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A few surprises, Princeton Station and a stay at the Elkhorn Inn 7/28/2018

by Chris Guenzler

We left the Durbin train station after a wonderful ride on the Durbin Rocket and after gassing up the Ford Fiesta we are renting, we headed south to White Sulphur Springs with a stop at Hardees for lunch. From here we got on Interstate 64 to US 219 South where I had a hunch when I saw a parking lot down by the railroad and we found some unique things in Ronceverte.

C&O coaling tower in Ronceverte built in 1935.

The C&O Ronceverte train station built in 1914.

One more look at the C&O coaling tower.

We found a West Virginia Covered Bridge called the Indian Creek Covered Bridge built in 1898 along US 219.

Life is a Highway as we took US 219 to US 440 and this view. From here we went to Princeton and our next stop.

Princeton Train Museum

This is a replica train station built in 2006. After the city tore down their original train station by mistake, it was then rebuilt.

Brief History of the Virginian Railway

Known as the "Richest Little Railroad in the World," the Virginian Railway was formed in 1907 through the marriage of the Deepwater Railway in West Virginia and the Tidewater Railway in Virginia.

Financed by Henry H. Rogers, one of the wealthiest men in the world, the Virginian proved itself as a modern well engineered railroad that could operate more efficiently than its larger competitors.

The Virginian Railway extended from Sewells Point, on Hampton Roads, Norfolk, Virginia, to Deepwater, West Virginia, a distance of 443 miles. It existed from 1909 until 1959, when it wasbought out by Norfolk and Western.


Directness of route was the primary goal of the engineers who planned the path of the Virginian. To achieve this objective, the mountainous terrain had to be overcome by the construction of a series of tunnels, bridges, and cuts. More attention was paid to grades and alignment than had ever been done in the building of a railroad. Cost was of no consideration. "Nothing is too good for my railroad," said the founder, Henry Huttleston Rogers.

Plans were for this railroad to be a scientifically constructed and equipped railroad. Revolutionary concepts and ideas were put into action. Unlike the practice of the more established rail systems in routing their lines expressly to reach populated locations, with passenger traffic the primary goal of their service; constructing them a piece at a time as money was available, the Virginian was built with the resources of one man - H.H. Rogers- who planned his railroad to utilize the fastest route for coal hauling. The building of the Virginian became the model for railway improvements for some of the oldest and largest systems in the country.


The work of building the Virginian Railway began in West Virginia in the name of the Deepwater Railway Company. Rogers named William N. Page president of the newly formed organization. When Rogers took a hand in directing the affairs of the Deepwater, his first act was to have its charter amended to extend to the West Virginia boundary line. The company's charter was revised in September, 1902. In approximately a year and five months, the Tidewater Railway was chartered in the state of Virginia with its boundary extended to the line of the two Virginias that would connect the two Railways.

W. N. Page became president of both railways. Rogers' ownership of the two projects did not become known until 1907 when the Virginian Railway was incorporated.

Sixty four percent of the excavation in West Virginia consisted of solid rock. The majority of the excavation was done by hand labor, mules and carts.

Upwards of 50 steam shovels, 1,200 dump cars, and 124 locomotives were used in the excavation of the cuts and tunnels. At the height of the construction more than 10,000 laborers were employed.

At the time the Virginian began construction, there was not a single mine development on the main line. By 1933, 91 mines were developed by the Virginian. It shared in the development of 47 mines on connecting lines which it acquired or built for a total of 138 working mines.

Our visit

We arrived right before 4:00 PM and started taking pictures of the building and other things around here.

The Princeton station.

Virginian Railway caboose 308 built by St. Louis Car Company in 1947.

A mural of the Norfolk and Western's big three steam engines on a wall across from the station. We walked inside and introduced ourselves as being from so she said "Take all the time you need!" I replied that we would be quick, which we were.

The waiting room bench.

Important railroad signage.

More views around the waiting room.

I entered the next room.

More railroad displays in this room.

The Ticket Window.

The station's bay window.

The rest of the first floor displays. Now I went upstairs to see the second floor exhibits.

The first room on the second floor.

View down the hall.

There is also a model railroad on the second floor. I returned to the first floor and thanked our hosts for having us today. From here we drove into Bluefield and had a major surprise.

