Abandoned and Forgotten Communities in West Virginia






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Bartow

Bartow is named for Col. Francis S. Bartow, a Confederate commander who died at the Battle of First Manassas on July 21, 1861. 16 The Battle of Greenbrier River, also known as the Battle of Camp Bartow, took place on October 3 about one mile southeast of the town. The Camp Bartow Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. 17

The town lies along the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike, and it became the first stagecoach stop west of the Allegheny Mountains.

Coalton

The community was founded on May 8, 1895, 22 as Womelsdorf, an Irish immigrant community. 21 It was named after the founder O.C. Womelsdorf of Pottsville, Pennsylvania. 23 Womelsdorf had hoped that the completion of the Rolling Creek & Charleston Railroad from Coalton south to Charleston would spark the town’s development. 24 The community was ultimately reached by the Roaring Creek & Belington Railroad.

After the richer Sewell coal seam was discovered in the New River Valley, activity in the Roaring Creek region began to decline. 25 For 1916, coal production at Coalton was 240,000 tons but declined sharply to just 22,000 tons by 1928. Coalton’s population peaked at 833 in 1920 but subsequently declined to 373 by 1930.

Elkhorn

Elkhorn is a former company town Crozer Land Association 4 and was at the end of the Norfolk & Western Railway (N&W) for a time.

Originally proposed to be named Weston, West Virginia in 1887 for Francis E. Weston of Upland, Pennsylvania, one of the original investors in the Crozer Coal & Coke Company, it was changed to Elkhorn after Elkhorn Creek because of an existing town name elsewhere in the state. 7 A post office was established on March 7, 1888, 5 7 surrounded by a small central district that included a school, barbershop, hotel, and the Swift & Company meatpacking facility. 5 Several churches and three company stores were nearby, all painted in matching green-and-white hues.

The Norfolk & Western Railway mainline reached Elkhorn in the spring of 1888 and was the railroad’s western terminus until it began work on the Ohio Extension in 1890. 7

The Crozer Coal & Coke Company, Houston Coal & Coke Company, and Upland Coal & Coke Company all leased land from the Crozer Land Company. 5 The four companies, all based in Elkhorn, were chartered by experienced Pennsylvania coal operators who wanted to mine in the phenomenal Pocahontas No. 3 coal seam along Elkhorn Creek which gained national recognization for its “smokeless” purity. It was the chosen fuel for the United States Navy and for steel producers.

Elkhorn gained a reputation as a racially and ethnically complex and diverse community, home to Black families from the deep South and Eastern European immigrants who were eager to strike a living in coal country. 5

In 1888, the first year of production, Elkhorn shipped 15,000 tons of “smokeless” coal out on the N&W, and by 1934, over 65 million tons of coal was shipped from Elkhorn. 5 The Crozer operation was purchased by Pittsburgh’s Consolidation Coal Company in 1963 and the mines were later closed after they had been depleted.

Gary

Gary was founded in 1902 by United States Steel (USS) to house workers that worked its fourteen mines that produced metallurgical coal that was shipped to its steel mills. 8 The company-owned community was named after the founding chairman of USS, Elbert Henry Gary. It was not formally incorporated as a city until July 1, 1971, after an election was held the year prior, and was one of the last company-owned towns in the state.

By the 1940s, Gary produced around a quarter of the amount of coal mined from McDowell County, as well as a quarter of the coal used by U.S. Steel during World War II. 8 By the 1970s, most of the high-quality metallurgical coal had been mined and employment levels began to wane. In March 1982, around 500 miners that were employed by U.S. Steel were laid off, and by the end of the year, all of the company’s mines in Gary were closed. By 1983, the unemployment rate in the community rose to 90%, the highest of any town in the United States.

In 1987, Gary Enterprise reopened one of the mines after acquiring it from U.S. Steel, and other companies arranged for sub-leases to mine coal that was economically accessible. 8 By 1990, Gary only had 180 mining jobs, a far cry from the town’s heyday just two decades prior. In July 2003, U.S. Steel sold its remaining assets in Gary to PinnOak Resources.

