The New River Gorge was opened up for mining when the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad was completed in 1873. The golden age of coal mining along the river was from the 1880s until the 1920s. After World War II, most of the operations closed. There was a facility at Claremont until relatively recently, and the New River Company's plant at Meadow Creek operated until around 1990. If you decide to hike through the gorge, be sure to remember that the railroad is still very busy, even 130+ years after it's completion. Don't let the Amtrak Cardinal sneak up on you!

Just beyond the edge of the coalfields the town of Hinton once contained the huge Chesapeake and Ohio rail yard and terminal that employed approximately 1000 workers. Most of the rail yard is gone now. But, even though those glory days are over, Hinton, WV still exists on the banks of the New River. (2008 image by author)

Most of the Hinton rail yard is gone now, but this coaling tower that fueled steam locomotives is still there. (October 2015 Library of Congress image by Carol Highsmith)

Just before the coal era dawned in the New River Gorge the Irish immigrants that were constructing the Chesapeake and Ohio railroad along the river settled in Richmond District, Raleigh County, just at the extent of mineable coal. They built St. Colman Church there in 1876-78. In later years they were buried in the cemetery behind the church. As this picture attests, the church is still standing on top of Irish Mountain above the New River Gorge, and one mass a year was held there in the autumn between 2001 and 2004 by parishoners of St. Francis de Sales Church in Beckley, replete with bagpipes and songs attributed to St. Patrick. Although these events were popular, and many people drove out from Beckley to attend these Irish heritage masses, the priest from St. Patrick Parish in Hinton said that St. Coleman was his mission church, not the Beckley priest's, and so these once popular church services faded away. (October 2004 image by author)

Ruins of the iron furnace at Quinnimont, built in 1870. The first coal shipped from the New River Coalfield was mined at Quinnimont in 1873. (February 2002 image by author)

Saturday afternoon at the CSX Quinnimont rail yard, which is still manned and active. All of the runs up Piney Creek (and formerly the now defunct Georgia-Pacific run up Loup Creek) are based out of this yard. (February 2002 image by author)

The old jaihouse at Quinnimont hasn't held a prisoner in many years. (February 2002 image by author)

This monument in Qunnimont was erected in honor of pioneer coal operator Joseph Beury, who died in 1903. The plaque on the monument, which was erected in the 1920's, reads, "The first New River smokless coal was mined and shipped from Fire Creek Seam at Quinnimont by Joseph Lawton Beury in 1873. This memorial erected by his Coal Associates in New River District." The NPS has recently cleaned up the area around the monument, and it is no longer hidden and overgrown. (December 2012 image by author)

A scene that has, sadly, become somewhat rare: CSX Diesel-Electrics coming off the Piney Creek branch of the railroad in February 2003. This rail "subdivision" has been a tremendous source of "smokeless" coal since the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway constructed it in 1901, but the coal reserves in the area served by this branch are becoming exhuasted. The engines are crossing the New River where they will enter the former C&O mainline. (February 2002 image by author)

Prince, originally the site of the Prince Brother's ferry, was not a mining town, but serviced the surrounding mining towns. Today the mid-century modern depot at Prince services Beckley and Oak Hill. It was constructed in 1946, and was the last passenger station built by the C&O.(April 2006 image by author)

A view of the depot in Prince from the road shows the C&O logo on the building. (October 1998 image by author)

The former Prince Brothers general store in Prince, W.Va. (Aug. 2018 image by author)

The Amtrak streamliner emerges from Strecher's Neck Tunnel. (April 2001 image by author)

Ruins of the Royal Coal & Coke Company's coal mine at Royal, WV. This was Raleigh County's first commercial shipping coal mine when it opened in 1891, and it was across the New River from Prince. Since the railroad was on the Fayette County side of the river, an aerial tramway was strung across the water to a rail loadout on the opposite shore from the mine. In 1902 the Royal mine was in the Fire Creek seam and being ventilated with a furnace, and the superintendent was James Kay, for whom Kaymoor was named. Eventually a small coal company town grew at Royal, and a post office opened in 1910. The Royal mine operated until 1928, and was later reopened from 1936 until 1940. Now, though, Royal has no remaining residents and the town and mine have returned to nature. (Feb. 2003 image by author)

Treacherous McKendree Road carved out high on the mountainside in the New River Gorge. See more on McKendree Road here. (November 2007 image by author)

McKendree Hospital, of which barely a trace now remains. (Image courtesy of Walter Caldwell)

Walter sent in this picture he took of what he claims are remains of McKendree. (2014 image courtesy of Walter Langston)

Another picture of McKendree ruins. (2014 image courtesy of Walter Langston)

A simple tipple that served the mines of the Alaska Coal & Coke Co. at Alaska, WV, although the C&O listed their location as being at nearby Claremont, probably because Claremont had a post office. Still the railroad said that the "company owns a store and a large number of houses for the accomodation of their employees." None of these houses (or the store) are in existence anymore. (Image from 1906 C&O Shipper's Directory via Google Books)

