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WINONA, WV AND KEENEYS CREEK MINES

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Coal operator John Nuttal, who had experienced success with his mine at Nuttallburg, decided in the 1890's that he would like to exploit his Sewell seam coal lands on the mountain top above Nuttallburg. It was due to his persistence that a rail branch was constructed up nearby Keeneys Creek that would later serve several coal mines. The Keeneys Creek branch, which was adopted into the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway system upon its completion, was an engineering masterpiece. Just west of the C&O mainline bridge over Keeneys Creek, a rail spur branched off and began to ascend the steep cliffs of the New River Gorge. The rail branch went behind the Nuttallburg coal camp, crossed under the Nuttallburg retarding conveyor, switched back, crossed under the conveyor again, crossed several small bridges, and when it finally entered the Keeneys Creek watershed had gained approximately 500 feet in elevation. All of this was engineered without calculators, laser transits, or CAD software.


Rail bridges (red arrows) on the cliffs above the New River remaining from the Keeneys Creek rail branch. (March 1989 image courtesy of Mick Vest)

By 1892 there were already 6 coal companies operating along Keeneys Creek, as listed in the 1891 annual state mine report: Keeneys Creek mine (whose tipple was actually on the C&O main line), Boone Coal & Coke, Nos. 1 & 2 mines of Ballenger Coal & Coke, Smokeless Coal Co., Rothwell Coal Co., and J.F. Cavendish Coal Co. at the end of the line in Lookout.

The 1906 C&O Railway shippers directory listed 6 companies mining coal on Keeneys Creek: Boone Coal & Coke, Blume Coal & Coke, Ballinger Coal Co., Keeneys Creek Colliery Co., and Rothwell Coal Co. In 1920, according to historian Roy Long, passenger train service was added to the Keeneys Creek rail branch.

By 1950, C&O's Coal Mine Directory showed 6 mines on Keeneys Creek being operated by two companies: The Morrow Mine of Nuri Smokeless Coal Co., and the rest by Maryland New River Coal Co. After the 1950's the exhausted mines were closed, the rail branch was abandoned and removed, and most of the coal camps disappeared. Today Lookout, WV still has a population living on each side of Route 60, and Winona is still inhabited, but the coal mines and company towns along Keeneys Creek have faded away.


A steam locomotive poses on the Keeneys Creek rail branch in the early 20th Century. (C&O Railway image via Google Books)


The small coal mining community of Boone has returned to nature, but I did find these foundations from the mine. The 1892 state mine report describes the Boone Coal & Coke Co. operation: "A tramway of some little extent connects the drift mouth with a short incline, whence the coal is run to the tipple. Owing to the location of lease, they were unable to open the mine directly on the main line of the railroad, but were unavoidably forced to construct the said tramway in order to get behind the coal and develop the territory on the raise of the coal. The ventilation by means of a furnace is fair as is also the drainage." Building a hot furnace near a mine portal to create air currents was one means of ventilating a coal mine before the use of centrifugal and axial vane fans became widespread. In the 1906 C&O Shippers' Directory claims, "The company has 80 well-built and comfortable houses, which they rent out at a low figure to their employees. The Maryland New River Coal Co. later owned the Boone mine. (March 2004 image by author)


A ventilating furnace at a coal mine of unknown location. (Circa 1938 American Mining Congress image)


An 1800' incline connected the Ballinger Coal Company's tipple, shown here, with the mine portal. Originally called Ballinger Coal & Coke Co., they had already closed their No. 2 mine when this picture was taken around 1919, but would continue operating their No. 1 mine until 1931. (Image from The Black Diamond via Google Books)


The "Winona Pool Room" in Winona, WV. There are also a few company houses remaining in Winona, but not enough of them to retain the company town look. (March 2004 image by author)


This must have been the old school house for Winona. (Dec. 2013 image by author)


An original coal camp house at Winona that probably housed the family of a miner who worked at Maryland New River Coal Company's Dubree No. 2 or 3 mine. (Dec. 2013 image by author)


Vintage picture of the Blume Coal & Coke tipple. As you can see, the tipple only loaded coal into rail cars. There was little to no preparation equipment. It doesn't even look big enough for a picking table. In 1906 their mine at Lookout was said to have been in a 3'-8" to 4'-0" section of Sewell coal, and was ventilated by a "ten-foot disc fan." (C&O Railway image via Google Books)


Snowy view circa 1919 of Blume Coal & Coke's mine portals. The overhead supports were for trolley wires (Image from The Black Diamond via Google Books)


Partially covered portal of the Lookout Mine as it looks today. The mine was later operated by the Maryland New River Coal Company until the 1950's. (Dec. 2013 image by author)


Probably an old mine fan housing at the Lookout Mine site. (Dec. 2013 image by author)


These ruins of a block building are also part of the Lookout Mine complex. Visible on the "inside" of the building are raised equipment bases and rusting pipe segments, so this must have been a small bath house, lamp house, or repair shop. (Dec. 2013 image by author)


This small structure at the Lookout coal mine may have been to house blasting caps. (Dec. 2013 image by author)


Trestle remaining from the Keeneys Creek rail branch. The Park Service has designated this old rail bed as a hiking trail. (Apr. 2013 image by author)


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