Park Service seeks vandals of historic Thurmond boarding house

Rewards of up to $1,000 are available from the National Park Service for those who provide information leading to an arrest in the vandalism of a 117-year-old former boarding house in the Thurmond Historic District featured in John Sayle’s 1987 movie “Matewan.”

Earlier this month, vandals destroyed numerous doors and windows on the structure, threw furniture from a second-floor window onto the ground, spray painted walls with graffiti and profanity, and ripped the railing off a second-story porch.

The building is one of many structures in the Thurmond Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, owned by the New River Gorge National River. In the early 2000s, the boarding house and other structures in the Thurmond Historic District were stabilized to give park visitors a chance to see what the once-bustling railroad town looked like, but their interiors were sealed from entry.

Known officially as the John Bullock/Roger Armandtrout House, the building was known as Fatty Lipscomb’s Guest House, an inexpensive haven for kayakers and other New River paddlers, in the years immediately preceding the National Park Service’s acquisition of the property. In the movie “Matewan,” the building served as a boarding house during the West Virginia Mine Wars that housed both Baldwin-Felts detectives and a labor organizer portrayed by actor Chris Cooper in his debut film appearance.

“This kind of intentional destruction is not only unlawful, but it is also very disrespectful to the community of Thurmond and to the thousands of visitors who come each year to learn more about this historic treasure,” said Lizzie Watts, superintendent of New River Gorge National River. “We are reaching out to the community to assist us in finding the person or people responsible for this crime.”

Vandalism is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and fines of up to $5,000, and it often involves a community service requirement to serve as partial restitution for the crime.

Spray-painted tags left by the vandals include Zone Boys, 304-440 Gang, Caddie, Brandon, Pookie, Justine and #FreeBriscoenotTyler.

NPS officials are urging anyone with information regarding the vandalism to contact the New River Gorge National River at 304-465-6516.

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