The Rich History of the New River Gorge and the Town of Sewell
Sewell is another once-bustling area mining community. It was carved into the hillside of the New River Gorge to take advantage of the abundant coal reserves found there. But Sewell had a greater distinction at one time. Curious?
Sewell used to be known as Bowyer's Ferry, after Peter Bowyer. Peter not only established a ferry across the New River there around 1798, but he is also credited as the first white settler in the Gorge. This small settlement was right where the road from Charleston to Lewisburg met the New River. It was nearly 80 years before the CSX line was built through the Gorge. A depot went in at Bowyer’s Ferry and the name of the town was changed to Sewell Station. It was later just shortened to Sewell.
The name Sewell comes from Stephen Sewell, a European pioneer, among the first to settle and explore these mountains. From this name, it is fitting that this little town became the first commercial center for the Gorge's small mining communities, with the first store being built by 1871.
Sewell had amassed a population of more than 300 by 1880. Even one of the coal seams running through the Gorge bears Sewell's name.
The Longdale Iron Company from Virginia acquired land and opened a mine near Sewell Depot in 1873, the same year the railroad was complete. The Sewell mine was the first operation to have coke ovens in the Gorge, building 50 of the beehive design ovens in 1874. Eventually it was expanded to almost 200 coke ovens, the largest in the Gorge at the time.
Even later when the Sewell mines had been worked out, the town remained a vital link in the Gorge. Mines from the Clifftop area shipped coal down Mann's Creek Railroad, through what would now be Babcock State Park. That coal was burned in Sewell's coke ovens. These ovens burned coal until 1956, and were some of the last ovens used in southern WV. The towns last official resident, a railroad employee, moved out in 1973.
The remains of the old community are located just upstream, but across the river from the rafting access point at Cunard. The remains of some of the foundations and the coke ovens can still be seen. Many rafting companies use the areas between the river and the town for lunch and camping areas for overnight trips.
It's easy to see why CSX chose this area to base a depot. There is a lot of flat area associated with it between the water and the steep mountainside.
How many mining towns of the Gorge can you name?