Blackwater Canyon Opened Up

Founded by Henry Gassaway Davis in 1866, the Potomac and Piedmont Coal and Railway stated that its purpose was to "furnish transportation" along with coal mining and timbering. The company was given the right to construct grades in Mineral, Grant, Tucker and Randolph counties.

Prior to the arrival of the railroad, Tucker County was sparsely populated, due in part to the rugged and wild mountain landscape. In fact, the first settlers in the area that eventually became Thomas were not reported until 1880.

In 1881, H.G. Davis’ first line entered into West Virginia, passing through Elk Garden in Mineral County. It became the West Virginia Central and Pittsburgh Railway and around this time acquired a great deal of coal and timber lands in present day Tucker County, WV. In 1884, the railroad was constructed along the North Branch of the Potomac River to the North Fork of the Blackwater River at the newly formed town of Thomas.

In 1888, H.G. Davis decided to continue expanding his railroad line southward from Thomas through the rugged Blackwater Canyon to Hendricks.

One year and ten miles later, the Black Fork grade, as it was named, was completed. This was an astonishing feat considering that along the way cuts sometimes hundreds of feet high were made into Backbone Mountain in order to facilitate construction. Other obstacles encountered were deep ravines and several rushing tributary streams. Along the way trestles were often built to keep construction moving, with workers returning later to place fill and remove trestles and build gigantic stone archways to accommodate both the railroad and bridge the mountain streams. Additionally all work was done by hand. It was considered at the time to be a nearly impossible task.

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