Hinton’s Railroad Days: tradition chugs along for 150 years

By Jeffrey Kanode, RealWV

For the people who call Hinton, West Virginia home, past, present, and future coalesce in the annual Railroad Days, a staple of the October calendar in the small Summers County city. This year, Railroad Days included the celebration of Hinton’s sesquicentennial.

“The railroad built Hinton. The railroad will be part of our story forever. Though nothing like in the past, we still do have trains rolling out of here. It’s still an economic factor, for sure,” reflected Mayor Jack Scott.

Former mayor James Leslie, current mayor Jack Scott, and former mayor Cleo Mathews cut the birthday cake for Hinton’s 150th. Photo by Jeffrey Kanode, RealWV.

In a lecture about Hinton and the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, Tom Dixon of the C&O Historical Society called railroads “the metropolitan corridor of the past,” and he emphasized that Hinton played a major role in the story of the railroads in this region. “Railroads were the binding tie of the American experience,” Dixon noted. As a C&O “division point,” Hinton served as a crossroads between trains journeying east or west.

Today, Railroad Days serves as an economic stimulus crucial for Hinton. Last year, a train from the Huntington and Charleston metro area brought 800 people to town. Although there wasn’t such a train this year, Scott estimates there were still 4,500 to 5,000 people in Hinton across the three days of the event. “We knew we wouldn’t have the train this year, and we planned accordingly,” Scott explained. “We amped up the live music with many more bands and singers, and we beefed up the advertising. We extended our hours into later in the evening. On the night of our fireworks, we had 250 people still in town.” Scott said there are plans to work with Amtrak to bring back a train next year, returning a crowd from the Huntington and Charleston areas of West Virginia.

According to Scott, 100 vendors participated in this year’s Railroad Days, creating two full blocks of offerings from local businesses such as restaurants, artists, and craftspeople. With TOOT going on in Lewisburg on the same weekend, Scott acknowledged that “there’s lots of competition this time of year,” but affirmed that “Railroad Days is a really big deal for us, and I think it always will be.” Railroad Days has been slated for the same weekend, the second weekend in October, for at least the next seven years. In the past, the dates have fluctuated. “Hopefully next year we will have more vibrant fall colors. There was amazing color up on the ridges above town this year,” Scott noted.

More and more, Hinton becomes associated with the nearby, new national park. The National Park Service hails Hinton as “the southern gateway to New River Gorge and Preserve.”

Mayor Jack Scott believes this can only help his town, and its beloved Railroad Days.

“We are proud to be here after 150 years, and we plan to keep on kicking,” he affirmed.

The mayor hailed the public works department of Hinton, the police, and his staff for working so hard to pull off Railroad Days. Candice Helms, the mayor’s assistant, and Stacy Ford co-coordinated the event. Helms and her mom, Jan Plumley, decorated the city. Scott also pointed to the labor of two former mayors, James Leslie and Cleo Mathews.

“For both of them to still be working with us is very unique. We are lucky to have them,” Scott applauded.

Two town employees, John Collins and Geoff Stevens, have a deep appreciation for the festival already, after working now two years of Railroad Days.

 John Collins and Geoff Stephens work for the City of Hinton and Railroad Days 2023 marks their second experience working with crowds of up to, perhaps, 5000 people. Photo by Jeffrey Kanode, RealWV.

“I think more people in Hinton appreciate their history than people in other places,” Collins reflected. “Hinton was built on the railroad. We wouldn’t have Hinton without it.”

Stevens asserted, “It’s great to be a part of this town, and to be a part of this event.”

Brian and Ashley Crook and their two little boys traveled to Railroad Days from their home in Princeton. Brian grew up in Hinton, and he said he has attended every Railroad Days since 1987, the year he was born.

Ashley and Brian Cook brought their two little boys to Hinton from Railroad Days.  While the Crooks now live in Princeton, Ashley grew up in Bluefield, and Brian grew up in Hinton.  Brian has been to every Railroad Days since 1987. Ashley has come every year since her relationship with Brian began. Photo by Jeffrey Kanode, RealWV.

“It’s a tradition for me. I came when I was a kid, and I bring my kids now,” he said.

Ashley grew up in Bluefield, and she started attending the annual Hinton event when she and Brian started their relationship.

“We look forward to it every year,” she said. “Mostly, I appreciate the opportunity to support the local businesses who set up here.”

The trains have been rumbling and whistling their way through Hinton for 150 years. There are fewer trains now, but they still run, and the rumbling and whistling from yesterday will always reverberate in the hills and valleys here, especially during a weekend in October, Railroad Days.


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