Unique Places

Cass Scenic Railroad: Nostalgia of a Logging Town, Part 3

Shortly after the tour, the billowing steam and piercing whistle of the Shay engine beckoned us aboard the Western Maryland for our train ride up Back Allegheny Mountain to our destination at Bald Knob.

With only a roof over our head, the rest of the cars were open to the air. We settled into our wooden seats, sat back and soaked up the woodsy scenery. Slowly the steam engine pushed its way up Back Allegheny Mountain, tackling each switchback with ease and skill.

Whitaker Station

Whitaker Station

Over halfway to the top, we took a break at Whittaker Station, where there was a snack bar and some picnic tables. Nearby, a young couple on their honeymoon waved to us from the red caboose they had rented. Overnight stays in a caboose are also available at Bald Knob. After a brief respite here, we resumed our trip to the top.

Shay Engine Steam

Shay Engine Steam

A water tank by the side of the tracks was our last stop before Bald Knob. Here, the conductors filled the large water tank behind the engine before continuing the last leg of our trip.

View from Bald Knob

View from Bald Knob

At Bald Knob the views were spectacular. One on side we could see far into the valley below. On the other side, a trail led to a wilderness cabin which was also available for overnight rental. We ate our boxed lunches at one of the many picnic tables.

Riding through the woods on the Western Maryland

Riding through the Woods on the Western Maryland

When afternoon shadows started to appear, it was time to head back down the mountain. On the return trip, we received an unexpected education on the local foliage. A lady who knew all the names of the hardwood trees sat on the other side of my husband. Dan, who has a degree in forestry, drilled her with questions and she was happy to oblige.

West Virginia countryside

West Virginia Countryside

We spent one more night in house #229.

The next morning, to end our Cass adventure, the three of us rented bikes from a local grocery store. We cruised through the Town of Cass, passed our “home” and, after reaching the trailhead, rode six miles, round trip, on the Greenbrier River Trail. This 78-mile trail, located just outside of town, once featured railroad tracks. Long removed, it now functions as a path for bikes and pedestrians. We followed the Greenbrier River through the Monongahela National Forest that was aflame with white, pink, red, purple and yellow wildflowers. Due to time restraints we ended our trip once we reached the three-mile marker. However, my appetite was whetted for more.

The next time I visit Cass, and there will be a next time, I’m going to stay longer, soak up more railroad history and ride the rest of the Greenbrier River Trail.

The Greenbrier River Trail

The Greenbrier River Trail

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Cass Scenic Railroad: Nostalgia of a Logging Town, Part 2


History of Cass, West Virginia

History of Cass, West Virginia

The Town of Cass was founded in 1900 by the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company and settled by William Luke and his sons, who purchased over 70,000 acres of timber. Sam Slaymaker and Emory Shaffer supervised the building of the town, including the mill and the railroad. Cass was named for Joseph Cass, who was the vice-president and company investor.

Shay Engine in Front of Company Store

Shay Engine in Front of Company Store

Just like the company houses, all the buildings in the commercial district of Cass were painted white. The focal point of this area was the company store. Three stories high, the first floor today is used as a gift shop. Loaded with souvenirs of all kinds, including post cards and homemade items, the company store was a center of activity. Here, I purchased a yellow leaf paperweight made from West Virginia Glass. The other two stories were closed to the public.

The Jailhouse

The Jailhouse

Other buildings in the town included a church, city hall/jail and a post office. City hall was a small white building with a brick basement. On the outside of the basement, a black iron door with a barred window separated prisoners in the tiny cell from the outside world. Back then, it was mostly drunken brawls that landed one in jail.

Door to the jail cell

Door to the Jail Cell

Jailhouse and Church (around the corner)

Jailhouse and Church (around the corner)

Fascinated as I was with sleeping and shopping in a town that had such atmosphere, the main attraction of Cass Scenic Railroad State Park was the Shay engine train. So, after purchasing a boxed lunch from the company store, we headed down a small hill to the train depot and purchased tickets for our ride.

Since the train wasn’t scheduled to leave for a few hours, we passed the time by joining a tour group and viewing what remained of the old logging mill. Not much is left of the mill today. However, before the mill was closed in 1960, the cut logs were hauled down Back Allegheny Mountain on one of the Shay engine trains. They were then processed at this mill for use by paper and hardwood-flooring companies.

The Wright Brothers' Letter

The Wright Brothers’ Letter

In keeping with the historical romance of the logging town, we discovered that Orville and Wilbur Wright had written a letter to the West Virginia Spruce Lumber Company requesting their finest grades of spruce for use in constructing flying machines. Later we obtained a copy of that letter.

Train repair shop on the left; train on the right

Cass Shop on the Left; Train on the Right

We continued to listen as our knowledgeable guide explained the ins and outs of train life during the height of the logging era. Our tour ended at the Cass Shop, a locomotive repair shop, where two Shay engines were in the process of being repaired.


To be concluded next Wednesday…


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The Rose Shall Blossom

This picture was taken outside of Confederate surgeon Dr. Thomas Richard Meux's Victorian home in Fresno, California.

This picture was taken outside of Confederate surgeon, Dr. Thomas Richard Meux’s Victorian home in Fresno, California.

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Cass Scenic Railroad: Nostalgia of a Logging Town, Part 1

Welcome to Cass Scenic Railroad State Park

Welcome to Cass Scenic Railroad State Park

Downtowns all over the world offer unique slices of history. From charming antique stores, vintage dress shops, cozy restaurants, trendy coffee houses and used book stores, these restored sections of our past evoke the nostalgia of childhood and a simpler life.

Such was Cass, West Virginia, for me.

Tucked into the heart of Appalachia, Cass Scenic Railroad State Park is a place dripping with nostalgia. This West Virginia logging town, restored to the way it looked at the turn of the 20th century, managed to hold onto the charm and romance of the days when Shay engine trains ruled the logging rails.

I was fortunate to call Cass home for two days.

House #229

House #229

On vacation with my Father and my husband, Dan, I began my visit into the past by spending two nights in one of Cass’s renovated company houses.

Of the original 52 homes, 20 were refurbished and are used by visitors today. Rows of straight narrow streets, now lined with gravel, provided access to individual white, two-story, wood homes. Each home faced a wooden sidewalk and had a white picket fence surrounding a small front yard. These homes once belonged to the residential section of Cass.

After I crossed the threshold of our house, I was immediately pulled into another time and place. That feeling remained with me until I left Cass.

There was nothing fancy about house #229. Grey steps led to a small white front porch, supported by a grey lattice. On the porch was a swing. Two windows and a door opened the way to the interior of the house.

The backyard of House #229

The Backyard of House #229

Inside, wood floors spread from a modest living room to a little kitchen, which once held a wood stove, and ended in the dining room. A narrow passage of stairs led to three connecting bedrooms and one tiny bathroom upstairs. Perhaps the compactness of the house was for saving space so that it could be heated more efficiently during the cold West Virginia winters.

The place felt old, yet comforting. It reminded me of visits to my Grandfather’s house when I was a little girl.

The backyard, like the front, was also fenced. Here, however, there was a picnic table and a fruit tree. We ate our breakfast outside both mornings and discussed life in the early 1900s.

Business Section of Cass--The Cass Company Store

Business Section of Cass–The Cass Company Store

North, just a short walk down the hill from the residential section, was the business section of Cass. Our car remained parked in front of house #229 as we explored Cass by foot that first day.


To be continued next Wednesday…

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