The (near) Ghost Town of Thurmond, West Virginia

Squeezed in between Beury Mountain and the New River with a population of just five, Thurmond, West Virginia served as an important stop for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad (C&O) before the advent of the diesel locomotive era.

Thurmond was not formally incorporated until 1900, named for Confederate Captain William Thurmond, who had surveyed land in the county and was offered 73 acres of land along the river as a good will gesture for just $20. The railroad was completed through the valley shortly after but there was little growth; only one house was constructed. It was not until Thomas G. McKell of Glen Jean, who had negotiated with the railroad for a branch up Dunloup Creek in 1892, that Thurmond became a boom town. The Loup Creek line was one of the railroad’s busiest branches in the New River region, as it served multiple coal mines in the rich Sewell coal seam.


Thurmond quickly became the center of commerce. A passenger depot, freight station, engine house, water tank, coal and sand towers were constructed, along with a hotel, New River Banking and Trust Company, Armour Meat Company meat-packing plant, stores, boarding houses and restaurants. Houses began to line the hillside along the river.

The growth was so great that during the first two decades of the 1900’s, Thurmond handled more freight than Richmond, Virginia and Cincinnati, Ohio combined, and the railroad depot hosted over 95,000 passengers the depot yearly. With 18 train crews operating out of the town, a little more than 150 people worked for the railroad, as laborers, brakemen and dispatchers.

Thurmond was a dry community, which led McKell to build a small community across the New River and open the 100-room Dun Glen Hotel in 1901. The Dun Glen became infamous for hosting the world’s longest-lasting poker game at 14 years long.

By 1910, Thurmond was producing $4.8 million of freight revenue for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. The amount collected was 20% of the entire railroad’s revenue, and was ten times more than Richmond and over two times more than Cincinnati.


Prohibition was passed in 1914, curtailing much of the ‘boom town’ rhetoric and effectively ending the “red light” district that was McKell’s identity. In 1922, a large fire destroyed parts of Thurmond and the Dun Glen Hotel burned in 1930. The Thurmond National Bank closed in 1931 and the New River Bank, owned by the McKell family, moved to Oak Hill in 1935. The Armor Meat Company and a telephone district office closed their doors in 1932 and 1938, respectively.

The hustle and bustle of the town waned by the 1930’s as the Great Depression overtook the country. Thurmond saw a small revival during World War II when coal was in high demand that helped fuel the war effort, but the introduction of the diesel locomotive by the mid-20th century meant that coal needed to fuel the massive steam engines. Additionally, the water tanks and associated shops that serviced the steam engines were no longer needed as well.

In 1978, the National Park Service established the New River Gorge National River for the purpose of conserving and interpreting the outstanding natural, scenic and historic values of the New River Gorge and to preserve the New River as a free-flowing stream. The Thurmond Historic District was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984..

In 1985, the Chessie System, the successor to the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad, agreed to sell the railroad passenger depot to the National Park Service, which was finalized in July 1991. Restoration of the depot began in February 1994 and concluded a year later at a cost of $2.5 million. In 1992, the National Park Service developed a $35 million plan to develop Thurmond into a tourist site, but funding was only secured for restoration of the depot and stabilization of the commercial buildings.

The engine house was destroyed by a suspicious fire in August 1993. In mid-1999, the water tower, once used as background in the “Matewan” movie, was razed over concern of its potential collapse. CSX Transportion, the successor to the Chessie System, refused to sell most of its property and remaining buildings, citing safety concerns.

Today, Thurmond stands at just 5 people strong – which is why it is a nearly vacant ghost town. As the remaining residents either move on or pass away, the house and the land it sits on becomes the property of the National Park Service. Contributing structures to the historic district are restored while other intrusive buildings are removed..


Thurmond Guide

Armour Meatpacking Plant

The Armour Meatpacking plant was in operation from 1905 to 1932 11/1937.8 The structure housed the meat processing and refrigeration area on the first level and apartments for employees on the second level.11 The building burned in 1963.9

C&O Coaling Tower and Sand House

The C&O’s coaling tower and sand house was designed by Fairbanks, Morse and Company of Chicago and was constructed in 1922 of reinforced concrete.11 A New York construction firm employed 25 to build the structure at a cost of $85,000. The C&O retained use of its steam locomotives more than any other major railroad operator, and the coaling tower and sand house was only abandoned in 1960.

