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Railroad Days
By Contributing Writer Ben Crookshanks

Nature laid down a lot of coal in the rugged Appalachian Mountains of southern West Virginia. Although they are beautiful, those mountains were a big obstacle in the mid-nineteenth century to those who wanted to mine the coal and haul it out. The most logical way to deal with the mountains was to build a railroad along a path that had already been cut thousands of years ago. In other words, follow the New River.

In the mid 1800's, there were only two families in the area that is now Hinton: those of Isaac Ballengee and John Hinton. In November of 1871, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Company bought the property of Isaac Ballengee, Jr., at a public auction for $3,600. That piece of property encompassed all of what is now the town of Hinton. C&O divided the property into lots and began selling them in 1874. The company donated three acres for construction of a courthouse.

Hinton became the site of a railroad maintenance complex. This consisted of a forty-car repair shop, a machine shop and a roundhouse with seventeen engine stalls. It was also a terminal where crew were called in and dispatched.

A building boom began in 1895 and continued until 1907. By 1906, the town's population was 6,000, by 1925, it was up to well over 8,000. But by the early 1950's, Hinton's boom days were coming to an end and today the little town on the New River is known more for its classic architecture that anything else.

Hinton has over 200 buildings in its historic district. In February of 1984, the historic district was placed on the National Register of Historical Places.

Each October the town celebrates its railroad heritage with the Hinton Railroad Days Festival. This year the festival is October 12-13 and 19-20.

There are three museums in Hinton, all within a short walk of each other. As one would guess, it has a railroad museum with artifacts, pictures and memorabilia from the town's heyday. One unique exhibit in the museum is dedicated to John Henry. The late Charlie Permelia, a retired railroader and self-taught sculptor spent the last seven years of his life carving the 100 figurines in the John Henry display. Nearly every job that would have existed on the railroad in the 1870's is depicted.

The Veterans Memorial Museum of Southern West Virginia is the only museum of its kind in West Virginia. Displays contain artifacts, memorabilia and collections from veterans of every major conflict and era.
Probably one of the more unusual and fascinating museums in the state is the Wood Memorial Clock Museum. It has on display hundreds of clocks of every description. Some are old, some are new and a good many are just plain unusual. Most of them are running. If you want to know what time it is, just look around.

The one really neat thing about all three museums-no admission. Donations are accepted.

For more information contact the Summers County Convention and Visitors Bureau at (304) 466-5420 or visit www.summerscvb.com.