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POCAHONTAS, VA

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Apr. 2006 image by author

The namesake of this coalfield is the town of Pocahontas, named for the Indian princess. Pocahontas was developed by the Southwest Virginia Improvement Company in 1881-83. Some of these houses pictured may have been company houses. But Pocahontas wasn't simply a coal mining camp. It had a bustling business district and privately owned homes as well. There were several mines at Pocahontas, probably all in the same Pocahontas No. 1 seam - No. 1 mine, West mine, East mine, Baby mine. The last one closed in 1955.


Apr. 2006 image by author

The commercial district in Pocahontas is just a shell of what it once was. Many of the town's historic structures, such as these, are falling into ruin. As a matter of fact, I believe that these distinctive late 19th Century buildings with iron store fronts are gone now. However, a reader told me that the iron pieces are in storage.


Apr. 2006 image by author

Farther up on the hill in Pocahontas is a section of the village that has the feel of a ghost town. Many of the buildings are abandoned and ruined.


Apr. 2006 image by author

I especially liked this. Apparently Mr. William Butt not only made furniture, but he made the coffins to bury the 112 miners killed in the March 13, 1884 mine explosion at Pocahontas. Apparently the Pocahontas mine was known as the Laurel Mine at the time. This was a rather nasty disaster where coal dust in the mine exploded, and then the mine caugh fire. The fire was extinguished by flooding the mine with water and steam, then sealing the mine. The next month, April 1884, the mine was unsealed and the dead miners were brought out, identified, and buried.


Apr. 2006 image by author

One structure in Pochaontas that is still in good condition is St. Elizabeth Roman Catholic Church. St. Elizabeth was founded in 1896 for all of the european immigrants in Pocahontas. Some of their descendents may still live in the area, since the church still hosts an annual Hugarian Cabbage Roll ("Hunky hand grenades") Dinner. It sits on the hilltop overlooking the town, and is rumored to have beautiful murals painted inside, but I didn't go inside as Mass was in session when I took this picture and I looked like a bum.


Apr. 2006 image by author

The office building of the Pocahontas Fuel Company still stands in the middle of Pocahontas. After Consol purchased the Pocahontas Fuel Company they kept regional offices here. Pocahontas Fuel Company also maintained offices in the big Norfolk & Western building in downtown Bluefield, WV. It is unknown who the current residents are.


Apr. 2006 image by author

This company store, the first store that the Pocahontas Fuel Company ever built (in 1883), is still in existence in Pocahontas, Virginia. Through the years the company built so many stores in Bishop, Switchback, Itmann, and others. But this was their first. According to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, when Consol took over Pocahontas Fuel in 1958 they kept this store open until August 30, 1980. In 2006 I wrote, "The structure is in poor condition now, and if someone doesn't close off the open windows to the elements, it, like so many other interesting buildings in Pocahontas, will be lost to time and the weather."


2007 image courtesy of Debbie

My predictions proved right when the store collapsed in 2007. What a waste.


Image courtesy of Eastern Regional Coal Archives, Bluefield, WV

Shown here is the company store in Pocahontas when it was new. Note that the freight elevator had not been built yet. See article at bottom of this page for a 1975 article about this store. (Image courtesy of Eastern Regional Coal Archives, Bluefield, WV)


Apr. 2006 image by author

Some company houses in the coal camp section of Pocahontas with the powerhouse from the old Pocahontas No. 1 mine in the background. Behind that is a huge reclaimed slate dump. In this area there were once hundreds of beehive coke ovens. Allegedly there are remains of three coke ovens to this day, and I need to look for them.


Apr. 2006 image by author

A closer view of the stone powerhouse at the site of the Pocahontas No. 1 mine. This was the first commerical mine opened in the Pocahontas Coalfield (VA and WV), and, since 1938, has been operating as the Pocahontas Exhibition Coal Mine.


Apr. 2005 image by author

Cap light battery charger in the Pocahontas Exhibition Mine bathhouse.


Apr. 2005 image by author

The shower stalls are to the right of this picture of the bathhouse at the Pocahontas mine.


Apr. 2006 image by author

This was the fanhouse for the Pocahontas No. 1 mine, but is now the entrance to the exhibition mine.


