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Cass Scenic Railroad State Park

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Early 20th century. WV 66, 4.5 miles west of the intersection with WV 28

In 1902 Manufacturers Record published an article titled “Wealth of West Virginia Lumber.” In it, Arthur S. Morton discussed the new town of Cass:

At Cass are the largest lumber interests in the Greenbrier Valley. This, I am told, is the property of a single concern, the West Virginia Spruce Lumber Co., which is now giving employment to some 500 men. Two years ago this spot was a wilderness; today it is an incorporated town with near threescore of complete buildings, including stores, residences, depot, hotel, mills, and other outbuildings.

When he returned a year later, Morton counted twenty-five additional buildings and reported that the “largest and best-equipped” mill in the area was turning out 75,000 to 80,000 feet of lumber daily. The West Virginia Spruce Lumber Company was a subsidiary of the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company, and Cass was its company town. The first load of pulpwood was shipped to the parent company's plant at Covington, Virginia, in January 1901. One year later, Cass was incorporated, its name honoring the pulp company's vice president, Joseph K. Cass. The town was sited along the tracks of the Greenbrier Division, which ran parallel to a stream known as Leatherbark Run, thus opening up huge tracts of virgin forests to the north. After years of operating in what had first seemed an endless forest, the sawmill, which the Mower Lumber Company had owned since 1942, closed for good in 1960. By then the spur line which climbed Bald Knob, West Virginia's second highest peak, was one of the last logging lines left in the region, and its significance began to be appreciated. In 1962 the state acquired the right-of-way, three Shay locomotives, and other equipment and began to develop the line as a state park. In 1977 the state acquired the adjoining town of Cass and began a longterm restoration. Thirteen of the former company houses are now rental units for park visitors, the former company store sells souvenirs, and a 1979 replica of the second depot of 1923 serves passengers on the scenic railroad.

Cass and its railroad are of paramount importance in the state's architectural history and preservation. This is West Virginia's only restored company town, and although it was a lumber town, it was similar in its hierarchical design and layout to coal company towns. The buildings, picket fences, boardwalks, and other accoutrements have been recreated to evoke the original atmosphere and appearance. Even if the ambience is necessarily more antiseptic now than during Cass's heyday, when one of the mighty Shay locomotives steams up for a run to Bald Knob, the illusion is close to perfect.

Writing Credits

Author: 
S. Allen Chambers Jr.
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Citation

S. Allen Chambers Jr., "Cass Scenic Railroad State Park", [, West Virginia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/WV-01-PC12.

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