Several years ago, I made my way into the heart of West Virginia to photograph several waterfalls along the Holly River and its tributaries. But as I made my way further and deeper into the recesses of the valleys and higher atop the mountains, I came across lands that were forgotten and fallow. Residences that once tended to untold acres of crops and pastures now lay abandoned and in waste.
After many miles of one-lane back road traveling, I came across Pickens. The formation of the town began in the 1860’s, but it wasn’t until the development of the Pickens Lumber Company and the extension of the Pickens & Hacker Valley Railroad into town in 1892 that led to any sort of growth.
The Pickens & Hacker Valley Railroad had been formed in 1883 under the name of Weston & Buckhannon Railroad between Weston to Buckhannon, but was taken over by the West Virginia & Pittsburgh Railroad and converted to standard gauge in 1891-92. It was sold to the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in September 1899, classified as part of its Monongah Division and becoming the Pickens Branch.
Pickens grew to include several hotels, churches and a sizable downtown. But within a few decades, the lumber stands were exhausted and the then by the 1980s, the mines had been played out. In 1992, the railroad from Alexander south to Pickens was abandoned due to a lack of originating traffic.
The town is just a whisper of its former self. Pickens today has just 66 residents and few outward connections, it’s railroad connection long severed and it’s few hard surface roads taking an hour or more to get to any major highway.
I suppose I can digress. It’s kind of nice back here in this part of the Mountain State. It’s isolated. It has little to no crime. It’s got a small town charm and absent of some deteriorating buildings, it’s got some healthy houses and businesses. It has festivals, such as one dedicated solely to maple syrup. And that’s Pickens, the heart of West Virginia.