Haunted National Parks: The "Dodge City of the East"
Photo: The Dun Glen (Dunglen) Hotel (NPS)
Few people know about the tiny town of Thurmond, West Virginia. Often referred to as the "Dodge City of the East," it was a wild town found deep within the New River Gorge. Today, this town is part of New River Gorge National River, a unit of the National Park System. It also has an incredibly interesting story to tell!
Thurmond Becomes a Boom Town
The town was incorporated in 1900, named for Confederate Captain William Thurmond, and the railroad was built through it shortly thereafter. At first, there was not much commerce there and only one house had been built, as Thurmond was accessible only by rail. Things changed dramatically when Thomas G. McKell built the Dun Glen Hotel in 1901. Having negotiated with the railroad to build a rail branch up Dunloup Creek in 1892, McKell set the stage for Thurmond to become a thriving commercial center. Soon "a passenger depot, freight station, engine house, water tank, coal and sand towers were constructed, along with a hotel, New River Banking and Trust Company, Armour Meat Company meat-packing plant, stores, boarding houses and restaurants. Houses began to line the hillside along the river."
Photo: Thurmond in its "Boom" Days (NPS)
The Dodge City of the East
The Hotel itself was quite impressive. It featured 100 rooms and stood four and a half stories high. Unlike the "dry" town of Thurmond, the Dun Glen sat across the New River and featured a bar that was open 24 hours a day. The Dun Glen is infamous as the location of the longest running poker game in history - 14 years! According to legends, alcohol flowed freely and the story is told that one poker player had even lost his coal mine playing poker.
One can imagine how this hotel changed the character of the area. This is certainly one reason Thurmond was referred to as the "Dodge City of the East." With no roads in or out, it became a great "hide out" for outlaws on the run. Staying in this town allowed for plenty of escape time, as one would know if a train carrying "the law" was on its way, leaving plenty of time to jump on a passing train.
In a few years, the town of Thurmond had become one of the busiest freight lines in the United States.
By 1910, Thurmond was producing $4.8 million of freight revenue for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad. The amount collected was 20% of the entire railroad’s revenue, and was ten times more than Richmond and over two times more than Cincinnati.
While Thurmond had a population of about 500 at its peak, it was also filled with hardworking, religious people - quite a contrast from what was happening across the river! Two sayings that have survived this colorful past really put this in perspective:
No Sunday west of Clifton Forge and no God west of Hinton.
The only difference between Hell and Thurmond is that a river runs through Thurmond.
Interestingly, Thomas McKell only lived three years after his hotel was built. Opening day, however, was a gala event, with a full orchestra from Cincinnati, Ohio, and punctuated with lots of alcohol from the bar that never closed. One might wonder just how wild it was...imagine showing up for a job interview and having this happen...
“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.”
Photo: Another View of the Dun Glen (Dunglen) Hotel (NPS)
The Decline of Thurmond
In 1914, World War I certainly had an impact on the railroad and also precipitated a slowdown in freight traffic through this part of the world. That same year, Prohibition was enacted, which definitely put a damper on Thurmond as a 'boom town' and brought the "red light district" that was the Dun Glen Hotel to an end. Most devastating, however, was the fire that destroyed the Dun Glen Hotel. In the summer of 1930, arsonists set fire to the building, ending the long, notorious history of this Grand Hotel. As the Great Depression came on, there was certainly no incentive to rebuild this now legendary establishment.
The Ghosts of Thurmond's Past (Literally!)
Today, if you were to visit this location, you would not see the evidence of the Dun Glen Hotel. It is hidden. But if you know where to look, you might just make a pleasant discovery. In this location is a structure that serves as temporary Rangers quarters (what we used to call "Seasonal housing" or "the bunkhouse"). Beneath one corner of this bunkhouse remains the foundation of the Dun Glen Hotel. Why is this significant? Because on more than one occasion, we have heard ballroom music, the clinking of glasses, and people talking and laughing in and around this present day structure when, clearly, no one else is around. Other staff have reported it to me during the years I worked there - it often occurred late at night, waking them from sleep - and many have been quite scared by these and the other sounds they have heard there. So despite its untimely end by fire, the Dun Glen Hotel and its clientele definitely live on in the spirit world.
I imagine that there are lots of other spirits hanging around on both sides of the New River there -- and would love to hear your stories if you have encountered them! One famous spirit just a few miles from Glen Jean, West Virginia, is the County Line, a small parking area which was then a gas station, where Hank Williams was discovered dead in his car on January 1, 1953. Many have reported sighting his apparition there. I can promise you, if you take the time to travel to this park and explore for paranormal activity, you will definitely find it! I'll share more stories from different areas of the park in upcoming posts. Until then, enjoy the treasures that are our national parks!
Carol Pollio, Ph.D. Director and Lead Investigator
Biography: Dr. Pollio has worked and lived in national parks since 1977, when she began her career at Gateway National Recreation Area. Her first experience with spirit was at that park, sparking her interest in and belief of the paranormal. Now retired, she is finally able to tell the many paranormal stories she has experienced and been told first hand as an insider in this incredible organization. Her own intuitive gift made itself known during her pre-teen years through a variety of experiences, including clairvoyance as primary, clairaudience, and clairsentience. Dr. Pollio put those experiences aside and chose instead to pursue a career in science, eventually obtaining her Ph.D. in Environmental Science and obtaining the rank of Captain (O-6) in the USCG Reserve. Dr. Pollio also served as a Professor in academia for more than 20 years. She now chooses to write about, investigate, and help others using her inherent psychic abilities. She currently is the Director of Intuitive Investigations, LLC, serving Delaware, Maryland, and D.C. She currently lives in Milford, Delaware.
Disclaimer: National parks and refuges are federal property. This series does not approve nor give permission to anyone to enter national parks or refuges without any required permits or permissions. Many parks also include hallowed ground, such as battlefields, memorials, cemeteries, and sites of mass casualties. It is not this author’s intent to encourage unprofessional or unethical behavior on these sites or to suggest visiting them in any other manner than by legal and ethical means.
Cox, W. Eugene "Dun Glen Hotel." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 02 February 2012. Web. 12 April 2016. Available online: http://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/1973
July 22, 1930: Fayette County's Dun Glen Hotel Destroyed by Arson. West Virginia Public Broadcasting.
Women, booze, dice and cards. Appalachian History. D. Tabler (17 January 2012).