Dedication of the New River Gorge Bridge

Beckley Post Herald and Register
October 23, 1977

The Gorge At The Turn Of The Century

Woman Lived In Bridge's Shadow

By Charles Spencer
Register Reporter

Since the time Bessie Bowyer walked along the New River Gorge as a girl of 16 the area has undergone so many changes she probably wouldn't recognize it.

In those days, around the turn of the century, names like Michigan and South Fayette and Delano and Ajax were names that meant something. Today they are no more than ghostly memories of coal camps that died and disappeared seemingly without a trace.

"It was a very quiet place," Mrs. Bowyer recalled of the coal camp she lived in that would be in the shadow of the New River Gorge Bridge.

"In those days people worked from daylight to dark. But as far as I know, everything is gone now."

But there were some pleasures. A saloon stood among the houses on the gorge.

"Up to the bottom of the Fayette Station was Ed Bloom's Grocery Store and the train station and the houses," she said. "You went up a dirt road to get to the houses. I was born in the house my mother lived in and my grandmother lived in. But there's nothing there now."

She could recall little about the saloon except that she "never went in there."

She recalls a company store at the Michigan Coal Camp where her father worked a a lot of houses, but said when you're 78 years old "your memory fades."

Transportation in the rugged gorge was a constant problem.

"Wherever we went, we had to go on foot," Mrs. Bowyer said from her home in Maple Fork, where she has lived for 32 years. "There were a good many horses in Lansing, but not where we lived.

"I can remember when my grandmother died, they had to have horses pull her to Lansing. And when my first husband died I rode a hack - what you call a buggy today. The thing they took grandmother in was something like a stagecoach."

"There was no transportation but trains then," she said. "To get to the train, you had to cross the bridge. I remember I went over it once in an old Model T Ford. I was 16 the last time I went down into the gorge."

Mrs. Bowyer said she was unable to go to the grand opening of the New River Gorge Bridge, but that she would like to see it. But she has mixed feelings about returning to the area.

"I liked it real good," she said. "They tell me there's a tipple down there still. But I don't care to go back. There're too many memories."