Richmond Hamilton Farm

farmhouse behind split rail fence
The main farmhouse at Richmond Hamilton Farm

NPS photo

 

Make Do or Do Without


The upstream section of the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is a different landscape from the more iconic lower gorge. This is the transition zone of the New from a broad river bordered by wide, flat bottomlands, to a narrow mountain river roaring through its deep, boulder strewn gorge. This section offered early peoples more than a transportation corridor and exposed coal seams; these flat river bottoms provided rich farmlands.

American Indian archeological sites are common throughout this area, but it is the heritage of European and African settlers, specifically the Richmond family which lends the name to these lands. This side of the river has traditionally been known as “Richmond’s Bottom” and many direct descendants still live on these lands.

This site offers a glimpse into the traditional lifestyle of early settlers in the New River Gorge area before the coming of the railroad, a life of self-sufficiency.


 
old chestnut log barn and farm field
One of two old chestnut log barns on the Richmond Hamilton Farm site.

NPS photo, Dave Bieri

Subsistence farming, “living of the land,” was a full-time job. The basic needs of food, shelter, and water were not bought; they were produced by all members of the family and guided all aspects of daily life. Chopping wood, carrying water, tending the crops and farm animals, preserving and curing food, spinning, weaving, and sewing raw flax and wool into clothing were everyday activities. Hunting wild game and gathering seasonal wild plants for food and medicinal use was a way of life. Bartering with neighbors and a few area merchants for items you could not produce on your own was a common practice. Trading a hog, eggs, or apples for coffee, lead shot, and gunpowder; or giving a share of your corn crop to the grist mill operator in exchange for ground corn meal was also a vital part of the lifestyle.

The basic layout for a subsistence farmstead included the house, usually an original log cabin modified over the years with attached additions and a painted clap-board exterior, numerous outbuildings, barns, sheds, springhouse, and outhouse. Surrounding the farm, the forest was cleared and planted with corn fields, garden plots, and often apple orchards.

Barns and other outbuildings provided shelter to the many domestic animals vital to the subsistence lifestyle. A horse or mule was needed to pull the plow and wagons, cows and chickens supplied milk, butter, cheese, and eggs, and beehives provided honey. Hogs, which were allowed to roam semi-wild through the forests, provided a basic source for meat, and the wool from sheep was sheared, spun, and woven for clothing.
 
close up of chestnut log barn wall
Detail of chestnut log barn

NPS photo

The Richmond-Hamilton house and farmstead you see today is one of several examples in the park of the final evolution and remains of the old subsistence lifestyle. The original Revolutionary War veteran land grant in this area of the New River was granted in 1796, to William Richmond, on a tract of land near the present-day Sandstone Falls (originally called Richmond’s falls).

Through generations the original lands were broken up and divided amongst married children and their descendants. The last residents of this site were a railroad worker and his family who operated the farm part time to provide a secondary income.

The River Road section of the park still consists of many privately owned properties which have evolved from the subsistence farmlands of the original European and African settlers from the early 1800’s. The Richmond Hamilton historic site is located two miles down the ten-mile long River Road, accessible off of Route 20 at Hinton, that dead ends at the Sandstone Falls boardwalk and day use area.

River Road and Sandstone Falls covers the upper ten miles of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve and is the longest scenic riverside drive in the park. There are several public picnic, fishing, and river access areas along the way, including the Brooks Falls day use area and Big Branch trailhead. Sandstone Falls marks the dramatic transition for the New Rivers final fifty-mile rush through the New River Gorge to its confluence with the Gauley to form the Kanawha River.
 

Visiting Richmond Hamilton Farm

To get to Richmond Hamilton Farm, exit I-64 at exit 139. Take Route 20 south towards Hinton. Follow Route 20 for 10 miles south to Hinton. After reaching a traffic light, turn right on Route 20 and cross the New River. At the other side of the river turn right onto River Road. Richmond Hamilton Farm is located about two miles down River Road on your left. Watch for a break in a stone wall. There is a parking lot and vault toilet at the entrance. You can walk from there to visit two barns, an outbuilding, and the farmhouse.

 
 

Last updated: January 26, 2021

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Glen Jean, WV 25846

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