West Virginia’s First Balloon Flight Crossed ACE

On April 18, 1835, Richard Clayton became the first man to fly a hot-air balloon over 500 kilometers. In so doing, he became the first man to fly in West Virginia. His path crossed over or near ACE Adventure Resort!Clayton was a clockmaker, silversmith and budding aeronaut from Cincinnati, Ohio. This early pioneering balloonist left Cincinnati at 5 p.m. Flying the “Star of the West” -air balloon, he traveled 563 kilometers (more than 350 miles) in 9.5 hours, to land on Bald Knob, on Keeney Mountain, in Summers County, W.Va. The town of Clayton, located 2 miles from this site at the old Graham homestead, now bares his name.

It must have been an epic journey attempting to cross over these mountains into a wilderness with few people and fewer roads. Crossing over the gorge must have been an intimidating feat.

As he floated east over the Kanawha River toward mountains, the setting sun and cool air started to make his balloon lose altitude fast. He wasn’t going to make it over the mountains.

He threw everything he could overboard to lighten his load. In a final desperate attempt to clear the mountain, Clayton tied a rope around his only companion, his dog, and lowered it onto the side of the mountain.

He cleared the mountains, crossed over the gorge near ACE, and continued on until his balloon got caught in the trees at 2:30 a.m. on Bald Knob, thus ending this historic flight.

Having no idea where he was, Clayton climbed down the tree and spent the night under it. In the morning he found a light trail that led to the Gill family cabin 2 miles away. With the help of the Gills and the Grahams, they finally located the balloon the next day. As word passed along, people came from miles around to see the spectacle of a flying man. Clayton cut small pieces from his damaged balloon to give out as souvenirs.

With help, Clayton carried the balloon and basket back to the Graham house where they loaded it on a wagon and took it to Charleston, W.Va. From there, Clayton booked passage on a steamboat heading to Cincinnati. His flight took only 9 1/2 hours – it took him 10 days to get back home.

I wonder what every happened to his poor dog? Years later, reportedly a rope was found on Cotton Hill Mountain believed to be the one tied to the dog…

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