Coalwood, West Virginia is located in McDowell County and was a company owned town founded by George Lafayette Carter in 1905.1 6 The first inhabitants of the area, though, 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. The Coalwood post office was founded on March 12, 1903, the same year that Carter purchased 20,000 acres of land for the underground coal reserves. He then founded the Carter Coal Company.

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

In 1922, Carter sold the mine and town to the Consolidation Coal Company, who built the community a new clubhouse.1 Consolidation owned the property until March 16, 1933 when the company went into default.1 3 6 Carter regained control of the operations until his death three years later, when operations were 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


  • Name: Coalwood, West Virginia
  • Years of Significance: 1905, 1922


  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.