Norfolk Southern SD60E 9-1-1 built in 1985 honoring First Responders was in Bluefield. What were the odds of this unit being second on a stack train while we were here today?

The coaling tower at Bluefield built in 1952. After photographing the coaling tower, we went to Subway to get food for our stay at the Elkhorn Inn tonight. We then decided to drive to Iager.

Somehow my autofocus got turned off so I apologize in advance for the poor quality pictures. But I am using Robin Bowers' pictures, so with them there are no problems but they will show what we did!

We drove west along highway US 54 and after passing the Elkhorn Inn we came upon a set of Norfolk Southern helpers returnig west to help another train at Powhatan, so we went to a grade crossing at Kyla.

The Norfolk Southern helpers at Kyla. We drove to Iager and when we turned around, we saw smoke from an eastbound train and headed to Twin Tunnels at Kimball.

At the top of the hill between Iager and Welch we found this caboose. We headed to Kimball where we heard a train whistle from both ways down the tracks. The eastbound train rumbled louder and louder and then came into view.

The Twin Tunnels near Kimball.

The eastbound Norfolk Southern freight train at the Twin Tunnels near Kimball.

The westbound Norfolk Southern train came just as then eastbound had cleared.

The eastbound Norfolk Southern freight train at Eckman. We then headed to the Elkhorn Inn for our first stay ever.

Elkhorn Inn History

The historic "Coal Heritage Trail" building that is now the Elkhorn Inn was built by Empire Coal & Coke Company as their "Miner's Clubhouse" in 1922. It was designed by the renowned architect Alex B. Mahood. Our brick and concrete building replaced two wooden buildings which had burned down, and it survived the devastating floods of 2001 and 2002 which destroyed 30 houses next to the Inn and killed 8 people. Dan and Elisse bought and saved the building from demolition in 2002, Dan restored it, and we opened our new home as the Elkhorn Inn in May of 2003. Over the years the building changed hands many times and was used for a variety of purposes; from many of our guests who lived or worked in this building thoroughout its history, we have learned that in the 1940s it was a rooming house for coal miner's families, it was privately owned in the 1950s, in 1957 it was the office and residence of mining company supervisor and his family, and was later a State Police barracks. In the 1960s-1970s it was the offices of Hawley Coal, in 1988 it was Data Services, Inc., and in the 1990s it was briefly owned by Billie Cherry.

Restoring, living in, and maintaining this "Coal Heritage Trail" building is a wonderful, continuing adventure! HGTV's two programs on us, "Building Character" & "ReZONED", highlighted some of the interesting architectural details Dan "uncovered" in the process of restoring this building, including the original tile floor in the two-tub bathroom, transom windows on guest room doors, the original hemlock banister, & pay-window where the miners went to get their pay. Built to withstand fire, the only wood in the building is the trim- all 66 original 1922 windows! In 2008, Dan Clark was awarded the Coal Heritage Trail Preservation Award for his restoration of the Elkhorn Inn, which is the only surviving historic buidling in our area. The "Restoration of the Elkhorn Inn" page has "before and after" photos of our restoration of the building.

The Inn's "Museum Room" has a growing collection of items from this building's past and our area's illustreous history in railroading and coal mining, including coal core samples, mine maps, scrip, photos, post cards, books, "Pocahontas" railroad china and menus, artwork, and mining memorabilia. West Virginia authors Nick Christodoulou, Raymond Daugherty, Homer Hicklam, and others have given us their books & memoirs on growing up in this area, which we have for our guests to read.

Our stay

We arrived and when I went inside she called me "Mr. Guenzler" and then showed me our room with twin beds, the patio with deck chairs and a table told me about the Internet and I was all set. Robin had the great idea of a picnic on the deck which we did with a pair of Norfolk Southern trains for or dessert. It was a beautiful clear mountain evening and Robin and I planned to come back here for at least two nights next year. After dinner I talked with the owner for a bit then worked on stories. They brought the bill up since we were leaving early the next morning. I had a great night of sleep waking up at 5:30 AM. I took a shower then worked on and finished my story. Later Robin got up and we packed up and left for the Tweetsie Railroad at 6:30 AM ending our first stay at the Elkhorn Inn