Had it not been for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Company, Hinton would have had no reason to exist. The aftermath of the Civil War had left the railroad in shambles, its goal to reach the Ohio River on the verge of collapse. While struggling to obtain capital, in early 1869, then president Gen. Williams C. Wickham, recruited railroad capitalist Collis P. Huntington. After making a tour of the whole line, Huntington, fresh from his work building the Central Pacific, became interested in the C & O as a link in a true coast-to-coast rail line.
The tour took him through what would later become Hinton and Summers County. At that time the territory was entirely in timber and farm land, owned by the Ballengee family and the Hinton family. The Ballengee family located here first, before 1778, and owned all the land that would later become Hinton. It wasn’t until 1835 that John Hinton (1788-1858) moved his family to the area of Hinton, a 175 acre tract that had been purchased from Henry and Rachel Ballengee and now known as Avis, after his second wife. They were married on July 4, 1843.
When Huntington and Gen. Wickham reached Hinton’s Ferry they engaged two of John and Avis Hinton’s sons, William and Joe, and Parker Adkins to take them down the River for a view of the proposed route. Even Hinton, a half-brother, was among the few that knew the railroad would be following the river; and, with Virginia attorney, James Furgeson, the two went to Charleston in 1871 when the Legislature was in session and lobbied for the creation of the new county. His argument and with some boundary line adjustments was successful and the new County of Summers was created on Feb. 27, 1871. In 1871 about six families lived in the vicinity of what would become Hinton and only three houses existed in the Hinton/Avis/Bellepoint area. These were the homes of the Isaac and George Ballengee family and John Hinton’s family.
On Nov. 6, 1871 the C & O Railroad bought the Isaac Ballengee estate at public auction for $3,600 . They sold what wasn’t needed by the railroad to the Central Land Co. for $12,000, owned by Collis P. Huntington, on Jan. 23, 1873. He had the town laid off into town lots by civil engineer Bennett R. Dunn and began to sell lots for $250 to $300 each and slowly the town began to grow, with as many as 300 locating here in one year.
Hinton was first incorporated on September 21, 1880, with a population right at 1,000. It would be another ten years before Avis would be first incorporated, September 4, 1890. Although it is no dispute that Avis is named for Avis Hinton, who owned the land until her death in 1901, except those lots she sold, it remains, to a degree, a matter of dispute with historians whether Hinton is named for John Hinton or his son Evan Hinton.
Even was prominent in the area and when the County Court was organized, April, 1871, he was appointed Sheriff and is recognized as “the Father of Summers County.” As sheriff it was his responsibility to collect the taxes but he failed to collect the levy for the school building fund and the teachers fund, an amount in the thousands. In 1880 the Board of Education sued him for the uncollected money and the suit broke him financially. The movement, spearheaded by the C&O and Huntington, to incorporate the former Isaac Ballengee tract into a municipality required selecting a name. Many people wanted to name the town after Even Hinton. He was approached by these people, his granddaughter Gladys Hinton Clay said. But because of the suit, his embarrassment and the anger it created, he declined the offer and suggested they name the town after his father. Judge Miller in his History of Summers County, 1908, pg. 241, says “Hinton was named for Evan Hinton….” Miller calls Evan “the famous Evan Hinton,” and certainly looked on him favorably. Perhaps a document will be found someday that will definitely reveal how Hinton got its name.
Even before Hinton’s incorporation Huntington was busy making Hinton one of the railroad’s main line division terminals where crews were made up. It also made this the logical home for families of these crews working both directions on the railroad. Machine shops were constructed and these furnished employment for many skilled workmen. When a dispute erupted over the location of the courthouse, Huntington settled matters by having the C&O donate three acres for county purposes. The offer was accepted and the courthouse was erected in 1875.
A building boom occurred between 1895 and 1907 which demonstrates the early prosperity of Hinton and its citizens. Many of the buildings still stand in the National Hinton Historic District. Among them: The Hinton Marble Works on Front Street, 1895; the buildings on 3rd. Avenue below Temple Street, 1895; The Tomkies Building on upper 3rd. Avenue, 1895; St. Patrick’s Church on the corner of 2nd. Avenue and Temple Street, 1898; Episcopal Church, on the corner of 3rd. Ave. and Temple Street but later moved to the corner of 5th Ave. and Temple, 1898; the Citizens Bank, Laing, Humphries & Co. and Elks Hall, all side by side on upper 2nd. Ave., 1906-’07; the Big Four Building on the corner of 3rd. Ave. and Temple Street, 1907; Hotel McCreery at the corner of 2nd. Avenue and Ballengee Street, 1907. It was during this period in 1892 that the C&O completed construction of the roundhouse with 17 engine stalls and a car repair shop that would hold 40 cars. The roundhouse employed 370 men and the car shop 170. These railroaders were building homes that today reflects the eclecticism of the Victorian era and the individual tastes of the original home owners.
In 1907 the population of Hinton was about 6,000 and by 1925 Hinton and Avis together had grown to over 8,800. On January 19, 1927 Hinton and Avis, along with the community of Foss (Bellepoint), an area of approximately five square miles, were consolidated and incorporated as the City of Hinton by the West Virginia state legislature. By 1929 the city could boost of having eighteen miles of paved and improved streets and twenty-one miles of first class sidewalks, that 70 percent of the working people in Hinton owned their homes, that the city had three national banks, two inter-city bus lines, two hospitals, ten wholesale firms and seventy-five retail stores.
The coal fields kept the trains rolling and the economy of Hinton stable into the years following World War II, but the railroad was phasing out coal fired locomotives and converting to diesel. The trend toward private auto and airliners also marked a sharp decline in passenger service. Hinton was entering the years of change.
The Bluestone Dam was completed in 1949 and along came the Bluestone Public Hunting and Fishing Area and Bluestone State Park. This brought a resurgence into the Hinton economy and the focus turned to tourism as the railroad industry here faded into history.