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HOLDEN, WV

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This is a large former coal mining town that takes about ten minutes to drive through, from the bottom of the camp near Whitman Junction to the upper end of the camp at the back of the hollow, and up Trace fork, too. The Holden Mines No. 1 and 2 were opened by United States Coal & Oil Co. in 1905, the same year the C&O Railroad reached Logan County to make coal shipments possible. After 1915 the operator was Island Creek Coal Co., and the mine numbers eventually climbed to No. 29, though that doesn't mean they were mining coal in all 29 mines at the same time (many in the Cedar Grove seam). Holden was the crown jewel in the Island Creek Coal Co. empire, and in the 1930's the Holden mines employeed 2500 men. The mines are closed now, but this unincorporated town still retains hundreds of residents. At one time Holden was comprised of several different numbered coal camps, like Holden No. 7, but the whole area goes under the name Holden now.

The town, elaborate by coal camp standards, was named for Albert F. Holden, one of the founders of Island Creek Coal Co. Another founder, William H. Coolidge of Boston, recalled of the town's 1904-05 construction: "Knowing the advantage of building something that would be attractive for everybody, we built our houses as we believed better than anybody elses. We put in everything that tended to efficiently and low cost of mining. We have done everything that we knew to make it a first class mining town..." About the town Walter R. Thurmond said "...[Albert] Holden was convinced that a mining town could and should be a pleasant place in which to live. To that end, he planned his town with care, built well-constructed houses and provided excellent stores and recreational facilities. Within a few years, the town of Holden became famous as a model community. The company recognized the wisdom of Holden's decision, and has always taken justified pride in providing excellent living and working facilities for its employees."



Company houses with the company store in the background. (Sep. 2001 image by author)


Another view of the coal camp houses with the former Island Creek Company Store in the background. (Sep. 2001 image by author)


Old coal mining equipment and railroad in the evening sun at Holden. (Dec. 2006 image by author)


Large duplex houses are rare in southern WV coal camps, but are common in the coalfields of Western PA. (Sep. 2001 image by author)


The Island Creek Coal Co. Store No. 1 in Holden was a sturdy, regal structure. (Sep. 2001 image by author)

From a July, 1983 Associated Press story: "Another company store, where thousands of coal miners bought milk and television sets, wristwatches and campers, rang up debts in bad times and paid them off in good times, quietly passed away this summer ... Island Creek, which once owned 47 stores in three states, now owns eight. All eight, including Store No. 1, are closing ... At Store No. 1's green metal and brick sided building, [manager] Leake sold groceries, clothing, appliances, hardware, furniture, toys, boats, motorcycles, campers, electronic gadgets and jewelry. The list goes on. What didn't it sell? "Cars," Leake says. "We didn't sell cars." Store No. 1 was one of the few places where the manager would open up on a Sunday and lend you a TV if yours had gone on the blink before kickoff time. Leake once opened up on Christmas Eve for a miner who had just gotten off work and realized he'd forgotten to buy toys for his kids ..."


The old railbed going up the hollow is now a grassy alley. Note the sidewalks, which were a rarity in mining camps. (Sep. 2001 image by author)


Walking down the abandoned railroad behind coal company buildings (powerhouse?). (Sep. 2001 image by author)


A partially covered mine portal in Holden. (Dec. 2006 image by author)


Justin sends in this photo, which he describes as "An old abandoned coal camp house in Holden 5 & 6." (Image courtsey of Justin Marcum)


This was probably either a boss's house or a guest house. (Sep. 2001 image by author)


This stone hoist house was demolished during the construction of Corridor "G." (1980s WV SHPO image)


Hoisting equipment inside the demolished hoist house. (1980s WV SHPO image)


Coal miner working in Holden No. 24 mine. (1950s image from the "Keystone Coal Manual")


Old photo of 5 room coal company houses at Holden. These houses featured hot and cold running water and electricity. (Image source lost)


Debra shares her fond memories of Holden with us: "There was a railroad track behind our house, but an alley and a creek separated it from our back yard. There were no coke ovens in Holden. And even in 1955 we had indoor plumbing. So that you have a better understanding of what it was like growing up in a coal camp I would like to share with you what Holden was like between 1955 and 1982. I grew up in one of those duplex houses (the families owned their own homes) similar to the ones pictured on your web page. We always had "city sewer" and "city water" that were maintained by the coal company. We had tree lined paved streets with sidewalks. In addition to the company store you pictured in "main" Holden there were six other company stores within less than a 2 mile radius. Those stores sold everything...except cars and caskets...and those could be special ordered if needed! The reason I know is because my Dad was the store manager of the company store you pictured in Holden. It..remained open until 1983...the year after my Dad retired as manager of that Island Creek Coal Company store. In addition to the stores there was a hospital, air conditioned movie theater, drug store, dress shop, taxi, beauty shop, dentist office, barber shop, gas station, billiards hall, cable TV (yes,cable TV in 1955), tennis courts, modern swimming pool, a three story brick school (built by Island Creek and donated to the Board of Education for $1.00), a Catholic church, a Methodist church also built by Island Creek and donated to the Methodist conference, a recreation building with a gymnasium (this gymnasium was in addition to the one in the school) a lighted baseball field, volley ball courts, picnic grounds, horseshoe courts, and a clubhouse for the use of both union and management employees. These were all the things that any town needed to give its people a good life. All of these conveniences were available in 1955 when my Dad, Mom and I moved to Holden and remained viable when he retired in 1982. Crime was unheard of, unless you want to call a few kids putting soap on the store windows at Halloween a crime. Island Creek provided all of these conveniences with out charge for the enjoyment of those living in Holden. These were also available free to those living in surrounding communities as well. The company also provided gifts to the employees such as fruit baskets, hams and turkeys at Christmas. And most years there was also a monetary bonus at Christmas. My Dad retired from Island Creek in 1982 and is still receiving a pension and medical insurance provided by them. ...I can't imagine a better place to grow up than in a coal camp in Holden, West Virginia."


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