Laurel Creek, located between the Greenwood and Backus Mountains in Fayette County, West Virginia, was home to numerous coal mines and camps.
Not long after the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway (C&O) mainline through the New River Gorge was completed in 1873, a 1½-mile branch line was constructed up Laurel Creek from Quinnimont by the Low Moor Iron Company to serve its underground coal operations along the Fire Creek seam. 1 In 1890, the branch line was extended 4.8-miles to Brownwood to service the Greenwood Mines.
On January 1, 1899, the C&O made an agreement with the Quinnimont Coal Company to take over operations of the railroad when the company went into receivership. 1 The agreement was nullified on June 30, 1902, when the coal company resumed operations. The branch line was then extended to Layland in 1904, giving it a total length of 6.3-miles. It was then turned over to the C&O who began operating it as its Laurel Creek Branch.
By 1919, nine mines were operating along Laurel Creek and most had been exhausted by the 1950s, although coal continued to be mined at Layland until the 1980s. 2
Brownwood is a former coal camp developed by the Greenwood Company for their Greenwood Mine, which quarried “smokeless” coal from the Fire Creek seam between 1898 and 1951. 2
Layland is a former coal camp developed by the New River & Pocahontas Consolidated Coal Company for their Number 3 mine. 2
The mine was the site of a deadly explosion on March 2, 1915, in which 112 men were either killed by an immediate impact or gas-induced suffocation. 2 3 In the days following, 53 survivors emerged from the mine after erecting barricades to shield themselves from the deadly gas.
- Stahlgren, Lori, et al. “Industrialization and Boom: 1873-1925.” Kentucky Archaeological Survey, 2007, p. 22, Historical Archaeological Survey: New River Gorge National River and Gauley River National Recreation Area.
- DellaMea, Chris. “Layland, WV and Laurel Creek Mines.” Coalfields of the Appalachian Mountains, 2021.
- “Hellraisers Journal: A Survivor’s Story from the Layland Mine Disaster, Barricaded from After-Damp.” Daily Kos, 11 Mar. 2015.