West Virginia has a long history of coal and remains one of the most important states in the United States for coal. But as always, nothing ever remains static, and things that seem permanent turn out to be transitory.
Today the once-booming coal regions of West Virginia are littered with shuttered mines, shuttered storefronts, and ghost towns. The decline of the coal industry together with other factors has also meant that West Virginia is also home to many abandoned schools as well.
The Fall of The Coal Mining Industry
The first coal was reported to have been mined in the western sections of Virginia as early as 1810 (West Virginia was a part of Virginia until the Civil War). The state's commercial coal industry grew with the arrival of railroads to the coalfields.
In 2019 West Virginia was ranked second among states for coal production (behind Wyoming) and accounted for 13% of all of the United State's production. At one point over 100,000, West Virginians were employed at well-paying mining jobs.
- Second: West Virginia Produces The Second Most Coal In The USA
That buoyed other sectors of the state's economy, but now that has fallen to fewer than 20,000 employees with mining jobs that pay far less than they used to according to Columbia Climate School.
- Peak: 100,000 Well Paying Mining Jobs In West Virginia
- Today: 20,000 Less Paid Mining Jobs In West Virginia
The future of coal is bleak indeed. As the saying goes "the stone age didn't end because the world ran out of stones." While the state may experience some resurgence in coal in the immediate future, in the next 10 years most of the country's remaining coal stations are likely to be shuttered and in 20 years they are likely to be history.
There may be some growth in gas and oil extraction in the state, but coal is clearly on its way out and there are virtually no new coal-powered stations being built outside of Asia and none in the United States.
The Ghost Town of Thurmond
One of the better-known ghost towns of West Virginia is Thurmond in Fayette County. It is located on the New River beside America's newest national park - the stunning New River Gorge National Park. Today most of the ghost town is owned by the National Park Service for the national park.
During the heyday of coal mining, it was a prosperous town and served the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway. The old Chesapeake and Ohio Railway was restored and now functions as the Park Service visitor center.
- Designated: The Whole Town Is Designated A Historic District
The town was founded by Captain W. D. Thurmond (he served in the Confederate Army) and the town is named after him. He banned alcohol from the town and so the Dun Glen Hotel just outside of the incorporated part of the town became the town's notorious red-light district.
By the 1950s, Thurmond had virtually become a ghost town. In 1910 the town had a population of 315 and in 1930 it peaked at 462. After that, it went into steep decline and today it only has around 5 inhabitants.
- Peak In 1930: 462 Residents
- 2020 Census: 5 Residents
Abandoned Nuttallburg Coal Mining Complex and Town
Nuttallburg is also located in Fayette County in West Virginia. It was named after John Nuttall - the English pioneer who discovered coal there. The community is today completely disserted and the post office closed in 1955. It once had almost a hundred houses as well as a large facility for processing the ore.
- Located: On the New River in Fayette County
- Production: Ceased In 1958
Nuttallburg was established in 1870 and has been abandoned since the early 20th century. Unlike Thurmond, it takes a determined hike to get to these ruins where explorers can still visit the remains of the operation which are sitting in a lush West Virginia river gorge.
Today it is included within the Nuttallburg Coal Mining Complex and Town Historic District (which is part of New River Gorge National Park and Preserve). One can see the towering remains of the long conveyor surrounded by overgrowth as well as plenty more haunts from the past.
The mine was taken over by the Ford Motor Company in the 1920s. The automotive giant was hungry for coal to power its massive factories in Dearborn, Michigan.
Other Ghost Towns
Other ghost towns in West Virginia include:
- Sewell: Off The Beaten Path Also in Fayette County. Ask The Rangers At Babcock State Park For Directions
- Winona: Not A fully Ghost Town as A Few Folk Still Live There, But Has Plenty Of Old And Abandoned Structures To Check Out
- Kaymoor: A Restored Ghost Mining And Townsite Well Worth A Look