The West Virginia. Cyclopedia

Prince, West Virginia

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Prince Depot
USGS 1913 map showing location of Prince
Chessie cat mosaic set in floor of Prince Depot
Highway bridge across New River was built in 1931 and operated as a toll bridge until 1946
South approach of the Buford Pugh Memorial Bridge near Prince

Located on highway WV-41 (formerly US-19), Prince, WV is on one of the few major automobile routes crossing the New River deep within the New River Gorge. As a result, the community is among the most populous of the inhabited communities in the New River Gorge. In 1910 its population was estimated at 235 and today is estimated at nearly 100. A relatively large number of vacation homes have been built along the New River near Prince.

The community was established by William Prince, who in 1870 purchased, with his brother James, 300 acres thereat from Alfred Beckley at $3,000. They built a home near the present-day junction of the Piney Creek railroad branch line with the mainline and established a mercantile business during the construction of the C&O rail line and Stretcher's Neck Tunnel. In 1889, a post office named Prince was established, named in honor of William Prince, with James F. Prince serving as the first post master. [1] [5] In 1889, William Prince established a 32-room hotel just downstream of the Prince Post Office. [5]

The Chesapeake & Ohio Railway (C&O) first established a station at Prince in 1880, building the depot on land donated by William Prince, who became the first station agent there.[2] The C&O enlarged the Prince depot in 1891. A fire destroyed the depot in 1917 but it was replaced that same year by a new structure. In 1946, the C&O opened a new brick station at Prince, said to have cost $200,000. The formal opening of the new Prince station took place on June 26, 1946. An 11-car special train with about 1,100 persons on board, slowly traveled from Beckley down Piney Creek Gorge to Prince, where it was greeted by Chesapeake & Ohio Railway officials and the governor of West Virginia. A crowd of about 2,500 persons had gathered at Prince for the ceremony.[3] The Prince depot is the first railroad station in the U.S. to utilize the principal of radiant heating (also called panel heating.)[4] The passenger station at Prince which still stand today, is an acclaimed example of the Art Modern style of Architecture as applied to railroad structures. The Prince Station remains a regular Amtrak stop, providing service to residents of Beckley and other nearby communities.

Just prior the turn of the 20th century, William Prince becoming involved in the coal business, as a part-owner of the mine on the opposite banks of New River at Royal. In the 1890s, the Royal mining operation built a tipple and a battery of 78 coke ovens at Prince, just downstream of the Prince Depot. Coal was transported from the mine (on the south side) across the New River to the tipple (on the north side) utilizing buckets suspended on a wire cable that spanned New River. Although some people of the 21st century seem to believe that Prince "was never a coal mining town" the historical record indicates otherwise.

Because the land of the town was owned by the Prince family (who preferred to rent property, rather than sell) the town never grew or expanded during the period of coal boom. The very few businesses located in the town were owned by the Prince family. The Prince family retained ownership of the most of the land of Prince until the 1940s, selling it holdings to the Prince Land Company which then sold plots and houses to individuals. [5]

Prince was an important stop along the main line of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, though nearby Quinnimont was the shipping outlet for freight passing off the many local branch lines. Quinnimont and Prince (to a lesser degree) benefited in part from their location nearly midway between the railroad's two important branch lines. One, on Piney Creek, ascended into the highlands of central Raleigh County. The other, on Laurel Creek, ascended into the highlands of eastern Fayette County. Construction on the Piney Creek branch began in March 1898, and was completed to Raleigh on July 1, 1901. [2] A one-mile extension of the line to Beckley Junction (present-day Mabscott) was completed in later in 1901.

Parts of Prince have been protected by the National Park Service as part of the New River Gorge National River. Three park service camping areas are located near the Prince, and hiking, biking, kayaking, and float-fishing are popular outdoor sports that draw visitors to the area.

Amtrak's Cardinal roars into Prince Depot
Highway side of Prince Depot
Railway side of Prince Depot
Autumn morning scene at Prince
Coal mining photo mural in Prince Depot of Crab Orchard mine
Prince Depot; Backus Mountain looms in the distance
3D model of Prince Depot

Rafter's Reference: Prince is located on an elevated bench of land at river-right, upstream of the C&O Railroad bridge over New River. As the community is located upstream of the primary New River Gorge whitewater rafting area, Prince is not generally visited by rafters.

Piney River Turnpike

Buford Pugh Memorial Bridge at Prince, WV
On February 16, 1871, the Piney River Turnpike Company was incorporated in West Virginia by William McCreery, Sr., Alfred Beckley, Sr., Edwin Prince, Lewis McDonald, and Garner Calloway. The company's purpose was to construct a road from Beckley (Raleigh Court House), Raleigh County, to the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad in the vicinity of Prince/Quinnimont. The road was to be built as a toll road.

The ca. 1879 map at left shows the apparent route of the Piney River Turnpike to a point across New River near the location of Quinnimont, West Virginia. According to travel notes written by Daniel M. Lloyd, a Mount Hope businessman who frequently traveled to the Quinnimont area, a ferry was still in operation in the early 1900s, transporting travelers across the river to and from Quinnimont. According to a 1946 newspaper article, William Prince established a ferry at Prince, just below the highway bridge, shortly after the C&O line was built, that transported wagons, horses, and people across New River. Nine to fifty wagons used the ferry daily during its early years of operation. Most were merchants from Raleigh and Wyoming counties who picked up goods dropped off at Prince station by passing C&O trains.[4]

The following quote, from a 1879 article in Engineers and Engineering illustrates how isolated the area of Prince and Quinnimont were that prior to the building of the turnpike: "Some notion of the rugged character of the country may be gathered from the fact that when, about four years ago, the traffic along the railroad was interrupted by numerous landslides the settlement at Quinnimont Furnace, containing between two hundred and three hundred persons, was dependent for its supplies upon trains of pack mules, there being no wagon road over which goods could be hauled."

Prince Highway Bridge

Buford Pugh Memorial Bridge at Prince, WV
The first highway bridge across New River at Prince was built in 1931 by the Prince Bridge Company, which was organized on August 8, 1928. The bridge, which came to be later known as the Buford Pugh Memorial Bridge, was operated as a tool bridge until August 8, 1946.

The Historic Bridges website has a collection of information on the Thomas Buford Pugh Memorial Bridge which includes drawings of the original bridge.


[1] The Beckley Post-Herald, May 4, 1972, Shirley Donnelly "Beury Opened New River Coal Field"
[2] The Beckley Post-Herald, August 26, 1950, p. 106
[3] The Raleigh Register, June 27, 1946
[4] The Raleigh Register, June 23, 1946
[5] The Raleigh Register, May 5, 1946