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TAMS

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This was a major mining town with a large tipple, an aerial tramway for refuse, and a theater, store, a Catholic Church for the immigrant miners, and two Baptist Churches for white and black congregations.

Tams was opened by W.P. "Major" Tams's company, the Gulf Smokeless Coal Co., on Winding Gulf Creek in 1909, and was the first mine on Winding Gulf Creek to ship coal. As a matter of fact, when Virginian Railway construction finally reached Tams there was a stockpile of coal waiting there to be loaded. Tams was also later served by the C&O Railway, too. The Tams No. 1 mine was in the thick Beckley seam. This mine worked out in 1941, but by then the No. 2 mine down in the Pocahontas No. 4 seam had opened (in 1926). In the mid 1950's the Gulf Smokeless Coal Company, Winding Gulf Collaries, and McAlpin Coal Company were consolidated into Winding Gulf Coals, Inc., who kept Tams No. 2 mine open until 1966. (They also operated a Tams No. 5 mine in 1969-70, but I am not sure where it was located.) Around 1971 Westmoreland Coal Co. set up the headquarters for their Winding Gulf Divison at Tams, and adminsistered their mines at McAlpin, East Gulf, Eccles, Skelton, Otsego, and Maben before winding these operations down in the early and mid-1980's. Westmoreland Coal was a Pennsylvania mining company that was founded way back in the 1850's, and made their first forays into the Southern West Virginia coalfields in 1950 in Boone County, and they were also prominent in Wise County, Virginia. Westmoreland later fell on hard times, their stock value plummented to around 25 cents a share, and they went into bankruptcy. After reorganization they retreated from the Appalachian coal basin to concentrate on coal mines out West.

After Westmoreland left Tams the town began to return to nature. The inhabitants left, and all of the company houses are gone now, including the one where "Major" Tams lived until he died. He wrote his autobiography, The Smokeless Coal Fields of West Virginia, and Playboy magazine came to Tams to interview him as one of the last surviving coal barons before his death in 1977. One chapter in the book covers the operations of the Gulf Smokeless Coal Company. This is a rare example of a detailed documentation of the formation of a coal company/mine/camp being available to the general public. In it Tams covers such topics as how he paid workers a wage higher than the unionized miners were receiving, how his company paid a dividend to investors every year, even during the 1930's depression, and how he constructed the town so that "the houses above the tipple were occupied by the Negroes, the section below the tipple by white Americans, and still further down a section for the foregin miners."


James was nice enough to send in this photograph of the Tams mining camp being constructed. James writes, "I was raised in Tams and then moved to Ury (Cooktown) ... First I remember living at Tams in the lower section, on Hunk Hill. I heard that was where the people from other countries lived, and where the Black people lived was at upper Tams and we called it colored town. I went to 1st through 3rd grade at Tams Elementary. It was a really great school. We moved from Hunk Hill to behind the Doctors office. Me my older brother and younger brother - we was normal kids. I think we got into all the trouble that kids do get into. We played at the school play ground, and use to love to get a man named Mike ... to chase us. He was always getting on to us kids, cause we would always pick on him. Rumor was he burned the Catholic church down - he knocked over a kerosene lantern. It was an accident, and we would always tell him God was going to get him for it. I know that was wrong, but as kids we thought nothing about hurting someone's feelings. Hey, we was just playing. Our town barber was Mike Spanalli. My grandfather would take all us kids there in the summer to get a hair cut. Mike would ask us how we wanted it to be cut. And no matter how we told him we wanted it cut, he would give us a crew cut. We would ask him why he did that, because we would be totally mad because of the haircut. He would just say in an Italian accent, "That's the way Mr. a-Homer Cook a-wanted it cutta". My grandfather worked for Mr. Tams for years in the coal mines. Mr. Tams was a great man. He would see us walking the streets and or playing around, would always ask us how we was doing and always asked about our grandfather and grandmother. I remember the Company store, always we would find pop bottles and sell them to the store and then go back later and steal them back and resale them. In the old bath house we would wait till the miners went to work and no one was around and go in and plug up the drains, turn on few of the showers, and soap up the floor and slide on the floor. We had a ball doing that. Can remember my Aunt saying we was going to get athletes butt sliding on the bath house floor." (Image courtesy of James Hall)


James wrote of this photo, "If you like here is another picture of Tams. The Baptist Church is the tall white building on the right. The one building looking building straight ahead is the old Tams School. Facing it the room on the right was one big room with a stage on it. I can remember putting on a play there. The Catholic Church use to be in the lot in across the street from the school. The house on the left is where Mrs. Adams lived. We always thought it was funny that we had sidewalks, but dirt roads." (Image courtesy of James Hall)


