Hawks Nest

January 29, 1873: Chesapeake & Ohio Completed

Jan 29, 2019
More than 7,000 men—including many African Americans—laid track through the New River Gorge and cut tunnels through the mountains between Hinton and Covington, Virginia.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

On January 29, 1873, railroad officials gathered at Hawks Nest in Fayette County to drive the last spike on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway. The C&O, as it was known, connected the Ohio River with the Atlantic Ocean and gave birth to the modern coal and timber industries in southern West Virginia.

Southern West Virginia is a playground for hikers, cyclists and rock climbers, but in the heart of that lush landscape rests the site of what many consider the worst industrial disaster in American history.

Today, from a picturesque overlook on the mountain above, tourists can see the gate of the Hawks Nest Tunnel, located on the New River in Gauley Bridge. There, water rushes through 16,240 feet of steel and rock.

Hundreds of men died from a debilitating lung disease known as silicosis.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

On February 2, 1946, novelist Hubert Skidmore died at age 36. In the late 1930s and early ’40s, the Webster County native wrote several novels featuring West Virginia settings.

A common theme was the endurance of mountain people in the face of adversity. His best-known book never reached the public during his lifetime. Hawk’s Nest is a fictionalized account of what has been described as America’s worst industrial accident.

Twin Falls State Park entrance
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Some West Virginia state parks are encouraging friends, families and meeting planners to use their facilities through a January promotion.