The Bluestone River rises along the northern flank of East River Mountain, 2.5 miles southwest of Springville, Virginia, and flows northeast 83 miles through Mercer County and Summers County in West Virginia to join the New River. Eleven miles of its lower course are protected by the National Park Service as the Bluestone National Scenic River. The river is a popular warm-water fishery, and canoeing is possible through spring and mid-summer. Kayaking is popular in spring and during floods.
Through much of its upper course, the Bluestone River descends slowly through a long, winding valley in which many coal mines operated in the early 1900s. Remnants of mining communities stand alongside the river, including that of Bramwell, West Virginia, much of which is now preserved as a national historic district. The geology of the upper river is interpreted at Pinnacle Rock State Park. The lower reach of the river is entrenched in a narrow gorge, within which it is joined by the Little Bluestone River, its largest major tributary. The river empties into the New River at Bluestone Lake in Bluestone State Park and the Bluestone Lake Wildlife Management Area.
History of the Bluestone River
American Indians dubbed the Bluestone River “Momongosenka” or “Big Stone River” during their travels through the rocky-strewn lower gorge. Prehistoric sites, from hunting camps dating back to the Ice-Age era to the Shawnee, Delaware, and Cherokee tribes of the 1600 and 1700s, have been documented throughout Bluestone River’s watershed.
European settlers began to explore and establish homes along the river in the mid-1700s. The fertile valley, locally known as “Clover Bottom,” was settled as early as 1775 by Mitchell Clay, who lost two children to Shawnee warriors shortly after settling. Clay later fought against the Indians in the Battle of Point Pleasant.
Lilly, West Virginia, was one of the first settlements in present day West Virginia. Robert and Frances Lilly and their families settled at the convergence of the Bluestone River and Little Bluestone in the late 1700s. Eventually other families arrived to the town known as Lilly where they survived by farming and logging. Residents of Lilly were forced to move during the mid-1900s when the construction of the Bluestone Dam began. Cemeteries were exhumed and buildings were destroyed or moved to new locations.
According to most sources, settlers on the headwaters of the Bluestone River named the river for its course over bed of blue-tinged limestone.
Bluestone River Communities
From source to mouth, the following towns, cities, and villages are located on or near the Bluestone River. The village of Lilly is no longer inhabited, but its ruins have been preserved by the National Park Service.
- Bluefield, WV
- Nemours, WV
- Bluestone, WV
- Coopers, WV
- Bramwell, WV
- Montcalm, WV
- Rock, WV
- Spanishburg, WV
- Eads Mill, WV
- Lilly, WV
Information on lodging, dining, and recreation on and near the Bluestone River may be found in our guide to travel in the Bluestone Region, in southern West Virginia.