The Andrew Turnbull Network


The Roads and Rails of Mercer County, WV /

WV 8 and US 52

[WV 8] [US 52] [US 52]
[US 52]
Highway Start Terminus Length (km)
US 52 (current alignment) McDowell County line near Coaldale Bland County, Virginia state line, East River Mountain Tunnel 31
US 52 (old alignment) McDowell County line near Coaldale Bland County, Virginia state line south of Bluefield 26-29 (depending on routing)


With a total length of more than 3,000 kilometres extending diagonally from Portal, North Dakota to Charleston, South Carolina, U.S. Route 52 has the honour of being the longest highway that passes through Mercer County, WV...a single link connecting Bluefield to Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and St. Paul, Minnesota. Until being rerouted as a concurrency through the East River Mountain Tunnel in the 1980s, US 52 exited the state by means of a winding 300-metre climb over the top of the ridge. Locally it functions chiefly as a connection between Bluefield and McDowell County, where drivers take their lives into their hands by duking it out on treacherous, hilly turns with overloaded coal trucks careening around every corner.

[US 52 map]

(WV State Road Commission, 1922)

Although US 52 was commissioned in 1926, the highway originally terminated in Huntington and was not extended to Mercer County until 1932. Its immediate predecessor was West Virginia Route 8, which ended in Bluefield at Princeton Avenue (US 19) without extending any further southwest.

In 1935, the AASHO extended the highway to its present-day terminus on the Atlantic Shore. This resulted in US 52 gaining its routing over East River Mountain via a concurrency with US 21. Although even-numbered U.S. highways generally follow east-west orientations, US 52 is signed as a north-south highway within West Virginia.


Much of the road forming the original 1920s course of WV 8 and US 52 in Mercer County north of Bluefield was in place by 1895; however, portions near the county line and Pinnacle Rock State Park were not built until the teens or later. The 1930s brought with it a rash of new road construction, and roughly half the highway's course (including the East River Mountain pass) was built anew at this time.

Since the 1980s, US 52 has been realigned on the south side of Bluefield onto Cumberland Road. Cumberland Road has a long history predating Bluefield itself by an order of magnitude, and is referred to in Virginia General Assembly documents as early as 1834. It was designated as CR 29 when West Virginia's county highway system was established in the mid 1930s, and the portions forming the approach to the East River Mountain Tunnel were briefly redesignated WV 290 in the 1970s as a stopgap until the AASHTO consented to US 52 being placed on this alignment.

Points of interest

[US 52]

All photos by the author, 2013 (except as otherwise noted):

[US 52 map] [US 52 map] [US 52 map]

(WV SRC, 1935 and 1945) (WVDOT, 2019)

A: There's nothing unusual about a highway like US 52 undergoing realignments...but it is a bit unusual when the old alignment literally disappears! Strange as it is, that's what happened near the McDowell County Line. WV 8 and US 52's original 1920s course (left) was straightened out by 1945 (centre), with the previous and more northerly road relegated to fractional county status as CR 52/9. 74 years later, WVDOT maps mark the west half of CR 52/9 with only a faint dashed line (code for "primitive road," which is one step above no road at all), while the east half that once ran alongside Simmons Creek has vanished from the map. This area is virtually uninhabited and already adequately connected by other roads, so it may have made more sense for the state to remove the road from its system than for it to continue performing upkeep on it.

[US 52 map] [US 52 map]

(USGS, 1962 and 2001)

B: Farther down the road near Bramwell, US 52 was routed onto a new bridge some point between 1984 and 1996, eliminating some tricky curves and a grade crossing in the process. The old bridge is now gone, but its approaches are still there, and one of them is now a stub road numbered CR 52/38.

[WV 52 photo]

C: US 52 is littered with the remnants of gas stations from decades gone by...but few are as impressive as this. This was a Pure gas station, bearing the faux-residential English cottage architecture that the company used to "soften" its presence and build a distinctive brand image during the 1930s. Numerous examples of these buildings were constructed throughout the midwest and southeast, and a select few of them were open as late as the early 1990s. This particular specimen is noteworthy both for its excellent state of preservation...and for the fact that it has five (!!) service bays.

[US 52 map] [US 52 map]

(WV SRC, 1935) (WV SRC, 1945)

D: Realignments strike again! South of Bluewell (known as Dolph back in the '30s), US 52 originally followed a ponderous course bearing east, then west, then east, then coming into Bluefield through a narrow one-lane tunnel under the railroad tracks. The State Road Commission's circa-1935 map shows this alignment marked as US 52...and shows the present-day alignment under construction next to it bearing a blank U.S. route shield! By 1945 (right), the new road was open to traffic and the old road had been relegated to state secondary status as CR 11. It remains this way today, and the pre-1930s alignment is signed as Old Bramwell Road.

