West Virginia Coal Mining
Coal mining is the largest economic mineral mined in the state of West Virginia. There are hundreds of operations
that employ thousands of men and women throughout the state. Coal mining not only employs citizens, but also
impacts other secondary businesses as well. Throughout many small towns in West Virginia, a majority of small
businesses depend on the coal industry for their economic survival.
A man named John Peter Salley
took a journey throughout the mountains of West Virginia in 1742 and he documented a large amount of coal around
the Kanawha River. This area later became known as Coal River, and his discovery became the initial discovery of
the mineral known as coal or black gold
Many settlers had known that
coal existed throughout most of West Virginia; however, virtually no substantial mining operations occurred in West
Virginia till the mid-1800s. Right up until that period, there was no desire to mine the coal because the state had
an abundance of timber. During this period coal was mainly used by local blacksmiths and citizens that lived around
the resource who discovered that coal can heat their house. Around 1810, folks living in Wheeling, West Virginia
started to use the coal extracted from a nearby coal field to heat their homes. During 1811, steamboats that
operated on the Ohio River used coal that was found on the Ohio River banks to run their boats. In 1817, coal begun
to take the place of charcoal as the energy producing product for quite a few Kanawha River salt furnace
operations. Then in 1836, West Virginia coal fields started to receive a lot of interest from
Then around 1840, the entire
coal production in West Virginia was around 300,000 tons, which 200,000 tons was utilized by the Kanawha salt
furnace operations during this time and virtually all of the remaining ended up being used by manufacturers as well
as citizens in Wheeling, West Virginia.
Somewhere between 1840 and 1860
numerous coal organizations were being structured and this started the period of when outsiders were coming to West
Virginia to get involved in the coal industry. Foreign investors started trickling in the West Virginia coal
industry and this started the expansion of coal mining in West Virginia.
When the Civil War started the
Kanawha Valley coal mines ended up being shutdown as the Confederate soldiers had established camps around the
Kanawha River valley. Plus, during the Civil War many of the dams were destroyed thus impeding the shipment of
coal. Further north, the coal fields around Elkins and Fairmont stayed productive, furnishing coal to the Union
soldiers to help with their camp living. Also, coal mined from this region was shipped up and down the East coast
to help heat homes during the Civil War.
When the Civil War came to an
end, interest started to pick back up on the abundance of West Virginia's coal resources. This point in time helped
start the progression of the coal mining industry in West Virginia. Mining of coal extended to various new
discovered coal fields within the State, and by the late 1880's there ended up being quite a few mining companies
running coal operations within Fayette, Harrison, Mineral, Monongalia, Marion, Ohio, Putnam, and Mason counties in
During this period of time, the
Fairmont area was one of the largest operations due to the fact that this coal field was in the heart of what is
known as the Pittsburgh coal seam that is still being mined today. Due to the output of this coal field sales were
picking up and more and more people were becoming employed to work the established coal mines.
The southern coal fields of West
Virginia weren’t really mined until around 1870. Many people knew that the coal was there in the southern part of
the State for a long time, but didn't have the transportation and money to start mining the coal during this period
of time. Just as the Pittsburgh coal seam was the largest up north, the south's largest coal field is the Flat
Top-Pocahontas coal field, situated mostly within Mercer and McDowell counties. The particular coal field began
shipment of coal around 1883 and expanded rapidly during this time.
The majority of the southern
coal fields, including Kanawha, Logan, New River, Winding Gulf flourished once the Chesapeake and Ohio train
company expanded their tracks in this region. This allowed for shipment of coal thus increasing coal mining
operations within the region.