The Ghost Town of Tams

The New Salem Baptist Church stands as the sole remaining structure in the now-deserted town of Tams, West Virginia.

The New Salem Baptist Church stands as the sole remaining structure in the now-deserted town of Tams, West Virginia.

William Purviance “Major” Tams, Jr.

Founded in 1909 by Major William Purviance Tams, Jr., Tams was a company town established for the Gulf Smokeless Coal Company. The town was segregated, with distinct areas for Caucasian, Black, and immigrant residents. It featured two Baptist churches for the white and black communities and a Catholic church for immigrants.

Major Tams was known for his comparatively humane treatment of residents. His community was distinguished by several amenities rare for coal towns at the time: a miners’ bathhouse (the first in West Virginia), the Golden Gate Theatre (the first opera house in a U.S. coal town), and a modern recreation building with a dance pavilion, gymnasium, reading room, and swimming pool.

In 1911, Tams’ company pioneered a reduction in the workday to nine hours in the region, which was further reduced to eight hours by World War I. The company also paid its miners wages higher than the standard union rate.

Life in Tams, as in many company towns, was intertwined with the company itself. By the 1960s, Major Tams’ approach, prioritizing fair wages and stable living conditions (though wages were often paid in company scrip), was seen as outdated. The Gulf Smokeless Coal Company merged into Winding Gulf Collaries in 1955 and later became part of Westmoreland Coal, a larger conglomerate. As commuting from nearby towns became more common, Tams began to lose its population, leading to near abandonment by the mid-1970s.

Major Tams passed away in 1977 in the very community he had established, his life mirroring the rise and gradual decline of the Winding Gulf coalfield.


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3 teachers from Tams grade school. Lived in house provided by Mr. Tams. Anna Muncy _ (P) Ruth and Kate Dunn. Anna taught 6th Grade—Ruth and Kate taught 1-2-3 grades. They all retired in Bland, Va. All were graduates from Redford Woman’s College, Redford, Va. They were there Late 1930/40s/50s. I went to school there from 48 / 54.

I was born and raised in Tams ; graduated from Sophia HS in June of 68 ; joined army that August ; my mom was last person to leave Tams in 71 ;

Hey Lawrence! My name is Briana Heaney, I am a reporter with WVPB I would love to talk to you about growing up in Tams and about your mom! please give me a call 843-693-9260.

I was born in Tams April 12th, 1945my father was a carpenter on the tiple. My family moved to Sophia in 1946 where i grew up.

I currently work at Tams this particular church isn’t the only remaining structure, it’s also on the northern part of the camp, in what was referred to as “colored town” as that is where the African Americans lived, if you travel further south down WV 16 you will see some old stone buildings that were the powerhouse and machine shop for the mines, and they are currently being used for warehouses by the company I work for.

Hey, My name is Briana Heaney. I am a reporter and would love to talk to you about Tams, as we are working on a story about the town. Please give me a call! 843-693-9260 or email at

When I lived in Beckley in the 1970s and worked at the newspaper I met lots of people who had great memories of growing up and living in Tams. It was a model community. Major Tams lived in a modest house in the town, only slightly larger than the miners homes. I photographed his last birthday party and attended his funeral. That church is not in the main part of town, it’s closer to Stotsbury and I recall it being a black church. I photographed a service there and a bunch of the church members on that large front stairway. It was on the cover of Goldenseal magazine. Thanks for the memories.

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