New River Gorge

The New River Gorge Is Located Close To The Town Of Fayetteville In West Virginia 

Of all the wonderful gorges in America, the one on The New River, near Fayetteville, West Virginia is among the most highly visited. It is a real hot spot for West Virginia tourism attracting over one million visitors a year.

The Gorge And Its Stunning Bridge

However, this influx of people hasn`t spoiled the area in any way. It is still a place where you can find peace and solitude to enjoy nature in all its beauty.

It is also a place where people come to take part in some great activities. There is hiking, biking, horseback riding, climbing, hunting, fishing, bird watching, camping and plain old relaxing.

And that`s not all!

The New River Gorge and the nearby Gauley River are both renowned as a mecca for the very best in West Virginia Rafting. In fact, the New River Area is home to some of the best whitewater rafting in the whole country.

The Gauley is especially popular because of a number of scheduled water releases from the huge Summersville Dam which provide an extra surge for rafters.

More than 150,000 people a year take West Virginia adventure vacations and go on New River rafting trips.

There is also something in the gorge that has become a magnet for West Virginia tourism in its own right.

This is the New River Gorge Bridge. It attracts thousands of people to West Virginia sightseeing this amazing structure. It is such a sight that they celebrate a West Virginia Bridge Day! 

The Soaring Structure Of The Bridge In The Mist 

The New River Gorge National River Area is 72,000 acres of beautiful land in the Appalachian Mountains of southern West Virginia. The area is run and maintained by the United States National Park Service.

The park runs along 53 miles of the New River from the Bluestone River and the Bluestone State Park in the south to the Hawks Nest State Park in the north. In between lies an area of stunning beauty that has seen amazing history and deep tragedy but which now gives pleasure to thousands.

The New River has its source in The Blue Ridge Mountains near Boone in North Carolina. This area is sometimes called "The Roof of Eastern America" because four great river systems start close by.

Despite its name the New River is thought to be one of the oldest rivers in the world. Maybe as old as 300 million years.

Unlike many other West Virginia rivers it flows in a south to north direction.

This oddity is thought to indicate that the New River was formed even before the Appalachian Mountains that it now cuts through.

In its journey through the New River Gorge there is, in places, a difference of a 1,000 feet in height between the river and the top of the surrounding land plateau.

As the New River formed its gorge it cut through thick seams of coal bearing rock. This made the coal relatively easy to extract and the coal found there is exceptional for its quality and purity.

Between the 1880`s and the 1930`s the gorge area was the scene of heavy logging. Much of the old forests of West Virginia were totally cut down. Thankfully they have since regrown and the ridges, slopes and valleys are once more covered in trees.

This source of both lumber and coal led to a boom time for the region, especially when the railroad arrived in 1873.

The New River Gorge is important for the fact that it connects the eastern states of the U.S. to the central states. It was for this reason that the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad built a line through the gorge right alongside the river. 

Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad  Line Beside The River

Towns in the gorge such as Royal, Glade Creek and Thurmond became thriving, affluent places full of industry and employment.

Royal was a small town with a rich coalmine that employed eighty miners. It opened in 1891 and closed in 1928, briefly reopening for four years in 1936.
Now all that is left of Royal are some stone foundations and walls dimly visible in the undergrowth. The forest has virtually reclaimed it.

The Two Piers Of The Old Glade Creek Railroad Bridge

Glade Creek was the site of a logging town and lumber mill. There are two reminders of this once busy place.

The first are the two piers that still stand in the waters of the New River. This was where the Glade Creek Railroad Bridge once stood.

The other has now become one of the most photographed attractions in West Virginia. It is the Glade Creek Mill now rebuilt and working in the Babcock State Park.

Thurmond was an important town on the Chesapeake and Ohio line during the first two decades of the 1900`s. 

Huge amounts of coal were brought here from the surrounding mines. The train depot served as many as 95,000 passengers a year. Stores, saloons, hotels and banks did a booming trade. Many coal barons made their fortunes in Thurmond.
Today the town is a place untouched by modern development. It is a link to a time past and the town reeks of history and sad stories.

The New River Gorge

and indeed much of West Virginia is associated with coal mining. Some of the history of coal mining in the area can be seen at the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine at the nearby town of Beckley.But it is also a history that is full of tragedy.

Since records were first kept in 1883, 21,000 coal miners have been killed in the state. In its industrial heyday the New River Gorge was the scene of three major mine disasters. All occurred during the month of March.

The first took place on March 6th 1900 in the Red Ash Mine near Thurmond. A massive explosion of methane gas occured, ignited by the open flames of the miners lamps. It triggered a secondary explosion of powder kegs used for blasting. Forty six miners lost their lives.

The re-opened Red Ash Mine, now united with Rush Run Mine proved to be an unlucky place. On March 18th 1905 another blast took place. Thirteen miners were killed or trapped. The next day a rescue party of eleven men entered the mine. Tragically they were met with yet another explosion and all twenty four men were later found dead.

The third accident happened on March 2nd 1915 at the Layland Mine near Quinnimont. The blast was so powerful it killed 114 miners and an unlucky grocery delivery man who was walking past the mine`s entrance. Incredibly 53 other miners below ground escaped or were rescued.

Also in the New River Gorge there was the tragic "Hawks Nest Incident." Although not a mine disaster it was a tragedy of grand proportions and estimates for those ultimately to die range from 700 to 2,000.

As well as being forever linked with the coal industry, the railroad is closely associated with the New River Gorge. The CSX Railroad running between Lewisburg and Charleston faithfully follows the course of the river as it twists and turns its way through the gorge. 

It was this rail route, at the southern end of the New River Gorge National River Area, where The John Henry Legend was born.

So as you are travelling over the area you will often stumble across old trestle bridges, abandoned coal mines, ancient rail depots and derelict railroad equipment.

It all tells of a time when life was a struggle in the New River Gorge and the Appalachian Mountains.

But all is not doom and gloom!

The natural beauty of the region with its stunning mountains, wonderful forests, rivers, lakes and pretty towns has seen the arrival of a new boom time. 

The Statue Of John Henry At The Southern End Of The Gorge

The leisure industry has brought new dollars to the region, as people come to discover the beautiful surroundings and enjoy the fantastic activities.