Thomas, West Virginia is located in Tucker County in the highlands of the Mountain State, and was once a hub of activity as a company town for the Davis Coal & Coke Company along the West Virginia Central and Pittsburg Railway (WVC&P). After the mines and mills closed by the 1950s, Thomas and the county refocused its efforts towards tourism, promoting Blackwater Falls State Park and later Canaan Valley and Dolly Sods.
Thomas was settled by Jacob Christian Pase in 1880, with coal mines operated by the Davis Coal & Coke Company opening during the winter of 1883.(1) Timber mills soon followed, as did other resource industries. Thomas, named after Thomas Beall Davis,(2) a brother of Henry Gassaway Davis who was the owner of the WVC&P, saw the addition of a post office, hotel, bakery and two stores soon. On August 10, 1884, the WVC&P was completed to the burgeoning city, and a roundhouse and machine shop were completed in 1889, enlarged in 1900.
On June 13, 1892, Thomas was incorporated as a town with a population of 693.(1) A fire in 1901 destroyed much of the wood-framed downtown, which was quickly rebuilt in stone and brick.(2)
In 1904, electricity had arrived in the town, supplied by the Davis Coal & Coke Company power plants,(1) and the first paved brick street was installed five years later along East Avenue.(1)(2)
By 1920, the city’s residents peaked at 2,099, many who were immigrants of southern Europe. The Davis Coal & Coke Company had to hire full-time interpreters to handle the influx of varying languages.(1) Most were from 18 European countries – Poland, Hungary, Italy, Greece, Jugoslavia, Lithuania and others.(2)
But ten years later, the population of Thomas had declined to 1,660 due to the closure of most of the coke ovens in nearby Coketon in 1921 (2) and the decline in the output of coal and timber.(1) On May 27, 1950, the Buxton and Landstreet Building, home to the company store, closed.(1) The roundhouse and machine shop closed when diesel locomotives replaced steam in 1953. In 1983, the WVC&P was abandoned and dismantled several years later. Portions are today the Blackwater Canyon Trail.