Archived

This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

seicer

(WVa) New River and beyond

5 posts in this topic

The last two days have seen me wondering all over the country roads of the New River and Gauley River region. My primary focus was to take in the wonderful scenery and to grab many photographs for my American Byways article, the second was to see the remains of coal camp towns and old railroads -- both of which I obsess over.

I exited the interstate at Charleston, taking US 60, or the Midland Trail, southeast towards Smithers. The communities that dot the weaving highway are a mix of low and middle income housing, from coal camp to manufacturing towns. Communities such as Belle and Cedar Grove are quite grisly, mired in years of pollution, coal soot and general unkeptness. Head further southeast and you run into the towns of Alloy and Boomer, which boost colorful housing, nicely maintained yards, and pedestrian-oriented environments. Just outside of this is Glen Ferris, home to the famous Glen Ferris Inn and the Kanawha Falls dam. An old passenger depot lays abandoned, and the hydroelectric power plant at the dam is no longer in use.

Gauley Bridge is the next town. The Midland Trail crosses on a bridge constructed circa 1950, while the CSX line traverses a nice rustic span, the second span through the town. Remnants of the old US 60 bridge is visible as well. We later passed by Chimney Corner en route to US 19, now just another dot on the map. A popular tourist stop, which sold the all-important film for your camera, maps and nik-naks, has been closed. Another piece of roadside America disappears from the landscape...

--

We headed south on US 19 to Fayetteville (Warning: major speed trap in the long 50-MPH section) and ate at Cathedral Cafe () in the downtown. The former church had been disused for several years before being renovated into a quaint eatery and coffee shop -- and let me tell you, their food was delicious! I would recommend it in a heartbeat, along with the gumbo restaurant across the street.

From there, we planned out where to hike next. I had been previously to Thurmond and the remote towns of Elverton, Kaymoor and South Nuttall with Pete and my father, so we decided to head out and hike a trail near town of Edmond. Various remnants lay along the road to the trail head, from an old Gulf gas station to abandoned houses, much of the second-half of the 20th century has just passed on by this part of the state. The hike along the trail was quite nice and afforded me nice views of the gorge from several rock outcroppings, and some gorgeous (pun?) views of the Kaymoor mine site.

Afterwards, we headed west along CR 82 into the heart of the gorge and crossed at the Fayette Station Bridge. Constructed in the late 1800s and closed in 1978 (one year after US 19's New River Gorge Bridge was completed), it was rehabilitated in 1998 with all new bolts, fixtures and piers and was reopened. Near this, along the very-active CSX north/west-bound mainline is the town of Fayette. All that is left are foundations and an old coal loader that fed a long disused spur. A water tank stood nearby, a pipe connecting to it laying on the ground rusting away.

--

After this jaunt, we headed towards Babcock State Park thinking that there was lodging there based on a person's recommendation. We took WV 61 to WV 41 south of Oak Hill. Note to WVDOH: I think the bridge along WV 16 at Mt. Hope needs replacing. When there are more potholes than good pavement, and metal plates covering gaping holes, it's time to replace the bridge.

Along WV 41 is the town of Prince. Once a boom town during the height of the coal mining era, it stands mostly abandoned. One notable shrine to the town's boom is the unique Amtrak Cardinal depot. A retro 1946 art-deco depot (images), it still serves the Cardinal line several days of the week. Take your slide film, its very colorful inside and out!

The next town is Quinnimont, nothing more than a dot on the map. The water tower and freight depot lay in ruins. Further east, Laurel Creek, Lawton, Hemlock and Layland all feature ruined company stores, houses and businesses. There is very little development that is left as there are very little jobs to support it. During the past 50 years, an estimated 2 million people left Appalachia for jobs in bigger cities -- and the hundreds of ghost towns in West Virginia alone are testament to that.

--

So we got to Babcock State Park and guess what? No lodge! Only cottages that are seasonal. But the drive alone was worth it, seeing mile upon mile of _nothing_. Farmlands dotted the hillsides, but it was mostly dominated by the endless forests that stretch for miles in each direction with no interruption. A few strip mines, clearly marked with hundreds of paper "No Trespassing" signs, are visible. Since it was getting dark, we decided to hoof it to Hawks Nest State Park, where we stayed the night. Note: The food is on-par with other West Virginia state parks. Not too imaginative and not too favorable. But as there isn't much to eat in the region (unless you go out of your way to Fayetteville), it had to do. The hotel was nice, but was steeped in retroness from the late 1960s. Original fixtures, thermostats, and even shower heads made this a pretty damn awesome room to stay in.