[US 52 photo] [US 52 photo]

(NPS Historic American Engineering Record, 1997)

E: As part of its 1930s realignment, US 52 received a brand-new approach to Bluefield: The Frank Easley Bridge, spanning the Norfolk and Western railroad tracks near Bluefield State Teachers College. The bridge featured both steel truss and reinforced concrete construction, and was built in 1936.

[US 52 map]

By the end of the 1990s, the Easley Bridge was deteriorating in condition and the narrow roadbed was a liability to traffic. In 2001, a replacement bridge was constructed to a new abutment one block east, and the old 1936 bridge was dismantled.

[WV 52 photo] [WV 52 photo]

However, the old bridge isn't quite forgotten. The original south abutment of the original bridge is still in place, still bearing the crumbling remnants of its original concrete railing ornamentation. And that's not the only relic to see here: Unbelievably, a US 52 reassurance marker is still posted next to the abutment, more than a decade after the highway last went this way! The sign is dated 1989.

[US 52 photo]

F: After clearing either of its bridges, US 52 uses the street grid to loop back one block and run concurrently with US 19 for a kilometre or so, defying logic in such a way that the "south" course of one road is the "north" course of the other. (Photo by the author, 2000).

[US 52 photo]

G: After separating from Route 19 once more, US 52 cuts straight through the heart of Bluefield's downtown...a place that still has gritty "mini big city" charms, though it's lost a lot of energy over the years. One of the most visible buildings is the flagship branch of the Flat Top National Bank...a defiantly modernist architectural monument from 1970 that still looks good today. And it still houses a bank.

[US 52 photo] [US 52 photo] [US 52 photo]

It's hard to believe now, but as late as the 1970s Bluefield had an reputation as a prestigious shopping destination. Today, the city brims with artifacts of what once the city's former J.C. Penney department store, the city's former Leggett department store, and the city's former Montgomery Ward department store. All three companies jumped ship to the Mercer Mall when it opened in 1980... turning Bluefield's bustling downtown into a deserted wasteland almost overnight. And in vain...since these days, the Mercer Mall is almost as deserted as the downtowns it replaced.

[US 52 photo]

Facing north on Bland Street, we catch a glimpse of the previous buildings and see the road's division into a four-block-long northbound/southbound split. Yes, the streets were very quiet that day. And no, that isn't at all unusual for Bluefield.

[US 52 photo]

H: Hey, another artifact of the past! A pre-1971 yellow Yield sign was still in place at the corner of US 52 and Wilson Street in 2013, though it's gone now.

[US 52 map] [US 52 map]

(USGS 1924/66) (Andrew Turnbull 2019)

I: US 52's precise historical routing on the south side of Bluefield is a bit mysterious. Today, the highway is routed down Bland Road...a wide concourse lined by trees and massive lawns. Photorevisions of USGS' 1924-era topo maps, however, show the highway being aligned down Jefferson Street...a much narrower drag a few blocks west. Jefferson Street has denser development, so it makes a certain amount of sense for US 52 to have been routed that way. But did it? Unfortunately, the highway routings on older USGS maps are sometimes inaccurate...and the State Road Commission's own 1930s maps don't show highway routings within city limits.

[US 52 photo] [US 52 photo]

J: Immediately south of Bluefield, East River Mountain rises above the skyline dividing West Virginia from Virginia...and until the 1980s, US 52 was routed directly over this mountain by way of a narrow, winding road that rose more than 300 metres in elevation above the city streets below. Though the tacky hilltop tourist attractions that once beckoned passerby on the state line are now gone, the views are still spectacular. The road is also signed on the Virginia side as a bicycle route...quite a surprise, since West Virginia and southwest Virginia highways have never been hospitable to cyclists. (Think: Steep uphill grades, no shoulders, no dedicated lanes, traffic zipping by around you at 80 km/h, all while douchebros in pickups are yelling homophobic epithets in your direction. I never was able to enjoy cycling much in West Virginia.)

[US 52 photo]

K: In December 1974, the I-77 East River Mountain Tunnel opened, freeing southbound drivers from the inconvenience (or impossibility, depending on their driving skill) of having to negotiate a twisting, mountainous grade. Around 1980, US 52 itself was rerouted as a concurrency through the tunnel. The previous overland alignment reverted to state highway status as WV 598 in West Virginia and VA 598 in Virginia. Nowadays, it's the exclusive province of dyed-in-the-wool road geeks like you and me.

Fractional spur roads

[US 52]

CR 52/1 through CR 52/8 were numbered off southly from Coaldale to Bluefield as part of the original fractional number allocation circa 1935, with higher-numbered roads being later additions.

