodbye required a lot of hiking and a lot of wine. We did our part: spending Saturday afternoon on the trail known as Endless Wall, which winds around the rim of The New River Gorge; the evening bidding adieu to the town of Fayetteville and my hosts at Lafayette Flats, Shawn and Amy.

     The morning of my departure, we give ourselves plenty of time for the drive to Thurmond.  After we leave the highway, the road that winds down the mountain is scenic. We pass through land formations that, in my West Virginia childhood, I learned to call hollers. Land formations that result from indentations in the hillside, forming protective pockets for small communities. Maybe the word is politically incorrect now. I keep it to myself and peer at the ramshackle buildings and trailers that somehow look enchanting in the morning light.
     We arrive at the station early and I position myself in the middle of the railroad crossing, not in front of the faux station, which is what I’ve been told to do. Rick and Janet are excited. It’s hard not to be, standing at the bottom of this massive gorge, with the river thundering by only a few hundred feet away.
The Thurmond Bridge
“Go, go stand on the bridge,” Janet urges, pointing to the small wooden span.
I don’t want to leave my post, I tell her. I can’t miss this train. There’s not another one for three days. She doesn’t give up. I make her promise to signal the train if it comes and venture toward the bridge.
The wooden decking has boards that are at least a foot apart, if not more. I’ve been living next to the New River during the past winter.  I’ve hiked along its tributaries. I’ve thrown stones into it, from its banks, I’ve driven across it in a car on the famously, massive span which draws people from all over the world. But, somehow, standing on a small, wooden bridge in the middle of the river, peering down through what look like planks that could snap at any moment, I feel its raw power. The sun, cutting over the mountains, sparkles on the water. The sound is deafening. The moment is mystical and personal and I carry it with me, still.
Thurmond Depot
A few weeks before my departure, I saw a story on a local television channel about Thurmond and learned that there are five people and one dog still living there. A few minutes before the train is supposed to arrive two members of the two-legged population and the one four-legged member come to see me off. It’s Missy and her husband, Chad, and their dog, Depot. Or maybe they’re just being polite because I’m standing in their way. Still, it’s nice to consider their smiling faces as part of my send-off. Imagine!  One half of the entire population of a town coming to say goodbye. I decide to feel honored.
We hear the train before we see it. I’m struck by the bittersweet nature of the moment and almost forget to raise my arms. But I do and so does Janet. Rick is standing by, quietly, ready to help with my backpack. He and I go a long, long way back. After all these years, it’s as if no time at all has passed. It’s hard to say goodbye to Rick. Hard to say goodbye to Janet, my new, friend, a soul sister.
If you’ve never ridden a train through the New River Gorge, there’s no better way to see how its mighty force has carved out a picturesque route, in a state known for its natural beauty. This morning, it feels as if the beautiful weather and scenery have conspired against me, forcing me to confront my feelings about my birthplace. Fayette County is part of my spiritual home. It’s where the old Henry home place sits just a mile or two over from Greenbrier County. It was where I spent my girlhood summers. It was where I tasted true freedom as a child, where I developed an affinity with nature.
The town of Fayetteville, where I lived these past, long, winter months freezing and writing and freezing – and, well, you get the picture - is a unique place where I felt an instant connection to many of the townspeople.  In spite of its welcoming atmosphere, I occasionally struggled with the cold and isolation. Yet, I will never regret my decision to accept the Winter Writer’s Residency. After all, I made my way through polishing an entire draft of 388 pages of a manuscript titled The Spring House, a coming-of-age story that primarily takes place in the mountains of West Virginia. I can’t imagine being able to accomplish what I did without being physically rooted in the same (albeit, frozen) soil that grounded me in my earlier years.
But, that’s the trouble, you see. West Virginia still feels like home. No matter how long I stay away. No matter how much I relish living in the sub-tropical climate of the Other Charleston, the one in South Carolina, the bond is as ever-lasting as the mountains I can see looming, outside my window. I am, and always will be, a West Virginian.  Which must be why unexpected tears flow, as natural as The New.

The train follows the river down the tracks and I know: I’ll be back.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Fayettevillites/Fayettevillians....Whatever the Residents are Called, They're Wonderful!

