THURMOND, WV (WVNS) — Over a hundred years after its heyday, the town of Thurmond has a population smaller than most.
Incorporated in 1900, Thurmond wasn’t known for extracting coal from the ground. Instead, it was best known for exporting coal from the New River Gorge.
“Look back at the stories, they talk about how coal was king in the New River Gorge but when you really get down to it, the railroad was like the blood that ran through that king’s veins,” said Jodi French-Burr, a New River Gorge park ranger.
In Thurmond, the railroad ruled all, sustaining the town through the sheer volume of trains passing through the Gorge.
“There were freight trains every 15 minutes coming through the Gorge, stopping at this very depot in Thurmond,” said French-Burr. “15 passenger trains a day so in 1910, they handled around 75,000 passengers through this building alone.”
For the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, Thurmond was much more than a stop in the Gorge.
“This town was also a major engine repair station for the steam trains that were coming and going through the gorge,” said French-Burr. “So besides, all the shops and the people and coming and going and the banks and the hotels and the doctor’s offices, this was a major hub of railroading operation and that serviced the coal towns that were in the gorge.”
The town continued to prosper until the nationally famous 100-room Dun Glen Hotel burned down in 1930, signalling the beginning of the end for Thurmond.
A year later, the Thurmond National Bank closed while the New River Bank moved to nearby Oak Hill in 1935.
“One by one, businesses starting to move to other places, bigger towns or towns that were becoming bigger like Oak Hill or Beckley or Fayetteville,” said French-Burr. “And so one by one, the businesses started moving away.”
The final nail in the coffin for the town as a railroading hub was the switch from steam to diesel powered engines in the 1950s and 60s. Since then, the growth in popularity of whitewater rafting in the region has led to a new industry in the Gorge focused on tourism.
The entire town of Thurmond is on the National Register of Historic Places and sees thousands of tourists a year.
“People are still coming out, cause they’re curious about those stories, what life was like and its almost like you’ve stepped back in time because of some of the structural remains that are here,” said French-Burr.