Melcina Fields: Last Resident of the Gorge

As you explore the New River Gorge, you might not realize that this area was once booming with coal towns.  In fact, some of the Gorge’s most remote areas had thousands of residents.
As coal mining in the Gorge became less productive and mines closed, the residents that depended on them also disappeared. All, except for one, that is. Melcina Fields was a servant to the Beury family, and she stayed on long after the family had moved out of the Gorge. She was the last resident to inhabit what today is a National Park.

Photo From “New River Gorge” by J. Scott Legg

Who Was Melcina Fields?
Known as “the Fierce Hermit of The New River,” Melcina was a servant to Harry Beury, son of Colonel Joseph Beury, the owner of the first coal mine on the New River. Colonel Beury eventually became one of the largest coal owners in WV and built a 23 room house in the Gorge. Harry lived there from the time of the Colonel’s wife’s death in 1917 until the mines closed.
Melcina, born in 1912, was a servant to the Beury family until they moved out of the Gorge. Not knowing any other life, Melcina decided to stay and lived in the mansion until its collapse. She then lived out the rest of her days in the abandoned company store.
It was a 3.5 mile walk to Thurmond for her to get groceries, and when the walk became too much, train conductors used to leave her food and coal to help her survive. Whitewater rafting guides would bring her supplies.  The residents of Thurmond built her a hut, but she preferred to reside in the crumbling remains of the store.
Melcina passed away in 1982 and the Gorge hasn’t had a resident downstream of Thurmond since then.
Did you ever meet Melcina?