VISIT SOUTHERN WEST VIRGINIA

Coal Mining Heritage

Southern West Virginia is rich in coal and railroad history. We invite you to take a walk down our “heritage lane”, where you’ll learn about coal mining and visit a town that was once only reachable by rail.

There will be plenty of places along the way to snap some incredible photos, and your day would not be complete without a stroll (and a meal) in one of America’s Coolest Small Towns, Fayetteville, WV.

Stop 1 – Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine

The Phillips-Sprague Mine opened in 1889, was commercially developed in 1905, and shipped out its first load of coal in January 1906. Operation ceased in 1953 and the mine was sold to the City of Beckley. The Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine opened in 1962; it then began offering a history lesson on mining coal in Appalachia. This was the first historic site dedicated to educating the public on coal mining.

Today, the Beckley Exhibition Mine takes you 1,500 feet underground in “man cars” operated by veteran miners. You will learn how coal was mined in the 1800’s and how it is mined today.

Cost / Hours of Operation

  • $20.00 for adults (13-54)
  • $12.00 for kids (4-12)
  • $15.00 for seniors (55+)
  • Open daily from April 1 – Nov 1 from 10am to 6pm (last trip underground departs at 5:30)

Tips:

The coal mine is 58 degrees year round so bring a light jacket.
Don’t leave without a piece of fudge!

Stop 2 – Mt. Hope

This historic town was once the largest commercial center of the New River Coal Fields. The Mount Hope Historic District and the New River Company General Office Building are on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1910, Mount Hope was almost completely destroyed by fire; the town lost 40 businesses and 150 dwellings. The town was rebuilt quickly, rising from the ashes, and was popularly known as ‘The Phoenix City’ for decades.

A walking tour of the town will show many examples of grand structures built by coal barons and coal companies. There are interpretive kiosks, a mural, coal monument and a display of ‘Famous New River Smokeless Coal’.

Tips:

Stop at the Mount Hope Interpretive Park where you can view a map of the town’s historic buildings and suggested walking tours.

You can park along Main Street to start your tour.

Stop 3 – Nuttalburg

Nuttallburg was a mining camp developed to establish the New River Coalfield by John Nuttall. Mr. Nuttall, anticipating that the C & O Railroad would be built through the New River Gorge, bought this property in 1870. By the time the railroad came through in 1873 he had already built 100 houses, 80 coke ovens and a coal tipple. The Nuttall family sold the mine and town to Henry Ford in 1920, who then ran the operation until 1928 under the name Fordson Coal Company. The last operator of the Nuttallburg mine was the Maryland New River Coal Co. They closed the mine around 1950, though a few contractors tried to keep the mine open until around 1952. The post office, opened in 1893, closed in 1955, and the train depot in 1962. The town was abandoned shortly thereafter.

Nuttallburg is directly across the river from Kaymoor – another abandoned mining town with ruins to be explored.

The National Park Service completed a restoration project in Nuttallburg in September 2011. Today, the abandoned coke ovens, ruins of the company store and other structures can be visited. Signage and park ranger tours are available.

Stop 4 – Thurmond

Named after Captain Thurmond, the entire town is on the National Register of Historic Places. In its heyday, Thurmond boasted a population of over 700 people (now less than a dozen), had the richest bank, and had the highest revenue in the state. The now restored Depot, which serves as a National Park Service Visitors Center, once serviced 95,000 people a year.

Thurmond was not a coal camp but it was a coal town and railroad center. It was accessible only by rail until 1921.

Today you can cross the New River via a single lane/single track railroad bridge and enter Historic Thurmond. Visit the restored Depot and take a walk up the tracks to view the historic buildings left behind.

Interesting tidbits:

“Matewan” was filmed on location in Thurmond; The Dun Glen Hotel (destroyed by fire in 1930) was listed in Ripley’s Believe it or Not for hosting the longest lasting poker game of 14 years.

Tips:

The drive to the Historic Town of Thurmond takes you on a winding road, but it’s worth it. Take your time getting here and enjoy the views of the New River.

There are no dining options in Thurmond, so if you plan to explore awhile you may want to pack a picnic. The Depot Gift Shop has cold drinks and a few souvenirs.

Wear walking shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty. Trains still use this track and coal dust will get on your shoes. AT&T 3G service is available.

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