Mountain State Tours: Thomas
I have spent much time in the highlands of West Virginia, backpacking, photographing and exploring the wildernesses that abound the region - from Blackwater Falls State Park
to Dolly Sods
and Canaan Valley
, and recently biked portions of the former West Virginia Central and Pittsburg Railway
that is now the Blackwater Canyon Trail
. But I haven't had much of a chance to explore Thomas, except to stay or visit The Purple Fiddle for their hostel, beer, coffee and live music - one of the best little venues in the state, I believe.
is located in Tucker County and was once a hub of activity as a company town for the Davis Coal & Coke Company along the railroad that was built by the owner of the company, Henry G. Davis. The coal mines opened in 1883 and in 1892, Thomas was incorporated into a town that eventually peaked at 2,099 in 1920. Many of the residents were immigrants of southern Europe, and the Davis Coal and Coke Company had to hire full-time interpreters to handle the influx of varying languages. Most were from 18 European countries – Poland, Hungary, Italy, Greece, Jugoslavia, Lithuania and others. But by 1930, the population of Thomas had declined to 1,660 due to the closure of most of the coke ovens in nearby Coketon in 1921 and the decline in the output of coal and timber. On May 27, 1950, the Buxton and Landstreet Building, home to the company store, closed. The roundhouse and machine shop closed when diesel locomotives replaced steam in 1953. In 1983, the WVC&P was abandoned and dismantled several years later.
The Buxton and Landstreet Company Store is located on Front Street and was completed in 1900. It was renovated not too long ago for MountainMade
arts-and-crafts store that recently vacated for downtown.
To the right was the Davis Coal & Coke Company administrative and engineering building. It is being stabilized.
Views along East Avenue in downtown.
The Cottrill Opera House
is located along East Avenue between 2nd and 3rd Streets. Centered in Thomas’ downtown, the opera house post-dates the disastrous 1901 fire and was designed by Holmboe and Lafferty and built in 1902. In 1940, a storm damaged the top of the facade. The opera house was later used as a theater before closing in the 1970s.
The opera house was named after Hiram Cottrill, a proprietor who came to Thomas in 1887. He soon rose through the ranks and became a superintendent for the Davis Coal and Coke Company before starting a career as an impresario.
The theater is currently being restored.
Most of the buildings are unaltered, but few remain from the founding of Thomas due to a fire in 1901 that consumed nearly every building along East Avenue.
The Flying Pig has fantastic breakfast and lunch options.
The Purple Fiddle - a great place for beer, coffee, food and music.
Shuttered businesses on Spruce Street.
This former school gymnasium/auditorium was constructed by the Works Progress Administration in 1938-1939.
Some residences on Brown Street.
Along Spruce Street.
The next West Virginia town to be profiled is Davis. Despite being just two miles from Thomas, they shared completely different identities but today cater to the same tourism crowd.