A visit to The New River Gorge National Park would not be complete without a visit to the town of Thurmond, WV. Before we visited the area, I did my due diligence and researched many of the attractions and trails in the area. We only had a short time during that visit and I wanted to see as much as I could and to hit the most important locations. As soon as I saw the words ‘abandoned town’, I was hooked! Thurmond was one of the ‘musts’ for this trip!
The town of Thurmond was once a bustling boom town. The steady flow of money from the local coal mines and the railroad station in town fueled the economy. Over the years the coal mines began to shut down which caused a decline in the financial wealth of this community. Simultaneously, the rise in popularity of the automobile brought around a steep decrease in passenger train travel, which further hampered the economic prosperity of the town. Slowly, people began to leave the town for more prosperous towns. In the 2010 Census, the population of the town was listed as 5 and most of the buildings are now owned by the National Park Service.
The Commercial Area of Thurmond, WV
The first thing you will see as you drive into the town is the train station. This station has been completely redone and serves as a visitor center for the National Park. It is the focal point of the town. This is still a flag stop for Amtrak service. So if you want to begin and/or end your vacation in Thurmond, you can definitely arrive by train!
To tour the business area of the this abandoned town you will be walking along the railroad tracks. The commercial area of town is nestled between the side of the mountain and the railroad tracks. These railroad tracks are still owned, operated and used by CSX, so please be careful. It is fascinating to walk by the businesses and imagine how life was in this town during the heyday when it was a bustling center of activity that while small was so prosperous that it was able to support two banks.
The Coaling Tower
There are still remnants of the bygone era of steam locomotives. The coaling tower still stands tall and proud at the end of the commerce section of town. Along with some of the outbuildings that supported the thriving railroad. Proud of the history of this town, in recent years they have held a Thurmond Train day for rail fans.
The Residential Area of town
We walked through the commercial area of the town and walked by a few buildings that were obviously residential in nature before we came to a winding road that led up the side of the mountain. It was a hot day when we were there, but we decided to walk up a bit of the hill to explore. Oh my word! I am so glad I did. Abandoned house after abandoned house stood at the side of the road a testament to the lives that had been lived in this town. The houses have been secured by the National Park service, so they are not readily available for entry. However, it is possible to walk onto the porches and peer in some windows.
Remnants of lives once happily lived are evidenced in the flowers that were once carefully planted but now grow wild. As we wound up the hill and back down, we came across the town church standing proud on the side of the mountain. Oh, if walls could talk!
Thurmond, WV quickly became the absolute favorite part of our visit to this area. It is not often you get to walk through an abandoned ghost town that is still almost fully intact. The history and vibe of the area was something to behold! We explored that town as fully as we could! We have both on many different occasions since we have been home have made the remark that we will go back to that town to explore more!
For more about this area, check out The New River Gorge Bridge.
I first learned about the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum somewhere right around 2010. I had been searching for abandoned and historical buildings online and the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum came into my radar. I read all that I could about the building. I was fascinated with the history and filled with thankfulness that this building had been purchased and open to the public for tours. Immediately, this location skyrocketed to one of the top three places to visit on my bucket list. I wanted to visit the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in a really bad way. Unfortunately, life and circumstances kept me away. I may have not been able to visit at that point, but I kept a close eye on the website. I was pleased to see that the tours were supplying the funds for ongoing restoration. As a result, through the years they began to offer a larger variety of tours and more access to the property. My interest only grew, but more years passed.
FINALLY, the arrangements were made and I had plans to go visit the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. I was beside myself with excitement. I had researched the different tours and I knew that there were two of the available tours that I was planning on taking. I wanted to do the Four Floor tour and the Criminally Insane Tour. We planned to arrive in time to start with the first tour, which would give us the option to add on a third tour at the end of the day if time permitted.
We pulled up to the building and I was practically giddy! The pictures that I had seen (and that I took) do not do this building justice. This building is quite immense and imposing. (I am honestly struggling to not just fill up this post with pictures!)
