4 ruins of the coal boom: New River Gorge ghost towns
Tucked into West Virginia’s mountains and hollows are the ruins of industry past.
The Mountain State’s long and complex history of mining– and to a lesser extent logging– has left the remnants of many settlements that went from boom to bust, and they’re all fascinating.
Whether you are a history buff, a mining enthusiast or even a photographer looking for that definitive statement on the impermanence of manmade structures, these old towns are worth exploring. Just stay out of the actual mines!
The New River Gorge used to be one of the hotbeds of coal mining around the turn of the century. Long before the gorge was a National Park or rafting destination, dozens of mining towns lined its steep slopes, extracting coal from narrow veins and loading it onto railcars that took it downstream to Charleston, the Ohio River and beyond.
One of the biggest and most unique of the New River mining towns is Nuttallburg, which was recently stabilized by the National Park Service. You can get there via an easy drive through the small communities of Lansing and Edmond before descending a paved and gravel road into the gorge.
Scattered ruins of old schools, churches and houses (with plenty of interpretive signs) sit above the roar of the New River’s rapids. If you need a workout, the hike up steep switchbacks to the town’s mines is well worth it. Fun fact: in 1920, Henry Ford purchased Nuttallburg’s mine!
Although it’s located just across the gorge from Nuttallburg, reaching the old town of Kaymoor is a completely different experience from the easy drive to its neighbor across the river. Following a steep descent down switchbacks from the top to middle gorge, you will have to hike down stairs— lots of stairs (800+). These stairs follow the rough route of an old cable car that used to haul miners up and down the gorge.
About halfway to the bottom of the canyon, you will see quite a few vine-covered buildings, historic safety signs and the mouths of mines. If you want to see more, continue down even more stairs to another set of buildings on the level of the river and railroad. Now turn around, contemplate the 1,000-foot vertical hike you’ve got to do to get back to your car, and wonder what the heck you’re doing down here.
Getting to Sewell is more of an adventure than Nuttallburg or even Kaymoor. To get there, go to nearby Babcock State Park, and ask the rangers about the condition of the often-rough dirt road. If you get to Sewell, you’ll be treated to a fascinating collection of old coke ovens, which were used to cook coal into a more pure “coke” form. There is also a beautiful, cool spring that the old town was centered around.
This town is not entirely a “ghost town,” with a few residents still living there. Explore the old rail lines, and abandoned buildings lining the main street, then stop into the depot-turned-museum for a peek into this intriguing place’s past. Ask about the Dunglen Hotel, the upscale prohibition-era gambling hall and grand ‘den of sin’ that went out in a (literal) blaze.
Those are only a few of the New River Gorge’s many ghost towns. Which have you explored? Which are your favorites?
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