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Setting the Stage

In the mid-19th century the New River Gorge area in West Virginia was a sparsely populated and largely inaccessible mountainous country. In 1873 the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Company laid track through the gorge to help connect the Atlantic Coast with the Midwest. Steam engines and the men who operated them played an important role in shaping the region and the nation by moving people, freight, and ideas when few other ways to do this were available. Coal mining companies, towns, and camps appeared almost overnight in order to mine the coal deposits known to exist in the gorge. One of these towns, the railroading town of Thurmond, reached its peak as the major revenue producer for the C&O Railroad during the early 1900s--a time when coal was king.

The town of Thurmond lies on a narrow, curved strip of land, with a steep mountain rising behind it and the New River in front of it. Across the river, the banks of two creeks provided natural routes which were used for spur rail lines to bring coal to Thurmond. In 1910 four million tons of coal were shipped from Thurmond, a town of 500 people and the busiest place in the New River Gorge area. Railroad employees managed the traffic, serviced equipment, and provided transportation for passengers, freight, parcels, and mail.

 

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