Pence Springs, West Virginia: Evolution of a station
Dixon, Thomas W Jr
Pence Springs, West Virginia, is located near milepost 343, about seven miles west of Alderson and twelve miles east of Hinton on the C&O’s Alleghany Subdivision. The name comes from the Pence family, owners of the sulphur spring that flowed from eastern West Virginia’s limestone strata at this point. Never famous in the old days as were nearby sulphur springs such as the Greenbrier White Sulphur, Salt Sulphur, Blue Sulphur, etc.-all of which had famous resort hotels before the War Between the States-it nonetheless had high-quality water that was widely acclaimed for its medicinal qualities.
After the arrival of the C&O in 1872, A. P Pence purchased the spring at this point and began bottling and selling the mineral water, shipping it east and west over the new C&O line, from the station located across the Greenbrier River from the spring and his property. Later he built a large dwelling and took in boarders who came as part of the summer mountain resorts and springs trade. This home burned, and in partnership with two influential men, Pence erected a medium-sized frame hotel on the hill above the spring in 1897. It attracted a small share of the “springs trade” from the eastern cities via the C&O in the summer, becoming a part of the “system” of springs resorts in the region, being about the westernmost of the facilities that catered to this trade.
The C&O established at this location stock pens where livestock could be rested en route over the line (see Al Kresse’s article in the December 2000 C&O Historical Magazine). Miller’s History of Summers County states, “The stock pens were constructed in 1875 at Pence’s Springs Station which was then known as Stock Yards, and for twenty odd years afterwards, in 1900 they were removed to Hinton.”
Exactly what the first station at this point was, I have not been able to discover. In the early 1890s the C&O erected one of its standard No. 3 frame station buildings, which seems to have been built exactly according to C&O standard plan 1008. This structure was a combination freight and passenger station that was further combined with a standard octagonal signal tower (or “Cabin” as they were known on the C&O), the latter being placed on the roof of the small station building. This allowed the operator the advantages of a tower, but he could also attend to station agent business when not occupied in assisting with train movements. This type of structure became common in the mid-1890s, especially west of Clifton Forge and east of Huntington, appearing most commonly on the Alleghany and New River Subdivisions.
The photo at the bottom of page 15 is the same that appeared in the December 2000 C&O HistoricalMagazine, but is reproduced again here in order to give this story continuity.
As indicated in the quote above, the stockyards were removed to Hinton about the turn of the 20th century, and the station renamed Pence Springs.
In 1918, a new three-story brick hotel building was erected on the bluff overlooking the spring house, across the river from the station, and Pence Springs gained renewed reputation as one of the great “Virginias Springs” resorts of the era, though it never attained the standard or size of the White Sulphur or Hot Springs resorts. Reports from August 1918 show 123 people staying at the hotel.
The Pence family also began marketing ginger ale made from the spring water, as well as bottling and shipping the water itself, touting its medicinal qualities. (The water sold for $2.00 per case, and an average of 200 cases per week were shipped via railway express). After all, it had won the silver medal at the St. Louis Exposition in 1904. We have to assume that this business caused an increase in the freight and express service to the small station. Passengers coming to and from the spring seem to have reached a peak in the early 1920s as well.
The June 4, 1922, C&O System Timetable shows Pence Springs as a regular stop for Train No. 13 westbound and a flag stop for No. 14 eastbound, the local trains that had always been the regular transportation serving the station, but special stops were also shown for Nos. 1 and 3 westbound and No. 6 eastbound. No. 1 stopped for any passengers boarding at Clifton Forge or east of there, while No. 3 stopped only if the passenger boarded north of Washington (indicating that this stop was definitely meant for “springs” patrons from the eastern cities). No. 6 stopped to discharge passengers from west of Charleston or to pick up passengers bound for Gordonsville or beyond. This was obviously for the benefit of passengers returning to the eastern cities.
In June 1919 the C&O’s Engineering Department proposed to enlarge the freight room of the Pence Springs station building by a generous 50 feet (the old room was 16 feet long), and the waiting room by 16 feet (nearly doubling from its original 18-foot length). We assume that this was occasioned by the increased passenger and freight traffic being experienced in this period as explained above. Electric lighting was installed in the building in 1919 as well.
In May 1923 a 200-foot-long platform was built between the east and west main lines at the station to accommodate “eastbound express.” We assume that this was the shipment of bottled water and ginger ale to the eastern markets.
When the work was actually accomplished in 1927, the freight room was extended by only 16 feet, thus doubling the original, but the passenger area was not enlarged at all.
During this renovation, the cabin/tower was removed from the structure, thus giving it the appearance of an ordinary standard station with one waiting room and two freight room doors.
The ensuing years were not kind to Pence Springs, and the old springs trade began to dry up as fashion changed and economic times passed this sleepy rural setting by. The hotel closed in 1929.
Most of the business at this station now was from the farmers in the region, who were also served by stations at Alderson and Talcott, only a few miles distant in either direction and much more easily attainable with the better roads and farm trucks of the period.
As a result, the C&O demolished its Pence Springs station building and replaced it with a shelter shed in May 1940. The simple 10×10-foot structure was enclosed on three sides and had a single bench on the far wall. It had none of the architectural flourish of the C&O’s earlier standard shelter sheds.
The September 25, 1940, C&O Public Timetable shows Pence Springs as a flag stop for local passenger trains Nos. 13 and 16 only. Pence Springs last appears in a C&O Public Timetable in November 1949, however the station was shown as a flag stop for Nos. 13 and 104 through 1956, when these two local passenger trains were discontinued.
The shelter shed was removed in January 1962 during a general retirement of passenger facilities no longer needed. Unfortunately, no photo of the shelter shed has yet been found for the Society’s collection.
The rise, expansion, decline, and disappearance of the Pence Springs station is similar to the life cycle of hundreds of other similar rural locations on the C&O and tens of thousands all across the United States.
The location was one of the last, if not the very last, location on the C&O main line in West Virginia where mail was received and dispatched non-stop to and from the RPOs on the passenger trains by using a mail crane. This was carried on until the “WASH & CIN ED” Railway Post Office line was cut off C&O Trains Nos. 3 and 4 in May 1968, just a few weeks before the trains themselves were discontinued.
The old Pence Springs Hotel was taken over in 1947 for the West Virginia State Prison for Women. The prison was removed in the 1970s and the hotel has been partially restored as a resort and fine dining location. It was sold recently to new developers.
C&O Railway Co., Comparative Statement of Passengers, Freight Tonnage, and Revenue:
1891; 1891-92; 1893-94; 1895-96; 1903-04; 1905-06; 1911-12; 1913-14; 1915-16
C&O Engineering Dept. Drawings:
1008 dated April 1893.
X-1886 dated 6/13/1919
X-1944 dated 8/11/1919
5479 dated 7/8/1926, rev. 7/7/1927
14194 dated 8/8/1940
31146 dated 1/14/1961, rev. 9/20/1962
Copyright Chesapeake and Ohio Historical Society, Inc. May 2002
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