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The lumber town of Cass, located on the Greenbrier River in east-central Pocahontas County, was founded in 1900 by the West Virginia Pulp & Paper Company, now MeadWestvaco. The town was named for Joseph K. Cass, a Pennsylvania paper manufacturer who was vice president of the company.

West Virginia Pulp & Paper, owned largely by the Luke family of New York, built a paper mill at Luke, Maryland, in 1892, and another at Covington, Virginia, in 1900. Both mills used red spruce as a source of fiber for paper pulp. During the late 1800s, John G. Luke began buying large tracts of timberland in the Cheat Mountain area in Randolph and Pocahontas counties. These lands included thousands of acres of old-growth red spruce and hardwood timber.

While the Covington mill processed smaller trees into pulp for paper manufacturing, the Cass sawmill was designed to cut the company’s larger trees into lumber. In 1899, West Virginia Pulp & Paper purchased land along the Greenbrier River at the mouth of Leatherbark Creek. Here they built a band sawmill and the town of Cass to house workers at the mill. Cass prospered and by 1920 had a population of more than 2,000. By that time the original forests had largely been cut and, having no other industry, the town began a slow decline.

In 1943, the sawmill was sold to the Mower Lumber Company of Charleston, which cut second-growth timber and continued operating until July 1, 1960. Like most sawmill towns in the state, Cass seemed destined for abandonment. However, in 1962, the state of West Virginia purchased 11 miles of the logging railroad and established the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park. Later, additional miles of railroad, additional steam locomotives and railroad cars, and the town itself were purchased by the state. Company houses were renovated as park cabins. Today, Cass is one of the most popular parks in the state, drawing thousands of visitors each year to ride the special viewing cars drawn by antique steam engines up the steep grades formerly used by the log trains.

The Cass Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. In 2020, Cass had a population of 38.

Read the National Register nomination.

Written by Roy B. Clarkson


  1. Clarkson, Roy B. On Beyond Leatherbark: The Cass Saga. Parsons: McClain, 1990.

  2. Clarkson, Roy B. Tumult on the Mountains: Lumbering in West Virginia 1770-1920. Parsons: McClain, 1964.

  3. "West Virginia Pulp & Paper Company Records." West Virginia & Regional History Collection, West Virginia University Libraries.