Next stop on what accidentally turned into my abandoned school tour of the South: Alderson Academy.
Originally, plans included asylums and abandoned amusement parks, but as I’ve come to find out, time is never on my side. Asylums have been converted into cheesy haunted houses for the Halloween season, and amusement parks have been taken over by crazy gun-wielding fanatics. Here today, shot tomorrow. The safer bet? An abandoned Baptist academy whose only guardian are two adorable trailer park dogs, one who is now my best friend. And for once, this place isn’t even rumored to be haunted (I checked!).
After gallivanting around the country for the last 6 months, I have a gigantic backlog of photos that need some sorting and a blog that needs updating. I recently performed in a burlesque show where the MC mentioned this site and my adventures during my intro. If that’s not a kick in the pants to update this thing, then I don’t know what is.
A couple of weekends ago I took another road trip down south to see what abandoned treasures awaited me. Two years ago I visited Thurmond, WV, which is one of the many New River Gorge ghost towns that surround the area. After researching the town and reading up on the history, I found out about the hilarious rivalry between Captain William Thurmond and Thomas Mckell, the founder of Glen Jean and the infamous Dun Glen Hotel. Even though Glen Jean is not really a ghost town, I really wanted to re-visit the town to see what this infamous den of vice had left. (If you missed it the first time around, you can read the Thurmond vs. Glen Jean rivalry here).
After carefully making our precarious 5 mile exit from Nutallburg, the next stop on our West Virginia ghost town tour was Thurmond – aka the place that seemed like the easiest to find out of the multitude of dubiously mapped options.
Thurmond during a more bustling time.
Unlike Nutallburg, Thurmond was bustling epicenter of train travel and commerce, seeing more transportation of coal, rather than the manufacturing of it. Formally incorporated in 1900, the town was named for Confederate Captain William Thurmond, who was offered 73 acres of land along the river as a good will gesture for just $20. The C&O railroad was routed through the area shortly after, but the town was slow to grow with only one house constructed at the time. It was not until Thomas G. McKell of neighboring Glen Jean negotiated with the railroad for a branch up Dunloup Creek, that Thurmond became the boom town it was known to be, with the line becoming one of the railroad’s busiest branches. Despite this growth of business for both parties, McKell and Thurmond became bitter enemies.
As most urban explorers usually find out, trips don’t always go as planned. Our quick little road trip down South was supposed to hit Shawnee Lake, Land of Oz and Sherwood Forest, an abandoned renaissance fair. Moments before we left, I came across a comment warning “wear orange” if visiting Sherwood during hunting season. After looking into it further, yes, we were going during prime hunting season, and yes, visitors will be shot. I can handle the cops. I cannot handle Virginian hunters. In favor of not getting shot, we decided to scratch that from our list and visit a couple of West Virginia’s many ghost towns instead, which thankfully, they are not short on.
Nutallburg, WV in its hey-day (photo courtesy of NPS.gov)
New River Gorge runs through the middle of West Virginia, and during the Industrial Period, more than fifty mining towns sprang up in the wilderness surrounding the river due to coal mining interests. Inhabited by several thousands of people, the area began to flourish after the completion of the Chesapeake & Ohio railroad line, which not only provided faster travel between the Atlantic Coast and the Ohio River Valley, but also led to fast coal transportation through the gorge, thus encouraging the local mines in the New River Coal Field to open shortly after. In 1888, it was estimated that the area was producing 1.5 million tons of coal. However, the gorge’s steep slopes and its narrow width made for a low return on investment, eventually slowing business and, starting in the 1930s, causing closure of many of the mines and forcing people to abandon the towns. Read More
Sometime last year, around late summer or early fall the abandoned Shawnee Lake Amusement Park was getting a lot of play on various social media outlets, and probably Buzzfeed, because those two seem to go hand-in-hand these days. I saw a lot of posts from people saying, “Aw man! I wish I could go to that!” or tagging friends saying, “Let’s go!” I had been dating my not-yet-boyfriend for almost two months, and had already dragged him to two abandoned sites, so I figured it was time to take the next step in our relationship: a four day roadtrip to see dirt and debris of forgotten lands. So, rather than posting on Facebook, we hopped in a rental car and hit the road.
Lake Shawnee, located in Princeton, West Virginia, and has been abandoned since 1966 and has quite the torrid past. Originally, it was the location for an Native American burial ground. In 1783, the site was desecrated by the Mitchell Clay settlers, when they decided that the burial ground was the perfect location for their farm, also making them the first white settlement in the county. Shortly after the family settled, a band of 11 Shawnee Indians attacked two of the sons while they were working outside. One of the sons, Bartley, was shot and killed. Tabitha, one of the daughters, ran to see what was happening, and also was stabbed and killed when she tried to attack one of the Shawnees (bad move, kid). After the two children were scalped and left for their mother to find their lifeless bodies, the other son, Ezekiel, was taken hostage by the group, where they tortured him and eventually burned him at the stake.