Cass, West Virginia is a former company town constructed by the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company (WVP&P) in 1901, was named for Joseph Kerr Cass, board chairman 7 and co-founder of the WVP&P.8 The mill was owned by the West Virginia Spruce Lumber Company (WVSL) from the beginning of operations in 1902 to 1910.4 The company was a subsidiary of the WVP&P.5 From 1910 until 1942, the operations were headed by the WVP&P.
The operations of Cass was the work of Sam Slaymaker, who had been involved in timbering operations along the Greenbrier River for several years in the late 1800s.7 8 After exploring the forests west of the Greenbrier valley at Cheat Mountain, specifically along Shavers Fork of Cheat River, he discovered red spruce, yellow birch and maple. There was no flowing water for floating logs, and with no economical method of taking the timber to market, Slaymaker held off on a purchase.
Slaymaker reconsidered when news came of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad (C&O)’s Greenbrier Division, which followed the Greenbrier River north of Whitcomb towards Durbin. Slaymaker envisioned a rail line along Leatherbark Creek to 4,635-feet in elevation and then into the forests at the headwaters of the Cheat and Elk rivers.7 He formed the S.E. Slaymaker and Company, secured 173,000 acres and built a construction camp near Cass. Meanwhile, C&O right-of-way acquisition began in March 1899 and the first construction contract was let in April for five miles from Whitcomb north.3 The first train arrived in Marlinton on October 26, 1900 with work starting on the C&O north of Marlinton shortly after to serve the WVP&P. By November 6, track had been laid across a temporary bridge over the Greenbrier River at Sharps Tunnel, and by Christmas, Cass had been reached.
The WVSL graded the line up to the top of Cheat Mountain 1900 with rails being laid in early 1901.5 Initial rail operations were headed by the Greenbrier & Elk River Railroad and then the Greenbrier, Cheat & Elk Railroad (GC&E), which was used until 1926 when the 74-mile Bemis to Bergoo line was sold to the Western Maryland Railway (WM). 5 8
In 1904, tracks were laid to an elevation of 3,853-feet and the town of Spruce and a pulp peeling rossing mill was established.8 Spruce was the highest elevation town in the eastern United States.
By 1915, there were 81 miles of mainline, with logging operations extending all over Cheat Mountain.6 Cut logs were transported into the town where they were processed into pulp or hardwood flooring. The pulp was delivered by rail to its Covington, Virginia mill for processing into paper.3 The industrial operations consisted of drying kilns, a boiler house, power station and a double-band sawmill.5 8 The mill was the largest in the world and could handle 125,000 board feet per 11-hour shift 5 8 and 35 million feet per year.7 8 Some machines were so large that it required 15 employees just to operate them.8 Over 2,500 were employed in the operations.
The company town consisted of 52 white-faced residences, with the larger houses for the managers residing behind the general store.4 Other houses were built across the Greenbrier River on privately held land and unlike the company town, “East Cass” allowed alcohol consumption and gambling. The Pocahontas Supply Company store was built in 1902 and provided food, dry goods, furniture and supplies. Two hotels were soon built, along with several restaurants, stores, two schools, three churches, a hospital, clubhouse and baseball field.7
Cass constructed a tanning extract plant for waste bark in 1913-15, which allowed the company to manufacture hemlock and spruce bark extracts.2 By 1920, Cass boasted 400 company-owned buildings,7 1,195 residents and the saw mill was operating 24 hours a day.4 In 1922, a portion of the mill caught fire but was built shortly after.4 A new C&O depot was built in 1923.
The peeling mill at Spruce ceased operations in 1925.8 By the 1930s, the town became a helper station for the WM but with the introduction of diesel engines, all locomotives that served Cass were transferred to Laurel Bank and Spruce was abandoned.
In June 1942, the WVP&P sold its Cass operation to the Edwin Mower of the Mower Lumber Company who began to cut second-growth timber at Cheat Mountain.7 8 But lower production volumes meant lower revenues and cutbacks, leading to a reduction of population to 417 by 1950.7 The mill was in operation for just one shift.8 After Edwin Mower passed, operations dwindled even further and all loggings operations ceased on July 1, 1960. At the time of its demise, Cass had built nearly 250 miles of track.6 The town’s population had also decreased to just 327.7
In October, Walworth Farms acquired the Mower Lumber Company and its landholdings while the railroad was owned by its offshoot, the Don Mower Lumber Company.8 A scrap dealer, the Midwest Raleigh Corporation, was contracted to dismantle the rail lines and its Shay locomotives. A group of local businessmen, led by railroad enthusiast Russell Baum, convinced the state to make Cass Railroad a state park in September 1960.6 8 Baum and others formed the Cass Planning Commission and approached state legislators who were initially skeptical about the plan. After the Joint Committee on Government and Finance took a trip to Bald Knob via rails, the legislators were convinced that a state park centered around the railroad would be a novel idea.8
In early 1961, an appropriation for the state park was approved, and the governor signed a bill that brought Cass into the state park system.8 A contract was let to the Midwest Raleigh Steel Corporation for $125,000 for seven miles of mainline track from Cass to Old Spruce and from Old Spruce to Bald Knob. The agreement also included three locomotives, ten flat cars, four camp cars, three motor cars and miscellaneous equipment. After years of rehabilitation, Cass Railroad State Park operated its first excursion train from Cass under the Cass Scenic Railroad banner in 1963 6 with Shays Nos. 1 and 4. 8 Trains initially ran just to Whittaker Station due to repairs that were needed on the remainder of the track to Bald Knob.
In the first year of operation, 23,000 visitors traversed Back Allegheny Mountain on about four miles of track.8 The railroad shop, initially leased from the Mower Lumber Company, was purchased. In 1966, the line to Bald Knob was rebuilt for $800,000 and reopened two years later. In 1972, the railroad shops were destroyed in a fire,5 and another fire consumed the depot in 1975.4 Two years later, the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources acquired the company town and its buildings.8
In 1980, the Cass Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, twenty of the former company houses have been restored 8 and others stabilized pending future rehabilitation.