Some History Of The Southern West Virginia Mountains
This part of West Virginia is one of the oldest places on earth. As the heart of the ancient Appalachian Mountain chain, there are stories written deep in the rock of these river gorges.
The New River is the second oldest river in the world. It once acted as an ancient Mississippi River, draining the entire North American Continent into what’s now the Gulf of Mexico.
If it wasn’t for the peat bogs of the past, we might not know much about the Three Rivers Region at all. But, lucky for us, the decomposing swamps that used to be typical of this part of West Virginia (and we’re going back about 300 million years) solidified, and became part of the mountains themselves.
That’s coal we’re talking about. The coal in this area is smokeless coal, low sulfur, and hot burning. It’s the highest grade bituminous coal on earth. And it changed the landscape of the New River Gorge forever.
While no Native American Tribes lived in the area permanently, it was widely known that there was a rock here that burned. It wasn’t until the railroad came in to move the coal out that settlers moved to the previously wild New River Gorge area of what is now West Virginia.
In 1873, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway completed a railway the entire length of the new river gorge, opening up the fuel source of the newly industrialized world. Because of the mountainous terrain, the easiest place to build the rail beds for the great steam engines was right next to the rivers.
And that’s where the Three Rivers Region comes in. It the time, it was simply a natural intersection for commerce and travel. Nearly every piece of coal ever mined out of the New River Gorge came through Hinton.
And where the Railroads couldn’t or wouldn’t build track next to the river, they blasted through the rock. And of course, that’s where the legend of the great steel driving man, John Henry, came from.
It’s a long and fascinating history, one that’s rich in the stories of the railroads, and the stories of the rivers.