Conley Hill

Conley Hill rises beyond the mouth of the New River at Gauley Bridge, West Virginia.
Conley Hill rises beyond the mouth of the New River Gorge at Gauley Bridge, West Virginia.

Conley Hill, in Fayette County, West Virginia (WV), is a prominent hill that overlooks the confluence of the New and Gauley rivers at Gauley Bridge, West Virginia. The two rivers join at its foot to form the Kanawha River.

The hill ascends as a ridge northwest from the town of Gauley Bridge on the Kanawha, rising between the valleys of the Kanawha and Scrabble Creek, a tributary of the Gauley. A low summit in the Cumberland Mountains of southwestern West Virginia, the mountain chain known for its steep-flanked landforms, of which the hill is an ideal example.

Conley Hill figured significantly in local history. Native Americans who lived in villages along the river were familiar with the hill, and native artifacts such as arrowheads may be found there. In the 1700s, explorers opened a trail along the Kanawha River that bridged the Gauley at its mouth. It was one of few easy routes across the Appalachian Mountains. The route later became a toll road known as the "James River and Kanawha Turnpike," and the Gauley was the most significant river over which the road crossed.

Conley Hill rises above the Town of Gauley Bridge, c. 1910.
Conley Hill rises behind Gauley Bridge, c. 1910.

The Union established a camp on Conley Hill during the Civil War to protect the bridge across the Gauley, which was destroyed twice during the conflict. The hill was deforested during the war when wood was in high demand and was thereafter maintained as pasture. It earned the name “The Sugarloaf” as it resembled a rounded conical mound of the kind into which sugar in stores was then often molded.

The hill was more recently named for the family of entrepreneur Charles A. Conley, who moved to the region during the Industrial Revolution. His homeplace sits on the lower slope of the hill above the town. Conley served as sheriff and established many commercial buildings in the town, including the Conley Hotel and the Conley movie house.

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