Clifton Forge, Va. (VR) – The Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Society, the non-profit organization with a mission to preserve, study, and publish the transportation history of the C&O Railway and its surrounding industries, has recently collaborated with digital artist Kenneth Miller of Roanoke, Virginia to rescue a nearly-forgotten piece of New River Gorge history.
The famed 100-room Dunglen Hotel, which stood from 1901-1930, was one of the most famous landmarks near the Chesapeake & Ohio rail town of Thurmond, West Virginia. Built by Thomas G. McKell to be the finest hotel in southern West Virginia’s coalfields, it was nicknamed the “Little Monte Carlo” and sat four-and-a-half stories high on the banks of the New River. Passed to his son William McKell upon his death in 1904, the growth of the Dunglen Hotel was tied to the prosperity of Thurmond, which was being flooded with workers as the local economy grew. However, very few photographs or artifacts survive of the gigantic structure that loomed beside the rushing New River across from Thurmond city limits.
One of two hotels at the commercial hub of the New River Gorge’s coalfields in the 20th century, not even an interior photo of the Dunglen Hotel is known to exist, though documents say the state-of-the art hotel boasted a luxurious lobby, electric lighting, steam heat, a well-known bar stocked with the finest liquor, extensive gambling opportunities, and even a bank, grocer, drug store, shoe shop, and barbershop.
However, thanks to a discovery of Dunglen Hotel letterhead dated 1907, found in a C&O Historical Society member’s private collection, a never-seen logo from the hotel is now featured in a line of history themed products available for sale in support of the non-profit organization.
C&O Historical Society President Mark Totten stated, “The idea behind the Dunglen product line was to create products inspired by the time period when the famous hotel stood brightly in Thurmond, juxtaposed against the wilds of the New River Gorge.” For example, the C&O Historical Society designed a drinking mug featuring the Dunglen Hotel logo to fit as something that could have been seen on a table in the hotel’s famous bar, crowded with the sights and sounds of gambling and talk of coal boom-and-bust cycles. The organization is also planning a custom collaboration with Blenko Glass Company in West Virginia.
Digital artist Ken Miller reflected on the personal meaning behind his remastering process, by which he took the letterhead’s logo and recreated the art by hand using software called Adobe Illustrator, “I like being able to accurately replicate something of the past, that almost nobody has seen in this modern world. Hotel, railroad logo, or signage, it is bringing something back to life, even if only in a digital world. The past is so easily dismissed by folks, and most people seem to forget that what is past may well have been vital and living. Recreating things bring them back to life, even if for a short time.” As opposed to having the software automatically trace the 1907 letterhead, Mr. Miller painstakingly hand drew the logo to recreate the Dunglen Hotel’s emblem in exacting detail.
The sale of history-themed items on ChessieShop.com allows the non-profit organization to continue its archival and publication mission that has preserved and shared the history of topics such as the Dunglen since its founding in Alderson, West Virginia in 1969. The C&OHS operates only on its membership dues, earned revenue, and donations.
Not only was the Dunglen Hotel a place where blue-collar workers could unwind outside of Thurmond city limits, where certain vices of the era were prohibited, the hotel also became a center for white-collar coalfield business. The Dunglen was the site of the region’s largest coal mine transaction, when a representative for the Berwind-White Coal Mining Company delivered a $1,250,000 check to the room of W.P. Rend as payment for Rend’s coal mines at Minden.
A new auditorium was added in 1921 under the direction of hotel manager H. T. Lyttleton, with the opening dance, along with a midnight luncheon, recorded as having taken place on November 10 with wide attendance. Nick Whyte’s well-known band from Clarksburg provided music for the 9 PM inaugural dance on a pristine, 150-couple maple floor. Festivities lasted until 2 AM. Orchestras from distant cities would play events at the hotel throughout the Dunglen’s history.
The most commonly-known piece of Dunglen history is the world’s longest continuous poker game that took place at the hotel, which stretched to 14 years, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
According to the C&O Historical Society, the Dunglen’s infamous reputation still reverberates nearly 100 years after the hotel was burned down by arsonists on July 22, 1930. To those familiar with the area’s history, mere mention of the hotel’s name invokes stories associated with what was called the “Dodge City of the East.” Two sayings also survive in New River Gorge lore that describe the rowdy culture of the rail towns around Thurmond, “No Sunday west of Clifton Forge and no God west of Hinton” and “The only difference between Hell and Thurmond is that a river runs through Thurmond.”
C&O Historical Society President Mark Totten commented that, if given the chance, the English journalist and poet Rudyard Kipling might have called Thurmond “Appalachia’s Mandalay.” Totten mused, “The language Kipling used to describe British India could be applied to Thurmond almost identically.” The C&OHS hopes this project starts bringing the history of the New River Gorge back to life just as vividly.
Ken Miller reflects on the deep meaning of this project, “The Dunglen was one of a series of famous hotels or places in history that are almost forgotten today, recreating their logos allows the continuation of a great history that is almost totally lost. The story of these places is virtually vanished, in many cases, with little to show someone today.”
The C&O Historical Society’s Business Office & Archive is open Monday through Friday from 9 AM – 5 PM and may be contacted by telephone at 540-862-2210 or by email at email@example.com. The C&OHS archive database is available online at archives.cohs.org. Updates and additional information can be found on Facebook under @cohs.org or on Instagram under @ChessiesRoad.
|C&O Historical Society Archives|
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