Coalwood, West Virginia - Abandoned

Coalwood, West Virginia

Coalwood, West Virginia, located in McDowell County, is a former company town founded by George Lafayette Carter in 1905.1 6

The first permanent settlement of the region was the community of Snakeroot at the junction of Wolfpen Branch and Clear Fork Branch.1 A post office for Snakeroot was established on September 20, 1869. The Coalwood post office was founded on March 12, 1903, the same year that George Carter founded the Carter Coal Company and acquired 20,000 acres of land for future underground coal mines.

In 1904, work began on constructing the West Virginia Southwestern Railway from its junction with the Norfolk & Western Railroad at Gordon along the Tug Fork west of Roderfield.4 5 The 9.93-mile branch was completed to Coalwood on April 10, 1905 and was operated by the Norfolk & Western as their Clear Fork Branch. The first shaft coal mine in Coalwood opened in 1914.

Coalwood had over 2,000 residents under Carter’s reign, along with schools, company stories, churches and medical services.3 Dental services were free, due to George Carter hiring a doctor and subsidizing the costs of treatment.2

Carter sold the mining operations and Coalwood to the Consolidation Coal Company in 1922. Consolidated Coal constructed a larger clubhouse 1 and owned the property until March 16, 1933 when it went into default.1 3 6 Carter regained control of the mine and town until his death in 1936 when the company was assumed by his son James.

The first mines at Caretta opened in 1924. The mines were unionized in 1933,which led to tension in 1945 when Carter refused to sign a standard union contract.1 6 Weeks of intense debate and argument followed until the United States Navy was sent in to put the workers back to work due to the onset of World War II.

Coalwood and its mining opertions were sold to a group of industrialists from Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company, Interlake Iron Corporation, and the Steel Company of Canada on December 22, 1947. The group renamed the organization the Olga Coal Company. In 1956, the Coalwood mine was connected to the Caretta mine, which was also owned by Olga. All coal was being shipped via the tipple and processing plant at Caretta by 1959, and the operations at Coalwood were closed and dismantled.1 6 The Norfolk & Western Railway began dismantling the Clear Fork Branch was abandoned shortly after.

In 1980, the Olga Coal Company was purchased by the LTV Corporation, and the Coalwood mine was closed in 1986.1 6 At that time, the houses and businesses were still company owned, one of the last instances of its type in the United States, and were sold to the respective residents and business owners.



  1. Coalwood is my favourite abandoned town. It might be because of the book Rocket Boys and movie October Sky but I think it’s a very interesting place and its my dream to visit it one day because its what have the rocket bus inspiration to build rockets and they are what gave me the inspiration to study science. I want to visit where it all started to fulfil my dream.

    • Hi Lizz. Like you, my interst in Coalwood is because of the movie October Sky and the book Rocket Boys. I am going to Coalwood on Oct 20. I like going to places where movies were made from; IE: Puxsutawny for Ground Hog day, Mingo Junction for the movie The Deer Hunter, Manzanillo Mexico for the movie “10”, several sites in NY city most recently the cafe where Tom Hanks and Chappel went to meet Meg Ryan in the movie “You got Mail”. Just to name a few. Since Coalwood is so out of the way, I have never had the chance, but now I do. Going on a 4 week driving trip that will include Coalwood, Charlston (to see the Yorktown ), Savannah, and then I will venture to FLA where I may purchase a motor home from a friend.
      ANyway, I will let you know whats up with Coalwood after I go there. Stay in touch with me.

  2. These photos are so cool but to think people lived in one little town like this was horrible….. Thanks for listening. Please fix the place up nice because it was a really nice town at one time back in 1976..!!!!!

  3. Yes it was a very nice town with wonderful people living there. I had my first teaching experience at Coalwood Elementary in 1978-80. After teaching 36 years of teaching I will never forget my students and my experiences with all of them. I’ll never forget Mr. Toney my principal and my first boss. I actually resided at the Coalwood Clubhouse for a few months until I found a home in Welch.

  4. From the stories I’ve heard from my grandparents, it wasn’t an awful place to live. There were lots of wonderful memories from there. Both of my grandparents were born and grew up in Coalwood. One of my great, great uncles was one of the Rocket Boys, Roy Lee.
    I’ve never visited, but I hope to one day. If for nothing else than to say I went to the town where some of my family was born and raised.

  5. Que interesante, me gustaría conocer ese lugar, tengo tantos sueños que me motivan a seguir gracias a los Rocketboys…

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