The Finder of Forgotten Things–releasing in December–tells the story of a water dowser content to drift through life without making any connections. Until he stumbles upon the worst industrial disaster in the US that hardly anyone knows about–even to this day. As the release date for this book approaches, I’ll be sharing some of the true history and visiting the places threaded through the pages of my latest story. Today, we’re stopping off at Hawks Nest overlooking the New River Gorge.
Hawks Nest State Park is down winding Rte. 60–once known as the Midland Trail–connecting White Sulphur Springs to Charleston. With the addition of the New River Gorge Bridge in the 1970s, the road became more of a scenic byway. But it’s worth a side trip to see the views, to shop or dine at Chimney Corner, and to learn a bit more about an oft overlooked national tragedy.
If you pull off at the Hawks Nest overlook, there’s convenient parking and a short loop to a spectacular view of the New River far below. Stop and read the historical marker on the way. You’ll learn about how men desperate for jobs during the Great Depression worked to bore a tunnel through almost pure silica (basically glass). Breathing in the dust from the work resulted in silicosis–sometimes within months. And silicosis inevitably results in death.
At the overlook, you’ll see where the waters of the New River disappear inside Gauley Mountain. The river below that point is knows as “The Dries” since the water is perpetually low there. If you were to drive further along Rte. 60 to Gauley Bridge, you’d see how wide and immense the river is once again below the hydroelectric plant.
It’s beautiful. Which, in a way, makes the tragedy that happened here even more poignant . . .
I’m not the first person to write about the tragedy. Hubert Skidmore’s novel Hawk’s Nest offers a compelling fictionalization of the tragedy in the vein of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.