Like most of West Virginia, the New River Gorge area has a rich history of coal mining. In fact, during the Industrial Period, more than 50 coal towns sprung up there, bringing thousands of people to the gorge.
Those coal towns disappeared just as quickly as they appeared, though, leaving the ruins of the towns to be reclaimed by nature.
The Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad first established a station at Prince in 1880. The town's population was 235 in 1910, versus today when it's estimated at around 100, according to the West Virginia Cyclopedia. In the 1890s, a mining company built a tipple and 78 coke ovens there. Today, it's served by an Amtrak station.
In its heyday in the 1910s and 1920s, Thurmond was a classic boomtoom. According to the National Park Service, the town's banks had many coal barons among their clients which made the banks the richest in the state. Fifteen passenger trains came through the town each day. The town's train depot served as many as 95K passengers a year. Saloons and boarding houses there constantly had business. The town gradually begin to decline when the invention of diesel locomotives meant there was less of a need for coal. Today, very few people live in Thurmond. At the 2010 census, there were only 5.
According to the National Park Service, English-born entrepreneur John Nuttall established the town of Nuttallburg in the 1870s. The town shipped coal to industrial cities hundreds of miles away. Even after Nuttall's death in 1897, the town was bustling. In the 1920s, Henry Ford leased the town's mines to provide coal for his steel mills. Now the town of Nuttallburg is owned by the National Park Service, ever since 1998 when the Nuttall family transferred ownership.
Stotesbury was a thriving town during the 1930s. It was named for Edward T. Stotesbury, president of the Beaver Coal Company. The town was home to the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd. Today, only a few houses from the once-bustling town remain.
The Kaymoor One mine was one of the most productive in the gorge, according to the National Park Service. More than 16 million tons of coal was mined there between 1900s and 1962. The miners were very diverse and included miners from other states, blacks and those from European countries, according to the National Park Service. The mine employed 800 workers during peak production.
Sewell was originally called Bowyers Ferry for Peter Bowyers, who established a ferry across the New River in 1798, according the West Virginia Cyclopedia. Sewell had the first mining operation to experiment with coke ovens (a way to produce coal) and they built 50 there in 1874. Today, you can still see the ruins of these ovens and other mining and railroad operations. Sewell can be accessed at Babcock State Park.
Quinnimont, named for the five mountains that surround it, was the home of the Quinnimont Charter Oak and Iron Company's iron furnace in 1870, according to the National Park Service. Along with Thurmond, it was a major coal shipping town. At its biggest, the town had about 500 people, along with a railroad station, general store, hotel, jail, baseball field, churches and boarding houses. If you go there today, you can still see the railroad switching and hold yards, two churches, remnants of an iron furnace and a monument in honor of Col. Joseph Beury, the first mining ship operator to ship coal from the New River fields.
How many of these coal mining ghost towns have you been to? Learn more about them