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OMAR, WV

Omar is the biggest coal camp on Island Creek. Main Island Creek Coal Company opened the mines at Omar in 1914-15, and it quickly became one of the largest enterprises in the Logan Coalfield. According to Coal Age, the lease was 30,000 acres, production in 1916 was about 12,000 tons per day, and almost 500 company houses were constructed. Several of the houses had running water and were plastered. Coal Age further described life at Omar: "Garbage disposal is taken care of by a steel tank wagon and collections are made daily. The management has purchased trees for the main streets and plants, flowers and shrubs for the most advantageous points. A model dairy is installed, and a wagon makes two deliveries a day. An uptodate [sic] ice-making plant with a capacity of 12 tons a day is housed in the basement of the store." The coal company awarded prizes to families with the most attractive and well- maintained yards.

In 1925 Main Island Creek sold the Omar mines to West Virginia Coal and Coke Corp., who employed 2000 employees at the Omar in 1934. That firm closed the Omar mines in 1954. It is unknown whether the mines were closed due to exhuastion of coal reserves, or because the coal market had fallen apart by then from the loss of markets such as steam trains switching to diesel, factories now operating on natural gas and oil, and commercial and residential heating customers switching to other forms of heating fuel. Whatever the reason, the mid-50's were a prosperous time for most of America, but not so great in many Appalachian coal towns. So many people left and went to Cleveland, Detroit, etc. But that's another story.



The sun hasn't risen over the mountain yet to shine on the Omar coal camp. (Feb. 2002 image by author)


A street of duplex former coal company houses. These are common in the coal mining towns of Pennsylvania, but not so much in West Virginia. (Feb. 2002 image by author)


Smaller single family company houses. (Feb. 2002 image by author)


The company store. Junior Mercantile was the retail arm of West Virginia Coal and Coke Corp. (1968 image by Kathy Laux via LoganWV.us)


A photo of Omar from Coal Age magazine that was captioned, "Omar, set in a picturesque mountain valey, is a well-ordered village with sidewalks and provisions for a wholesome community life." (Circa 1916 Coal Age image via Google Books)


Looking up the tracks in "Omar." This is from a series of photos by photographer Ben Shahn listed as being at Omar, but some may have also been taken at neighboring coal camps Superior Bottom, Micco, and Stirrat. (Oct. 1935 image by Ben Shahn, Library of Congress)


Different styles of company houses are visible in this picture. Behind each two-family house are two "outhouses" and a double coal bin. (Oct. 1935 image by Ben Shahn, Library of Congress)


This picture and the following one are listed by the Library of Congress as being in Omar, but I think they look more like the nearby Superior Bottom camp. (Oct. 1935 image by Ben Shahn, Library of Congress)


Perhaps Superior Bottom was actually a named section of Omar. (Oct. 1935 image by Ben Shahn, Library of Congress)


To illustrate, this photo was actually taken at Superior Bottom. (Circa 1999 image courtesy of wvcoalfield.com)


Inferior coal company houses perched on the hillside. There are no solid foundatons, only "stilts." There are no roads or sidewalks, and the landscape around the houses is barren and denuded. (Oct. 1935 image by Ben Shahn, Library of Congress)


Coal camp kids in the Great Depression. (Oct. 1935 image by Ben Shahn, Library of Congress)


The sign on this building reads, "Omar Graded Public School White." At the time West Virginia was a racially segregated state. (Circa 1922 "Keystone Coal Catalog" image via Google Books)


The company store, and auditorium are visible in this Omar picture. The auditorium consisted of a section for the YMCA; a section for the theatre; and on the ground floor, reading rooms, snack bars, billiard parlor, and soda fountain. All activities at the auditorium were racially segregated at the time. (Circa 1922 "Keystone Coal Catalog" image via Google Books)


Downtown "Omar" at the bottom of the 1930's depression seems to be faring better than other locations. (Oct. 1935 image by Ben Shahn, Library of Congress)


Men hangin out on the railroad tracks next to the Omar Theatre. (Oct. 1935 image by Ben Shahn, Library of Congress)


The railroad was used as a pedestrian thoroughfare. (Oct. 1935 image by Ben Shahn, Library of Congress)


Coal miners on their day off - Sunday. Although these are Appalachian coal miners, they are dressed very much like mainstream America - not ragged hillbillies. At the time these people (rightly) considered themselves as much a part of industrialized America as Pittsburgh steel workers or Detroit auto workers. Island Creek hollow would have been filled with one coal town after another, and perhaps not thought of as "remote" or "off the beaten path" as we would consider it today. I think Appalachia is much more marginalized now (21st Century) than it was back then. (Oct. 1935 image by Ben Shahn, Library of Congress)


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