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Sewell, West Virginia

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Coking operation at Sewell, coal tipple in background
1901 C&O track diagram of Sewell and East Sewell

A historic community in the heart of the New River Gorge in central Fayette County, Sewell was originally known as Bowyers Ferry, named for Peter Bowyer, who established a ferry across New River in about 1798. Bowyer is also credited with being the first white settler to build a cabin in the New River Gorge. The community's name was later changed to "Sewell" in honor of Stephen Sewell, a pioneer who, with Jacob Marlin, was among the first Europeans to settle the central Allegheny Mountains. Sometime after 1751, Sewell crossed the highland west of present-day Marlinton, WV, and explored the area of the plateau above Sewell. Nearby Sewell Mountain was also named for Sewell.

According to local tradition, Sewell was formerly the crossing point across New River used by various Native American tribes long before the arrival of European settlers. The Sewell crossing point was said to have been part of a Indian trail connecting a trail along Lower Loop Creek to another well-traveled Indian trail, the Midland Trail, now US-60.

In 1785, an act of the Virginia Assembly authorized the building of a wagon road from Lewisburg, WV, to the Kanawha Falls on New River. Roughly following native trails, this "Old State Road" was completed in 1790. An iron-truss wagon bridge was built across New River at Sewell in about 1900, just downstream of the old ferry crossing, but was destroyed by a flood only a 21 days after being built and was never replaced. The bridge was built at a cost of $18,500.

In 1873, the Longdale Iron Company, a manufacturer of pig iron in Allegheny County, VA, acquired a tract of land around Sewell, opening a coal mine at Sewell Depot that same year. The Sewell operation was the first in the gorge to experiment in the burning of coke, finally adopting the beehive oven design in 1874, at which time they build a battery of 50 coke ovens. For years, all of the coal mined was coked for use in the Longdale Iron Company's blast furnaces in Longdale, VA. Eventually, the coking plant at Sewell would expand to 196 ovens, and the Sewell plant would become the largest coking plant in the New River Gorge.

In the 1880s, the Longdale Iron Company began construction of a 36-inch narrow gauge railroad along the course of Manns Creek that reached about 8 miles into the highlands above Sewell.[1] The rail line was complete in 1886 to a coal mine located on a farm formerly owned by Samuel Tyree.[1][2] The mine opened there would be named the Tyree mine. The railroad used two locomotives during its early years of operation. By 1897, the railroad had opened a line to Cliff Top (Clifftop) and a mine called "No. 2", a distance of 13 miles from Sewell.[3]

Sewell's population in 1910 was 410 according to the W.Va. Geological Survey (1919). In 1920 the town's population was 525.

Visiting Sewell

The impressive stone walls of old coke ovens and other ruins of mining and railroading operations once operating at Sewell still stand amid the forest, and are often visited by tourists taking white water rafting trips down the New River. The site can also be accessed by Babcock State Park Forest Road 804, which is regularly closed to vehicular traffic but can be hiked from the parking area at the park's Glade Creek Gristmill.


Elevation: 1040 feet
Population: 0
Longitude: -81.0211
Latitude: 37.9972


   

Map: Sewell, WV


Topo map of Sewell, WV and vicinity


Variant Name(s)

Bowyers Ferry, West Augusta


Sources

[1] "Items from the New River District of the Great Kanawha, W.Va." in The Coal Trade Journal (Oct. 7, 1885)Google Books
[2] The Bulletin of the American Iron and Steel Association, Volume 20 (Oct. 20, 1886) via Google Books
[3] "Construction" in The Railway Age (Feb. 12, 1897) via Google Books