Coal miners at Alaska posing on their mine locomotive with a carload of large lump coal. (Image courtesy of Walter Caldwell)

Vintage view of the simple wooden tipple and coke ovens of the Beechwood Coal & Coke Company's mine at Claremont, WV. The excellent low volatile, low sulphur, high carbon coal mined here was marketed under the brand "New River Red Ash Coal" (not to be confused with the Red Ash mine down the river). (Image from 1906 C&O Shipper's Directory via Google Books)

This old photo shows what was probably the Beechwood Coal & Coke Company store and offices at Claremont. This attractive structure is no longer in existence. (Image from 1906 C&O Shipper's Directory via Google Books)

Sign showing the ubiquitous bullet marks that are inflicted on many of the signs in West Virginia. Why does anyone think this is fun? Is their life that lame? (April 2001 image by author)

Ruins of the coal processing facility at Claremont. The mine and coal camp at Claremont were built by the Beechwood Coal and Coke Co. in 1889. Like most New River mines, they were in the Fire Creek seam. The original mine closed in 1942, and the town was abandoned, but later United Pocahontas Coal Co. opened a new preparation plant and mine at Claremont. Mining ceased in the mid-1980s. (April 2001 image by author)

Probable remains of the Dunglen Fuel Company's Dun Glen Mine, on a ridge overlooking the New River named Sewell Knob. The structure may have been a dynamite house. (Circa 2007 NPS image)

The Thurmond depot was built in 1903 and restored in the 1990s. Amtrak will stop here upon request. (April 2006 image by author)

Thurmond, WV. So much has been written about Thurmond that I don't need to go into detail here. I'll just say that Thurmond was truly the heart and soul of the New River Coal Fields. The marshalling yards, locomotive garage, and many businesses were located here, as well as on the "south side." Thurmond is now a ghost town, but the park service has done a good job preserving what's left of it. (December 2005 image by author)

The coaling tower for steam engines at Thurmond. Steve writes, "My father was born and raised in Thurmond, my uncle was one of the last residents down there. I took my wife just three weeks ago for her first visit. Quite a culture shock for her! Iím 36, Iíve laid awake and listened many nights while they were assembling trains in the yard right below my uncleís house. My grandfather, his younger brother, their uncle and about 15 other men ... came to Thurmond in May of 1912. My family members worked as freight car repairmen on what is known to all of us as "shop track." ... In 1937, my grandfather was promoted to shop track foreman. Thatís when my family moved into the big white house right beside the church (up on the hill, pretty much right above the depot). Anyway, my oldest uncle, Bill, worked in the mines, first at Oakwood and then at Lochgelly until that mine closed. He was a fabricator and welder, he mostly worked above ground. The next two brothers in line, Harry and Edward, both worked for the C&O. Edward was still working at Thurmond when I was a kid. We used to go down to the roundhouse (even though it wasnít round, thatís what everyone called the locomotive repair shop) and talk to him. I wish I would have known and would have taken a camera, we would be in Edís office while they were working on locomotives right outside! Anyway, my father ... got a job as a fireman on the C&O. He never got the chance to fire a steam engine (as you may know, the last steam revenue run on C&O was out of Peach Creek in September of í56). According to my father, he got laid off when the C&O realized that with diesels, they didnít need pushers on Allegheny Mountain ... My uncle Bill (we always called him Billy) lived alone in that house in Thurmond until 1997, I think. He died in February 2001, half of the remaining population of Thurmond attended his funeral (2). Our family sold the house to the National Park Service." (October 2000 image by author)

CSX speed of light through Thurmond (April 2006 image by author)

For more pictures and detail of Thurmond click here

Many coal trains have came across this bridge at Thurmond, where the Loup Creek branch of the C&O joined the main line. The coal came from such large coal camps as Scarbro, Lochgelly, and Kilsyth. But now all of the coal reserves along Loup Creek have been depleted, and for a long time the only rail traffic that comes across this bridge was from Austin Powders and from Georgia Pacific, whose freight you see pictured here. Then the railroad from Mt. Hope through the mountain to Pax was rebuilt to serve a new coal loadout for coal from the mine at Kingston, WV. So, for the first time in many years, coal cars travelled across this bridge again. Yet the Georgia Pacific plant shut down around 2008 or 2009. So now we might not see log trains as shown here coming across the bridge anymore. (Image courtesy of Mick Vest)

There is almost nothing left of Dimmock, WV except for the right-of-way from the rail siding, a few crude foundations from the coal tipple, and this rusting carcass of an old Buick. Melody Bragg, in her "Window To The Past" explains: "The town is best remembered as the home of William Ashely who had been described as an automotive genius. He is said to have constructed an automobile engine from a steam engine. Legend has it that he had a new Buick lowered down the back side of Beury Mountain, to drive around his yard every Sunday. Estimates of the mileage he achieved was between forty and 100 miles." In 1906 the operator of the Dimmock mine was the Ridgeview Coal Co. (December 2005 image by author)

