In 1901, Cass was founded as a company town by the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company when it began harvesting the timber from the forests in the nearby mountains.
The town included the company store, depot, post office, small businesses and 40 nearly identical houses in perfect rows.
The operation changed hands and in 1960 closed altogether. The timber industry left, the people left, but the houses and the history remained.
After becoming a state park in 1963 as part of West Virginia’s Centennial celebration, Cass Scenic Railroad has been an attraction for steam train enthusiasts from all over the world.
When they come to visit, they can stay in one of those company houses, which stand as a reminder of the past.
Cass superintendent Benjamin McCune said the houses are a big draw for visitors who want to step back in time to the town’s heyday.
“We get a lot of people who come just to stay in the old houses,” he said. “Either that, or they’ve been coming around for fifty years and always stay in the houses. We have people come from all over the world because they like steam engines. I’ve met people from Japan, England, Germany, just everywhere you can think of.”
Out of the 40 houses, 23 are available for rent. Although their exteriors remain true to life during the timber operation, the interiors have been updated to accommodate modern visitors.
“The houses all have TV, and they all have WiFi,” McCune said. “We have some with modern bathrooms, some not. That’s what we’re getting ready to upgrade. We’re also going to add heat and air conditioning if we can keep it from being obvious from the outside.”
The state park is on the National Historic Register and the park has to follow guidelines when making changes to the facilities to maintain the historical significance.
The park has seen an increase in visitors renting the houses in part due to extension of the season. Now open year-round, Cass is getting visitors who have always wanted to stop, but couldn’t.
“We get a lot of people coming down here that are going to Snowshoe,” McCune said. “They drive by here on their way to go skiing, and now they can finally stop to see the store or stop and stay. We get a lot of people who are wondering about this old store.”
The houses are also a big saver for large groups. They sleep anywhere from six to 12, giving groups of friends or families a chance to stay together and have the conveniences of home because, at one time, the houses were all homes.
Along with being conveniently located for skiers and train fans, the houses and company store are also a link to ancestors for a lot of visitors.
Families grew up in Cass and many return to see where their fathers, grandfathers and so forth worked and lived.
“I had a lady in her eighties come in here this summer, and she was standing at the counter here and feeling it with her hands,” McCune recalled. “I said something to her and she said, ‘I can just imagine my Daddy’s fingers being here.’ Her dad had had an office space in here during the time they had the big timber operation. It’s cool to talk to people about their stories.”
For more information on Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, visit https://wvstateparks.com/park/cass-scenic-railroad-state-park/ or call 304-456-4300.