Giatto

Giatto was a black residential area for the Weyanoke Coal Company of Weyanoke. Some houses remain along the abandoned Norfolk & Western Right Fork Widemouth Branch and the former alignment of WV Route 10.

Keystone

Known previously as Cassville, 3 the community was founded as Belcher in July 1886 by John Belcher. The community was renamed Keystone on October 13, 1892, for the Keystone Coal & Coke Company. 1 3 6 It was incorporated as a town in 1896. 6

Keystone Coal & Coke Company was incorporated in June 1890 and it leased 1,562 acres of land from the Flat Top Coal Land Association. 6 The first mine at Keystone, Keystone No. 1, was in production from June 1892 until 1986 and was the oldest coal mine in the Pocahontas Coalfield. 1 6 The mines were later operated by the Koppers Coal Company in 1936, by Eastern Associated Coal in 1967, and by Governor Jim Justice’s Bluestone Coal Company, and by the Russian-owned Mechel Company. Keystone Coal & Coke also operated 100 coke ovens. 6

Keystone served as a regional center for the adjoining coal company towns and was home to wholesale grocers, retail stores, salons, and entertainment. 2 It was widely known for Cinder Bottom, a red-light district. The community’s population peaked at 2,500 in 1950, but like many towns in the coalfield, it began to decline because of pressures from mining mechanization and coal reserve depletion. Destructive floods further wiped out what remained of the business district.

By 2020, the population of Keystone was just slightly over 200.

Kline

The first surveys of the “upper tract” of the South Branch valley were performed around 1750, with a sudden wave of immigration occurring in the area in 1753 when 27 tracts were surveyed for 21 different persons, 16 of whom were newcomers to the United States. 10 Samuel Kline, who hailed from Germany, came to the area prior to 1861 and served as postmaster for an unincorporated community along Mill Run at Greenawalt Gap. 11 The community’s name took the name of Kline around 1875.

McComas

The once-bustling McComas coal camp was developed by multiple coal companies, including the American Coal Company, the Thomas Coal Company, and the Pocahontas Fuel Company. 9

Northfork

Northfork was founded after G.L. Toney, a buyer for the Algoma Coal & Coke Company, constructed three houses along Elkhorn Creek circa 1892. 6 The area was previously known as the Forks of Elkhorn and North Fork as it was where the North Fork Elkhorn Creek diverged.

Joseph L. Baker of Bluefield received a contract in February 1892 to construct a combination passenger and freight station; he received an additional contract in June to build a section house, foreman’s house, and other structures for the Norfolk & Western Railway. 6 A coaling station was erected in 1895 by Algoma Coal & Coke to serve the N&W.

Norton

The Norton community was originally known as Roaring  Creek Junction, as it was located along Roaring Creek and the adjoining Roaring Creek & Charleston Railroad. With the arrival of the West Virginia Coal & Coke Company, the town was enlarged and named for the company’s president, R.F. Norton. Norton, at its height, included a company store, a company bank, and the Norton Grade School.

Omar

Omar is the biggest coal camp on Island Creek and was constructed by the Main Island Creek Coal Company in 1914-15. 20 It was one of the largest camps in the Logan coalfield, with 500 houses. By 1916, production was approximately 12,000 tons of coal per day. In 1925, Main Island Creek sold the mine and town to the West Virginia Coal & Coke Corporation, which employed 2,000 persons at Omar in 1934. The mines closed in 1954.

Stephenson

Stephenson was developed by the Buckeye Coal & Coke Company and later managed by the Crozer Page Coal Company and Consol.

Weirton

Wilsie

Wilsie is a ghost town in Braxton County. The post office closed in July 2005.

