Perched in a curve on Sewell Mountain along U.S. Route 60 just west of Rainelle, Lee’s Tree Tavern (shown in this undated photo) was a landmark for motorists for many years. In 1952, Roscoe C. Johnson, the proprietor, advertised the tavern as an “excellent hotel, restaurant and gas station.”
At an elevation of 3,170 feet, he promoted the tavern as located at the highest point on the Midland Trail.
The tavern and local community were named for a maple tree under which General Robert E. Lee and Confederate troops were encamped in 1861. It was here that Lee first met Traveler, a horse bred near Blue Sulphur Springs who was later purchased by Lee. In 1935, the tree died as a result of a drought. It has been reported that the Daughters of The Confederacy had the tree cut and sold souvenirs from its wood to raise funds.
The winding highway near the tavern could be treacherous, especially during the winter. In November of 1951, the brakes on a truck transporting torpedoes failed, and the driver crashed. Two 60 lb. torpedoes were dislodged and slide down the mountain. At least one of the bombs was located and retrieved by personnel from the South Charleston Naval Ordinance Department. The location of the other bomb was a bit of a mystery.
Under management of John R. Goff, the tavern’s restaurant was well known for its food. In the early 1950s, Goff and his wife, Edith, who was a teacher at the Lee’s Tree School, became proprietors of the Pioneer Hotel in Rainelle. Evidently, the Goff’s left the tavern with the recipes as the Pioneer Hotel’s restaurant was known far and wide for excellent food. Both the tavern and Pioneer Hotel were razed – each a victim of having been bypassed by Interstate 64.
Photo: Courtesy of the West Virginia Regional History Center.
Sources: Beckley Post-Herald, The Greenbrier Independent.