There's More Than Meets the Eye on
Stories from the Road:
On I-70 between Columbus, Ohio and Wheeling, West Virginia, you’ll encounter the exit for Fairview. It’s #198, also marked as the exit for county road 114 and is located near the Belmont County and Guernsey County border.
Fairview is an old National Road town. The National Road was one of the first routes to take travelers from the east into what was then the west, meaning Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. All along the old National Road are towns—big, medium-size, and small—that derived their livelihood from the National Road. They offered services to travelers—inns, taverns, facilities for fixing vehicles and stabling horses. The taverns, especially, developed their own personalities and gained reputations for whatever was unique among their offerings.
In Fairview was a tavern owned by a man named Isaac Gleaves who had a famous cure for the ague. Now, the ague is one of those old-fashioned diseases that’s out of favor today. Basically, it’s chills and fever. Riding in an unheated stagecoach across the bumpy Ohio countryside, we can understand that a lot of people would develop chills and fever.
Isaac Gleaves’ recipe for his cure of the ague was quite simple. He started with a quart of water. Then he boiled it. He boiled it down to a pint, which he would then administer to the patient. When asked why he boiled the water down, he would reply, “To make it stronger, sir, to make it stronger!”
Fairview, then, is where you stopped during your travels to secure strong water.
This town also became known for its production of pennyroyal oil. Pennyroyal is a wild herb, member of the mint family, that was found in abundance around Fairview. Distilled into an oil, it was a common home remedy found in medicine cabinets well into the 1900s. It was said to be a favorite of the English royalty, hence the name, pennyroyal, and was used to treat a variety of ailments, including headaches, indigestion, colds, menstrual problems, arthritis and dizziness.
Some put dried pennyroyal in their shoes—it was said to decrease travel weariness. It was also believed to be an “herb of peace.” Pennyroyal kept in a bowl helped ease tense interactions and kept married couples from arguing. Pennyroyal was particularly popular in the eastern United States and so provided a steady source of income for this town out on the Ohio frontier. Fairview produced more pennyroyal than any other place in the nation.
Today, there are dire warnings against taking pennyroyal internally as it appears to cause more damage than cure. Its primary use in our time is as a natural insect repellant, which is particularly effective in keeping fleas from cats and dogs. We don’t know its effect on calming marital interactions.
The last pennyroyal distillery closed long ago in Fairview but something of the tradition remains. From the 1880s until the present, residents of Fairview and descendents of Fairview residents have gathered for the Pennyroyal Reunion, an occasion for music, a parade, and gatherings to tell the stories of the community. Also in Fairview there’s the Pennyroyal Opera House, which bills itself as “the place where bluegrass happens.”
Fairview is a small town. The population hovers somewhere around 80 people. Yet, it has a heritage and a set of stories as colorful as the bigger cities we encounter as we travel along Interstate 70.
For more about Fairview and its surrounding communities, see the CD for I-70 West: Wheeling, West Virginia to Columbus, Ohio
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