The earliest record in my postcard collection of Central Station, West Virginia, is the postmark on a card from a teenage girl named “Lulu” to another girl who would later become my grandmother. The card was mailed in 1906, and the recipient married my granddad three years later. I can’t be sure without looking through the collection, but I think he mailed a few cards to her from there, when he was working in nearby oilfields as a rig-building contractor.
Since there basically WERE no roads back then, most folks went as far as possible by rail before renting a horse. Central Station was on the main line between Washington, D.C., and Parkersburg, West Virginia back then, and it seemed that every third hollow had a post office and a whistle stop train station. The government allowed the subsidized railroad to close that line 30 years ago or so, and then let the company, which owned the right-of-way, but not the land, to illegally sell the land to the state to make a bike path for yuppie tourists. Ah, “progress!”
Recently, I hauled a load of crushed limestone to a compressor station near the little town. The outlying “suburbs” had been a smattering of dilapidated farms, house and buildings with junk and trash scattered about everywhere. The age and size of the rusting vehicles and machinery indicated that there had been some prosperity there at one time, but that time was well past. Occasionally, a neat, clean, and/or more modern house showed that some folks were still getting by okay. All-in-all, it looked like many other dying West Virginia communities that the railroad and/or the big highways have discarded. I suspect that most residents live on either welfare, due to lack of work, or social security, due to old age. The more industrious young folks leave such a place to chase their dreams, thus putting another nail in the town’s coffin.
I missed the practically hidden sign for the compressor station, and took my 14.5 ton truck, with its 22 ton load, across the 15 ton bridge and into the town proper. The houses there looked much like the ones outside the main town—just closer together. Most looked as if they hadn’t had a coat of paint in over a quarter-century, if then. Still, some of them were obviously lived in, and some LESS obviously lived in. A teenage girl came out of one house as I passed through, walked a few doors down the street, and entered another house without knocking. Typical behavior in a neighborhood where everyone knows one another.
There were various business buildings still standing, but none appeared to be in use as businesses. There was a Pentecostal church and a community building, neither in great shape, but usable. A couple small business buildings appeared to be lived in, while a few houses sat vacant. Some houses were in decent shape, some not, but nearly all the houses that appeared in use had clutter around them. It looked like a little town that, having been abandoned by the world, simply gave up expecting anything from life. I say this not to offend the residents, but to express my sadness at seeing the place, since I could tell from the buildings that it had once been a prosperous enough little town, as full of hopes and dreams as the next place.
I came across Depot Street—all 200 feet or so of it. Streets aren’t long when they cross a town built in a hollow. The train depot was long gone, probably even before that line was closed by the railroad. In my mind’s eye, I could see my granddad standing there at the station a century ago, not in his work clothes, but in his suit and derby hat, his overcoat over his arm, as he waited for the train to carry him home to his family for the weekend. At the moment, I almost envied him, having seen this little town when it was full of life, with working men and businesses, and with multiple trains passing through every day. I had my camera, but I felt it disrespectful to take a picture of the town in its current condition. It would have seemed like kicking a man when he was down.
I turned my truck around, recrossed the suspect bridge, finally found my delivery site back an angled driveway within a stone’s throw of that bridge, and dumped the stone. Going past the suburbs once again, I prayed that the current oil and gas boom in the area might provide work for some of the locals, and that the community might once again where fulfilled dreams and hopes seem like real possibilities. Only time will tell if Central Station will be there in the next century. © 2014