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Hawks Nest, West Virginia

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New River Train excursion crossing railroad bridge at Hawks Nest
Hawks Nest Dam
1913 USGS map showing Hawks Nest
1882 map showing the early coking operation at Hawks Nest
1901 C&O track diagram of Hawks Nest

The community of Hawk's Nest was located on the north banks of Hawk's Nest Lake, formed with the construction of Hawks Nest Dam, a hydroelectric dam built on New River in 1930-33. MacDougal was the settlement on the opposite bank of New River across from Hawks Nest. The town shares its name with the towering cliff, "Hawk's Nest," just downstream. Tradition states that fish hawks (osprey) would gather in great numbers throughout the day on the great cliff. By utilizing the heat from the rock formation, the osprey could propel themselves into the gorge (for fish from the New) with minimal effort. Despite what its name implies, Hawks Nest wasn't used by the fish hawks as a nesting area, but rather as a perching area.

From 1812-1840, this point of sandstone was known as Marshall's pillar, or Marshall's column -- named in honor of U.S Chief Justice John Marshall, who visited in 1812 in connection with plans for canalization of New River. The cap of Marshall's column is now site of the Main Overlook at Hawks Nest State Park. Prior to the Civil War era, the cliff began to be commonly known as "Hawks Nest Rock," and the location along the river was known as Miller's Ferry. The term "Hawks Nest Rock" was commonly used in various Civil War era documents, and frequency used in various printed literature as late as the 1930s.

The area at the bottom of the gorge was marked "Miller's Ferry" on maps from as early as 1861, and the road leading down and out of the gorge identified as "Miller's Ferry Road" on maps as early as 1879. A drawing of the area of Miller's Ferry as viewed from Hawks Nest Rock was published in 1875 in the book The Great South....

An early post office called Hawks Nest was establish in the highlands near Hawks Nest Rock prior to the railroad's arrival (in 1873), but was later moved to the mouth of Mill Creek, along New River.

On January 29, 1873, the ceremonial driving of the last spike completing the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway's line from Richmond, VA to Huntington, WV took place at the Hawk's Nest railroad bridge. The actual completion of the last link in the rail line had taken place a few days earlier at a point about three-fourths of a mile east of Fayette Station on the north side of the gorge.

In 1870, the Gauley Kanawha Coal Company, backed by English capital, began construction of a 30-inch narrow gauge railroad running from a point near the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway (C&O) mainline at Hawks Nest, traveling a course along Mill Creek to mines located near present-day Ansted. The purpose of the narrow gauge line was used to haul the coal from the mines to the C&O where it was loaded in standard-gauge cars on a siding near the mouth of Mill Creek. The rail line was completed in 1873, soon after the completion of the C&O.

The company operated until 1875, when it was reorganized as the Hawks Nest Coal Company Ltd. and soon afterwards the company established a coal coking operation near the spur track. By 1878, the company was operating six coke ovens. In 1881, M. Soldenhoff, a Belgian resident in England, arrived at the Hawks Nest operation to supervise installation of eighty Soldenhoff's Improved Coppee Coke Ovens (see: coke), said to be the first of their kind built in the U.S. In 1889, the narrow gauge railroad was replaced with a standard gauge line (which later became the C&O's Hawks Nest Subdivision) which eliminated the need for the coking and loading operations at the bottom of the gorge at Hawks Nest. However, several families apparently continued to live at the bottom of the gorge. The population at Hawk's Nest in 1910 was 120, according to the West Virginia Geological Survey.

The original wood-truss railroad bridge, completed in 1872, which spanned the river at Hawks Nest was rebuilt and replaced with a steel truss bridge in 1892. The C&O Railway's 1890-era wooden depot with octagon cupola tower survived at Hawks Nest until the late-1930's at which time it was replaced by the railroad with a simple "flag stop" shelter, which had disappeared by 1982.


Rafter's Reference: the community of Hawk's Nest is located downstream of the New River Gorge white water rafting area, and thus is generally inaccessible to rafters.