The story of a forgotten America.

Red Ash

Red Ash is a former coal camp developed by the Red Ash Coal & Coke Company along the New River in West Virginia.


The Red Ash Coal & Coke Company was incorporated on October 13, 1891, with a charter to mine coal and produce coke at a site only a half-mile from Rush Run along the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway South Side Branch. 5 The coal deposit was of high quality because its flame burned with a fine “red ash,” the company and coal camp took the same name.

The New River Smokeless Coal Company operated the mines from 1905 to 1908, followed by the New River Collieries Company from 1909 to 1911, the Scotia Coal & Coke Company from 1912 to 1921, 5 and then the Pennbrook Coal Company. 4

Finlow was the first mine opened by Red Ash, and the company worked in the Dunlow and Red Ash mines from 1894 to 1904. 5 By 1906, there were over 80 coke ovens operating at Red Ash. 5 The units were advanced for their time as they included dual doors to facilitate the use of mechanical arms to more efficiently load and unload coke. 4

By the 1950s, Red Ash’s mines had closed and the C&O closed its South Side Branch station on April 15, 1957. 5


On March 6, 1900, naturally occurring methane gas at the Red Ash mine was ignited by the open flames of the miner’s headlamps. 1 The blast also ignited coal dust in the air of the mine, and several kegs of powder. Forty-six miners died in the explosion or from suffocation in the carbon monoxide atmosphere. It was the first major mine explosion in the New River gorge. 5

Another disaster struck Red Ash on March 18, 1905, when sparks from a mine car ignited coal dust in the air of the mine. 1 The blast left 13 miners trapped or dead. A rescue party of 11 men entered the mine on the following day but was dealt with another explosion. Ten days later, all 24 men were declared dead.

Red Ash Island

A 12-acre island near Red Ash was developed for the nearby coal camps of Red Ash, Rush Run, and Echo, and included a baseball diamond, a dancing pavilion, swimming holes, and a cemetery. 2 3 The island was also used to house residents that were afflicted with contagious illnesses such as during the smallpox epidemic from 1900 to 1905 and the influenza pandemic in 1918. 3 4

In particular to smallpox, it was so deadly that almost 30% of those affected died and so contagious that a nearby hospital refused to admit patients who were exhibiting symptoms. 4 Those infected were transported to Red Ash Island by a railroad boxcar and were placed in two “pest houses”: one for men and another for women and children. 5 Another building housed Dr. Rappold, a company doctor. Those who succumbed to the illnesses were buried on-site. 3 4 5



Further Reading


  1. Red Ash- Rush Run – Layland – and the Hawks Nest Tunnel Incident.” National Park Service, 2020 Jan. 10.
  2. Red Ash Island.” National Park Service, 22 Feb. 2022.
  3. DellaMea, Chris. “SCENES FROM THE NEW RIVER GORGE.” CoalCampUSA.
  4. Zuberbuehler, Rebekah. “Red Ash Island.” Clio. 7 May 2021.
  5. McChord, Wendell. “Stations on the South Side Branch, the Rend Branch, and South Side Mainline.” Chesapeake and Ohio Historical Magazine, Fall 2014, pp. 8-9.

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[…] Red Ash is one of my coal camps along or near the New River in West Virginia. Developed by the Red Ash Coal & Coke Company in 1891, it was said that the coal deposit was of high quality because its flame burned with a fine “red ash.” […]

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