Thurmond, West Virginia

C&O Engine House

The C&O engine house and shop was constructed in 1905 and at its peak, the facility employed 175 mechanists, pipe fitters, boilermakers, electricians and blacksmiths to service and maintain two engines at once.11 A crew office at the eastern end was where train crews were selected to deliver empty coal cars or pick up new, loaded ones. The engine house was enlarged to 245-feet 14 in 1921 to service up to four engines at one time and was in operation until the mid-1980s. The building burned on August 21, 1993.

Dun Glen Hotel

The Dun Glen Hotel was constructed in 1900 on the south side of the New River, and was a large 4.5-story wood-framed building with a wrap-around first floor veranda. It housed not only 100 rooms, but an ice plant, barber shop, laundry, post office and bar.11 The hotel burned in 1930 under suspicious circumstances.

LaFayette Hotel

A frame structure hotel with 25 rooms was completed in 1891,17 and was replaced with the 3-story, 35-room Lafayette Hotel in 1901.8 11 The hotel was originally named the Thurmond, and then the La Fayette. The structure burned in 1963.9

Goodman-Kincaid Building

The Goodman-Kincaid Building is a three-story structure, constructed in 1905 8/1906 11 with two stores and two floors of apartments.8 The Standard Dry Goods Company purchased the lot and constructed the stone-facaded building in 1907.9 It was built as two separate sections which shared a common front. Standard operated out of the building until 1918.

The second floor hosted Dr. C.F. Ridge’s office and the telephone exchange.8 9 Residents lived in the building until 1959, when the roof started to collapse.9

In a 2002 assessment of the building’s integrity, the roof and flooring systems were noted as having failed with interior elements exposed.11 The Goodman-Kincaid Building has since been stabilized.

Thurmond West Virginia

Mankin-Cox Building

The Mankin-Cox Building is a three-story structure, constructed by Dr. J.W. Mankin in 1904 with two stores and two floors of apartments.8 11 Mankin, who paid $4,000 for the 150-by-40-foot lot,9 had offices on the second floor for the Mankin Drug Company, while his wife, a pharmacist, operated a drug store in the right-most storefront. The New River Banking and Trust Company moved from the Dun Glen Hotel in 1911 and occupied the other half of the first floor. The second floor also hosted Dr. Young, Thurmond’s dentist.

The New River Banking and Trust Company relocated to the National Bank of Thurmond Building until it relocated out of the valley entirely when it moved to Oak Hill on September 21, 1935.17

The Cox Building Company took over the building in the 1920s.8 The structure was recently stabilized.11

Thurmond West Virginia

National Bank of Thurmond Building

The National Bank of Thurmond Building is a four-story structure, and was host to the National Bank of Thurmond and storefronts on the first level and apartments above.8 It was constructed in 1917 by the Bullock Realty Company and housed a jewelry company until 1922.9 The National Bank of Thurmond acquired the building for $24,000 and immediately began renovations. The first level was originally cast-iron storefronts, but the bank remodeled their half into a limestone classical revival facade.

The National Bank of Thurmond closed in 1931.8 A clothing store later operated out of the bank space, and residents lived in the building until 1959.9 In 1975, the building owners connected it to an adjoining building and formed The Bankers Club, a hotel and restaurant that closed in 1988.

The structure was recently stabilized.11

Thurmond West Virginia

Post Office/Commissary

D.D. Fitzgerald constructed the Commissary in 1929 under and agreement with the C&O.11 Fitzgerald owned the building and leased the property from the railroad. After the Lafayette Hotel was destroyed by fire in 1963, taking with it the post office, the commissary was converted into the town’s post office. It was closed in 1995.10

Thurmond, West Virginia

Thurmond Station

The Thurmond C&O Station was constructed in 1888, and is a two-story wood-framed structure.8 The land for which it was built upon was donated by Captain Thurmond in 1887.11 The original depot burned in 1903 and was replaced a year later, and enlarged by 15 feet on its eastern front in 1914. Inside, the two-story building housed not only a passenger depot, but clerk’s offices, a trainmaster’s office, yardmater’s office, car distributor’s office and telegrapher’s cabin.

The Thurmond depot  was rehabilitated in 1995 11 and is still in use today as an Amtrak station and visitors center for the New River Gorge National River.

