Red Ash

Red Ash was a coal camp established by the Red Ash Coal & Coke Company, located along the New River in West Virginia.


The Red Ash Coal & Coke Company was established on October 13, 1891. Its primary objective was to mine coal and produce coke near Rush Run, just half a mile from the South Side Branch of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway. 5 The high-quality coal found there, known for burning with a distinctive “red ash,” inspired both the company’s and the coal camp’s name, Red Ash.

Over the years, the operation of the mines changed hands several times. From 1905 to 1908, the New River Smokeless Coal Company managed the mines. This was followed by the New River Collieries Company from 1909 to 1911, the Scotia Coal & Coke Company from 1912 to 1921, 5 and later, the Pennbrook Coal Company. 4

The first mine opened by Red Ash was Finlow. Between 1894 and 1904, the company focused its efforts on the Dunlow and Red Ash mines. 5 By 1906, the Red Ash site had over 80 coke ovens in operation. These ovens were notably advanced for their time, featuring dual doors that allowed the use of mechanical arms for more efficient loading and unloading of coke. 4

However, by the 1950s, the mines at Red Ash had been exhausted, leading to their closure. Following this, the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway also closed its South Side Branch station in Red Ash on April 15, 1957. 5


On March 6, 1900, a catastrophic explosion occurred in the Red Ash mine, initiated by methane gas ignited by the open flames of miners’ headlamps. 1 This explosion further set alight coal dust and several kegs of powder within the mine. The tragic outcome was the death of forty-six miners, either directly from the explosion or through suffocation in the carbon monoxide-laden atmosphere. This incident marked the first major mine explosion in the New River Gorge area. 5

Another tragic event unfolded at Red Ash on March 18, 1905. 1 Sparks from a mine car set off a blast by igniting coal dust in the air. This explosion resulted in 13 miners being trapped or killed. In a subsequent rescue attempt the next day, an additional explosion occurred, affecting the 11-man rescue party. After ten days, all 24 men involved were declared deceased.

Red Ash Island

Nearby, a 12-acre island served the communities of Red Ash, Rush Run, and Echo, featuring amenities like a baseball diamond, a dancing pavilion, swimming holes, and a cemetery. 2 3 This island also played a crucial role during public health crises. It housed residents suffering from contagious diseases during the smallpox epidemic (1900-1905) and the 1918 influenza pandemic. 3 4 Smallpox, notably lethal and contagious, led to a nearly 30% mortality rate among those infected. 4 A local hospital, unable to admit smallpox patients due to the high contagion risk, resulted in the infected being transported to Red Ash Island in a railroad boxcar. 5 There, they were isolated in two “pest houses” – one for men and another for women and children. Additionally, the island had a building for Dr. Rappold, a company doctor. Tragically, those who perished from the illnesses were buried on the island. 3 4 5




  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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