It began as a coal and railroad center at the turn of the 20th century in an area fabulously wealthy in natural resources. The only way in and out of the town of five hundred hardy souls was via the railroad as there were no roads in those days. Women, booze, dice and cards were brought in fresh every day, while unlucky losers of arguments over the same were quietly disposed of in the New River.
Thurmond WV is often termed the Dodge City of the East, thanks in large part to the 100-room Dunglen Hotel, whose bar never closed. Thomas G. McKell built the town when his wife left him 12,500 acres of coal fields. After a ten mile branch was built to connect the town to the railway line in the 1890’s, the Dunglen was erected in 1901.
Although originally envisioned to be a hard working, religious community, Thurmond will always hold a place in Ripley’s Believe It or Not for the Dunglen Hotel’s fourteen year continuous poker run. In one well-remembered poker game a New River operator lost his coal mine.
“When my grandfather went up there to see about this hotel job,” said George Carper, of Cincinnati, Ohio (whose grandfather, George Flauts, was the barber at the Dunglen Hotel), “he went up to see what the job would be like, and he stepped off the train and he said he almost stepped on a dead body. And it was the body of a union organizer.”
Two old sayings survive that describe the town colorfully: No Sunday west of Clifton Forge and no God west of Hinton and The only difference between Hell and Thurmond is that a river runs through Thurmond.
The Dunglen’s period of brightness was clouded by the World War I, and after the war a slow decline set in; the auto and its attendant shift of emphasis from the railroad to the highway took more and more business away from Thurmond. Businesses moved away – many of them to Mt. Hope and Oak Hill – and coal mines around Thurmond closed as they were worked out. Gradually even the town began to fold up. The hotel itself burned to the ground on July 23, 1930 and was never rebuilt.
Between 1931 and 1938 the National Bank of Thurmond, the Armour Meat Company, the New River Banking and Trust Company, and the C&P telephone district offices left the town. The last major industry left in Thurmond was the railroad, and even it ceased to be a factor in 1940, when the C&O switched to diesel engines and there was no longer a need to stop at Thurmond for water and coal. Soon afterwards the Thurmond depot closed.
Melody Bragg, Thurmond and Ghost Towns of the New River Gorge, Glen Jean, GEM Publications, 1995