West Virginia History August 16, 2021
by Cristy The Glen Jean Bank, Built In 1909, Welcomes Visitors To West Virginia’s New River Gorge National Park
Nestled in the mountains, near the gateway to one of America’s most popular outdoor recreation destinations, lies the quiet town of Glen Jean. Just minutes away from the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, Glen Jean has a history that dates back almost 150 years to West Virginia’s coal boom era. In this tiny town, you can still see many old company houses where miners once lived, but the most prominent feature that remains from its glory days is the imposing Bank of Glen Jean.
This impressive structure, built of local sandstone, dates back over 100 years to the year 1909. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the bank was constructed by William McKell, a prominent coal baron who literally owned the town of Glen Jean and established it as the center of his financial empire.
At the time of the bank’s construction, Mr. McKell was one of the wealthiest coal barons in West Virginia, owning numerous mines and railroads, as well as the entire town of Glen Jean (named after his mother Jean McKell).
With 28 inch thick walls, steel roof, and barred windows, this massive building is a distant echo of the incredible wealth accumulated by the men who controlled the coal industry during its heyday.
The bank closed in 1939, the same year that McKell died and his empire was brought to an end. The building changed hands multiple times over the subsequent years but continued to stand strong.
In 1986 it was purchased by the Nature Conservancy and donated to the National Park Service, which uses it today as a visitor contact center, office space, and storage for its headquarters just across the street. The bank building remains as an enduring reminder of Glen Jean’s era of prosperity.
Glen Jean sits just off Route 19, only a few minutes south of Fayetteville and the iconic New River Gorge Bridge. The bank also stands along the route to Thurmond, a remarkable mostly-abandoned coal town along the New River.
The town of Thurmond is now solely made up of Thurmond Station, a historic train depot which has been restored to house a park visitor center and small museum with a number of historic artifacts and exhibits. Thurmond is also an active Amtrak station on the route from Washington, DC to Chicago.
The New River valley is full of reminders of the long ago coal boom era, but none more striking than the Bank of Glen Jean. As you explore the natural beauty of the New River Gorge, stop and admire this memorial to an era long gone. And while you’re at it, head on up past the old Whipple Store to the hot dog stand marking the spot where Hank Williams was discovered dead.
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Address: Bank of Glen Jean, 23 Co Rte 25/9, Mt Hope, WV 25880, USA