Railroad ties remaining from the C&O's South Side Branch. (November 2004 image by author)

Mick Vest took this picture of what he calls "bread loaf" coke ovens at Red Ash, WV, a mining camp opened in 1891 by the Red Ash Coal Co. This type of coke oven, called "rectangular" coke ovens in Pennsylvania, was a more advanced type of coke oven than the beehive coke oven, because the coke could be pushed out one side by a mechanical ram bar from the other side of the long oven. 46 men died in an explosion at the Red Ash mine in 1900. (November 1989 image courtesy of Mick Vest)

A portion of Red Ash, WV was slightly separted from the rest of the community by a stream, and thus called Red Ash Island. A cemetery was established here. Among the deceased laid to rest here were Smallpox victims, young children, and miners that died in the disasters at Red Ash, Rush Run, and Echo mines. Shown here are a few tombstones of the typical type, but most of the grave markers are just plain stones. (Sept. 2013 image by author)

Coke ovens at Fire Creek. This mine and coal camp was opened by coal baron Joesph Beury in 1876. It operated for 70 years. (July 2000 image by author)

Ruins of the company store in Beury, WV. Joseph Beury, former fighter of the Molly McGuires in Pennsylvania, was the namesake and founder of this mining town opened in 1881. There was even a bottling plant in Beury. In 1909 there was an explosion in the mine which killed 6 miners. (July 2000 image by author)

Railroad bunkhouses and grease tanks near South Caperton. (December 2000 image by author)

Company store and coal camp of the Brown Coal Company at Brown, WV, which is now another New River Gorge ghost town. In 1906 the capacity of this mine was capable of mining, processing, and shipping 600 tons of clean coal per day. Brown Coal Co. was organized in 1894 by coal baron John Boone, who had learned the ins and outs of the coal industry while working for Joseph Beury up the river at Caperton. Also visible in this picture is the swinging bridge over the New River that connected Brown with Nuttallburg. The bridge is no longer there, but the cut stone abutments are. (Image from The Black Diamond via Google Books)

These coal miners from the Brown coal mine took a minute out of their busy day to pose with their dinner buckets for this photograph over 100 years ago. (Image from 1906 C&O Shipper's Directory via Google Books)

Detail of a 7 ton monitor car at the top of the Brown mine incline. Before belt conveyors, or even before rope and button "retarding" conveyors, many West Virginia coal mines lowered their coal (and sometimes people) from drift mouth entries high on the hillsides down to tipples in the valleys on monitor car inclines. A loaded steel monitor car would ride on rails down to the tipple or shipping point, while a wire rope pulled an empty monitor back up the parallel incline track. (Image from The Black Diamond via Google Books)

Foundations of the Newland Coal Company store. (April 2017 image by author)

Powder house, cap house, and mine portal from the Michigan Mine of the Michigan Coal Company, and later the New River Export Smokeless Coal Company. (Circa 2007 NPS image)

Ancient view of the no longer existing tipple of the Elmo Mining Co. at Elmo. Elmo coal camp was described by The Black Diamond in 1918: "The company's town nestles against the side of the hill just above the river bed, and in its location and environments is on a par with those in a district where unusually fortunate living conditions are available for the men and their families." There were several small mines in a row along this stretch of the New River Gorge. Some of the other mines included Ajax, Carver, Michigan, and Sunnyside. The Sewell seam is very low here - approximately 30"-36" thick - and mining was difficult. However, the coal was still very high in quality (it shipped R.O.M.), and a market could be found for it if it could be mined economically. These may have been "snow bird" coal mines that opened in Autumn just before cold weather arrived, and closed back up in the Spring when peak demand for coal passed. At that time there was a big market for "smokeless" coal for residential and commercial heating during the winter in northeastern and midwestern cities. (Image from The Black Diamond via Google Books)

Abandoned coal mine portal from the Ames coal mine. (Image courtesy G.H. McColloch)

Rare photo of the Marr Branch Coal Company's mine at Whitney. There was also a small cluster of company housing associated with this coal mine. (Image from C&O 1906 Shipper's Directory via Google Books)

Ed G. writes, "I was born in the town of Hinton, on the C&0 Railroad and many times walked through the mile long Big Bend Tunnel. I had an uncle who who worked on the C&O and was a signal man in a railway tower in Thurmond and other locations. I appreciated your discussion on the towns of Thurmond and Mullens, in particular. I left West Virginia in 1965 after college graduation and went on to get several masters degrees and a Ph.D. For the last 20 years I've been library director at the University... Each summer, however, I visit various small towns in Southern West Virginia and your website and research has given me additional places to visit, especially coal camps and areas of the railroad I've yet to visit."



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