N & W

A collection of information and personal research

(This is from the July 25, 1907, edition of the Manufacturers' Record, Vol. LII, No. 2, pg. 33.)

Pocahontas-Flat Top Coal Field.

[Special Correspondence Manufacturers Record.]

Bramwell W. Va., July 20.

This small town, though in no sense a coal town, enjoys the distinction of having more to do with the coal business of great Pocahontas-Flat Top coal field than any other place, large or small, on the map. The site it occupies was purchased and the town laid off in 1885 by Major C. H. Duhring, the manager of the company, which with a number of others, has finally been succeeded by the Pocahontas Coal and Coke Co., the owner of most of the land bearing the famous seam No.3 of Pocahontas coal. Here was established the main office of that company, and here have come to live, from time to time, many of the men whose restless activity and indomitable energy have made the Pocahontas-Flat Top coal field known from one end of the country to the other, and even in foreign lands. Capt. I. A. Welch, first to thoroughly explore and intelligently report upon the coal deposits of this section, here made his home. John Cooper, the sturdy pioneer producer, later purchased the Welch home and spent here the last years of his life. His family still resides here. Philip Goodwill, Isaac T. Mann, Jairus Collins, Judge B. F. Keller and others whose names are indelibly written in the coal-producing history of the country have all come here to make their homes and spend their lives amid these peaceful scenes. The consequence is that but a small place measured by the census taker, it bears a most important part in the business of the section, and has some very elegant homes that make it a place of exceedingly pleasant residence.

The company that owns the coal lands still makes its headquarters here, and this is also headquarters for the Pocahontas Company, a concern that stands between the operators who produce the coal and the agents who sell it, attending also to the tonnage and the collections, so that the men who run the mines are relieved of the worry attendant upon that part of the business, and can give their whole time and energy to their work at the mines. This company was organized in 1895 and has since that time handled a very large percentage of the coal produced in the entire field. Its officers at present are Philip Goodwill, president; Harry Bowen, vice-president; W. J. Beury, treasurer; Philip Goodwill, Harry Bowen, Isaac T. Mann, J. J. Tierney, S. W. Patterson, P. P. Flanagan and W. A. Phillips, directors.

Bramwell has recently taken on added importance in the coal producing world from the choice of one of her citizens to be president of the Pocahontas Consolidated Collieries Co., the $7,800,000 concern formed by the merging of the Pocahontas Collieries Co. and the Pocahontas Consolidated Co. This distinction fell upon Isaac T. Mann, a Bramwell citizen who, though still on the bright side of 45 in age, has been known for a number of years as one of the leading business men and financiers in the entire Norfolk and Western country.

And speaking of financiers, the fact is called to mind that this town has one of the remarkable financial institutions of the country. It is the Bank of Bramwell, which has a capital stock of $200,000, surplus of $200,000 and undivided profits of $200,000, besides carrying deposits of a million and a half or more. As Bramwell is a town of but a few hundred habitants, this showing is remarkable.

There are other features that aid in making Bramwell not only important in the buiness life of this section, but unique in the annals of municipalities, but they must be passed by in silence, as this letter is designed to treat of the great Pocahontas-Flat Top coal field, and not of any particular town embraced within its borders.

It was in the year 1873 that the owners of the Wilson-Carey-Nicholas land grant of 500,000 acres, at the suggestion of Major Jed Hotchkiss of Virginia, employed Capt. I. A. Welch to examine and report upon the mineral and timber value of their holdings, which lay in the counties of Tazewell, Va., and Mercer, McDowell and Wyoming, W. Va., on the waters of the Bluestone, Elkhorn, Big Sandy and Guyandotte. At that time little was known of this section as a coal producing territory, there being, probably, not more than a single mine opened up on the entire tract. This mine was on Laurel creek, and had been opened up by Jordan Nelson, a blacksmith, who used the coal in his forge. The vein when driven under cover showed a clean coal thickness of 13 feet between roof and floor rock. It was what has become known as Pocahontas Seam No.3, doubtless the richest and most productive coal measure in all West Virginia. Captain Welch traced the vein throughout its entire outcropping, defining the boundary practically as more careful explorations, made later, showed it to exist. When the report was made to the Maitlands, who owned the Wilson-Cary-Nicholas grant, it soon became public, and attracted to the territory other experts, who found the claims of Captain Welch to be substantially correct.

The Grahams of Philadelphia were among those interested, and after close examination to verify the truth of what they had heard they determined to take advantage of the knowledge gained. They purchased some of the best land in the territory, where the town of Pocahontas, Tazewell county, Virginia, now stands, just over the line from Mercer county, West Virginia, and began the construction of a narrow gauge railroad between that point and the Norfolk & Western Railroad at New River Bridge. In the year 1881 the Norfolk & Western Company bought the roadbed constructed by the Grahams, and in 1883 completed a standard gauge road into Pocahontas. Meantime the Grahams had sold their coal holdings to the Southwest Virginia Improvement Co., which had opened up mines, constructed coke ovens, and was ready to begin the shipment of both coal and coke when the road was completed, which it began in July of 1883. During the first year the shipments were 60,828 tons of coal and 19,805 tons of coke.

