Port Amherst is home to a disused rail-to-barge and barge-to-rail facility along the Kanawha River in West Virginia.
Port Amherst, at the mouth of Campbells Creek near Charleston, is one of the oldest communities in the Kanawha Valley and was where Mary Draper Ingles made salt during her captivity by the Shawnees in 1755. 1 Eventually, a small community developed around the salt spring. Tinkersville featured the first commercial salt furnace in the world when it went into production in 1797 and had a daily production rate of 150 bushels of sat per day. 3 The brine that came out of the springs was clear but turned blood red when heated because of iron impurities. The “red salt from Kanawha” became prized for its strong but pungent taste and for its superior abilities for curing meats.
Salt production began to wane in the 1860s because of a record flood and the Civil War. 3 At around the same time period, coal was discovered along Campbells Creek which led to the formation of the Campbells Creek Coal Company by Stephen F. Dana in April 1865, with the first mine opening at Coal Fork. 1 2
Coal was taken to a port along the Kanawha River via a crude railroad built with oak rails upon which carts were pulled by mules and oxen. 2 Coal was then loaded onto barges and shipped to power plants and factories elsewhere. The company was unusual in that it not only operated its own coal mines but transported coal via its own short-line railroad to awaiting company-owned barges. 1 In 1881, animal horsepower was swapped for steam locomotives when the railroad was rebuilt with iron rails. 2
In 1928, Campbells Creek Coal merged with Hatfield-Reliance Coal to form Hatfield-Campbells Creek Coal. 6
Over time, extensive marine facilities were developed at its port at Dana (renamed from Tinkersville) along the Kanawha which grew to include a rail yard, a rail-to-barge loading facility, and shops which included capabilities of building rail and mine cars and barges. 1 The company at its peak employed 7,000 spread across its mines and company-owned locations. 5
Hatfield-Campbells Creek Coal, then the oldest coal mining company operating in the state, 4 was sold to Amherst Industries in 1950. 1 2 In 1956, Reed (renamed from Dana) was renamed Port Amherst. 2 Mining continued in the Campbells Creek watershed but it was on the decline and by 1960, there were just two operations remaining. 2 In 1962, the rail line up Campbells Creek was abandoned after a flash flood caused extensive damage.
Amherst Industries continued to provide rail-to-barge and truck-to-barge facilities until 2013, along with marine transportation and towing services via its subsidary Madison Coal & Supply Company.
- Campbells Creek Railroad at WVNC Rails
- Hanson, Todd A. “Port Amherst.” e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 26 Jan. 2021.
- Hanson, Todd A. “Campbells Creek Railroad.” WVNC Rails.
- “History of Kanawha Salt.” Kanawha Salines Foundation.
- “Coal Company to Open Huge Store.” Charleston Daily Mail, 10 May 1936, p. 12.
- Fisher, Johanna. “Mine Veteran Backs Strikes.” Charleston Daily Mail, 6 Aug. 1976, p. 1A.
- “Business Organization Detail.” West Virginia Secretary of State.