Tams is a former coal camp developed by the Gulf Smokeless Coal Company in Wyoming County, West Virginia.


William Purviance “Major” Tams, Jr.
William Purviance “Major” Tams, Jr.

Born in Staunton, Virginia in 1883, William Purviance “Major” Tams, Jr. graduated from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1902. 4 5 7 9 After a year’s graduate work as an instructor, he worked for a construction engineer’s office of the Seaboard Air Line Railway before securing a position with the E.I. du Pont de Nemours Company in Wilmington, Delaware. On his uncle’s recommendation, he came to West Virginia on October 1, 1904, 4 7 9 and served as a mining engineer for Samuel Dixon (Cranberry Fuel, MacDonald Colliery, Price Hill Fuel, Stuart Colliery, and White Oak Fuel companies), a major coal operator of Fayette and Raleigh counties. 3 5 7 9 10

In 1905, Tams observed maps that showed the Beckley seam of coal that appeared to thicken toward the Winding Gulf coalfield in Raleigh County. 5 7 That December, he made a horseback trip to prospect the Winding Gulf Creek and found the Beckley seam to occur there as a double seam. 7 He contacted an elderly relative and a father of a friend for financial assistance on leasing the land, but they refused to obligate themselves because of a financial panic. He then reached out to his employer who would provide backing.

In 1908, with his friend and associate James O. Watts of Lynchburg, Virginia, 4 7 9 he secured a lease on coal along Winding Gulf Creek from the Beaver Coal Corporation and in November 1908, 12 formed the New River Coal & Coke Company. 5 10 12 The name was changed to Gulf Smokeless Coal Company in March 1909 because of a conflict with the New River Company. 10 12

In April, Tams contracted the owner of a circular sawmill to bring his mill to his proposed town site and started work on erecting a temporary tipple and the digging of the coal seam. 7 11 By May, construction of the company’s facilities and the town was underway. 5 11

The No. 1 Mine from the Beckley seam shipped its first carload of coal on October 1, 3 5 9 which had the distinction of being the first mine to ship coal along Winding Gulf Creek. 1 It required the shoving of coal down the side of the mountain in a chute and pushing it over to the side track in a push car. 7 A permanent tipple was finished in April 1910, which allowed the mine to increase production from 3,000 tons per month to 30,000 tons per month. 7 9

The facility was serviced by the Virginian Railway which had just completed a branch from Mullens to Fireco the year prior and by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway after it extended its Piney River Branch in 1912. 3

The Tams community was segregated into three sections that included 185 houses for a population of 1,250, schools for Caucasians, Blacks, and immigrants, two Baptist churches for white and black congregations, and a Catholic church for immigrants. 1 7 9 11 The company store and office building were completed by 1910, along with a miners’ bathhouse, a novelty at coal mines and the first in the state. 3 5 8 The Golden Gate Theatre, the first opera house to be operated in a coal town in the nation, was added at the cost of $10,000 in 1911. 3 8 It also included a bowling alley, dance hall, gymnasium, swimming pool, and cafe; the theater began showing moving pictures in 1929. 9 A modern recreation building was later added, which included a dance pavilion, a gymnasium, a reading room, and a swimming pool. 3 10

A large well was sunk at the powder house in 1913 and a filtered water system was placed in operation, with running water available at each house for the first time. 9 10

The company was notable for paying white and black miners in scrip, or tokens redeemable at the company store, while immigrant miners were paid in cash, an unusual situation. 5 The company was also the first operator in the region to cut the working day to nine hours, taking effect in 1911, which was cut to eight hours by World War I. 8 Pay was also 10 cents higher than the prevailing union wage. 5

The No. 1 mine was nearing exhaustion by 1946 1 10 and was replaced by the No. 2 mine in the Pocahontas No. 4 seam that had opened in November 1941. 6

Tams purchased the Gulf Coal Company in 1912, organized the Wyoming Coal Company in 1914, and formed the Covel Smokeless Coal Company in 1919. 14 He attempted to effect a merger of all of the major smokeless coal operators in 1924, but the plan backfired when the Pocahontas Fuel Company withdrew its support. Tams made another effort in 1927-28, but other interests pulled out of the proposal. Eventually, Winding Gulf Collieries, incorporated in August 1929, represented a consolidation of the many companies founded by Justus Collins.

In November 1955, Gulf Smokeless Coal consolidated with Winding Gulf Collaries and the McAlpin Coal Company to form Winding Gulf Coal, Inc. 1 11 14 The Western Pocahontas Corporation received a majority interest in return for financing the merger. 14 The company continued to purchase other mines until 1963 after which it suffered several large losses and began searching for a buyer.

The No. 2 mine remained open until October 1966. 2 On July 31, 1967, Winding Gulf Coal closed the Tams company store after 57 years of operation because of declining business caused by the closure of the No. 2 mine. 2 It continued to run its payroll and general offices from the building and continued to operate its other stores in Crab Orchard, East Gulf, Maben, McAlpin, and Princewick. The post office within was relocated to another building.

In 1968, the Westmoreland Coal Company acquired Winding Gulf Coal and began to streamline and upgrade operations. 14 It absorbed Winding Gulf Coals as a division 4 5 8 on December 30, 1970. 13 14

In 1973, Westmoreland constructed a modern building to administer their mines at East Gulf, Eccles, Maben, McAlpin, Otsego, and Skelton at Tams. 1 It required the razing of the Golden Gate Theatre which had become derelict. 5 7 By the mid-1970s, only a handful of families, mostly retired miners, resided in Tams. 7 Most of the supporting infrastructure, including two of the three churches and all of the schools, had long been demolished. 9

Those operations ceased by the early to mid-1980s as the company struggled, eventually going into bankruptcy and retreating from its operations in the Appalachian coal basin to focus on coal mines out West.




  1. DellaMea, Chris. “Tams.” CoalCampUSA.
  2. “Tams to Close Company Store.” Raleigh Register [Beckley], 21 Jul. 1967.
  3. The History of Coal in Southern West Virginia: Tams.”
  4. “Major W.P. Tams Dead at Age 94.” Raleigh Register [Beckley], 3 Aug. 1977, pp. 1-2.
  5. “Major W.P. Tams – Legendary and Colorful Coal Baron.” Raleigh Register [Beckley], 3 Aug. 1977, p. 31.
  6. “Gulf Smokeless Is Cited For Non-Fatality Record.” Beckley Post-Herald, 16 Aug. 1951, p. 8.
  7. Haga, Pauline. “Once-Thriving Tams Still Alive in Founder’s Mind.” Beckley Post-Herald, 3 Oct. 1970, p. 9.
  8. “Last Coal Baron is Told in ‘Playboy’ Magazine.” Beckley Post-Herald, 19 Apr. 1973, p. 11.
  9. Haga, Pauline. “Progress, Beauty Marked Early Mining Town of Tams.” Beckley Post-Herald, 2 Aug. 1975. p. 16.
  10. Scott, Eugene L. “Tams Mining Community is the Story of a Man – Major W.P. Tams.” Raleigh Register [Beckley], 7 Jul. 1946, p. 7.
  11. “Founder of Tams Still Making His Home There.” Beckley Post-Herald and Raleigh Register [Beckley], 9 May 1965, pp. 4-12.
  12. GULF SMOKELESS COAL COMPANY.” West Virginia Secretary of State.
  13. WESTMORELAND COAL COMPANY.” West Virginia Secretary of State.
  14. Westmoreland Coal Company. Winding Gulf and Imperial Smokeless Divisions.” SNAC.

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