By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV
Four years ago, Jim & Judy Holland took a drive. They had extra time and wanted to explore after doing some work on their house. They drove through several counties in southern West Virginia that day. Mesmerized by what they saw in their own backyard, they decided, “Let’s visit every county in the state!”
Their plan was simple: 1) Visit every county, 2) take a picture of each courthouse & 3) visit an attraction at each stop. Most of the time, they made day trips in order to be back home each night and ready for the next day. Judy created a map which guided their adventures. Every time they visited a county, she colored it in to show their progress.
“That map kept us motivated!” Jim explains.
And after taking their first trip in September 2019, they completed their mission by visiting their 55th county (Jefferson) in May 2023.
Below is a Q&A with the Hollands about their adventures.
Did you experience any car trouble along the way?
Judy: Oh boy! This was a funny story. We were in Lincoln County at the Mud River Park. The people there told us the best way to get to Logan, but I said, “Hey let’s use the GPS because maybe there’s a fast way.”
That was a huge mistake. It took us on a logging road and we were way out there. The more we drove, the worse it got. We finally ran into a man out runnin’ his coon dogs on the mountain.
He came over and said, “Where are y’all trying to get to?”
We said, “Logan.”
He said, “Logan!?!?”
If you could’ve seen the look on his face! We followed him out in his logging truck or otherwise we’d still be there. There’s no cell service. Jim had some serious damage to his car. That was our fault.
Jim: And that happened on the first leg of the trip! We learned our lesson. But it didn’t keep us from continuing on.
Judy: What we learned is 1) don’t listen to GPS and 2) if the road isn’t paved, don’t take it.
What advice would you give to other West Virginia travelers?
Jim: Eat local. Eat in those mom and pop restaurants. There are so many that are fantastic. Our rule traveling is always to eat somewhere you don’t have back home. Take it a step further. Always eat local, because those local restaurants are fantastic.
Judy: See your state. People pay so much money to go out of state. This state is beautiful! Before you spend a penny, spend time here in your own state. Lost River State Park in Hardy County is an amazing hike. Cranny Crow Overlook allows you to see VA and WV at one spot. I also recommend Valley Falls in Marion County. It’s absolutely gorgeous. It’s not talked about a lot.
Give us some local restaurant recommendations…
Jim: There are so many, but some of our favorites were Mary B’s in Parkersburg, Sue’s Country Kitchen in Petersburg, Ridgeview BBQ in Institute, Corner Store in Glenville, and Hardings Family Restaurant in Charleston.
Judy: I agree with those and would add a few. Everyone should go to the Corner Gas and Grill at Pax. And go get a pastry hot dog from Spring Hill in South Charleston!
Who were some of the memorable people you met along the way?
Judy: One day we were in Doddridge County in the town of West Union. We were with some relatives and went into a store. Our cousin’s wife was looking at a patriotic picture and told them her son was serving overseas. Can you believe they gave her that picture! I got their address and sent them some thank you gifts. That was so kind of them to do that for somebody they never met.
Jim: The passion of people at Independence Hall was incredible. Those people loved what they were doing. It just radiates!
What did you learn?
Judy: Everywhere you go, people are very proud of where they live. The pride was on their faces. The people from the eastern panhandle feel a little bit isolated from the rest of the state. I talked to a teacher who said they can get to DC and five state capitals faster than they can get to Charleston.
Jim: These commercials about tourism in West Virginia are definitely valid, but there’s way more out there than you can put in a 30-second commercial. The state is so diverse. There’s so much to do. And most importantly, it didn’t matter if it was south, north, east or west–we found the same friendliness in the people across the whole state.
Since you visited every courthouse, were there any that stood out as going above and beyond?
Jim: Independence Hall is special. It’s in a category all to itself. Every West Virginian should go there. But one thing we learned that was really interesting was that all courthouses had areas saluting veterans. Moundsville was the best! Anybody that has fought or served needs to see it.
Was the culture of West Virginians different from county to county?
Jim: You can’t see it for yourself unless you go. People may think we are different, but we have so much in common. We are all one state. We visited one restaurant twice and saw some of the same people both times. That’s West Virginia!
Judy: Everybody knows everybody all across the state. We really saw how true that was in our travels. It’s a small world filled with some wonderful, caring people.
Will you continue traveling the state?
Jim: We will continue this. West Virginia is a wonderful place to live. As much as you appreciate it, you don’t know how much you should be appreciating it. The people are so friendly everywhere. It’s easy to be an ambassador when you’re representing West Virginia.
Judy: I hope this inspires people to take this idea and run with it! When we were in Shepherdstown, I met a lady who heard about us and wanted to do this trip too. We hope people will be inspired to do this themselves. It’s very doable. Visiting every state is a big money venture. You can go most places in West Virginia as a day trip so it’s more economical and fun!