Looking up the Gulf toward Stotesbury. In the foreground is the Baptist Church. (Image courtesy of James Hall)


By the time this photo was taken the Baptist church had been enlarged and then abandoned. (Sep. 1988 image courtesy Mick Vest)


At this same time, 1988, the Tams coal camp was an abandoned ghost town. The last family to live in Tams, the Veenie family, moved out in the mid-1980s.(Sep. 1988 image courtesy of Mick Vest)


A typical abandoned coal camp house at Tams. Mick writes, "Every house in Tams was painted white with green trim." (Sep. 1988 courtesy of Mick Vest)


A few years later, Mick again visited Tams and found these decaying coal camp houses, as viewed from the back window of the Baptist church, to still be in existence. Within a decade even these last vestiges of Tams would vanish. (Early 1990's image courtesy of Mick Vest)


The machine shop and bath house are still in existance at Tams. (Nov. 1997 image by author)


The Tams bathhouse. (May 2001 image by author)


A lonely shop building and scattered foundations remain where the Tams tipple was once located. (Dec. 2008 image by author)


A closer look at the red brick shop building. (Dec. 2008 image by author)


Twin portals of the Tams No. 2 mine. I'm guessing that the No. 2 mine at Tams was in the Pocahontas No. 3 seam, because this is approximately the elevation that Pocahontas 3 would occur along Winding Gulf Creek. So Tams No. 1 must have been in the higher Beckley seam. (Dec. 2008 image by author)


Detail of the inscription "Tams No. 2 Mine" in the lintel. (Dec. 2008 image by author)


I have found the foundations for the refuse tramway at Tams. (May 2001 image by author)


An old fan housing leading to an airshaft. (May 2001 image by author)


Another view of the fan. (Dec. 2008 image by author)


This block mine builiding is now engulfed in the woods. (Dec. 2008 image by author)


Another structure associated with the Tams mines is extant on the hillside. (Dec. 2008 image by author)


The upper (upstream) end of the camp was where the African-American population lived, as shown in this 1958 picture. These homes would be later demolished so that Slab Fork Coal Co. could build a preparation plant and complex for its No. 10 mine. Also a plant for processing a ground "Austin Black" coal powder was constructed as well. (Image courtesy of byrnefamilyreunion.org)


This African-American church, the New Salem Baptist Church, was still being occassionally used recently. In addition to the church services held here, the Byrd-Prillerman High School reunions were also held here in later years. (Oct. 1998 image by author)


I found the New Salem Baptist Church to be still extant in 2007. (Apr. 2007 image by author)


This photograph was taken during the demolition of the Slab Fork / Austin Black facility, a day before the silos and (sand?) bin came down. (Image courtesy of Mick Vest)


The small shed on the right and several concrete slabs remain from Slab Fork Coal Company's complex at Tams. (Dec. 2008 image by author)


This sign is at the foot of the impoundment that is now the trailhead for the Burning Rock ATV trail system. (Nov. 2002 image by author)


Small industrial shed and New Salem Church. (Dec. 2008 image by author)


James Hall shared this photo he took of a "coal house" at Tams. He writes, "I know for a fact it is a coal house.. I use to live there, and I took that pic off the side of the road, and I think it is the only one left in Tams. I use to have to get coal and carry it in the house. Every house had one in the yard." (Image courtesy of James Hall)


Another photo of the coal house by James. (Image courtesy of James Hall)



In his book "Raleigh County" (1994) author/historian Jim Wood writes, "McAlpin, Stotesbury, and Tams today present a general appearance of abandonment and desolation, the few still standing company houses long unpainted, rubble and debris strewn about broken down mine buildings, concrete steps and walks leading into weeds and brush, rusting pipelines, a trash-littered creek, empty railroad tracks once lined with coal cars waiting shipment, lived-in houses with broken down cars and trucks out front, yards full of junk, decay everywhere.

Tams, as a mining community, no longer exists. Only a few of its buildings remain, abandoned, a machine shop without windows now, piles of warped lumber from demolished houses bleaching in the sun, piled up around foundations and chimneys, a hillside water tank, its paint badly peeled, water gushing down a rust-colored hillside from an abandoned drift mouth.

And the cottage home of bachelor coal baron W.P. Tams, who wrote so knowledgeably about the early coal mining days at Raleigh County, also has disappeared. He lived there for 68 years and long after he sold his operation in 1955. Gone too is his movie theatre, 'Golden Gate,' built in 1911 and reputed to have been one of the first theatres erected in the United States specifically for the showing of movies. He died in 1977 at the age of 93 and his executor was required to post a bond of $2,000,000 but the town that he built in 1909 where circuses liked to set up their tents is gone with the wind."



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