Thurmond West Virginia

Residential Buildings

James Humphrey Jr. House

The James Humphrey Jr. House was constructed around 1920 and it is believed that this was the train master’s house.11

Thurmond, West Virginia

James Humphrey Sr. House

The James Humphrey Sr. house was constructed prior to 1920.11

Thurmond, West Virginia

John Bullock/Roger Armandtrout House

Also known as Fatty Lipcomb’s, this structure was constructed around 1900 and was used historically as a boarding house.11 It was owned by the Littlepage family who lived on the first level and rented the second, and then as a hostelry for whitewater rafters. It was filmed in the 1986 movie “Matewan.”

Thurmond, West Virginia

John Dragan Houses

The John Dragan House is in the background and the John Dragan Staff House is in the foreground. Both were constructed around 1900 and are typical for railroad workers.11

Thurmond, West Virginia

Margaret Dalton House

The Margaret Dalton House is one of three similar structures, including the Vivian Kelley and Drema Robertson houses, and was constructed in 1920 as worker housing.11

Marilyn Brown House

The Marilyn Brown House was constructed around 1900.

Thurmond, West Virginia

Philip McClung Residences

The Philip McClung Home Place and adjacent Philip McClung Rental House were constructed post-1920.

Thurmond, West Virginia

Sid Childers/Margie Richmond House

The building was constructed in 1900 as the power house for Thurmond, and was originally a three-story stone structure.11 The building burned in the 1930s and the two upper floors were removed and replaced with a new brick second floor around 1940. Sid Childers later lived in the eastern half of the building, while Margie Richmond resided in the western half. The two owners occupied the second floor.

For more on Thurmond’s history and an expanded photograph gallery, click through to Abandoned’s most recent update »

38 Comments

  1. hey i was wondering after reading the story about this particular town since i’m from boone county w.va myself (go mountaineers)
    if any of these places in this town are haunted..or if the whole town is haunted?

    • Haunted? No. Nothing anywhere is haunted. I’ve been in dozens of towns like this, and hundreds of abandoned buildings, houses, graveyards, etc. Not the slightest hint of anything odd. The feeling in Thurmond is actually quite upbeat, it’s really gorgeous in the daytime. At night, I’m sure it’s a little creepier though.

  2. curious why the Thurmond Union Church and the Bill McGuffin house was not included in this outstanding artitcle..

  3. Nice shots. I assume not of the buildings were accessible for interior shots?

  4. I worked for Chessie System as a Carman at Thurmond in the early 1980’s. Tom Kelley? was a co worker and also the Mayor of Thurmond. Pete Johnson and Larry Ewing also worked with me at the “roundhouse” that was later destroyed by fire. It was a wonderful historical place to work and I cherish those days.

    • I too worked in and around up and down the river for the C & O railroad on a rail gang replacing the old rail with ribbon rail from Chicago to Washington. Thurmond is my most memorable location working on the railroad. I looked up on the web for river rafting and found the Riverman company and that the owner of the rafting company is a high school mate of mine we played football together in the 1978 at Forest Park High in Cincinnati Ohio. Brian Cambell and his dad started the Riverman Rafting company across the river from Thurmond where I was camped on the rails at the time that I was working there. At the time in 1981 I had no clue Brian and his dad across the river from us tell I read the history of the company last year 2014. The New River is the gem of West Virginia.

  5. When I was a kid we visited thurmond every year. Grandfather worked for c&o for years. We drove up Beury Mountain on that scary road to his house. Have you ever went up the mountain? He had a small farm at the top, was a fun place to visit each year. Also had family living in thurmond.

  6. Lovely photos and article. I don’t know the ins and outs of all the federally owned land, but if I can secure a small plot, it is actually a dream of mine to settle in Thurmond. I am from Ohio and currently live in Colorado but I am holding tight to this dream.

