During the first two decades of the 1900s, Thurmond was a classic boomtown. With the huge amounts of coal brought in from area mines, it had the largest revenue on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway. Having many coal barons among its patrons, Thurmond's banks were the richest in the state. Fifteen passenger trains a day came through town-its depot serving as many as 95,000 passengers a year. The town's stores and saloons did a remarkable business, and its hotels and boarding houses were constantly overflowing. With the advent of diesel locomotives, and less coal coming in from local mines, the town began a steady decline. The many businesses closed down, and most residents moved on.
Today, the town of Thurmond remains surprisingly untouched by modern development. It is a link to our past, and a town with many stories to tell. New River Gorge National River invites visitors to experience the impact of the industrial revolution, and the mission of the National Park Service to preserve our nation's heritage.
To reach Thurmond, take U.S. Route 19 to the Glen Jean exit, north of Beckley. Follow the signs to Thurmond, seven miles down WV Route 25 (Route 25 is a narrow, winding road and is not recommended for RVs and trailers).
Download the Thurmond Walking Tour brochure.
Visit the website for a lesson plan for Thurmond.
Thurmond in Prosperous Times
The year 1873 marked the completion of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway mainline. It was also the year that Captain W. D. Thurmond acquired 73 acres along the railroad, a strategic position for developing a town.
Thurmond was the heart of the New River Gorge, carrying shipments of coal from the surrounding coal fields. The town of Thurmond grew as the coal and timber industries expanded in the gorge. The rail yard was expanded to meet the railroad’s needs. By 1910, Thurmond was the chief railroad center on the C & O Railway mainline.
In 1910, the C & O operation at Thurmond was first in revenue receipts, producing more freight tonnage than Cincinnati, Ohio, and Richmond, Virginia, combined. Freight was not the only key to this town’s success. Seventy-five thousand passengers passed through Thurmond in 1910, delighting in all it had to offer.
At its peak, Thurmond had two hotels, two banks, restaurants, clothing stores, a jewelry store, movie theater, several dry-good stores, and many business offices. The town continued to thrive through the early decades of the 20th century.
Thurmond in Decline
With the onset of the Great Depression, several businesses closed, including the National Bank of Thurmond. The town’s economic vitality waned after two large fires wiped out several major businesses.
By the mid 1930s there were other indications that Thurmond’s heyday was ending. The American public had begun its love affair with the automobile, and good roads made travel by car easy. C & O Railway changed from steam to diesel locomotives in the 1940s. Thurmond had been a steam town, its rail yard and crews geared toward the short service intervals of steam locomotives. The switch to diesels left many of the rail yard structures and jobs obsolete.
Once the heart of the New River Gorge, Thurmond remains its soul. Memories continue to be made here in the 21st century. The town is still incorporated and hosts an annual reunion for former residents.
Stabilizing Thurmond’s Past for the Future
The Thurmond Depot was restored as a visitor center by the National Park Service in 1995. There are over twenty other park-owned structures in Thurmond. The National Park Service began a stabilization program in 2003, including repairs to preserve buildings until the time that they can be rehabilitated or restored. Work includes removal of overgrown vegetation, improvement of drainage around the buildings, installation of more permanent metal panel roofs and gutters, removal of hazardous porches and additions, the installation of window louvers to provide adequate interior ventilation and some exterior restoration work.
"Midnight Thunder" a Jim Jordan painting of the Thurmond Depot
It is a stormy evening in Thurmond, West Virginia, in the late 1940s. Next to the depot, a steam engine sits on the tracks; the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, where passengers await the next train departure. This scene is depicted in the painting Midnight Thunder, a look back at a moment in time to this once-bustling railroad town of southern West Virginia.
This oil painting, by highly respected railroad scene artist Jim Jordan, was commissioned in 2003 by Karl and Betty Warden. The Wardens both grew up in nearby Fayetteville, and hoped to foster appreciation of the area's rich railroading history. The Wardens generously donated Midnight Thunder to the National Park Service in 2006. It can be viewed at the .
Thurmond, West Virginia, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is in the heart of New River Gorge National River. The now operates as a summer visitor center.
Explore the historic railroad town of Thurmond with Park Ranger Leah Perkowski-Sisk.
- 2 minutes, 28 seconds
Welcome to Thurmond, where river, recreation, and railroad help tell the story of this National Park.
This building is the Thurmond Depot. It’s served as a gateway for visitors here since 1904. Today, it helps with trail maps and town information. Back in the early 1900s though, it was all about time tables and railroad tickets.
The big difference is, if you were arriving here in 1904, you would have been coming by train. Not personal vehicle like today.
To put this place in proper perspective, consider this. In 1910, there were less than 200 miles of paved road across the country but over 200,000 miles of railroad tracks. This was your interstate system.
In 1910, this depot serviced over 70,000 passengers. Combined with freight revenue, it made over 4 million dollars for the Chesapeake and Ohio railway; making this one of the most profitable depots on the entire C & O line.
You can still catch a train in Thurmond. It’s part of Amtrak’s cardinal route. Now this is a flag stop, so you have to make arrangements with Amtrak ahead of time, but you can still get on or off the train in Thurmond.
Thurmond may seem like an isolated, lonely place today, but that hasn’t always been the case. Thurmond was a vibrant New River community. These buildings today stand as testament to the vitality of the town. Doctors, dentists, restaurants, stores and banks filled these structures.
Your experience here isn’t just limited to history. There are many opportunities for recreation and nature enjoyment. There are several miles of hiking trails and mountain biking trails nearby as well as easy river access.
Whether you want to relax by the river, recreate, or relive history, come enjoy and explore Thurmond in the New River Gorge National River.
View images of the railroad town of Thurmond
A collection of historic photos of the town of Thurmond and the people who lived and worked there.