Thomas, West Virginia

Photo: TipTop

Most of the news coming out of West Virginia hasn’t been good lately. It ranges from sad (a large population decline) to depressing (the coal mines continue to lay off workers) to downright scary (drug overdoses are steadily rising). The Mountain State has become a place people want to flee or forget about instead of move to or visit. There’s one notable exception.

Thomas is a former coal mining town. Davis Coal and Coke opened their first mine in 1884. It quickly became one of the largest coal companies in the world. The little town, which sits along the North Fork of the Blackwater River in the Potomac Highlands, flourished. Brick stores lined one side of East Avenue. Cottrill Opera House opened for movies and vaudeville acts. Plus a grand railroad station connected northeastern West Virginia to Maryland and the rest of the East Coast. But, eventually, the mines started to close.

But Thomas is reinventing itself. The transition began accidentally, though not quietly, more than a decade ago, when the Purple Fiddle opened in an old country store. It brought healthy food, hostel beds, and bluegrass music to largely deserted East Avenue. Antique shops, art galleries, and more restaurants eventually followed. Flying Pigs Breakfast & Lunchery makes sweet potato pancakes in a cozy setting. Servers, wearing bowler hats and suspenders, deliver gourmet coffee, gluten-free treats, and even craft cocktails to you while you read a book. The quirky Cooper House dubs itself a “bed and cocktail,” as they offer happy hour hors d’oeuvres and drinks instead of breakfast. While the five-mile Seneca Trail—that passes meadows and forests, streams and waterfalls—is just outside of town.

And Thomas is about to get even better. An upscale restaurant is set to open. Rudolph’s will have an outdoor courtyard, handcrafted tables, and a seasonal menu. Understory, a Tiny Home Inn is coming, as well. Each of its six small houses will feature little fireplaces, living rooms, and kitchens. They’re surrounded by gardens, a hen-house, and towering pines. While a fire pit, a hammock lounge, and a spring-fed soaking pool will fill the communal spaces. It’s sure to be an instant Instagram hit.

So, what do you think? Is it time to give West Virginia another chance?

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