I’ve always suffered from a strange case of dyslexia when it comes to cardinal directions. For example, I feel slightly panicked when I go through the toll booth entering the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I worry, Am I going east to Harrisburg or west to Pittsburgh? I never understood where this irrational fear came from until I began researching Rock Springs Park and my hometown of Chester, West Virginia. Everything about the area is confusing, as far as directions are concerned.
First off, the northern panhandle of West Virginia extends further north than most people realize. When I went to college at the University of Pittsburgh, I was teased for being from “Down there”, but the truth was, I was from “Up there”. You see, Chester actually lies northwest of Pittsburgh. The Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers meet at the confluence in Pittsburgh and become the Ohio, but the Ohio River, like the Nile in Egypt, actually flows north. George Washington got it right when he drew this map of the region in 1758. The Ohio flows north before turning west at the northern panhandle of West Virginia (then Virginia) and continues south to Cincinnati.
Chester, as I explain in the book, lies at the extreme northern limit of the panhandle. If you stand in Chester and face north, you face East Liverpool, Ohio. All the other towns of Ohio across the river from West Virginia, for the most part, lie to the west, but not Liverpool, and to a lesser degree, Wellsville. They both mark the northern turn of the river before it heads south. So, in this rare instance, Ohio is north and Pennsylvania is south and a little bit east of Chester - sort of.
Then there’s the neighborhood in Chester across from where Rock Springs Park used to be that is known as the Upper End. It’s “Upper” because it is upriver not because it is north as I used to think as a kid. North is up and south is down on the compass rose, right? No, not exactly.
About 75% of the final edits to the book involved correcting descriptions of the park as it related to cardinal directions:
People now enter Chester along Route 30 at the southern end of what used to be the crystal spring lake of Rock Springs Park.
The spring still flows out of a lone pipe that can be found east of the onramp to the Jennings Randolph Bridge to East Liverpool.
East Liverpool is north of Chester.
See what I mean? If it wasn’t for Google Maps I would still be editing. It should be easy, but it isn’t.It’s no wonder some people still don’t get that West Virginia is a state. They think it’s just the western half of Virginia. If those people go to Chester, I wish them all the luck in the world and hopefully some sort of GPS device, because in Chester east is north and up is east and west is south and the south is north.