7 wildly quirky finds for urban explorers

Sometimes, surprises hide in plain sight.

It’s always fun to turn a corner and discover an intriguing passageway or artwork. Fortunately, West Virginia abounds with hide-and-seek delights — you just have to keep your eyes peeled.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

1. Hidden steps of Harpers Ferry

This picturesque riverside town stirs your imagination. Antebellum homes crouch along cliffs, charming shops line the narrow streets, and romantic scenery fills the horizon.

You can easily fill your day with Civil War history and shopping, but why not search for hidden stairs while you’re at it? In fact, Harpers Ferry crawls with steps — stone and wood, crooked and worn.

Search on your own or start with:

  • St. Peter’s Catholic Church. A carved shale staircase leads towards this 1833 structure. Behind the church, you’ll find another one!
  • Washington Street. Poke along this main avenue, which traces through major sections of Harpers Ferry. You’ll find steps through the woods that lead towards a cemetery.
  • Jefferson Rock. By the rocky heights, you’ll survey the scene that was, in Thomas Jefferson’s estimation, “well worth a voyage across the Atlantic.” It’s also close to another staircase.

Mortar Man sculpture, squeezed between two buildings in Charleston, West Virginia

2. Mortar Man of Capitol Street

When designer P. Joseph Mullins was finishing a project in Charleston, he used leftover cement to sculpt a tiny little man. This whimsical figure — known by his fans as “Mortar Man” — lives on Capitol Street.

The next time you’re in town, stop by 108 and look for a narrow brick span that divides 2 buildings. Look roughly 12 feet off the ground; you might spot the popular sculpture in his little nook!

3. Modern hitching posts

Charleston’s bike racks aren’t just functional; they have personality, too! Keep a lookout for:

  • “The Passenger.” Ian Bode’s faceless signature character is happy to watch over your wheels. He hangs out on Capitol Street and Capitol Market.
  • “Bike Man.” Chris Dutch’s exuberant yellow figure lives at Stack Plaza.
  • “Bubbles.” At Haddad Riverfront Park, artist Debbie Amos’ colorful circles combine utility with expression.

Tourists in a man-trip cart entering Beckley Exhibition Mine

4. A tour of the deep

The Phillips-Sprague Mine in Beckley hasn’t produced coal in years, but it’s still in business.

Now called the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine, this retired shaft serves as a tourist destination. Board a cart and travel deep underground with a veteran miner as your guide; along the way, you’ll hear fascinating tales and watch equipment demonstrations.

It’s a blast traveling beneath the earth, too! The damp air, low lighting, and exhilarating anecdotes deserve return visits.

Want even more unique sights? You’ve just scratched the surface.

5. East End art

As you walk down the 1500 block of Washington Street in Charleston, train your gaze on the walls — you might find some unusual public art.

In an effort to beautify the city, local artists painted and glazed bricks. Maroon linework, placed against pale backgrounds, ties everything together, but abstract and realistic designs keep each piece unique.

6. Meet JP2!

During a trip to Poland, Mike Duplaga of Wheeling was suddenly mesmerized by a statue of Pope John Paul II. The 40-foot-tall figure inspired him so much, he decided to commission one of his own.

As it happens, Mike owns Generations Restaurant & Pub. That’s where he put his steel-and-fiberglass version of the pontiff, which blesses diners on the patio.

7. Parking meters with soul

No one likes paying for parking. Still, the next time you park at Wheeling’s Centre Market Square District, you might feel better.

Parking meters in the area now come in an array of colors and motifs: trees, cloudy skies and blazing suns, abstract designs and more. Find your favorite spot; maybe you’ll feel those quarters are going to a better place!

Want even more unique sights? You’ve just scratched the surface. 

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This post was last updated on March 16, 2022