6 must-see Coal Heritage Trail stops for history buffs
Coal heritage runs deep in the National Parks of Southern WV.
The parklands are part of the National Coal Heritage Area, and along the 187-mile Coal Heritage Trail. From ghost towns to unique company stores, here are the 6 things history buffs will not want to miss when visiting the parks:
1. Canyon Rim Visitors Center
Are you a National Parks passport stamp collector? Here’s where you’ll want to stop for your National Coal Heritage Area stamp. Not gathering stamps yet? You can buy your starter book here, too!
While you’re there, browse the expansive coal exhibits, or chat with the Park Rangers to learn more about the stories of the mining days. You can even pick up books at the gift shop if you want to continue to explore the region’s rich mining past past.
2. Whipple Company Store
Early coal miners didn’t get paid. At least not in the way they are today. Instead of traditional currency, some got their ‘pay’ only in scrip— which could only be used at the company-owned store. It was there that they had to get everything, from food and clothing to caskets.
Today, the company store in Whipple is a museum, but through the ages it was the hub of coal camp life— and a lot of secrets. As you learn about life in the coal town during its heyday, unravel the deeper mysteries of this unique building, including an entire hidden floor.
You wouldn’t know it from the nearly-abandoned town today, but Thurmond was once packed with people, a massive amount of coal freight, and plenty of wealth.
As a key stop on the C&O rail line, more coal funneled through Thurmond than Cincinnati, Ohio, and Richmond, Virginia combined. The rails also brought in more than 75,000 visitors a year, including the coal barons, who brought more money through the Thurmond banks than anywhere else in the state. The barons also brought along glamour and luxury. The high-rollers flocked to the nearby Dunglen Hotel, an infamous “Den of Sin.”
Visit the old depot from June through August for a glance back to the boomtown days, or explore the other ghost towns of the gorge.
4. Hinton Historic District
Another town that thrived along the C&O tracks during the coal boom (in fact, it probably wouldn’t have existed without the coal rush), Hinton is quite a contrast to its sister site in Thurmond. It’s still a lively community, with plenty for visitors to explore. The historic district is one of the largest in the country at 16 square blocks, and folks in town have restored the original architecture to create a thriving small-town street with unique old-time charm.
For an authentic look at the rail town’s former life as a coal transport hub, ride in on the New River Train for the annual Hinton Railroad Days festival.
Nearby is the tunnel where folk legend John Henry battled— and beat— a steam-powered drill.
5. Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine
Want to see what it was really like deep in the dark mining passageways? Hop on a mantrip and delve deep down into the old Beckley mine with veteran miners to learn more about the real stories of day-to-day of the job. Once you surface, explore the recreated 20th Century coal camp and youth museum. The mine is open April through October.
6. Downtown Fayetteville
Downtown Fayetteville has a collection of historic mementos, and during the industry boom, coal barons added their touch of wealth and luxury to the district’s diversity.
You can stay in the home of the man who opened the door to industry to the New River coalfields in the first place. Morris Harvey owned a vast expanse of land along the gorge that, at the time, was essentially worthless. But he convinced the railroads and mining companies that the land was fertile for industry. The Morris Harvey House is now a charming B&B with several luxurious suites.
Which of these is your favorite coal history stop?
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