Friday, January 21, 2011

Weirdness at the Wine Cellars

Photo by Theresa Racer
Prior to the Civil War, the state of West Virginia proved to be a profitable location for wine making.  In 1860, Tom Friend took advantage of this opportunity, and started a vineyard on land reported to have once been owned by George Washington, off of what is today Dutch Hollow Road in Dunbar.

The wine was produced right on the property, and three wine cellars were constructed out of stone mountain to cool and age the wine.  The wine was then taken to Charleston by ox cart, where it was then transported to Cincinnati by way of steamboat.  The vineyards were first populated by the Catawba grapes, but it was soon afterward discovered that this particular variety did poorly in the climate, and was quickly replaced with Concords and Seedlings.

In three short years (six by some accounts, those same accounts stating that the wine cellars were actually carved out in 1855), the Civil War had put a damper on wine production in this part of the state.  The cost of labor became too high to turn a profit, and the vineyard was shut down and abandoned.  By 1870, ALL vineyards in the Kanawha County area were facing stiff competition from vineyards in Virginia and Ohio, and by 1904, only one vineyard, located in the Northern part of the state, was listed as operational.

However, even though it is fact that the wine making industry took a turn for the worse throughout the state of West Virginia, there is another theory as to why the Dutch Hollow Wine Cellars were in operation for such a short period of time.  It is believed that they were instrumental in use as part of the Underground Railroad.  This theory is further supported by the fact that the nearby town of Institute has a strong history of abolitionist ties and African-American history. 

The only thing that remains of this brief period in history are the three interconnected wine cellars.  In 1970, the site, which was on property owned by the Robert Given family, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  At that time, the wine cellars had been abandoned for over 100 years, and were largely grown up with weeds and brush.  Although no pictures exist of the original wine cellars, it is believed that they had never been altered from their original state.

The cellars were restored in 1981 and today, the area is now a county park. Further restorations were performed by Paul Marshall, a local architect, in 1997.  These restorations may have stirred up memories from the cellars' past.  Perhaps it is because of some undocumented event in the unknown history of the cellars' use following the Civil War, but the area is reported to be haunted.  Visitors to the cellars often report anomalies on their film, cold spots, mists, and feelings of unease.

Building on this atmosphere, the First Baptist Church of Dunbar would hold a "Haunted Hollow" attraction each Halloween season.  In 2000, the city of Dunbar, which owns the park, was sued by two Wiccan residents over the issue of separation of church and state.  The judge found in favor of the city, but afterward, they did place a disclaimer up at the attraction saying that the church's views did not necessarily represent those of the city.

Update-November 2010:  I spoke with a visitor to the wine cellars who actually does have a set of two digital photographs from the cellars that shows a full bodied apparition anomaly, outlined against the stone.  I have not seen the photos personally, but the first is said to show a woman appearing to be holding a baby or small child, accompanied by another small child to her side.  The follow-up photo taken moments later again captures the image of the woman, in a different pose, but the child is missing.  If you have any stories or pictures of a similar nature, I'd LOVE to hear them!

Update-May 2014: After visiting this year's Vandalia Festival in Charleston, we decided to stop at the park and let my son run around and play at the playground area while I walked over to the wine cellars alone. Out of all the times I've been there, this was the first time I had actually experienced those feelings of unease that so many others have claimed is indicative of a haunting at the location.  This was broad daylight.  My son and boyfriend were at the nearby park, as were a bunch of other people having a family reunion at the shelters.  An employee was on a riding lawn mower a short distance away and several families and couples were taking the connecting walking path into the woods.  In spite of all this activity, or maybe because of it, I kinda had a moment of freaking out.  As I walked into the middle room, the water dripping from the ceiling sounded exactly like footsteps echoing behind me.  For a fleeting moment I had an overwhelming fear that I wasn't alone and that someone was going to slam the door (this was the only room that still had some semblance of a door attached) and I was just far enough away that no one would hear me scream.  I don't know what was scarier...feeling like someone was going to lock me in there alone, in the dark (the modern, makeshift door didn't reach the top of the entryway, so plenty of sunshine would have still shone in) or the feeling that someone was in there with me and was going to hurt me.  I felt both of these fears simultaneously, and as quickly as I felt them come on, they left again.


  1. I was born in Dunbar in 1926, played in and around the cellars all my childhood and early teen years, hiked all over the neighboring hills in the teens, ran a trap-line from cellars to Tyler Mtn. road 1940-43, and again during winter holidays of '47-48-& 49. In all that time, I never saw any sign, or heard any sound, that would lead me think the area or the cellars were haunted. Dick Fisher, Pittsburgh, PA July 2014.

  2. Rising Phoenix Paranormal Team member Adam Richards' grandmother wrote this for the Charleston Gazette in the late 70s about paranormal activity in their house by the Dunbar wine cellars.

    "Knock to get rid of us"
    By Nina Lewis

    The year of 1924, my family moved to Dutch Hollow in Dunbar. The house sat where the wine cellars are now. Mr. Carbide owned the Dutch Hollow farm. He told my parents they could move into the house rent free to keep up the property. My parents had a large family and jobs were very hard to find.

    After they moved, the strange noises started. They couldn't sleep at night for such sounds as doors slamming, windows going up and down, and noise like tin cans rolling down the stairs.

    My brothers were so afraid they all slept in one room. They told me later about the rocking chair that rocked all night even after they tied it to the bed. My brother said they couldn't keep the covers on them for something kept pulling them off. He said he could feel the breathing of someone over him. He left home and didn't move back until the family moved out.

    At the bottom of the stairs was a spot of blood. My mother would scrub the wooden floor with lye water but in never went away.

    Every night, my parents would watch lights going from the well to the wine cellars. The lights were supposed to be slaves carrying the water to the wine cellars. Later they were murdered, as the story goes.

    One day, my sister was in her room at the top of the stairs and my parents were in the front room. They heard a shotgun blast. THey ran up the stairs to see if she was injured. She hadn't heard a sound.

    At one time the old house was a stopover for peddlers and salesmen who had been to Charleston to sell their goods. Of course, they had money and it was told they were never heard from again.

    One day, my mother kept hearing a knock sound. She said a verse from the Bible and said, "If you want us to move, knock only once". The knock came so my parents moved out the next day.

    Years later, Mr. Carbide was found murdered on the lawn on the old farm. After I was a grown woman, I went back to the old house. The stairs and front room were still standing. On the floor at the food of the stairs was the blood.

    1. That is REALLY awesome information! Thank you so much for sharing it!

    2. You're very welcome!