--

The next day we hiked along the 'Hawks Nest Rail Trail'. The railroad once ran from Ansted to New River along Mill Creek although it was abandoned sometime in the 1950s. One large sweeping bridge at milepost 4 was quite awesome. It afforded us views of the wide Mill Creek and an old mill that was once situated alongside it. Further down the valley was 'The Falls' which was nice to photograph, and remnants of an old water tank for the steam engines. But it got better as we headed down the hill -- we found an old mine and an even older rail bed. The mine was gated off, however, you can see in the very cold and wet entrance. The older rail bed led to a coal dump that fed into a rail bed below it, which fed into the mainline along Mill Creek. At the bottom was Hawks Nest. Not much left of the old town today outside of the abandoned rail spur, unless you count the gift shop and jet boat ride today.

--

Afterwards, we headed north to Summersville -- another infamous speed trap. We headed west along WV 129 towards the Gauley River and crossed the Summersville dam - the second highest earth dam east of the Mississippi. Further west, we cut over onto WV 39 to WV 16, WV Secondary Route 16/1 and 89, where I witnessed more devastation. Nearly empty or forgotten towns lined the route on the Kanawha county side, followed by miles of empty land. Former processing plants, power generating facilities and mines once occupied this now-barren ground. Today, the land it sits on is quite unimaginative in vegetation - nothing more than fescue grass and trees, and barren ground. The strip mines that are visible are just fields, high up on the mountains that look -- not surprisingly -- out-of-place. Scars on the highwalls, many very recent, correct some of the deficiencies that occurred after the coal companies moved out. Look up -- and you'll see flat ground on top of a mountain. The tops of these majestic mountains -- gone forever. Replaced by fields of fescue grass and pine trees -- certainly not the maples and oaks that were once there.

And has it helped the region? Not in some areas, where the per-capita income in some communities average just $12,000 a year. Welfare is at its highest in these regions, people so desperate for jobs that when Toyota announces an expansion in Buffalo (west of Charleston), 12,000 apply for a 100 jobs.

Hope you enjoyed this writeup! I will post the photographs sometime this week and will make a similar announcement.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


I envy the chances you have to explore West Virginia in depth. Those were also some interesting photos, esp. the ones concerning the train depot. What's the deal with the Kanawha Falls Dam? Never in my life have I heard of a hydroelectric plant being abandoned! :scared: I didn't realized that such large areas of West Virginia were that economically depressed and depopulated. The landscape generally sounds beautiful despite the past activities of mining companies. I look forward to hearing more about your travels in W. VA.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
We headed south on US 19 to Fayetteville (Warning: major speed trap in the long 50-MPH section) and ate at Cathedral Cafe () in the downtown. The former church had been disused for several years before being renovated into a quaint eatery and coffee shop -- and let me tell you, their food was delicious! I would recommend it in a heartbeat, along with the gumbo restaurant across the street.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Fayetteville has been named one of the best 10 small towns in America by some magazine, for its location near many outdoor attractions.

Fayetteville-Oak Hill-Summersville is unlike much of the state. They are very tourism oriented, liberal (just drive by and see all of the anti-mountain top removal stickers/petitions/etc) and ... dare I say, vibrant? You have many transplants there from many states, all influencing this region.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I added much history regarding Fayette, South Fayette, Prince and Thurmond, West Virginia. Here is some trivia to showcase how important this part of West Virginia was during its boom times --

Did you know that the Prince depot, with its sleek art-deco design, was to service the Chesapeake and Ohio's 'Chessie' passenger-system? The ultra-modern network was to leapfrog the competition, however, changing demands by the 1950s halted all work with the Chessie. The Prince depot was the only one of its kind constructed for a system that never ran one revenue mile. It was also the second-to-last depot constructed by the C&O.

Did you know that Thurmond, with a population that never exceeded 500, handled more freight than Richmond, Virginia and Cincinnati, Ohio combined?

Find out more about these unique towns at article! I added a wealth of information and photographs regarding Thurmond from my sister article at American Byways. Enjoy!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.