Lighting our Spirits with the Winter Festival of Lights

Farmhouse Sweets & Treats Shoppe.
Farmhouse Sweets & Treats Shoppe.

After the beautiful Fall colors have fallen and before the glistening white of snow coats the ground, here in West Virginia we get the season of Brown, Muddy, and Dead.  Starting to feel the depression of the dead season, with its fog, mud, rain, shorter days, and longer nights.  I needed a change to get me out of my funk.  Heather too was starting to feel the weight of gloom and scheduled us a little getaway weekend.  She gave Airbnb a try and reserved us two different locations.  Our first place was close to downtown Wheeling, so we could visit Independence Hall, where West Virginia first became a State and its first Capitol.  The second place was a Chalet near Oglebay, where we could head up the hill to the see the Winter Festival of Lights.  With Fort Steuben and Tomlinson Run State Park up the river, it was going to be an exciting and adventurous weekend.


We have never used Airbnb before, but Heather chose to use it due to it being a more economical solution, we were able to spend two nights for the cost of one hotel room.  The process was reasonably straightforward: browse, choose, pay, stay!

Wheeling Creek at the end of the Cul De Sac.
Wheeling Creek at the end of the Cul De Sac.

The first home was in a quiet and safe neighborhood near the end of a cul de sac.  At night we passed kids walking their dogs, people jogging, and most houses very well maintained.  The home was clean and comfortable.  Best of all, it was mostly baby safe.  Leo was able to have his run of the place without too much worry, besides maybe trying to flush something down the toilet.  But, closing the bathroom doors solved our only real concern! This home wasn’t the most romantic place we’ve ever stayed but it was very safe and a family friendly house close to the area we wanted to explore!

Independence Hall

And I name the new State, "West Virginia." Leo's opening statement at Independence Hall.
And I name the new State, “West Virginia.” Leo at Independence Hall.

This morning we headed downtown to visit Independence Hall, the birthplace of West Virginia.  First built as a Customs House for the federal offices of the Western District of Virginia, it would play a much more significant role than its intended purpose.  With the start of the Civil War and the secession of the State of Virginia, those citizens wanting a Union State met in Wheeling to create anew, the Restored Government of Virginia.  With the majority of the Western Counties siding with the Union and the East the Confederacy, a proposal was made to move away from the name of Virginia due to it being tarnished by Confederate Idealisms.  A few names were suggested, but I love what Waitman T. Willey, United State Senator from Virginia who sided for a new state, had to say.

“Moreover, sir, we have fought this fight under the name of West Virginia. We are known and recognized as West Virginia – on the continent, over the sea, in Europe, and everywhere, we are spoken of as West Virginia, and as men rising up in the majesty of our love of right and of liberty and periling our lives and our fortunes and taking a stand in defense of our rights. We have been called and designated as western Virginians; and if I were to make a selection of all the names it seems to me that of West Virginia would be the most proper. We are not adopting the principles of old or east Virginia with the name. Such a conclusion is utterly illogical. We are standing by the principles upon which we have been fighting hitherto under the name of western Virginia; and we can stand as steadfastly and loyal hereafter when we are utterly cut off from political connection with east Virginia while the name is Western Virginia as under any other name.

I conclude, sir, for fear of my going off into an argument – by saying that personally it is a matter of the most perfect indifference to me what the new State is called. It is a matter of taste. It involves no principle; and I think the guiding fact which should influence our action here, is what name on the whole would best suit the majority of the people included within the new State. I believe, sir, West Virginia would do that.” ~Senator Waitman T. Willey

Independence Hall has been completely restored to its original grandeur and now is a museum with articles of Wheeling’s History, the building’s construction and restoration, the Civil War, and the State of West Virginia.  It was an incredible historical journey through those eras, and a must visit when in the area or for any West Virginians or those interested in the Civil War.

Fort Steuben

Feeling a little hungry and on a history kick, we decided to grab some food and head North to Fort Steuben in Steubenville, OH.  The Continental Congress sent surveyors there to map the Northwest Territory.  At the time the area was habited by hostile Indians that wanted nothing to do with a Westward Expansion.  Fort Steuben was constructed to protect those surveyors and is now a museum showing what life was like as an early pioneer.  Sadly the Fort was closed for the season, and only the visitor center was open.  We will have to schedule another visit if we are in the area during the late Spring, Summer, or early Fall.

Tomlinson Run State Park

Millstone artifact from Hartford's Grist Mill.
Millstone from Hartford’s Grist Mill.

