One tank trip: preserving places and stories like Thurmond

The railroad passed through Thurmond in 1873 and soon after was the focus of activity in the gorge.

“They would have a passenger trains 15 times a day stopping at the Thurmond Train Depot but freight trains were every 15 minutes,” said park ranger Jodi French-Burr. “Some of those buildings that we’re seeing behind us were the big business district; everything from banks to restaurants to hotels to shops and all the railroading operation here.”

It’s on the National Register of Historic Places. The eerie atmosphere in Thurmond has many believe that it’s haunted. Find out for yourself.

“It’s a ‘ghost’ of its former self. It’s not technically a ghost town, ’cause it is so quiet here now,” French-Burr said. “Try and jump back 100 years in our own minds to seeing what it’s like when there was people, going to these shops, going to the doctor’s offices, living in the apartments on the top of these buildings, living up on the hillside and working for the railroad. There was probably over 20 to 30 different types of jobs just for railroad employees alone.”

Back in the day, people lived in Thurmond… and others in nearby coal towns would stop by for shopping and entertainment. There were constant comings and goings during the industrial boom in the New River Gorge. People and businesses started moving away as things slowed down in the 1950s and 1960s — with coal industry changes and the railroad going nationally from steam-powered engines to diesel.

“Right across the river, seemed so close to Thurmond to be almost part of it — there was saloons and gambling halls. There was everything, from the things you’d find in your communities to a little more recreational you might say,” said the park ranger.

There aren’t too many examples so in tact like Thurmond, capturing a snapshot in time.

“The people who worked here and who lived there and made their lives here and who visited this place,” French-Burr said. “So, it’s a really amazing example to see that railroading story and that further connection to the coal industry that really bloomed here for over 80 years.”

She says they’ve been lucky at the New River Gorge Park and Preserve to have people who lived in the Thurmond community share some of those stories.

“Small road getting down here to Thurmond but pretty easy access you can come down and really kind of get a feel of what it might have been like. Things really were booming,” said the park ranger. “There are still several people that live here in town but definitely smaller than it was in 1900 and 1910. But the stories of all these people and all these businesses and what life was like here really live on through this place.”

According to Jodi, the park previewed paperwork from businesses and railroad timetables and documents.

“This is Main Line here on the railroad. So there’s trains that come through every single day here still and there’s passenger trains that come through three days a week, and so it is a big change from 100 years ago,” French-Burr said. “But there’s still so many stories and so many ways to kind of capture that essence in a one-tank trip. Coming down here is a good way to do it.”

She says even though it may seem like a ghost town…

“For your safety — still stay off the train tracks.”



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