July 16, 2020
History of Thurmond, West Virginia
Explore the History of Thurmond, West Virginia
In The New River Gorge, coal was once king. Here, along the river, small coal towns dotted the rugged landscape, and trains full of immigrants and others searching for a better life made the pilgrimage to mine the world-famous New River Smokeless Coal from the mountains. Mining in the Gorge ended decades ago, and now, the majority of these once-bustling towns have been reduced to ruin. But, the legacy of the Thurmond lives on in stories, folklore, history books, through National Park Interpretive Rangers, and in the remnants of a once-bustling main street that still stands today.
The History of Thurmond, West Virginia
Thurmond was founded in 1900 and named after Captain Thurmond, who received the land as payment in the 1870s. The town quickly rose to prominence as the social hub of the mining communities in the Gorge. Here, you could bank, you could visit stores that didn’t belong to your company, enjoy a movie theater, restaurants, catch the train to another destination, and you could cross the river for more socializing (more on this later). Captain Thurmond died in 1910, but the town continued its growth. Until 1921, the town was only accessible by train and was the largest revenue-generating stop for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway. 15 trains per day rolled down the tracks into Thurmond. And, that’s just passenger trains! Coal rolled out of the Gorge daily on freight trains, bringing the power of New River Smokeless Coal from the mountains of West Virginia to the places where it was needed.
The Rise and Fall
Captain Thurmond originally banned alcohol within the borders of Thurmond. But, just outside of the incorporated portion of the town, the Dun Glen Hotel was erected, a place that became notorious for its free-flowing spirits, mischief, and gambling. This upscale getaway for the wealthy became a famous resort and has been the subject of lore for decades. Here, the longest poker game in the world took place (14 years!). When the lavish hotel burned to the ground in 1930, the town quickly declined. The Thurmond National Bank soon shuttered and The New River Bank moved its operations into nearby Oak Hill. Diesel engines became the norm, rendering Thurmond an unnecessary stop on routes and leading to a decline in coal use. By the 1950s, little remained of Thurmond that would signify anything about its former glory days.
A New Era for Thurmond
Thurmond welcomed visitors back in the 1960s when the first commercial rafting company, Wildwater Unlimited, opened its outfit on the banks of the New River in Thurmond. Wildwater paved the way for other rafting companies to emerge in the region, and the popularity of the sport continued to grow. In 1977, the New River Gorge Bridge was completed downstream from Thurmond. The following year, the New River received the high honor of being named a national river, part of the National Park Service, by President Jimmy Carter. Wildwater moved and opened a new outpost, eventually merging with ACE Adventure Resort in 2010. In 2021, the New River Gorge National River was upgraded to The New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, ushering in a new era for the region and for the town of Thurmond. Thurmond remains the heart of New River Gorge, a place filled with the history of the bygone days when boomtowns could be found across our country. Long before sprawling metropolises and suburbs were the norm.
Take a journey to the ghost town of Thurmond, where you can reminisce on the history of this once prosperous town on a walking tour. The National Park Service has meticulously restored some of the storefronts, and visitors can take a step back in time and imagine themselves at the turn of the century in the New River Gorge. The National Park Service owns about 80% of the town, so you can explore around the area while enjoying the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. You can even visit the ghost town of Thurmond by train, Amtrak still makes a stop 3 times a week in Thurmond, on the same rails that thousands of people once rode into West Virginia on. Today, only 5 people (according to the 2010 census) call the town of Thurmond home. Yet, it remains an incorporated town. The entire town is listed on the national registry of historic places, and it offers visitors a chance to see a place that has remained largely untouched by the 21st century. A rare chance to visit the past, all well visiting the newest national park in the United States, is waiting for you in Thurmond.
Experience the History of Thurmond, West Virginia Yourself!
Make sure to make the ghost town of Thurmond a stop on your trip to The New River Gorge National Park and Preserve. Here, the history of Thurmond, West Virginia comes alive in the restored historic downtown. And, visit ACE Adventure Resort, where you can get a bird’s eye view of the town of Thurmond from the private Concho Overlook located on ACE’s 1,500-acre resort. Want to raft by Thurmond? You can book a rafting trip with ACE, and, depending on the water level and your trip choice, you’ll raft right past Thurmond. Thurmond also plays host to more spooky tales, with some saying that paranormal activity is present in this ghost town. Want to find out for yourself? Check out a Ghost Tour!
History and fun come together with a visit to the Thurmond and ACE Adventure Resort.