The building was opened in 1864 and operated as a hospital until 1994. It was opened under the name of Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum but later changed its name to Weston State Hospital in the year 1913. The name was changed back to “Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum” when it was reopened to the public for tours. This imposing structure is the largest hand cut stone building in the United States and is the second largest in the world, second only to the Kremlin in Moscow.
The main floor opens up to a grand entrance that has been beautifully restored. Here you will have the chance to buy your tickets, sign your waiver and visit the gift shop. Your price of your admission (no any of the variety of tours) will give you access to the museum which is housed on the main floor and right wing of the main floor. There are artifacts from life in this mental hospital and the property that included fields for producing their own food and a coal mine. As you walk through the right wing you will see various examples of common treatments for mental illness. You can read about them and then take in the re-creations that they have set up.
The first tour in my day was the Four Floor Tour. This guided tour is fantastic. In 2020 it was $30 and will last for about 90 minutes. The tour guide will lead you through the main building and talk about the various features of the architecture and history of the building. The tour guide will point out various points of interest and will share stories of the patients and personnel who lived, worked and resided in this grand building. During the tour there will be opportunities to learn about the history and uses of the other buildings that surround the main building on this medical campus. The tour will lead you through beautifully restored areas. You will see what the building looked like when it was at the height of it’s use.
However you will also see similar areas that are showing signs of the years of disuse and decay. The juxtaposition between the two is amazing to witness.
The tours will lead you through many areas of the building that are rough and raw and showing signs of the years decay. You will see the peeling paint. You will see decay as you learn about how the areas were used. You will see the sheer beauty of this building.
The four floor tour will also give you access to the Medical Building. This building served as the for not only the asylum but also for the community. While this building may not be as old and prestigious as the main building, the history and stories are no less plentiful and fascinating.
We were absolutely pleased with our tour and our tour guide. It was 90 minutes of amazing sights and fabulous stories about what we were seeing. But our day was not over yet! We had a thirty minute break before our next tour. We spent our time strolling through the museum portion of the building. The artifacts are well displayed and you can tell that they were carefully chosen to convey the life of the people that worked in the building as well as the life that was created for the patients that spent most of their lives within the confines of this property.
All too soon it was time for our next tour but we knew that we would have time to see the rest later in the day! Up next was the Criminally Insane Tour. Yes, this hospital housed the criminally insane and at one point they had a building that was built for this exact purchase. This tour is again led by a tour guide who was quite knowledgeable In fact, we were lucky enough to get the same tour guide for this tour but even luckier, we were the only two people on our tour. A personal tour! We headed back to the criminally insane building. Our tour guide let us peak into the windows of the hospital library and look at the patient graffiti that still graced the walls outside the library before heading into the main portion of the building.
This tour was just as good as the first tour. We learned that they housed two types of patients in this building. They housed the patients that were deemed criminally insane but the state also used the building to house prisoners while they were awaiting on the trial for their mental competency. The doctors and staff of the hospital would work with the prisoners/patients to determine the level of their sanity. Much of the building was in a dorm room style where these criminally insane patients were housed together. The stories, history and architecture on this tour was just as impressive as the first tour that we went on. It was a great decision to add this tour onto our day’s activities. It was an additional $15, but worth every penny.
After our two tours we continued to explore the museum and visited the gift shop. We were seriously debating adding on the Daytime Paranormal tour to our day . This tour would lead us through the buildings. It would be full of stories of paranormal experiences and show different areas that were noted to have higher than average paranormal events. We eventually decided to not do the tour so that we would have plenty of time to enjoy the museum.
Visiting the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum was on my bucket list for years and after visiting, I question why I waited so long to actually visit. The money from the tours goes back into the building and each year they work on restoring and stabilizing this grand building, so the money is well spent. But these tours are preserving not only the buildings, they are preserving the stories and the life that was held within these buildings. As we were driving away Jason looked at me and said “we will have to come back to Weston, West Virginia in a few years to do the paranormal tour and to see what they have restored!” Yes, this building really is that awesome!
Belief In Living
Travel with us as we explore!