Road Names Start Terminus Length (km) Notes
52/1 Wind Mill Gap Rd. US 52, Coaldale CR 13 7 Original 1930s assignment.
52/2 Coaldale Mountain Rd. US 52, Coaldale Tazewell County, Virginia state line 6 Original 1930s assignment.
52/3 Maybeury-Simmons Rd. US 52, Bramwell CR 52/1 6 Original 1930s assignment.
52/4 John Butt Rd., Pinnacle Rock-Nemours Rd. US 52 east of Bramwell dead end (formerly through to CR 52/6) 2 Original 1930s assignment. Road truncated in Pinnacle Rock State Park
52/5 (unnamed road) CR 52/4, Pinnacle Rock State Park CR 52/6 insignificant Original 1930s assignment. Impassable through park.
52/6 Nemours Rd., Poetown Rd. US 52, Bluewell WV 102, Nemours 5 Original 1930s assignment. East portion is a former alignment of US 52's predecessor road.
52/7 Red Oak Ridge Rd. CR 11 near Brush Fork WV 20 east of Bluewell 3 Original 1930s assignment.
52/8 Perdue Hollow Rd., Stoney Ridge Rd. US 52, Brush Fork US 19, Bluefield 4 Original 1930s assignment. Technically ends at Bluefield city limits.
52/9 Simmons Mountain Rd. US 52 near Coaldale McDowell County line near Coaldale 5 Added by 1945. Former alignment of US 52. Impassable and formally decommissioned east of CR 52/1.
52/10 Wyoming St., Ridgemont Rd., Media St. US 19 (Princeton Ave.), Bluefield CR 25/5 (Edgewood Rd.), Bluefield 3 Added by 1945. Does not intersect with US 52
52/11 Poetown Rd. US 52, Bluewell CR 52/6 near Bluewell insignificant Former alignment of US 52's predecessor road
52/12 Old Maybeury Coledale Rd. CR 52/2 McDowell County line insignificant
52/13 (unknown)
52/14 Old Coaldale Mountain Rd. CR 52/2, Coaldale CR 52/2 insignificant Former alignment of CR 52/2
52/15 Perdue St. US 52, Brush Fork CR 37/3, Brush Fork insignificant
52/16 Bluewell Cutoff Rd. US 52, Bluewell CR 52/6, Bluewell insignificant Continuation of WV 71, connecting it to CR 52/6.
52/17 Camellia Dr. US 52, Bluewell CR 52/19 2
52/18 Harry Heights Rd. US 52, Brush Fork dead end insignificant
52/19 Pinnacle View Rd. US 52, Bluewell Middle Fork Rd. west of Bluewell 2
52/20 Stadium Dr. CR 52/25 (Cherry St.), Bluefield Tazewell County, Virginia state line, Bluefield insignificant
52/21 Warden Ave. US 52, Bluewell CR 11, Bluewell insignificant
52/22 Bluewell School Rd. US 52, Bluewell WV 20, Bluewell insignificant
52/23 French St. CR 52/19 dead end insignificant
52/24 Haynes Hollow Rd. US 52, Bramwell dead end insignificant
52/25 Cherry St. US 52 at Highland Ave., Bluefield Stadium Dr., Bluefield insignificant
52/26 Horizen St. CR 52/17 dead end insignificant
52/27 (unknown)
52/28 Rogers St., Shupe Hill Rd. US 52, Bramwell dead end insignificant
52/29 Hibiscus St. CR 52/17 dead end insignificant
52/30 Justin Ln. US 52 east of Bluefield dead end insignificant Intersects post-1970s alignment
52/31 Wintergreen St. CR 52/17 dead end insignificant
52/32 Laurel St. CR 52/17 fork one block east insignificant
52/33 Panorama Rd. CR 52/30 east of Bluefield US 52 east of Bluefield 2 Frontage road. Includes a stub of an 1980s-1990s alignment bypassed by a new interchange.
52/34 Don Minnix Ln. CR 52/19 dead end insignificant
52/35 Saunders Rd. US 52, Bluewell dead end insignificant
52/36 Former Delta Rd. 68 CR 52/19 dead end insignificant
52/37 Packing Plant Rd. CR 52/19 WV 123 west of Brush Fork 4
52/38 (unnamed road) US 52, Bramwell dead end at Bluestone River insignificant Former alignment of US 52, bypassed by new bridge crossing
52/39 Duck Pond Rd. US 52, Bluewell WV 71, Bluewell insignificant
52/40 Cherokee Rd. CR 52/39, Bluewell dead end insignificant
52/41 Edgemont Dr. US 52 (E. Cumberland Rd.), Bluefield dead end insignificant Intersects post-1970s alignment
52/42 Pinnacle View Rd. CR 52/36 dead end insignificant
52/43 Dixie Dr. CR 52/8 dead end insignificant
52/44 (unknown)
52/45 Coke Plant Rd. CR 52/19 dead end insignificant
52/46 (unknown)
52/47 (unknown)
52/48 Bowen Ln. US 52, Bramwell dead end insignificant
52/49 Clark Hill Rd. CR 52/48 dead end insignificant
52/50 (unknown)
52/51 Pepper St. US 52, Bluewell US 52, Bluewell insignificant Loop
52/52 Edgewood Rd. US 52, Brush Fork CR 11, Brush Fork insignificant

[Home] The Network [Back] Mercer County

Valid XHTML 1.0! ©2019 Andrew Turnbull.
Last update 23 November 2019.