Apr. 2005 image by author

Inside the Pocahontas Exhibition Mine. This was the first tourist coal mine in the nation. At one time people drove cars through this tourist attraction, as the Pocahontas No. 3 coal seam here is 13 feet hight. But now the tour guide just walks visitors through it. This tourist mine opened in 1938, was closed during most of the 1980s, and reopened in 1989.


Apr. 2006 image by author

Ruins of the tipple foundations. I have no idea why there is a chain link fence at the top of it.


Sep. 2019 image by Charlie Perkins

Streetscape in Pocahontas, Va. in the 21st Century. The photo was taken by reader Charlie Perkins, who writes, "Work took me through Pocahontas the other day, so I got some pictures while I was there."


Sep. 2019 image by Charlie Perkins

Various old commercial buildings.


Sep. 2019 image by Charlie Perkins

In this photo you can see a rather pitiful attempt at historic preservation. This is the site where the company store stood. Allowed to collapse into ruin, all that is left is the elevator shaft, which has been covered in white siding. Other empty lots used to be filled with distinctive iron-fronted commercial store buildings which have been demolished.


Sep. 2019 image by Charlie Perkins

This row of garages may have been built by Pocahontas Fuel Co. for their employees who owned cars. The original company housing probably had little provisions for car parking.


Sep. 2019 image by Charlie Perkins

A closer view of the end of the garage shows a mural of the coal mine.


Sep. 2019 image by Charlie Perkins

The former Pocahontas High School. Their mascot was the Indians. Photographer Charlie writes, "Pocahontas High School shut down in 2008 and the students were sent to Graham High School in Bluefield; the building still stands in decent condition. Rumors have gone around that it will be sold off to a private company, perhaps someone hoping to capitalize on the many ATV trails that have opened in Boissevain and West Virginia." If so this would be similar to what I saw in Benham, Kentucky - where the old coal town school is recycled into a bed and breakfast. The classrooms became bedrooms.


Sep. 2019 image by Charlie Perkins

Other old storefronts decorated with Victorian-era "gingerbread."


Sep. 2019 image by Charlie Perkins

A closer look at the ornamentation of one of the buildings.


Sep. 2019 image by Charlie Perkins

At some point in the early 21st Century somone built a handicap ramp in the historic brick street.


Sep. 2019 image by Charlie Perkins

This building was the town hall and jail. An opera house was located on the second floor. The photographer, Charlie, writes, "There are plans to re-open the Opera House and do a downtown revitalization project if federal grant funding can be secured. They've already got funding to do a study on the viability of the Opera House building reopening. Many of the old iron pieces from the former storefronts are still in storage somewhere."


Sep. 2019 image by Charlie Perkins

Detail on the Pocahontas town hall.


Sep. 2019 image by Charlie Perkins

The roof of the old fire department is gone now.


Sep. 2019 image by Charlie Perkins

This old church is now the community center. It's good to see this nice old stone structure being repurposed.


A February 23, 1975 article in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph stated, "The company store in Pocahontas, Va. is divided into four sections with the bookkeeper's area at the hub. There's the dry goods department, the grocery store, the appliance section and the furniture floor upstairs. They are divided by customers carrying different-sized bags.

Rand Wagner manages the Pocahontas Fuel Company store. He's been there some 30 years, not counting a five-year stretch of odd jobs.

Pocahontas Fuel, a subsidiary of Continental Oil that operates Consolidation Coal, maintains eight stores in this area, including facilities at Lynco, Buckeye and Turkey Gap ...

One of the big advantages of company stores, be they Pocahontas Fuel or Island Creek, is their credit allowance. Company employees can have their store purchases deducted from their checks. This fact, plus the traditional convenience of the stores, has made them a favorite of mining families.

Wagner remembers when the stores did even more. "About 35 or so years ago, Pocahontas Fuel was involved in church life, helping to support community worship places, and in entertainment, subsidizing a movie theatre for after work recreation ...

Wagner is convinced that the rumors of high company store prices (hinted at in the Tennessee Ernie Ford song, 'Sixteen Tons') must have started in the early 1900s when some shady dealings may have gone on. 'It's simply not true any more. There is full competition now and no company store is certain of a man's business just because of location. If a customer isn't satisfied, he can jump in his car and go somewhere else.'

New stores are being constructed all the time. For instance, Island Creek has built four new facilities in the past four years and recently completed remodling work in five others.

Wagner is very optimistic of the future. He sees his own store doing well. And the Pocahontas area thriving. But right now he'll brag on his sugar prices to anybody ..."


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