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West Virginia Coal Mines

The Beginnings of Coal Development

Photo of Early Coal Fleet

From the Semi-Centennial History of West Virginia, by James Callahan, 1913.

Notes on Coal, Oil and Gas Development

By the Editor.

The coal mining industry in West Virginia Is still in its infancy. Many pioneer miners, who have watched it grow and expand from very small beginnings, are still living. There was no mining on an extensive scale before the civil war.
Long years of exploration and experimental development were required to prepare the way for the recent period of active remarkable development. At the beginning of the nineteenth century. West Virginia. coal was used only by the cross-roads blacksmiths or by the settler whose cabin stood near an outcrop. In 1810, the people of Wheeling began in their dwellings the use of coal which was obtained from the first mine discovered near the city. In 1811, the New Orleans, the first steamboat on the Ohio burned coal which her captain Nicholas Roosevelt, had found "on the banks of the Ohio" two years before. In 1817, coal was first discovered in the Kanawha valley; and began to take the place of wood tor use in the production of salt near Malden above Charleston at the Kanawha Salines, one of the most productive salt regions in America at that time. A small mine was opened near Mason City in 1819, another in 1832.
In 1835, Dr. S. P. Hildreth of Marietta, Ohio, published an account of the Appalachian coal field which directed attention to West Virginia. From 1836 to 1840, Professor Rogers, Virginia's most expert geologist, visited the West Virginia mines which had been opened at that time, and made analyses of the coals in Harrison, Monongalia, Taylor, Fayette, Mineral, Grant, Preston and Kanawha counties.
The total product for 1840 was nearly 300,000 tons, of which 200,000 tons were used in the Kanawha salt furnaces, and nearly all the remainder was consumed by the factories and dwelling houses of Wheeling. In 1843, the Baltimore and Ohio began to carry small quantities from Piedmont to Baltimore. In 1847, small shipments were made by river from Mason county, where new mines were opened in 1858 and 1859 and worked throughout the war. From 1854 to 1860, more than a score of corporations were created under the laws of Virginia for the purpose of enlisting foreign capital, but the realization of their plans was postponed by the war.
At the close of the war there was an awakening interest in the latent mineral resources of the new state. It was the beginning of a new era of development for West Virginia. In 1865, the Averell Coal Company began operations at the mouth of Pocatalico river in Putnam county. In 1866, the Peytona Cannel coal Company prepared to begin work on Coal river in Boone county. The Wayne County Coal Company was also organized; and, by 1869, a new company began to mine on an extensive scale in Mason county. A year later two coal banks were opened in Monongalia county. In 1873, John Nuttall began operations In Sewall Mountain on New river. There was a steadily increasing business in many localities. By 1880 operations were extensive in Mineral, Monongalia, Marion, Fayette, Harrison, Ohio, Putnam, and Mason counties. They steadily increased thereafter and especially after the introduction of mining machinery, beginning with 1890.
In June 1883, the first coal was shipped from the Flat Top field. During the ten years prior to 1882, H. M. and C. D. Straley, J. A. Douglas, and J. D. and D. E. Johnston, had gotten control of 20,000 acres along the north side of the Bluestone river in the Plat Top region which about 1882 they conveyed to E. W. dark of Philadelphia for $105,000. dark and his associates apportioned these lands to six joint stock companies. At the same time they organized the Trans-Flat-Top Land Association which acquired large tracts of land in McDowell, Wyoming, Raleigh, Boone and Logan counties. The holdings of the six joint companies, together with that of the Trans-Flat-Top Coal Land Association, aggregated 232,483 acres. The land of the Association was later sold and conveyed to the Pocahontas Coal and Coke Association.
Embryo operations in the coke industry began quite early, but larger operations began only recently. The first coke produced in West Virginia was made in 1843, on Cheat river above Ice's Ferry, at the old Oreen spring iron furnace. The first brick coke oven in the state was built In Monongalia county about 1853, and the first firestone coke oven in 1878. After 1880 there was a speedy growth in the development of the industry.
The production of coal in West Virginia expressed in short tons rose from 444,648 in 1863 to 1,000,000 in 1873, to 1,120,000 in 1878, to 2,335,833 in 1883, to 5,498,800 in 1888, to 10,708,578 in 1893, to 16,700,999 in 1898, to 29,337,241 in 1903 and to 61,671,019 in 1910.
In 1890 the importance of the Industry led to the creation of the office of chief mine Inspector, who now has five associates to aid him in his duties. In 1903 there were 530 mines inspected. The production for 1903 was 24,000,000 long tons of which nearly 19,500,000 tons were shipped to market. The state ranked third in the production of coal. The number and extent of new developments exceeded those ot any preceding year. Many recent improvements for the betterment ot the condition of the mines and the miners have been made. In spite of the care taken to prevent accidents, some of the most destructive mine ex plosions have occurred in recent years.
In 1911 the state ranked second in coal production.
Submitted by: Valerie F. Crook

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