(Editor's Note: Mary Ann Henry is the 2016 New River Gorge Writer-in-Residence at Lafayette Flats. This is her third contribution to this blog.)

One of the unexpected bonuses of coming to Fayetteville - and I truly I did not expect this - was that I was surrounded by amazing people in a progressive community. These people are not just background/wallpaper to the town. They are front and center, committed to making it a healthy, thriving, fun community. And it is a community in the truest sense.

Little old southern flower that I am, in the first two weeks, I caught a flu, a horrible one and, because I had decided to take the train North from South Carolina, I was sick, alone, without transportation and, oh, by the way, how could I get medical care?

Cathedral Cafe owner Wendy Bayes
It so happened that my first week here, I went to Poetry, Prose and Plainsong at The Grove where I met poets, writers and fans of writing. A few of them were kind (and foolish) enough to give me their cards and say, 'If you ever need anything...'.

In the throes of a high fever and, yes, delirium, I went through that stack of cards. And, in a flash I had a ride to a Doc in a Box (thank you Mary Ann Roberts) and the next day to get the Meds (thank you, Meredith Gregg). But, throughout my stay, the hospitality has flowed. In a beautiful way.

Haynes Mansfield and Elizabeth Morton 
Wendy at Cathedral Cafe, is an amazing woman who both gives me the local discount on the delectable foods at the cafe (hint: the Berry Cobbler is divine) but understands a woman's Real Needs and drove me to Calabrea, where Laura worked magic with my hair.

Elizabeth and Haynes at Vandal's Kitchen not only hosted my Writer's Reception, they have welcomed me like family every time I walked in the door. Elizabeth is now taking the business on, on her own, and I'm thrilled for her and for Haynes' exciting, new, career directions.
Secret Sandwich owner Lewis Rhinehart
Lewis at Secret Sandwich Society is a wizard. He pulls the literary community together, runs a successful cafe, a fun bar,
and makes the world's best Gourmet Grilled Cheese in the World (the Churchill).

Fayetteville artists Meredith Gregg and Ginger Danz
Meredith Gregg and Ginger Danz, gifted artists that they are, manage to make the world and the town a more beautiful place with their art and their energy.

Sally Kiner, CVB Director
Sally Kiner, who directs the Visitor's Bureau graces the town with her gentle beauty, and, on a spur of the moment, gave me a personalized tour of the historic Fayetteville Jail Museum.  A must see!

As an aficionado of real Irish pubs, I was delighted to find Maggie's Pub
and the lovely owner, Sharon Rynard who served as chauffeur
Sharon Rynard of Maggie's Pub
when the snow was too deep and the temperature too frigid to brave a walk back up the hill.

There are many other people I've met and I look forward to meeting. But one thing is certain: this is not your typical small town.

Writing is by definition a lonely experience. And, yes, we writers crave solitude. But, we still need to feel connected to the rest of humanity. Having the time to write is an incredible gift, made sweeter by the kindness extended by my new found neighbors.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Second Glance at First Impressions

(Editor's Note: Mary Ann Henry is the 2016 New River Gorge Writer-in-Residence at Lafayette Flats. This is her second contribution to this blog.)

Now that I’ve caught my breath, I’d like to share some first impressions about the Winter Writer’s Residency, the town of Fayetteville, the people of Fayetteville, and the Gorge-ous (sorry for the pun) landscape.

First of all:

There are the Flats…
Lafayette Flats, a beautifully renovated, historic, one hundred and ten year-old building on the main street of Fayetteville, sits across from the Court House. The building has been restored to its original glory and the Writer’s Residency is on the top floor. The nearly floor-to-ceiling windows offer a bird’s eye-view of the town and allow amazing amounts of natural light in, even when the temperatures might preclude stepping outside. I’d like to add: it’s an ideal place to write.

There are the Owners…
Why are some of the most unassuming people in the world, sometimes the most impressive? I don’t know the answer but I do know that Shawn Means and Amy McLaughlin quietly go about the business of making the world a better place. Really, not a cliché; they do. Besides their daily work in the non-profit world in Charleston, they have turned this building into an artistic showplace. Paintings and prints from West Virginia artists line the halls and the individual accommodations. It must be seen to be appreciated how dedicated these two people are to collecting art by West Virginia artists.

