Thurmond, WV wasn’t always a ghost town. Technically, it still isn’t – five residents still live in this nearly-abandoned town that makes up less than a square mile on the New River Gorge. Once a thriving coal-mining town, a combination of new technology and misfortune led this tiny town to become the enigma it is today. What makes this ghost town so mysterious is the fact that it's remained remarkably intact throughout the years.
Incorporated in 1900, Thurmond was named after Confederate Captain William Thurmond, who bought 70 acres of land along the river for a grand sum of twenty bucks. One house and a railroad were built in the town, which the captain banned alcohol from entirely.
Thurmond’s real boom started in 1892 when the McKell family, who had no problem with citizens and visitors wetting their whistles, negotiated a crossing at Dunlop Creek. The Dun Glen Hotel just east of William Thurmond’s land became famous for hosting a 14-year-long card game and a red-light district called Ballyhack popped up near the historic hotel as it went on to become a legendary resort.
Accessible only by rail until 1921, Thurmond became a coal-mining mecca during the early 1920’s, when its railroad depot saw almost 100,000 visitors annually. In 1910 (the same year of William Thurmond’s death at age 90), the small yet bustling city was responsible for just under $5 million of freight revenue for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad, more than Cincinnati and Richmond combined.
"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 Canyon Rim Visitor Center." - National Park Service
In 1914, Ballyhack and the Dun Glen lost their charm with the start of Prohibition. A few years later, a large portion of Thurmond burned down and a few years after that, a suspicious fire destroyed the Dun Glen. As the Great Depression hit the country hard, more and more of the tiny town closed its doors for good. The invention of the diesel locomotive ensured that Thurmond’s brief revitalization during the coal rush of World War II was short-lived.
Today, the town continues to be slowly acquired by the National Park Service, but five residents remain (down from seven residents in 2005, six of which ran for office). A winding seven-mile drive down Route 25 from US-19 will bring you into the heart of Thurmond, where several buildings still stand including the abandoned C&O Coaling Tower and Sand House, the three-story Goldman-Kincaid and Mankin-Cox Buildings, the old National Bank of Thurmond and several homes including the John Bullock/Roger Armandtrout house, which was filmed for the movie Matewan. The Thurmond depot is still used by Amtrak today and also serves as a visitor center for the New River National Gorge.
Thurmond's also a popular rafting launch site and is home to several hiking trails, including the 6-mile Brooklyn-Southside junction, which will take you along the New River and through abandoned coal-mining towns like Rush Run, Red Ash and Brooklyn for an eerie trip through a West Virginia that once was.