Born in England in 1817, John Nuttall began working in coal mines starting at the age of 11. 2 In May 1849, he left his family in England and set out for New York; within a year, he had earned enough working at a silk mill 2 to bring his family to his new home. 4 In 1853, his wife died leaving him with four young children to care for. Undaunted, he moved his family to Pennsylvania upon rumors that a new railroad was opening up a virgin coalfield. He eventually developed a small mine named Nuttallville which proved to be successful.
In 1870, Nuttall began acquiring coal-rich land along Keeneys Creek and New River in West Virginia at the price of $1 per acre in anticipation of the completion of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway (C&O) from Richmond, Virginia west. 1 4 Nuttall formed the Nuttallburg Smokeless Fuel Company and started a company town along the New River. 3
The No. 1 mine, opened in 1870, was at the confluence of Kenneys Creek and New River, followed by the No. 2 mine in 1874 along Short Creek. 3 When the C&O was completed through the area in 1873, Nuttallburg became the second mining town in the region to ship “smokeless” coal to eastern markets. In 1882, Nuttall formed the Nuttallburg Coal & Coke Company with equal partnerships divided among his sons, son-in-law Jackson Taylor, and mine boss William Holland. The other partners had to pay Nuttall a royalty of 10¢ per ton on all coal mined plus an additional royalty of 2¢ per ton to repay the investment in houses and equipment. 4 The mine was so profitable that the royalty was canceled by 1900.
A conveyor, a twin “monitor,” or a cylindrical tube with a door at one end, connected the tipple to the mine. 3 Coal was fed to 80 coke ovens, which converted coal into high carbon coke that was used in pig-iron blast furnaces. 2 The coke was produced by baking coal under a regulated flow of air. Near the ovens were scales, a headhouse, a blacksmith shop, a carpentry shop, and a slate dump. 3
By 1893, Nuttallburg had grown to house 300 residents 4 and featured 17 two-family and 80 single-family company-owned homes. 2 The town was racially segregated, with white workers living on the west side of Short Creek while black workers lived on the east side. 2 3 Both groups had their own boarding houses, schools, and churches.
To connect with additional housing in South Nuttall across the New River, a suspension bridge, built by the John A. Roebling Sons Company of New York, was built in 1897. 2
The coke ovens were idled circa 1919. 2
The Ford Motor Company attempted vertical integration efforts in the late 1910s and early 1920s. Ford desired control of all aspects of production, from the sourcing of raw materials to the manufacture of the finished automobile. 1 2 Ford, through the Fordson Coal Company, acquired the mining rights of Nuttallburg Smokeless Fuel to secure stable coal supply for Ford’s steel mills in Dearborn, Michigan. 1 Coal from Nuttallburg was shipped via the C&O and the Ford-owned Detroit, Toledo & Ironton Railroad. Fordson, operated by Henry Ford’s son, Edsel, invested heavily into Nuttallburg.
After visiting Nuttallburg in early 1921, Ford opted to mothball the No. 2 mine (Nuttallburg Mine) over a lack of profitability between October 1921 and November 1922. 3
A new tipple was built in 1923-24 by the Roberts & Schaefer Company of Chicago, and a new conveyor was added in 1925-26 by the Fairmont Mining Machinery Company of Fairmont. 2 3 The larger tipple consisted of three tracks that served the C&O. The inner track was for fine coal, the middle track was for intermediate coal, and the outside track was for larger lump coal. A house coal hopper was located nearby for the town’s residents who used the fuel for cooking and heating.
The headhouse, located at the entrance to the mine above the town along a mine bench, was rebuilt in 1925-26. 3 Loaded coal cars left the mine and entered the headhouse where the cars were weighed. 2 Miners were paid based on the weight of coal they mined. Afterward, the coal was dumped and transferred to a 1,385-foot-long “button-and-rope” conveyor. An electric motor started the conveyor, but the weight of the coal pulled downward by gravity and governed by sprockets and gears, provided power afterward. A heavy wire “rope” with iron disc “buttons” spaced at four-foot intervals moved coal at 80 feet per minute and could process 125 tons of coal per hour. The innovative “button-and-rope” conveyor also reduced the fragmentation of the coal. 3 Additionally, manual pick ax mining operations were replaced with four mining machines that employed just 49 men but were much more efficient. 4
In October 1921, Henry Ford, along with his son Edsel and several top officials at the Ford Motor Company, visited Nuttallburg. 4 Ford arrived at the Nuttallburg station in his own personal railroad car and set off for a tour of the town and mine, donning on overalls and crawling through the inner workings of the facility, not stopping until he reached the working face of the mine over three miles beneath the mountain.
The investments by Ford paid off. Before the mining improvements, Nuttallburg produced 50,923 tons of coal in 1921 and only 10,665 tons for a six-month period in 1923. 3 After 1924, it approached 90,000 tons per year and peaked at 240,820 tons per year in 1925.
The vertical integration experiment, however, began to unravel when Ford could not control or purchase the C&O. There were also restrictions with the DT&I imposed by the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Railroad Association in regards to the distribution of coal cars. 3 Ford sold their interests in the Nuttallburg mines in mid-1928 1 2 to the Maryland New River Coal Company. 3
In the 1930s, additional worker housing was built at “Seldom Seen” at the northwest corner of Nuttallburg. 3 A new fan house was built circa 1950. followed by a steel and timber Belknap Chloride Washer for washing coal on the west side of the tipple in 1952. Additionally, the Marcus Screen Drives were replaced.
In 1954, the mine was sold to the Garnet Coal Company. The post office closed shortly thereafter. In 1958, coal mining ceased at Nuttallburg, 1 3 and in 1962, the C&O retired the Nuttallburg depot. 2
The Nuttall family transferred ownership of Nuttallburg to the National Park Service (NPS) for inclusion in the New River Gorge National River in 1998. 3 The town and its mining structures were inventoried and documented in 2005 and thereafter listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The NPS then completed a multi-year project that included stabilizing or rebuilding existing mining structures.
Today, Nuttallburg is regarded as one of the most intact examples of traditional coal mining in West Virginia.
- “Nuttallburg.” National Park Service, 19 June 2013. 3 July 2013 Article.
- Interpretative signage.
- United States. Dept. of the Interior. Nuttallburg Coal Mining Complex and Town Historic District. Comp. Rita Walsh, Sr., David N. Fuerst and Richard W. Segars. Washington: National Park Service, Mar. 2005. 3 July 2008. Article.
- Bragg, Melody. “Nuttallburg.” Thurmond and Ghost Towns of the New River Gorge. Glen Jean, GEM Publications, 1995. pp. 53-59.