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Thurmond, West Virginia: A Ghost Town With A ‘Request A Stop’ Amtrak Station

Photo Credit: Joseph / Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Photo Credit: Joseph / Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Deep in the mountains of West Virginia lies the once-booming ghost town of Thurmond. Advancements in technology and the Great Depression are just two of the factors that lent themselves to its rapid decline. Today, the town is home to five residents and a railway station serviced by Amtrak only three times a week.

A coal miner’s dream town comes into existence

Thurmond’s history dates back to 1873, when Confederate Army veteran Captain W.D. Thurmond was given 73 acres along the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway mainline. The establishment of a post office in 1888 allowed for the establishment of a small settlement, and the population steadily grew with the construction of a crossing over Dunlop Creek in 1892 and addition of a railroad station.

Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Station to the left of the tracks
Thurmond railway station. (Photo Credit: Bestbudbrian / Wikimedia Commons)
CSX railroad running alongside a brick building
CSX railroad. (Photo Credit: Brian M. Powell / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

Thurmond was incorporated in 1900 and quickly became the heart of the New River Gorge, as its railway allowed for the efficient movement of coal. Along with the local timber industry, this allowed the town to continue its growth.

A thriving boomtown

During the first two decades of the 1900s, Thurmond was a boomtown. By 1910, it was the center of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, producing $4.8 million in freight revenue. This exorbitant amount meant the town’s banks were among the richest in West Virginia.

Thurmond post office with a United States Post Office sign on the front
Thurmond post office. (Photo Credit: Mjswisher79 / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

Until 1921, the only way to access Thurmond was via railroad. As such, fifteen passenger trains came through each day, and its depot served 95,000 customers per year. Coal rolled out daily, transporting the power of New River Smokeless Coal from the West Virginian mountains to other areas.

Thurmond railroad station
Photo Credit: Don Sniegowski / Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Brick buildings along railroad tracks
(Photo Credit: Joseph / Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Its rail yard was lined with a passenger depot, a turntable, an engine house, coal and sand towers, and a water tank. Its residential buildings were standardized, with three or four styles corresponding with different positions in the railroad hierarchy.

Exterior of the National Bank of Thurmond
National Bank of Thurmond. (Photo Credit: Donnie Nunley / Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

At its peak, Thurmond was home to 500 residents and had many small businesses. These included two hotels, restaurants, two banks, clothing stores, a jewelry store, several dry-goods stores, business offices, a meat-packing plant, and a movie theater.

Front view of abandoned buildings
(Photo Credit: Joseph / Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Front view of the Thurmond post office
(Photo Credit: Joseph / Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In line with the era’s prohibition attitudes, Thurmond banned alcohol consumption. One of its hotels, the Dun Glen, sat just outside the town’s limits and quickly became its red-light district. It was also the site of the world’s longest poker game, which lasted 14 years.

The Great Depression and Thurmond’s quick decline

There are many reasons for Thurmond’s decline. It was kickstarted by the Great Depression, which resulted in the closing of the National Bank of Thurmond in 1931. This was followed by the moving of the New River Bank to Oak Hill in 1935. The meat-packing plant and the telephone district office were closed in 1932 and 1938, respectively.

Coal tower in the woods
Thurmond coal tower. (Photo Credit: Joseph / Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Just a year before the closing of the National Bank, the Dun Glen burned down, marking the first of two major fires to devastate the town. The meat-packing plant went up in flames in 1963.

Thurmond town hall in front of railroad tracks
Thurmond town hall. (Photo Credit: Joseph / Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Thurmond's main street covered in snow
(Photo Credit: Aragarthiel / Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0)

Along with its failing economy, Thurmond fell victim to the advent of the diesel locomotive and the increasing popularity of automobiles. During the mid-1930s, the public began traveling more by car, largely due to the construction of better roads, and the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway switched to diesel locomotives in the 1940s. As Thurmond and its rail facilities were geared toward steam locomotives, the town’s structures and jobs became obsolete.

Thurmond's main street in front of railroad tracks
(Photo Credit: David Hafley / Wikimedia Commons)

The town’s businesses shut down and its residents moved to other communities.

A designated historic district

While Thurmond was a virtual ghost town by the 1950s, efforts have been made to draw tourists to the area. In the 1960s, the town became home to Wildwater Unlimited, a commercial rafting company operating along the New River. Construction of the New River Gorge bridge in 1977 also allowed visitors better access the once-isolated town.

Derelict building covered in snow
(Photo Credit: Aragarthiel / Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0)
Aerial view of a coal tower with a train driving by
(Photo Credit: Diane Jones / Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0)

The town has since fallen under the control of the National Park Service, which designated it a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1995, it restored the railroad station and turned it into a visitor’s center. At present, over 20 structures remain, including the National Bank, the Lafayette Hotel, and other commercial buildings.

Front view of the Thurmond rail station
(Photo Credit: Joseph / Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In 2003, the service began a stabilization program to repair and preserve the remaining buildings. This work includes the improvement of drainage around the buildings; the removal of overgrown vegetation; the installation of metal panel roofs and gutters; exterior restoration work; the removal of hazardous porches and additions; and the installation of window louvers to provide more adequate interior ventilation.

Overhead view of Thurmond through trees
(Photo Credit: Dave Bieri / Wikimedia Commons)
Red train equipment beside a hill
(Photo Credit: jpmueller99 / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 2.0)

Thurmond’s sidewalk has been restored by the Boy Scouts of America. Its members set it with commemorative brickwork, which details the town’s rise and fall. The last brick is engraved with a “thank you” to the organization for its work.

More from us: 5 North American Ghost Towns That Satisfied Our Inner Adventurer

According to the 2010 census, Thurmond is home to five residents: three council members, a mayor, and a town recorder. No businesses are open along the main street, but the rail station is still in use. Amtrak currently makes three stops a week in Thurmond on a “request a stop” basis.

Clare Fitzgerald

Clare Fitzgerald is a Writer and Editor with eight years of experience in the online content sphere. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s University College at Western University, her portfolio includes coverage of digital media, current affairs, history and true crime.

Among her accomplishments are being the Founder of the true crime blog, Stories of the Unsolved, which garners between 400,000 and 500,000 views annually, and a contributor for John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast. Prior to its hiatus, she also served as the Head of Content for UK YouTube publication, TenEighty Magazine.

In her spare time, Clare likes to play Pokemon GO and re-watch Heartland over and over (and over) again. She’ll also rave about her three Maltese dogs whenever she gets the chance.

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