With Fort Steuben being closed for the season, we headed up to explore Tomlinson Run State Park.  Tomlinson is a 1,398-acre park built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps).  It houses a beautiful pool with waterslide, six hiking trails, 54 campgrounds, and is the only WV State Park where you can rent a Yurt.  Thinking of a romantic Parental Escape, we may try this basic form of glamping or start conquering lands, crushing enemies, and expanding our empire.  Well, we are not one for Mongolian attire, so maybe just a romantic getaway.

Chalet Loustau

After our evening of exploration, we arrived at Chalet Loustau, our second Airbnb home.  The chalet is a rustic wooden structure modeled after chalets found in the Swiss Alps.  A fire pit sits on the edge of the front lawn making it inviting to have some hot chocolate by a fire underneath the stars.  Visiting us through the day was a cute little cat that made Leo’s day.  He loved watching it run through the yard, play on the porch, and hang out by the windows.  The host was extremely flexible with our schedule and allowing us to arrive earlier providing us more opportunities to enjoy this beautiful property and explore the surrounding area.

Airbnb, Chalet Loustau.
Airbnb, Chalet Loustau.

Inside the main living quarters, there is an open staircase which is quite treacherous for little ones.  Creating a makeshift baby gate with the couches and table, we were able to keep Leo away from the opening safely.  This place would make an excellent romantic getaway for parents, but it’s not the best for young children.

We found our stay at Chalet Loustau comfortable, relaxing, and accommodating.  There were many personal touches the host put into the home that we haven’t seen other places.  From being able to request fresh farm eggs, snacks in the kitchen, chocolates on the pillows, to Bailey’s, wine, and beer in the fridge making our stay that much more welcoming.  There was a small library section for reading and a nice DVD collection for staying in at night.  Leo loved the movie selections, and we were thankful because it helped entertain him while Mommy and Daddy relaxed.  This home would be such a nice romantic getaway during the Fall and Winter months.  We have already envisioned our next stay, “The front lawn covered with snow as the moonlight reflects off the surface.  The fire pit glows of orange and red while providing us extra warmth.  We sit by the fire drinking hot chocolate mixed with peppermint schnapps while laughing and talking about our life together, our family and friends, and our many blessings.”

With the sun setting behind the hills, we loaded up the vehicle to head over to Oglebay.  It is time for Leo to experience the Winter Festival of Lights.

Oglebay Resort, the Winter Festival of Lights

In 1985 a tradition started at Oglebay Resort, the Winter Festival of Lights.  This event has now grown into one of the nation’s largest holiday light shows covering over 300 acres in a 6 mile drive through the Resort.  This year was Leo’s first trip to see the lights, and he was amazed.

Leo, exploring the flower garden during the Winter Festival of Lights.
Leo exploring the flower garden during the Winter Festival of Lights.

Entering through the snowflake and rainbow tunnels, Leo would fall back in his seat staring up at the lights in awe.  He loved seeing the animations of the displays and the changing colors of the lights.  Some of his and our favorites were the tunnels, leaping frog, Ferris Wheel, the new Christmas Chameleon, the Dinosaurs, candy canes, the lighted trees at the ski slope, the candles, Cinderella’s Castle, the massive star, decorated pool house, and the flower garden area.  There were a total of 88 displays which made for an exciting start to the Holiday Season.  After visiting the glass and gift shops, we picked up a few small gift items and snacks before heading back to the Chalet.

Lighted flower walkway along the flower garden during the Winter Festival of Lights.
Lighted flower walkway along the flower garden during the Winter Festival of Lights.

This year we did the lights a little different than our first.  The very first time we went we read their website, and it said donation only, not a required donation of $15.00 per car to see the lights or $20.00 for lights and a DVD.  But, we paid the $20.00 and received a DVD where we could rewatch if we wanted to relive our trip.  We also made our first trip in one day which meant over 5 hours of driving not including the lights.  This year the price has gone up to $20.00 per car and for $25.00 you receive a calendar.  We stayed the entire weekend giving us plenty of time to relax, enjoy the lights, explore the area and surrounding attractions without the rush.

This weekend getaway was an excellent way to light our spirits, lift us out of our funk and gloom, and put us in the holiday spirit.  The weekend was jammed pack with history, exploration, relaxation, and fun.  Our hosts through Airbnb provided us with excellent places to stay and were very hospitable.  Now back home and to work, I have realized it was a much-needed escape.  Thank you, Heather for the surprise getaway, and we should now do what Oglebay did and start our tradition.  When the season of dead starts, let’s light up the night by a weekend getaway to see the Winter Festival of Lights at Oglebay.

One of Leo's favorites, "The Dinosaurs."
One of Leo’s favorites, “The Dinosaurs.”

Associated Links:

  • Airbnb (link)
  • Independence Hall (link)
  • Fort Steuben (link)
  • Tomlinson Run State Park (link)
  • Oglebay Winter Festival of Lights (link)


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