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COALWOOD, WV

The model company town of Coalwood was constructed during the 1905-12 years by the Carter Coal and Coke Co. That company operated the mines and town at Coalwood until Consolidation Coal Co. purchased the operation (along with neighboring Caretta) in 1922. This arrangement lasted until 1933, when Consolidation Coal Co., in dire financial straits from fighting the UMWA, let the properties go back to Carter. But CONSOL did improve the town while it was in their possession. Anyway, Carter ran the Coalwood coal camp and coal mines until 1947, when they became a "captive mine" of Youngstown Sheet and Tube under the name Olga Coal Company. (Youngstown Sheet and Tube also owned coal mines/camps at Dehue in Logan County, WV and Nemacolin in Greene County, Pa.) Evidently this was a prosperous era for Coalwood as there was plenty of demand for the coal to be mined and shipped to the blast furnaces of Y.S.&.T.Co., to be mixed with limestone and iron ore to create iron for steel. In 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube, along with J&L Steel Company, were absorbed into the LTV Corporation, which became the new owner of the Coalwood mines. Incredibly, Coalwood was still a company town in the early 1980s, with the homes being rented to the miners and their families. Despite absorbing Republic Steel, LTV, along with most of the American steel industry, fell on hard times in the 1980s and closed the Coalwood coal mines in 1986. (I wouldn't be suprised if the coal reserves weren't getting depleted after 80 years of mining as well.) Also, the company houses in Coalwood were sold to their inhabitants, making it one of the last and longest-lived coal company towns in the USA.

The preparation plant was demolished in the 1990s, and Coalwood seemed destined to follow the pattern of declining coal camps with exhausted coal reserves and little prospects for the future. Then a funny thing happened. In 1998 the book "Rocket Boys", written by native son Homer Hickam, Jr., was published, detailing the childhood of the future aerospace engineer in Coalwood. The movie followed, and this focused new attention on the former coal mining town. Then the town became somewhat of a tourist attraction, and the annual October Sky festival was held there in, of course, October of the year. However, the festival later moved to Beckley, and one by one historic structures of Coalwood are disappearing.

A good website about Coalwood is www.coalwoodwestvirginia.com.

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The houses are larger than those in many other WV coal camps. But many are single family houses, and some are duplexes. (Apr. 2006 image by author)


Many of the homes in Coalwood still sport a vintage company-installed roofing material. (Apr. 2006 image by author)


While the atmosphere in many coal camps was drab and dreary, the coal company spruced up Coalwood with these English Tudor style apartments. (Apr. 2006 image by author)


I know this was the clubhouse, but for what was the clubhouse used? (Apr. 2006 image by author)


This row of buildings contained the post office, company store, and the mine offices. It was probably constructed by Olga because it is a 1940s era style and and also it doesn't look like a Consol-styled building. (Apr. 2006 image by author)


The company store section of the structure. The land owner, Alawest Inc., demolished it in 2008. A source of coalfields information tells me that the residents of the town asked Alawest not to do it. However, another resident of Coalwood said, "The old company store building was a hazard to the people of our great community. It was literally falling down, and an eyesore for the people to see and live nearby. Sure, ex-residents didn't want to see it gone, but the majority of the town, who had to see it daily, were glad to see it cleaned up!" (Apr. 2006 image by author)


This portion of the building was the Olga Coal Co. office. The coal camp swimming pool is behind this structure. (Apr. 2006 image by author)


Evidently Coalwood once had its own high school, but it has fallen into ruin now. Coalwood students have gone to Big Creek High School in War for over 50 years now. (Apr. 2006 image by author)


Closer view of the old school. (Feb. 2018 image by author)


One structure that has survived from the coal mining operations at Coalwood is this machine shop. I guess this is where Homer Hickam's rocket components were machined. (Apr. 206 image by author)


Also this small shop building remains up the hollow at the site of the former preparation plant and mine shaft. (Apr. 2006 image by author)


All that remains of the prep plant are these ruins, and a concrete cap on the shaft. (Apr. 2006 image by author)


The famous home that Homer Hickam grew up in is still in existence at Coalwood. (Jan. 2017 image by author)


A section of Coalwood known as Six because it housed the miners of the No. 6 mine. (Jan. 2017 image by author)


The club house being demolished. (Feb. 2018 image by author)


There went another Coalwood historic building. (Feb. 2018 image by author)


The two large brown brick apartment buildings have just been torn down. (Feb. 2018 image by author)


The "English Tudor" apartments are still standing, but they were supposed to have been demolished, too. Due to a miscommunication they didn't get torn down when the other buildings did. Inside these apartments are structurally unsafe and caving in. (Feb. 2018 image by author)


Coalwood even had its own swimming pool, shown here. But it has been drained and closed for a while now. The grass is where the company store used to sit until it was torn down around 2008. (Feb. 2018 image by author)


Coalwood buildings that didn't get torn down include, at left, the bakery, on right the office, and in the background the machine shop. Yes, Coalwood had its own bakery to bake products that would be sold at the company store, and maybe the store at Caretta, too. (Apr. 2018 image by author)


In-the-ground garbage cans that used to serve the clubhouse. Something tells me that they weren't very raccoon-proof. (Apr. 2018 image by author)


This large house in Coalwood was once the mine superinetent's house. (Apr. 2018 image by author)


A blast from the past - these houses are still owned by the land company (Alawest) in a direct lineage from the coal company. (Apr. 2018 image by author)


This part of Coalwood is known as Club House Row. (Feb. 2018 image by author)


This little chapel is called Reverend Richard's Church. (Feb. 2018 image by author)


This display in a little Coalwood park is obviously a reference to the "Rocket Boys." (Feb. 2018 image by author)


As is this. (Feb. 2018 image by author)

From a Bluefield Daily Telegraph article dated April 20, 1986 - the same year LTV steel closed the Coalwood mines - titled, "Death of Met Coal Industry Feared:"

"Metallurgical coal, responsible for the opening of the great Pocahontas field in 1883, may be on the way out, according to a disturbing article in the April isue of Coal Age, and New York trade journal. The article, which confirms what Bluefield area coal people have been saying for months, points out that the nation's steel mills today consume less than half the coal they did 10 years ago. 'Metallurgical coalfields are but a shadow of their former selves,' the Coal Age story declares. Recovery of the steel industry and a government curb on escalating steel imports would help, but prospects for either don't appear bright ... In the meantime, though, America's met coal is being sold on the steam coal market. The low-volatile met fields that contain the Pocahontas seams of southwestern Virginia and southern West Virginia, once considered a prize, do not fit in well with this picture, because they are low volatile. Some have gone so far as to say that using met coal for utilities is a waste. 'It's a matter of survival for these companies,' a West virginia operator said. "When idling an underground mine costs $1 million a year, it becomes attractive to waste that coal in the steam market just to minimize losses and keep the cash flowing.'"

Never mind that there is only so much met coal in the world, and when it's gone it's gone.


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