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Thomas Gathright papers

Identifier: SC 0233
  • Not requestable

  • Staff Only

Scope and Content

The Thomas Gathright Papers, 1923-1933, consist of four Hollinger boxes and 1 flat file (2.1 cubic feet). The collection consists primarily of correspondence and blueprints written by and addressed to Thomas Gathright, land-purchasing agent for the C&O Railway. The correspondence is primarily typed or printed on high-pulp paper or onion-skin carbon copy paper. The collection also includes blueprints of land purchases that relate to correspondence.

The collection contains correspondence, telegrams, deeds, indentures, and blueprints. The subject matter of the correspondence consists primarily of business dealings and land inquiries, acquisitions, rights of way, and disputes which Thomas Gathright engaged in on behalf of the C&O Railway. Correspondents include local land owners; colleagues at the C & O Railway Company including R. P. Eubank, the General Real Estate Agent at C&O and C. W. Johns, the C&O’s chief engineer; and J. M. Perry, Attorney and Counselor at Law in Staunton, Virginia. Some letters are addressed to Gathright by disgruntled landowners regarding land and/or payment disputes. One such letter is from Mary E. Allen of White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. In an October 1, 1931 letter to Gathright, she writes:

"There is a mistake here about my place. I want you yourself to come here and straighten it up. There is a dispute over how much land you got and if you don’t come and fix it up there is going to be someone burried [sic] here….These servayors [sic] don’t do a thing but steal. You haven’t paid me all of my money anyway."

In general, the land purchases discussed in the correspondence involve communities in Alleghany County, Virginia, including Covington, and Summers County and Greenbrier County, West Virginia, including While Sulphur Springs, Fort Springs, and Ronceverte. Other companies mentioned in the correspondence include Kanawha –Dunlap Land Company and Low Moor Iron Company.


  • Creation: 1923-1933

Access Restrictions

Collection open to research. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection. Please contact Research Services staff before visiting the James Madison University Special Collections Library to use this collection.

Use Restrictions

The copyright interests in this collection have been transferred to the James Madison University Special Collections Library. For more information, contact the Special Collections Library Reference Desk (

Bio/Historical Note and Administrative History

Thomas Morton Gathright, known in adulthood as "T. M.," "Mort," "Tom," and "Uncle Tom," was born on March 11, 1874 in Louisa County, Virginia to Thomas "Tommie" Morton Gathright (1842-1909) and Mary Goodwin Bowles Gathright (1846-1909). He married Martha Burdette Stone (1874-1953) and they had one child, Thomas "Tom" Morton Gathright (1906-1991).

Shortly after WWI, Gathright acted as agent for the now-defunct Columbia Gas and Electric Company. In 1922 he became a land-purchasing agent on behalf of the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Railway. His duties primarily consisted of contacting landowners of potential areas for rail construction in order to negotiate the purchase of the land and rights of way. He then would relay information on interested parties to his superiors in the main offices of C&O Railway in order to facilitate a beneficial transaction. He also served as chairman of the Alleghany County Board of Supervisors.

Gathright’s other ventures included acting as a broker for various other companies and also turning land purchases for personal profit. After attempting to sell a large area of timbered land in Alleghany and Bath counties to Virginia Power, the Great Depression resulted in the cancellation of the purchase. Gathright then converted the land, acquired over a thirty-year period, into the Hickory Lodge game preserve, a private hunting and fishing club which he operated between 1932 and 1947. The club disbanded in 1947 when Gathright’s health began to decline. The commonwealth of Virginia upheld and maintained the land after Gathright’s death in 1956. In July 1958, the Virginia Commission of Game and Inland Fisheries purchased the 18,500 –acre T. M. Gathright Wildlife Management Area from the Virginia Electric and Power Company and the heirs of Thomas Gathright. In 1974, construction began on a dam on the property, named after Gathright, resulting in the creation of Lake Moomaw.

It should be noted that Thomas Morton Gathright is the second of three generations of Thomas Gathrights. All materials in this collection concern Thomas Morton Gathright (1874-1956), son of Thomas "Tommie" Morton Gathright (1842-1909) and father of Thomas "Tom" Morton Gathright (1906-1991).

The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O) was formed in 1869 in Louisa County, Virginia after the Louisa Railroad merged with various other smaller railway companies. It continued to grow through the late nineteenth century. It reached from Newport News, Virginia into Cincinnati, Ohio with its initial span, eventually making its way into several parts of Michigan and Illinois. Its primary freight was coal from West Virginian coal fields, while it did operate some passenger services as well. Thomas Gathright began his work with C&O at its height of expansionary purchases in the 1920s as it sought increased amounts of land to extend its track. C&O continued to grow until it merged with Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad and Western Maryland Railway to form Chessie Systems in 1963. Chessie Systems then merged with Seaboard System Railroad in 1986 to form the modern CSX Transportation, which continues to operate to this day.


2.1 cubic feet (4 boxes, 1 flat file)

Language of Materials



The Thomas Gathright Papers, 1923-1933, consisting of 2.1 cubic feet of material, are primarily comprised of the business correspondence and property blueprints of Thomas Gathright, a land-purchasing agent for the C&O Railway.


The collection is arranged chronologically.

Acquisition Information

Transferred to Special Collections by Clarence Geier of James Madison University’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology.


  • "Chesapeake and Ohio Railway." Wikipedia. March 15, 2017. Accessed March 15, 2017.
  • Rutherford, James T. “Hickory Lodge.” Virginia Wildlife 22, no. 12 (December 1961): 16-19.

Processing Information

Select groupings of correspondence, primarily dating from 1923 to 1924, were damaged by rodent or other pest and inactive mold. Severely affected materials were photocopied and originals discarded. Rusted fasteners were removed and replaced with plastic paperclips. Due to extensive tearing down its center, oversize blueprint 21, titled Property to be Acquired from Industrial Rayon Corporation Near Covington, Alleghany Co., Virginia, was mended and placed in Mylar.

Oversize blueprints were separated from their original order (interfiled with correspondence) and filed in flat storage. The blueprints and maps are listed hierarchically under the respective file of correspondence where they were originally filed. Separation sheets indicate the original location of the blue prints as well as their location in flat storage.

A Guide to the Thomas Gathright Papers, 1923-1933
Dillon Thomas
February 2017
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the James Madison University Libraries Special Collections Repository

820 Madison Drive
MSC 1706
Harrisonburg Virginia 22807
(540) 568-3612