The perfectly preserved company store at Cass provides more than just a history lesson.
Long before the days of Walmart Supercenters and the ability to order everything from food to furniture with the click of a button, those in the town of Cass traveled to one place to fill their homes with all the essentials—the Cass Company Store.
Formerly the Pocahontas Supply Company, the Cass Company Store was established in the early 1900s and supplied all the necessities to the hundreds of families who lived and worked in the surrounding town and lumber mill. While the company store no longer serves the purpose it once did—the town and surrounding land were purchased by the state park system in 1961 and converted into what is now Cass Scenic Railroad State Park—it is still an integral part of the community.
On the surface, the Cass Company Store and the Last Run Restaurant might appear to be a simple tourist attraction and souvenir shop, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. While the store does have typical souvenir items such as t-shirts, mugs, and magnets displaying the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park logo, it also sells a wide variety of West Virginia-made products—from maple syrup to jellies to musical instruments. You’ll find an array of train-related toys, old-fashioned candy, and shelves filled with handcrafted items from local artists such as stoneware, blankets, and wood carvings.
“When you come to Cass, you get this immersion into the history and the feel of what it was like to be in a company town—and then you see a 118-year-old railroad engine come rolling in,” says park Superintendent Marshall Markley. He says an important part of that immersion is being able to offer products that some folks either have never seen or haven’t seen since childhood.
“Even though we offer items that are modern, we want to offer those old-timey things. That’s what a lot of people come here to do—to remember what Grandma or Grandpa used to do or used to have,” he says. “As folks go through the store, we want them to have that experience that they’re not only shopping, but they’re getting a little bit of history as they go along.”
Markley says that history isn’t just present in the items they sell, it’s present in everything in the store, from the walls to the floors. “When you look above all the shelving, we have a lot of artifacts that are pretty much all original to the park,” he says, “One item most don’t recognize is a carriage jack, which was used to help put on a new wheel for a carriage.”
In the back of the store there are some holes in the floor, artifacts of historical everyday use or misuse. “I can’t prove this,” Markley says, “but I’ve been told that when the wood hicks would come down from the mountain to shop, they were supposed to wear protective coverings over the spikes in their boots when they entered the store—and the holes are from those who didn’t do that.” For visitors hoping to hear more of these juicy tidbits of daily life, Markley recommends people take part in the company store tour, which the park has recently started to offer.
Of course, no trip to the Cass Company Store would be complete without cozying up to the counter at the old original soda fountain or having a meal at the Last Run Restaurant, which has been operated by the Botkin sisters for the past 18 years. Jenny Botkin, the youngest of the three sisters, says the restaurant features a number of family recipes including a highly sought-after hotdog chili, homemade pulled pork and barbecue sauce, and a dish known as the Big Bob’s Bell Buster, which is an 8-ounce cod fillet. “We learned to cook from our grandma, who also had a restaurant, and most of our food that we cook is family recipes,” Botkin says. “We’ve had our ups and downs at the restaurant over the years, but we enjoy the food service here and the people that we meet,” she says. “We have a lot of repeat customers, and most of them have become like family to us.” wvstateparks. com/park/cass-scenic-railroad-state-park
Written by Josephine Moore
Photographed by Nikki Bowman Mills