Uncovered Train Facts from the New River Gorge

Train travel was once commonplace in the Gorge, with regular routes and schedules taking travelers and locals to and fro.  But little is written or documented on train travel’s role in our New River Gorge history.  Maybe because it was so commonplace…our ancestors thought it would last forever.

Here are some fun reminders we uncovered this week on our long train history:

1)       West Virginia’s tie to Ireland was never stronger than in the construction days of the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Railroad.  These Irish immigrants built their own church in 1876 on Irish Mountain high above the Gorge.  Later many of those same immigrants were buried in the churchyard.  The St. Colman Church still stands today.

2)      While the Prince Station was one of the more photographed stations of the 1940s, it was for good reason.  Prince was the last passenger station built by the C&O.  It was completed in 1946. The C&O considered the new design  “Art Moderne.”  According to Amtrak, the waiting platform was designed to be oriented such that during the winter, the sun would warm those who waited along the platform and inside the depot; while during the summer, it would provide a shady respite from the heat. The depot was developed to serve the C&O’s newest daytime passenger train at the time which ran from Washington to Cincinnati.  Aptly named the Chessie—this route never really caught on.

3)      You know your area has arrived when someone is singing a song about you.  The song “New River Train” is thought to date back to 1895, but was made quite popular by the “Father of Bluegrass” Bill Monroe in his recording in 1939. This was about the same time Monroe joined the Grand Ole Opry cast.  It’s likely that Monroe rode along the New River route as he was raised in Kentucky until the age of 16.

Know any other interesting train facts about our area? We’d love to hear them.