Coalwood, West Virginia

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

The first inhabitants of the area had founded the community of Snakeroot at the junction of Wolfpen Branch and Clear Fork Branch, and the post office was established on September 20, 1869.1 6 The Coalwood post office was founded on March 12, 1903, the same year that Carter founded the Carter Coal Company purchased 20,000 acres of land for the underground coal reserves.

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,. It was operated by the Norfolk & Western as their Clear Fork Branch. The first shaft coal mine opened in 1914.

In 1922, Carter sold the mining operations and Coalwood to the Consolidation Coal Company. 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 three years later, when it was assumed by his son James.

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

In 1947, the coal operations and town were sold to a group of industrialists from Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company, Interlake Iron Corporation, and the Steel Company of Canada who renamed the company to the Olga Coal Company, founded December 22. In 1956, the Coalwood mine was connected to the Caretta mine, which was also owned by Olga. Just three years later, all coal was being shipped via the tipple and processing plant at Caretta, and the operations at Coalwood were closed and later dismantled.1 6 Beginning in 1959, the Norfolk & Western Railway began dismantling the Clear Fork Branch.

In 1980, the Olga Coal Company was purchased by the LTV Corporation, and the Coalwood mine was closed six years later.1 6 At that time, the houses and businesses were still company owned – one of the last in the United States, and were sold to the respective residents and business owners.

At its height, Coalwood had over 2,000 residents and had a diverse housing stock, schools, company stores, churches and medical services.3 Dental services were free, thanks to Carter hiring a doctor and subsidizing the costs of treatment.2


  1. “History Timeline.” Coalwood, West Virginia. N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Apr. 2011. Article.
  2. Hickam, Homer H. October Sky. New York: Dell Publishing, 1998. Print.
  3. McGehee, Stuart. “Historic Coalwood.” Goldenseal Summer 2001: 52-56. Print.
  4. Virginia State Corporation Commission. “Norfolk and Western Railway Company History.” Annual Report. Vol. 6. Richmond: n.p., 1909. 696. Print.
  5. “General Remarks: Branches and Extensions.” Ninth Annual Report, Norfolk and Western Railway Company. Vol. 9. Philadelphia: Allen, Lane & Scott, 1905. 13. Print.
  6. Schust, Alex P. “Coalwood (Snakeroot).” Billion Dollar Coalfield. Ed. Linda Graves. Harwood, MD: Two Mule Publishing, 2010. 408-412. Print.


  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.

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