WINDING GULF, WV

Coal baron Justis Collins built this coal camp in 1910. Mining was originally in the Beckley seam. Local historian Jim Wood has determined that 56 miners died in the mines at Winding Gulf over the years. The mines were serviced by the Virginian Railroad.

Collins school was built in the Epperly Hill section of the camp and it closed in 1963. Their mascot was the Pirates. Winding Gulf, which was the third largest town in Raleigh County in the 1920s, consisted of Winding Gulf Collaries No. 1 camp, No. 2 camp, Lynwynn camp, Epperly Hill, and Farley Hill (not company owned). Today a few people still live on Epperly Hill, Farley Hill, and Lynwinn Road (sans original housing). No. 1 camp has 1 or 2 families (also sans original housing), and No. 2 camp is gone.

I first went to Winding Gulf in 1987. In 1989, I went down there with my uncle, and he took a few photographs. These are the earliest photographs of me exploring a coal camp.


Looking out over the area was the African-American section of Winding Gulf No. 1. (October 1997 photo)


This was the last company house in the bottom of Winding Gulf No. 1 camp, but now it has mostly fallen apart. (October 1997 photo)


African-American church on the side of Epperly Hill (October 1997 photo)


Plaque on the side of the church. (October 2007 photo)


Typical foreman's house on Epperly Hill. The porch enclosure is not original. There are still three of these homes on Epperly Hill, and on one of them a red brick foundation is visable, whereas the miners' homes in the bottom of the hollow were built on posts. In addition to these large homes there are several other houses on Epperly Hill that appear to date from the 1910s-20s. They are not of the same shape and style, and may have been built by the coal company to house a company doctor, school teachers, store managers, and other officials. One man told me that his family lived on Epperly Hill. His father was a carpenter. I asked him if a carpenter worked underground, and he said that a carpenter built and repaired structures on the surface, like the houses and tipple.

At one time there was an incline from the bottom at Winding Gulf No. 1 up to Epperly Hill. This wasn't for coal or passengers, but for the freight in building the houses, and possibly later just to take supplies up the mountain that may have came in on the train. This incline had been removed by the 1930s. (October 1997 photo)


Steps from No. 1 camp to Collins School that the children used. Many people have happy childhood memories at Winding Gulf. One gentleman recalled waiting until the mines closed on Sundays, and he and his buddies pushing the underground coal cars up the hollow and riding them down. He also remembered playing in the sand house, which was a shed where the coal company stored sand that it used in various ways. (May 2000 photo)


Ruins of "shotgun" house that my great grandfather lived in at Winding Gulf (October 1997 photo)


Detail of "shotgun" house ruins(October 1997 photo)


A burned out fanhouse between No. 1 and No. 2 camps. This is now gone and has been replaced with a concrete cap over the shaft. (May 2000 photo)


Foundations for railroad trestle at No. 2 camp (October 1997 photo)


This portal remains from the No. 2 mine. It has been identified as a pump station. The inscription above the entry reads "1922."(December 2004 photo)


Only occasional foundations like these are left from the No. 2 camp. I have been told that the No. 2 mine was a shaft mine, rare in the Winding Gulf Coalfield. However, Winding Gulf No. 1 mine was a slope portal. (December 2004 photo)


Here is the big wooden tipple that was at Winding Gulf. The powerhouse in the lower left was still standing when I first went down there. The area was reclaimed around 1990, however. (Photo from "A Tribute to the Coal Miner," used with permission)


Tipple foundations are revealed in an eroded gulley. (March 2010 photo)


Past No. 1 and No. 2 camps the road goes up to Farley Hill, a residential section not developed by the coal company, but considered to be part of Winding Gulf anyway. The road ends at Farley Hill Baptist Church and cemetery, pictured here on a cold and quiet Sunday afternoon. (December 2004 photo)

Loren writes, "I grew up on Epperly Hill in the early 70's. My mother was born in the company store on Epperly Hill just bellow the old Collins School. My father told me a story about a coal mine supervisor he worked with at Riffe Branch by the name Robert [H.]... He wore a size 15 or better shoe. Talking to my mom about your web site has brought up numerous stories about coal mines in the sixties and seventies, the old baseball diamond and other thing I had not thought about for years."


Another correspondence reads, "Hello! My name is Patricia Meadows. I was born in 1950 and in 1954 or 1955, my sister and her husband, (Carl L. Keyser and Shirley Meadows Keyser) as well as my older sister's husband and family (Walter Smedley and Geneva Smedley) resided at Epperly Hill, and so did my brother-in-law's family (Willie Adams). I remember one Sunday me and my nephews climbed a ladder and got on top of the Collins school house, and we also got the first typhoid shots in Winding Gulf at the doctors office...we walked a long way through the woods to get to the doctors' office too. My sister and I used to buy things at the camp store and I remember there was this huge water tower up the road from the store. At that time, there may have been about three churches on Epperly Hill and what seemed like a lot of really huge houses (but I was only a small child at that time). I thought the house the Adams' lived in had an underground railroad accessable from their dining room through a door which looked like a closet, this house seemed to be very, very old, predating 1910. Their house was the first one (big white house) directly across the road from the Collins school, the Adams' house was the first house you would see on the left, upon topping the hill. They are all dead now, as are my sisters and their husbands. I spent a lot of summers and holidays with my sisters and nephews there until the mine work seemed to have slowed down and the brothers-in-laws moved on and they all moved out of the houses. I also remember always passing the Farley Hill Church and when it snowed, it was really trecherous making the left turn to go to Epperly Hill. We lived in Lego, WV at the time. My daddy was a foreman and worked in the mines near Axion Hollow. I remember buying things in the company store and paying for it in scrip! I was actually born in a doctors office in Killarney, WV. I remember eating squirell, rabbit and pheasant, a lot of pinto beans and corn bread and learning to shoot at 5. I still eat beans and corn bread sometimes, and I can still shoot if I have to!!! LOL...I am proud to be a coal miner's daughter! In the words of Loretta Lynn."


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