“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Thomas in Tucker County, West Virginia — The American South (Appalachia)

A "Howling Wilderness"

Thomas, West Virginia

A "Howling Wilderness" Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Devry Becker Jones (CC0), July 17, 2020
1. A "Howling Wilderness" Marker
The Thomas National Register Historic District is considered significant under Criterion A for its association with the settlement and development of Thomas and of Tucker County.

Though remote, the area has been of interest to explorers for hundreds of years. It was Lord Fairfax who first put Tucker County on the map — literally — in 1736, when he sent a team of surveyors to map the boundaries of his vast land holdings in what is now the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia and northern Virginia. These men were some of the first Europeans to ever explore these remote mountains. In 1746, the Fairfax Stone was placed at the headwaters of the Potomac River to mark a corner of Lord Fairfax's land, only three miles from what would become Thomas. A young George Washington returned to survey the land again in 1746, but due to the difficult terrain and harsh weather, it was another 134 years until settlers decided to make Thomas their permanent home.

Jacob C. Pase arrived from Pennsylvania with his family in the fall of 1880 and built a home on Rose Hill. In the next few years, more families followed, including
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Daniel Miller, David Arnold and John William Bonnifield. These men certainly must have been strong wills and constitutions. T. Nutter, in his 1906 history of the town of Thomas, dramatically notes in the early 1880s, "Thomas was surrounded by a howling wilderness of pine and laurel, and wild beasts could be seen and killed from the very house doors." The first buildings were the quintessential cabins of mountain settlers, built from the most abundant resources available: trees. The small community was known as Fairfax in its early years, but thanks to that profusion of trees and an unseen wealth of coal buried below, big changes were in store for the little town, the least of which was a new name.

The original survey for Lord Fairfax's land outlines an enormous tract reaching from the Chesapeake Bay to modern day Tucker County, shown with a red outline on this image for reference. The Fairfax Stone was placed just north of Thomas at the headwaters of the Potomac River, noted as "Spring Head" on the survey. (Source Library of Congress)

In just a few years, Thomas grew from a few homesteads to a town of hundreds, spurred by the arrival of the railroad and the coal industry. As seen in this 1906 bird's-eye view, the Thomas Commercial Historic District offered housing, shopping, entertainment and any other amenity a resident could
A "Howling Wilderness" Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Devry Becker Jones (CC0), July 17, 2020
2. A "Howling Wilderness" Marker
The marker is on the side of the City Hall building.
desire. (Source: Thomas, WV 1906 by T. Nutter, Courtesy Miners and Merchants Bank)

The quick growth of Thoms meant that many buildings were initially constructed as quickly as possible out of readily-available wood. In November 1901, a fire consumed 83 buildings in just a few hours, forever altering the appearance of the Thomas Commercial Historic District. Property owners rebuilt using primarily brick to guard against another such tragedy, and the Thomas Fire Department was formed to be better prepared. Here, fire chief Slim Fensler leads the department in a parade. (Courtesy Wilburn Fansier)

With the increase of available labor, tools and materials, buildings quickly evolved from the log cabins of the pioneers to multi-story structures with varied purposes. Here, workmen pose in the unfinished windows of the Tap Room, Tour No. 25. This structure was built after the fire of 1901 which destroyed nearly every building in the commercial district. (Courtesy Russell L. Cooper)

Erected by The City of Thomas, West Virginia.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Colonial EraExplorationSettlements & Settlers. In addition, it is included in the West Virginia, The City of Thomas series list. A significant historical year for this entry is 1736.
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39° 9.061′ N, 79° 29.823′ W. Marker is in Thomas, West Virginia, in Tucker County. Marker is at the intersection of Appalachian Highway (West Virginia Route 32) and 3rd Street, on the left when traveling north on Appalachian Highway. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 307 Spruce St, Thomas WV 26292, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. A Window to the Past (within shouting distance of this marker); The Blackwater (within shouting distance of this marker); Out On The Town (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); The Melting Pot of Thomas (about 400 feet away); Connecting Thomas to the World (about 400 feet away); A Lesson in Resourcefulness (about 400 feet away); Dwellings and Design (about 600 feet away); Thomas, West Virginia Mine Disaster Memorial (about 700 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Thomas.
Credits. This page was last revised on July 18, 2020. It was originally submitted on July 18, 2020, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 150 times since then and 56 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on July 18, 2020, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia.

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Dec. 10, 2023