Story By Danny Angus- Coke Ovens on New River & Powellton, WV

Name: Danny A

Coke Ovens on New  River
And Powellton WVa


Inside a coke oven in the New River Gorge

In the last years of the 1970’s I was employed in the coal mine which provided many jobs in southern West Virginia. My family had many members employed in coal mines or in an industry that was existing to provide parts or some type of material to the mines. We worked most Saturdays underground but sometimes the fellow I worked with and myself would go fishing on the Kanawha River but most of the time we fished up on the New River above Union Carbides dam at Cotton Hill.

I had one of the older and smaller Jeeps that was good for going down the older less traveled roads like the one that started at Cunard in Fayette County and ended at the rail line along side the New River.

My friend and I had drove up along the rail line after coming down an old road just up from Thurmond. We moved up river for a long way before something happened that made us reverse that whole trip and go out the way we got there.

One trip on a different day we the rode into Cunard and then on down to the rail line then
down the along side of the  New River. On that day we saw old coke ovens down there some where, we also saw 2 old stone houses that were said to by empty, the owners long gone. As we sat and looked at the old homes a rag or piece of curtain moved a little in an upper floor window. We stayed and looked closer and realized someone was living or staying there for sure. How or why was something no one knew. As best we find out there was an old Black Lady living there for many years all alone. I never did find out much more about her and why she was living there. Someone had to drop off some supplies from time to time or she could not have made it there.

All the older towns on the New were named after the coal seam or the operators of the mines seeking the hot , gas filled , coal that was good to make coke for the making of steel. I wonder how many places along that rail line were known to have coke ovens and are they standing today.

By the time we found those ovens on the New River, we both had grown up near, we had saw, in many places the long cooled ovens of the years past.

Growing up at Powellton and playing in or around the old ovens there seemed, and was, just life in older coal communities. The ovens at Powellton were 3/8 to 1/2 mile long then. We stayed all night in them sometimes and I recall this fellow took a big part of the front out of one and made a Hog pin in the oven.

If you ever saw one still complete you would note a 10 to 12 inch vent hole in the very top and the Door on the front was igloo style with a hole big enough for a man to crawl through. The ovens at Powellton were at least 10 foot across in any direction with that dome look inside I guess they looked like an igloo.

When I was sent that website about coal and south central WVa and they talked about the ovens at Powellton I was surprised that others had been destroyed. I did see many of the pictures on that website had been taken up in the Powellton community.

I wonder if the old stone homes down rail line from Cunard have been destroyed after 40 years passes. The fellow that worked with me in the 70’s and fished me all those years ago is surely went on past life.

*Added by Visit Southern WV – Blog Post Melcina Fields Last Resident of the Gorge is the lady referred to in above shared story.