Getting Back to Our Roots
At one time the New River Gorge was home to more than 50 coal mines and coal mining towns. Those who’ve visited the Gorge probably are most aware of Kaymoor , the town now visited only by hiking trail, or Thurmond, made famous by the movie Matewan. But at one time there were many, many more.
Melody Bragg probably said it best in her book Thurmond and Ghost Towns of the New River Gorge, “If the bridge had stood 70 years ago, it would have towered over not only wilderness, but company stores, churches, mines and railroad depots.” Now wouldn’t that be a site.
At the heart of every mining community was of course the company store. A place where script was used instead of cash and in addition to being a place for the necessities - a social spot for the mining communities. The most important store in the Gorge was undoubtedly the Prince Brothers Store at Prince.
While Prince is still an active stop around the CSX railroad, it was once a community thought of highly by those along the rail. The larger Prince Brothers Store helped keep everyone along the C&O in a wider variety of goods. The lack of transportation except by rail made this store very popular and orders placed could be easily delivered by train the next day.
While this remoteness is foreign to us, at the time, the Prince Brothers Store was held in high esteem. Today visitors can still get a glimpse of the coal town life at the Whipple Company Store & Museum and the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine. Both entities help us step back to a time when coal was king and the company store represented a way to catch a glimpse of the rest of the world.