Thurmond, West Virginia

By: Yorgo Douramacos

Thurmond, West Virginia is a stark example of the economic power of transportation. The settlement was first established beside The New River in the 1840s. It remained small and unincorporated until 1892 when a rail line was negotiated to pass through the nearby land.

Currently Thurmond boasts only 7 full time residents but it was once a healthy and thriving destination. Never a large city it had the supporting business of coal, the railroad and a nearby spa and resort. Today the remains of the town and the still active rail line sit facing the wide and rushing New River. Its early 20th century building fronts look eerily quiet, as though someone swiped the years across them in a single instant. To glance at the National Bank of Thurmond, derelict for the better part of 90 years, you might expect a well dressed bank manager to exit its doors and wave hello.

Thurmond was so reliant on its railroad access that no paved street ever connected the town. It can only be accessed by train or across a single lane bridge crossing over the river. The station is open for a season each year to those interested in the local history and the whole area has been marked as a national heritage site since 1984.

Trains still rumble through Thurmond like echoes from days when the living made common cause with trains. But those days came to an end in 1931 when the spa and resort, which was what drew outsiders to the secluded town and brought it a necessary influx of money, burnt down and was not rebuilt.

Unconnected to the emergent current of automobile traffic, and no longer featuring anything to particularly entice passenger train fares, Thurmond quickly ossified and passed away, flash frozen at its moment of death.

It stands without residents or road, a reminder that access is the life’s blood of any community. In its time innovations in transit brought a shock of life to Thurmond and then almost as quickly left it isolated and lost. The requirements of access must be anticipated and pursued or the fight can be easily lost.