  7. For many years, back in the 1970’s I went white water rafting on the New River, and ALWAYS went into the town of Thurmond. Also enjoyed Matwan, the Sayles movie because of the pictures of the places I walked through. There was an aged, shy, and partially disabled black woman, living in the top floor, unburned portion of a burned out house. The railroad would “lose” coal right in front of her house so she could have heat, and somehow, she had food delivered by the residents of the town. At that time there were 80 people living in town. Although she was shy, she could be coaxed to smile, and at least say hello to the very curious, and to people who were tourists but who were genuinely interested in her well being. I remember leaving her $10, which was almost insignificant to me, but which might have helped her later in life. The legend was that she had been a housekeeper for a wealthy coal barron, and he had willed the house to her. Also, if I remember correctly, he had an automobile brought in by railroad, placed on his property, and it never left his property, because there were no roads to or from his property. He drove it in a circle for many years, and I believe it was still there, rusting, back in 1973 through 1976. I am happy that the town is preserved, because too often, places like that rust away, and disappear…and lives that once were, become insignificant. Anyone know any more lore about her, or this town?

    • The woman you refer to would be Melciny Fields, who lived in the ruins of Beury, several miles downstream from Thurmond. She passed away around 1984, having gradually shifts to more and more primitive accommodations as the old structures continue used to decay. Joseph Beury founded the town, and while I hadn’t heard about his car to drive around in I did hear that he diverted a small creek on open troughs through his mansion for air conditioning and that he used to commission an orchestra to be brought to town on a flatbed rail car on Sunday afternoons to entertain the town. Always hard to know how much fact forms the foundation for the lore, but there are plenty of great stories from the boom days of the New River Gorge.

    • I might have been on the raft launching behind you in those days. Remember Rudy’s Bar?

    • Seems we were thinking the same thing… :) Any word on any property in the ghost town being for sale??

  8. Great Story. I look forward to an update if/when you return. I’ll have to see if we can find Thurmond during our travels. I was just looking at an abandoned train station in another town that I hope to make a deal for. Searching for others is how I came across this site.

  9. Hi,

    Is everything here abandoned? Is this town for sale? Or are there any similar historic abandoned/empty towns that are are for sale?

    I am soon to start a very lucrative business and would be interested to know of any of these properties for sale. Thanks.

  10. My heart belongs to Thurmond and always will, a place I’ve referred to as home. I spent my summers as a child and young adult there with my grandmother and grandfather. The memories came flooding back, as they often do, when I came across this site. I have quite a few pictures of the town before the last fire that destroyed Fitzgerald’s, apartments and my grandmother’s residence, which was right across from the coal tipple. I wish I could go back and experience the sound of the river and the swaying of the building when the trains would roll by while I laid in bed for the night. I guess that’s why I don’t seem to get upset when I get stuck at a train crossing, I just roll down my windows and listen to them roll by, such a soothing sound. If anyone sees or reads this I truly hope you have a wonderful day.

    • Thank you for writing I seen a story on Thurmond on aerial America on the Smithsonian channel, so I decided to look it you and read your story. What wonderful memories to have, I am now hoping to go there and see it.

  11. does anyone remember or have photos of the old river rat in bar that used to be at the fork in Thurmond West Virginia if so please contact me my email address is paulremy1972@gmail.com that was my grandfathers place

  12. I lived there when I was born in 1941, The town has changed alot since then. I first lived in a house up near the commissary near the depot. Which has burned down. Then we moved to a house next to the Liptraps, below the road that came down to the town from the road that came around the town. It too has burned down. My parents were Wedsel Young and June Hill Young. I had an older brother Wedsel Young, a sister Sara Francis, and a younger brother Dwayne. They have all passed away. We went to the two room school house, on the hill {burned down} , I believe the teachers were Mrs. White 1 to 3 and Mrs.Lowery {?} 4 to 6. They had a 4H club and a Northern Star.club [very secretive, I was too young] We had a row for each grade. We also would have blackouts during the war when we would pull down dark shades to the windows and get under our desk. I remember My Mom using the red tokens issued during the war. I also remember the soldiers coming home after the war was over hanging out of the train windows. Just anxiou to touch hands of anyone and to realize they were home safe, alot of them would hand us chocolate Hershey bars to see us smile and to be Happy. Those were good times. Also that was about the time margerine came out in a squeeze package with a dye dot that you would break to put red dye into the white margerine and squeeze and squeeze until it was all orange. We children enjoyed. doing that. My Dad worked for the C & C at the depot on the second floor and he had an office that we would visit. He also had a train pass that allowed free travel, That we would use sometimes on a pullman when we went to Montgomery Alabama or up near Philadelphia to visit my Aunt. My parents divorced in the early 50’s and we move to Philadelphia. I have very fond memories of Thurmond and the people that live there. My Uncle Paul is reported to have burned down the hotel across the river having been paid to do by the owner of the Thurmond Hotel. He served time in the penitenary for the crime. I can remember the river getting to almost flood levels, the current going so fast. good fishing, all from the river. The snow would get very deep at times and that made for good sledding down the road behine my house. I also remember a boy going off that same road on a bicycle into the train tracks He was hurt pretty bad but a train did not come along. which was very lucky.. There are alot of good memories of Thurmond. May be I stirred a few memories for you too.

