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W. D. Thurmond


Businessman William Dabney Thurmond (November 11, 1820-May 14, 1910) was born in Amherst County, Virginia, and migrated to Fayette County about 1845 as a young man with his father’s family. He was a pioneer New River coal operator and founded one of the most notorious boom towns in West Virginia’s industrial history.

Thurmond served as a captain during the Civil War with Thurmond’s Rangers. These irregular Confederate troops were commanded by brother Philip Thurmond, who was killed in Putnam County in 1864. The guerrilla war favored by the Rangers characterized the Civil War in the mountains, and W. D. Thurmond’s own family was burned out by opposing forces. According to his family, Thurmond remained an ‘‘unreconstructed Rebel’’ after the war, refusing to sign an oath of allegiance for the rest of his long life.

In 1873, Thurmond was commissioned to survey land on the north side of New River in the heart of New River Gorge. He accepted 73 acres as his pay, and in following years he built the town of Thurmond there. The town prospered with the coming of the railroad, developing at the same time a reputation as the place to let off steam in the hard-working coalfields. While W. D. Thurmond managed things within the town’s narrow corporate boundaries according to his own strict Baptist beliefs, to his dismay the larger community (and the Thurmond name) became synonymous with exuberant lawlessness.

Captain Thurmond was buried near his home in Minden, later moved to Gethsemane Memorial Garden near Oak Hill. His grandson, Walter R. Thurmond, was an important early coal operator in Logan County.


  1. Witschey, Walter R. T. The Thurmonds of Virginia. Richmond: Gatewood Co., 1978.