Wilsontown

Wilsontown was settled by Gideon Hall Wilson in the mid-1860s, who operated a grist and sawmill along Flatwoods Run. 12 The grist and sawmill were destroyed by fire in 1890. Notable buildings include:

  • Wilson Chapel, a one-room church built in 1887.
  • Gideon Wilson House, a large two-story residence.
  • Jonathan Wilson House, a country-style residence built in 1880. 13

Zenith

Zenith, located at the base of Peter’s Mountain in Monroe County, was named because of its high elevation. 13 28 The post office operated for nearly a century until 1970.






Further Reading


Sources

  1. DellaMea, Chris. “Keystone.” Coalfields of the Appalachian Mountains, 2021.
  2. McGehee, C. Stuart. “Keystone.” e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 03 December 2018.
  3. Hatcher, Thomas C. “McDowell Town Names: Where Did They Come from?” The Heritage of McDowell County, West Virginia, McDowell County Historical Society, War, WV, 1995, p. 130.
  4. Sone, Stacy. “Lincoln, John J., House.” National Register of Historic Places, 14 Apr. 1992.
  5. Hatcher, Thomas C. “Elkhorn, West Virginia 24831” The Heritage of McDowell County, West Virginia, McDowell County Historical Society, War, WV, 1995, p. 268.
  6. Schust, Alex P. “West Virginia Development 1891-1900.” The Norfolk & Western in West Virginia 1881-1959, Two Mule Publishing, Harwood, MD, 2018, pp. 123-124.
  7. Schust, Alex P. “Building in West Virginia 1884-1890.” The Norfolk & Western in West Virginia 1881-1959, Two Mule Publishing, Harwood, MD, 2018, pp. 39-40.
  8. Nyden, Paul J. “Book review: The rise and fall of Gary, W.Va.” Charleston Gazette, 9 Feb. 2013.
  9. DellaMea, Chris. “McComas.” Coalfields of the Appalachian Mountains, 2021.
  10. Morton, Oren Frederic, editor. “The Beginning of Settlement.” A History of Pendleton County, West Virginia, Franklin, WV, 1910, pp. 35–36.
  11. Morton, Oren Frederic, editor. “The Beginning of Settlement.” A History of Pendleton County, West Virginia, Franklin, WV, 1910, p. 169.
  12. West Virginia. Dept. of Culture & History. Gideon Wilson House. Comp. Noel W. Tenney. 1984. West Virginia Division of Culture and History.
  13. Motley, Charles B., editor, Roland E. Ballard. “Zenith.” Gleanings of Monroe County, West Virginia History, Commonwealth Press, Radford, VA, 1973, pp. 175-176.
  14. x
  15. x
  16. Kenny, Hamill (1945). West Virginia Place Names: Their Origin and Meaning, Including the Nomenclature of the Streams and Mountains. Piedmont: The Place Name Press. p. 97.
  17. National Park Service (2010-07-09). “National Register Information System.” National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
  18. x
  19. x
  20. DellaMea, Christopher. “Omar, WV.” Coal Camp USA, article.
  21. Rutkowski, Ryan. “Sacred Places.” Catholic West Virginia. Charleston: Arcadia, 2010. 32. Print.
  22. Reger, David Bright, and West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey. “History.” Randolph County. Vol. 1. Morgantown: West Virginia University, 1931. 26. Print.
  23. Bosworth, A S. “Miscellaneous.” A History of Randolph County, West Virginia: from Its Earliest Exploration and Settlement to the Present Time. N.p.: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1916. 262. Print.
  24. “Corporations.” Acts of the Legislature of West Virginia. Charleston: Moses W. Donnally, 1895. 17. Print.
  25. Workers of the Writers’ Program of the Works Progress Administration. “Tour 22.” West Virginia: A Guide to the Mountain State. N.p.: n.p., 1941. 502. Print.Clarke, Alan. “The B&O Years and Beyond.” West Virginia’s Coal and Coke Railway. Lynchburg: TLC Publishing, 2002. 133. Print.
  26. x
  27. x
  28. Ballard, Roland E., and Charles B. Motley. “Zenith.” Gleanings of Monroe County, West Virginia History, Commonwealth Press, Radford, VA, 1973, pp. 175–176.

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