    • Elanor, your stories are so vivid. I’m looking to do a video story on Thurmond soon – are you still living in the area?

    • Thank you for sharing this story, I see this story on Thurmond on aerial America on the Smithsonian channel. I hope to go visit there one day. You have some wonderful memories to have. It is so Interesting to read what things were like there. Simple wonderful life.

  13. Grew up in Oak Hill and loved going fishing with my dad along the New River around Thurmond. So many memories…….

  14. My mothers aunt and uncle owned McClures Restaurant in Thurmond.

  15. i would like to know why the house before getting to Dragans, which Melissa Dragan owns now, but was my husbands grandfathers Jack Kelly which was an engineer for C&O house is never mentioned, the Kelly Family has worked for c & o and lived in Thurmond for generations, with never any mention, or photos exhibited in the Depot.

  16. The Dragan houses that are shown in this review is where the headquarters for the first whitewater rafting business on the New River which was established by the Dragan Family around 1968-69. Mel Dragan John Dragans’ widow still lives in the one house, and is the current mayor for the town of Thurmond. I usually visit with Tom Dragan and his family every Bridge Day where Tom is in Charge of the river rescue for the many base jumpers that participate in the festivities that day.

  17. What a wonderful article about Thurmond and the pictures are great. I visited last year and got to see the bricks I had bought for members of the Thurmond family, long gone, that make up a sidewalk. My father Fred William Thurmond told me a lot of stories about Thurmond and his Grandfather, Capt William Dabney Thurmond Confederate Army Retired. I have visited Thurmond several times and enjoy the train station and being able to walk around look in side the old buildings. One day I plan to catch a train here in Newport News, Va. and get off in Thurmond just to be able to say I have done it.

  18. Just a cute story from the 1940s. My dad was a stenographer, working in Hinton and on occasions had to go to Thurmond. I was a little preschool girl and when Dad said he had to go down the road today, I could see him walking down the side of the road. LOL I latter learned he was going to Thurmond and obvious road the train. In those days the train ran often so he was home for dinner. I think there maybe is one train a-day.

  19. Thurmond fascinated me when I I first visited during the acquisition of the property now known as The (BSA) Becthel Summit and Reserve. I grew up in Pererstown in Monroe County.

  20. Is this town accessible by motorcycle? Is the main road there paved or gravel? IO would have to drive 3 hours and not be able to get into the town. Thanks in advance.

  21. I loved the informative article and the photos. Back in 1988 my husband, 10 year old son and I had a great adventure on the New River train ride-from Huntington to Hinton and back on Bridge Day in October. None of us had ridden on a train before and it was exciting and fascinating. We got off at Thurmond and the train did a drive by so people could take videos or photos of the train driving thru Thurmond. It was explained to us that Thurmond had been the backdrop for the film “Matewan”. Two weeks ago we visited the restored coal owner/millionaires town of Bramwell, WV. It too is a very historic and interesting must see on your adventures in coal towns.

  22. I am enjoying this piece on Thurmond. My grandfather lived on top of Beury Mountain and other relatives in the town which we visited several times during my young years. I wonder, though, why is it not mentioned that Thurmond was listed with a few other U.S. towns as not having had a main street because the railroad tracks ran down what would have been main street for the town. I remember we went up the mountain on that little road, and I remember a family story about my Uncle driving down the mountain and going off the mountain road with my Grandfather as a passenger when they were caught by the trees or brush but my Uncle couldn’t get my Grandfather out of the car so he went running down the road to get help.

  23. I pray no one is offended, but I hope no one can go and build anything there. It is a historical site and my childhood home. And I remember the Dragans and their little store. They gave me and my sisters Christmas gifts every year. They also owned and Operated Wild Water rafting. Their groups used to float by my house every summer. I grew up in Thayer. Thurmond was the closest town. Now I’m homesick. Thank you for sharing this.

Submit a comment