Volcano Historic Boomtown – Walker, West Virginia - Atlas Obscura

Volcano Historic Boomtown

Mountwood State Park
Walker, West Virginia

Once home to a thriving oil industry, this town now sits eerily abandoned. 


The ghost town of Volcano was built in the 1860s in the middle of a developing oil and gas well field. At night, the sky glowed from oil derrick lanterns like erupting volcanos. It was a boom town complete with two newspapers, a bowling alley, and several mercantile establishments including saloons.  

A short-line railroad was built to connect to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, so the oil could be taken to Parkersburg, West Virginia refineries. Depending on the source, the population had grown to nearly 4,000 before disaster struck in August 1879.

A fire of suspicious origin broke out in a downtown building at 4 am and quickly spread to oil storage tanks. The wooden tanks ruptured, spreading burning oil throughout the town. Due to the remote location, difficult terrain and total lack of firefighting equipment the town burned to the ground. The devastated town was never completely rebuilt. Commercial activity resumed, but the town went out of existence by the early 1950s.

The town’s founder was W.C. Stiles, who devised an ingenious method of simultaneously pumping several wells using an endless cable system, adapted from the Philadelphia streetcar system. This new system was widely used by the oil industry—one of Volcano’s wells even remained in service until 1974. The ruins of his Volcano estate are part of the Mountwood State Park and are open to the public.

Know Before You Go

Visitors can reach the site of Volcano, WV by traveling east from Parkersburg, WV on US 50 for 21.5 miles. You will then take the Mountwood Park exit and follow the signs for County Road 5. In approximately three miles you will arrive at the Volcano plaque. The Stiles Estate Trailhead is a short distance from Volcano on the same road.

There is no admission and a parking area is located at the beginning of the trailhead. It is a 20 minute hike to reach the ruins of the Stiles estate. Please wear durable hiking boots, as the climb to the estate is challenging. 

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October 10, 2022

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