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Gauley Bridge

Gauley Bridge, population 549 in 2020, is located in Fayette County at the picturesque confluence of the Gauley and New rivers, where the two streams join to form the Kanawha River. The name Gauley Bridge dates from the early 1820s when a wooden covered bridge was built to carry the James River & Kanawha Turnpike across the Gauley River. Because it commanded entry into the Kanawha Valley, the village that sprang up was of strategic significance during the Civil War. Possession of Gauley Bridge was hotly contested, and the town was the scene of heavy fighting early in the war. During 1861 and 1862, Gauley Bridge, originally Southern in sympathy, was taken and retaken three times, and the wooden bridge was burned, rebuilt, and burned again. The piers and abutments of the old bridge still stand near the modern highway bridge.

The town achieved notoriety during the 1930s with the nearby construction of the Hawks Nest Dam and Tunnel. It was during the Great Depression and hundreds of unemployed workers, many of them Blacks from the South, swarmed into Gauley Bridge for the construction jobs. The tunnel was driven three miles through Gauley Mountain, and tunnel workers almost immediately began to sicken and die. The cause was silicosis, a disease well known in Europe but not in the United States at that time. The death toll has been estimated at more than 750, making the Hawks Nest Disaster among the worst industrial accidents in U.S. history.

Despite its long history, Gauley Bridge became an incorporated municipality only in 1978.

Written by Lyle Blackwell