The former coal camp town of Prince, West Virginia saw its boom days well into the 1940’s, reaching only a population of 50.3
It was founded in 1870 by Mr. William “Bub” Prince 11, who had become a very successful businessman in Beckley. Upon hearing the news of the Chesapeake and Ohio’s construction along the New River, he ventured down into the gorge to stake a claim along the river for a small transportation hub. He bargained with his cousin, General Alfred Beckley, for the land.
Upon completion of the railroad in January 1873, merchants began to use the town of Prince for shipment to destinations such as Marmet and Kanawha Falls. As an entrepreneur, William Prince established a ferry near the present-day West Virginia Route 41 bridge 3, which was used by both passengers and merchants venturing towards other coal-camp towns along the gorge. Eight years later, the first mining operation in Raleigh County opened at Royal — located across the river from Prince 3. The coal, transported via an aerial tramway to Prince, averaged nearly 600 tons daily. The first depot at Prince was constructed in 1880, being enlarged in 1891 to serve an expanding trade and passenger count 3. In 1917, the fire was nearly destroyed in a fire and was rebuilt soon afterwards.
In 1942, Robert R. Young became President of the Chesapeake and Ohio. His vision for the future was to create a high-class train that surpassed the competition from which the Chessie was born 3. Considered ahead of its time in “style, functionality and efficiency”, the new passenger cars utilized sleek steam turbine locomotives and were scheduled using a new central reservation system. Along with this vision came many upgrades to the rail system, including tunnel improvements, curve reconstructions and realignments.
On June 26, 1946 1, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad constructed an art-deco, Moderne passenger depot at milepost 340 on the New River subdivision 3. Noted for its sleek architectural features, it features a 500-foot waiting platform that was designed to be oriented in reference to the meridional position of the sun. During the winter, the warming rays of the sun would warm those who waited along the platform and inside the depot itself, while during the summer, it would provide shaded relief 4 3.
The depot, at 125 feet long and 22 feet wide, was designed by the Chesapeake and Ohio and Garfield, Harris, Robinson & Schaffer from Cleveland, Ohio 11. The waiting room, with its terrazzo floor, featured a Chessie kitten symbol; it also featured tall ceilings and large windows that maximized the amount of sunlight that would enter during the day. Nearby, modern toilets with ultraviolet lights, a ladies’ lounge, and freight, baggage and express rooms were all features that made the Chessie unrivaled in its class. The depot also featured radiant heating, where hot water from a coal-fired boiler piped heat through the floors and ceilings, eliminating cold, damp floors 3.
It was a very busy passenger depot, boasting the largest passenger counts of any station between Clifton Forge, Virginia and Charleston, Virginia even though Beckley was only 18 miles away 3! In 1950, however, passenger service between the depot and Beckley was discontinued. Furthermore, although it served a large amount of passengers, it was on the wane with the advent of the automobile and upgraded roads. The Chessie, which was boasted by the Chesapeake and Ohio, never ran a single revenue mile and was soon wiped from the books at the corporation. The station at Prince was the only one of its kind to be constructed to serve the Chessie, and the second-to-last station to ever be constructed by the Chesapeake and Ohio 3.
On March 17, 1975, Amtrak assumed control of the station 3, however, it was closed on a Thursday night in October of 1981. The Cardinal passenger line had been discontinued, and for the first time in 101-years, Prince was without passenger service. A large uprising of support throughout the nation, however, caused the Cardinal to be reinstated three days a week.
On June 30, 1996, members of the George Washington Chapter of the Chesapeake and Ohio Historical Society hosted an event at the Prince depot in remembrance and celebration of the 50 years of the Prince depot (3. The station still services the Cardinal line for Amtrak three days a week. Although the station itself is still active, it is not being adequately repaired, according to Fayette County Commissioners 1. In 2007, it was announced that David Gay, a Beckley pharmacist and rail activist, spearheaded a project to obtain funding to restore the depot to its former glory. Federal, state and county officials began discussing various methods to obtain funding for restoration, with the consensus revolving around convincing CSX to sell or donate the property to Amtrak. The depot is considered a liability to CSX and the corporation is “anxious” to “rid itself” of the landmark due to that; in addition, CSX no longer operates a passenger rail business. They are, however, mandated by federal law to keep it open for Amtrak’s Cardinal line 1.[stag_toggle style=”normal” title=”Sources” state=”closed”]
- “Prince Depot.” WVe Postcards, 2002. March 14, 2007 Images.
- Hill, Matthew. “Government officials look at acquiring Prince depot.” Register-Herald (Beckley), March 05, 2007. March 14, 2007 Article.
- Crouch, Matt. “Prince of the new river.” Chesapeake and Ohio Historical Magazine, Jan. 2001. March 14, 2007.
- “Beckley Pages by DonnaFL.” May 14, 2005. March 14, 2007 Images.