The story of a forgotten America.

Exploring the Coalfields of West Virginia

Several years ago, I embarked on a meandering trip through the Winding Gulf coalfield of West Virginia, to explore and discover the history of this once-bustling part of the nation. The Winding Gulf coalfield rapidly developed in the early 20th century with the advent of deep underground mines that required thousands of miners—and their families.

The Winding Gulf featured low-volatile “smokeless” coal, ideal for coking for steel mills and early coal power plants. The earliest mines in the Beckley seam were developed in the early 1900s, and after that was exhausted in the 1950s, companies moved onto the Pocahontas No. 3 and No. 4 seams.

One of my first stops was the former company town of Glen Rogers in Wyoming County. Glen Rogers featured some of the largest mines along with the Virginian Railway system, and some of the deadliest mines in the United States. Residents were taken back with a shock when the announcement came in 1960 that Old Ben Coal of Chicago had declared bankruptcy and abruptly closed operations at Glen Rogers. The company had poorly managed the mine, using outdated, second-hand equipment, and operated it with ill-regard to miner safety. To the coal barons, workers were an expense akin to machines, leading to over 130 preventable deaths in the few decades the mine was in operation. Despite cutting corners in a booming economy, the mine failed.

To make matters worse, residents had to sell what little belongings they owned to leave Glen Rogers. The company owned the town and refused to sell the homes to the residents. It also refused to sell its commercial buildings and expansive land holdings for other developments.

Glen Rogers was described as a ghost town by 1965.

Glen Rogers High School, which served the community, was constructed in 1951 to replace an earlier structure. It closed in 1992 after enrollment dipped under 200 students and was demolished in 2013 after arson destroyed much of the complex.

Near Glen Rogers was Trap Hill School in the community Surveyor, which remained operational until a new facility was constructed in the 2000s. It was demolished in 2013.

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