There’s The Town…
I’m thinking Fayetteville is best discovered in layers.  There’s the outward persona; you might think the national praise heaped on this small town might threaten to make it bigger than its britches. After all, National Geographic voted it one of its Best Places To Live & Play; Frommer’s voted it The Coolest Small Town. (And did I mention that it’s a great place to grab some gourmet grub?)

There are the People…
But from what I’ve seen, the town takes it all in stride. Yes, their casual friendliness says, ‘We already knew all that about coolness and liveability. But hey, how the heck are you?’ The people of Fayetteville are friendly and welcoming and dare I say they convey a happiness that transcends any negative stereotypes that outsiders might have about West Virginians?

There’s the Art and the Artists…
I know, I know: artists are people, too. (And so are writers. Really.) But any mention of first impressions of the Writer’s Residency and Fayetteville must include this: I’ve never met so many artists in such a concentrated area. Yes, the town, with its Big Reputation, encompasses only five square miles…which leads me to:

There’s the Geography…
The New River, with its seemingly impossible northward flow, is one of the oldest rivers in the world. Of course it is. It dissects the Appalachian Mountains, which were formed more than 460 million years ago. These mountains were once bigger than the Alps, the Rockies. (If you were 460 million years old, your edges would be a bit rounded as well.) Old and beautiful, these Appalachians.

Finally, there’s the Hiking…
And the mountain biking and the rock climbing and white-water rafting and the kayaking. The opportunities are everywhere and anywhere. But it’s the relatively sedate sport of hiking that calls to me and gives me a break from the computer. Fortunately, a ten-minute walk and I enter a lovely forest with wandering trails, one of which eventually leads to the main reason this part of the world is world-famous aka The Gorge.  During my 3-month Writer’s Residency, I plan to explore those trails, many with somewhat scary and intriguing names. Endless Wall, I’m coming for you.

Mary Ann Henry is a writer and a teacher of creative writing. She can be reached at: lowcountrywritersretreat@comcast.net.   Her short story collection, Ladies in Low Places, can be found at http://www.amazon.com/dp/0991358007

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Peculiar Travel Suggestions are Dancing Lessons from God

Editor's Note: Mary Ann Henry is the 2016 New River Gorge Writer-in-Residence at Lafayette Flats. Mary Ann is originally from West Virginia, but has spent the past 26 years in Charleston, South Carolina. She arrived in Fayetteville on New Year's Day and she will be a guest of Lafayette Flats through the end of March. During her stay, Mary Ann plans to rewrite a novel that is set in West Virginia. Her last book, published in 2014, is a collection of stories called "Ladies in Low Places." This is her first contribution to the Lafayette Flats blog.

The concept of Home? Much as been written. Much is misunderstood.

When some West Virginia artist friends first suggested applying for the Winter Writer's Residency at Lafayette Flats in Fayetteville, West Virginia, my reaction was: why would I re-visit West Virginia in the winter when the first chance I had, I high-tailed it out of the frozen tundra of my home state in winter to my cozy beach cottage in Folly Beach, South Carolina?

But, then, I recalled one of my favorite writer's quotes: 'Peculiar Travel Suggestions are Dancing Lessons from God.' (Kurt Vonnegut) That quote stayed with me, haunted me even. And when I returned from a back-packing trip to Ireland, I sent in my application. The result? Amy McLaughlin and Shawn Means, owners of The Flats, turned out to be my 'literary angels'.

It's only been a few days but the apartment/flat is comfortable and lends itself to a writer's need to "nest". Within walking distance are shops and restaurants and, a big bonus: a yoga studio a 90 second stroll from my front door. And beyond the town itself,with its charm and its interesting characters, lies the great New River Gorge. The drama of nature waiting to be discovered. Or ignored if I want to "hole up"and hide from the world and write. Which is what I plan to do. But it's nice to have options in deciding just what kind of dancing lessons I want to take.  -- Mary Ann