That was the beginning of the coal and coke industry of the Pocahontas-Flat Top coal region. It has grown until there are about 100 mines in operation in the field, and more than 12,000 coke ovens. Last year the coal shipped amounted to 6,706,008 tons and the coke to 1,846,643 tons. Tho following will serve to show the rapid, continued growth of the business from its inception. Note the fact that it has almost invariably increased from one year to the next, even at a time when paralysis of business was well-nigh universal.

The name "Pocahontas-Flat Top coal field" is intended in this letter to embrace those operations that are mining the Pocahontas Seam No.3. The land bearing this great bed of coal is owned principally by the Pocahontas Coal and Coke Co., successor to the Southwest Virginia Improvement Co., the Flat Top Land Association, the Flat Top Land Trust and numerous others which from time to time purchased more or less of the territory containing this valuable deposit. The Pocahontas Coni and Coke Co. owns 300,000 acres of land in Tazewell county, Virginia, and Mercer McDowell, Wyoming and Raleigh counties, West Virginia. Of this about 200,000 acres contains the No.3 seam, taking in about all of it except that covered by 17,000 acres belonging to the Crozer Land Association and a few other small tracts. Both these owning companies lease their lands to operating concerns, and receive immense royalties from the coal taken out. In some of the mines of the Consolidated Collieries Co. the seam is 13 feet of clean coal, and the full thickness is being worked. This enables the operating company to handle it very economically, as an immense amount of coal is produced from very little acreage, requiring less haulage to bring it to the surface, and minimizing in a number of ways the cost of production.

Statement showing annual shipments of coal and coke from the Pocahontas coal field from 1883 to 1907.
YearGross tons
coal.
Gross tons
coke
188360,82819,805
1884175,25252,530
1885519,35844,945
1886766,03654,441
18871,026,142136,450
18881,376,569180,214
18891,611,223280,007
18901,808,943387,076
18912,268,541853,383
18922,528,487390,829
18932,722,436454,656
18943,118,886772,096
18952,602,602617,477
18962,791,033890,818
18973,092,598728,561
18983,332,6281,070,486
18993,736,0171,107,946
19004,249,6141,197,294
19014,179,2481,147,738
19024,655,2011,061,177
19034,858,9281,260,949
19045,763,4361,274,505
19056,280,8941,926,473
19066,706,0081,846,643

When the output from this field began to approach such an amount as to make it cut some figure in the markets the producers found themselves up against the proposition of creating a demand for it. Pittsburg coal was the standard among those desiring the bituminous articles, and Kanawha and New River coals were already battling for recognition, so that there was really very little room for another competitor, and some hard work had to be done to establish a new coal. But the men who had cast their lot in the country traversed by the Norfolk & Western Railroad were the kind that thrived on opposition, and grew fat and strong while overcoming obstacles, and so they went to work to demonstrate the value of their product and give it character among the users of fuel in large quantities. They demonstrated that it would make coke of unsurpassed quality for furnace purposes, and soon it acquired high standing among the best of those products. Indeed the claim was soon put forward, and is still made, that Pocahontas-Flat Top coke is the best made for use in the manufacture of steel by the Bessemer process. Having given their coke its proper place, the exploiters of the field turned their attention to establishing the character of their coal as a steam producer. To do this they went to the Navy Department, which, having tried their coal in competition with those from other fields upon the warships of the country, soon gave it a certificate of character as heing unsurpassed for making and holding steam. The fleet ocean greyhounds used it in stoking their boilers, and made record runs while it was being burned. The representatives of the British Government made tests of its quality and gave it their unqualified endorsement in it letters written to their Government. The War Department at Washington made trial of its virtues and gave out a statement to the effect that it was superior to any other tested by that department. It is said to be the only coal that has ever been officially endorsed by both the United States and British Governments. All this was part of the game, and the operators played it to the limit. They were as one man in the effort to establish the value of their product, and the consequence is that Pocahontas-Flat Top coal is now recognized as a standard throughout this country and in many foreign lands. These facts are related here not so much to show the quality of the coal as to exhibit the character of the men, their watchfulness and their unceasing effort to give it a place in the front rank of the fuels of the world and to fix the attention of the fuel-using world upon it.

A tribute to the quality of this coal is found in the fact that the United States Steel Corporation has come into the field and opened up large operations at Gary and surrounding points in McDowell county on Tug river. There, under the name of the United States Coal and Coke Co., the greatest steel-making concern in the world is producing the coal and manufacturing the coke for many of its furnaces and mills. It has now 16 mines in operation with 2151 coke ovens, and the mines will soon be increased to 30 and the coke ovens to a corresponding number.

The history of the past will find ample repetition in the story of the future, and for a number of years yet there will be a steady, unyielding increase in the number of mines, the number of coke ovens, the quantity of tons produced, for the world is constantly demanding more coal and more coke, and the number of operations now here can be multiplied several times and still find the supply equal to the best efforts at production for years to come. The fact is the development so far has practically all been in the one seam, No.3, while other valuable seams lie untouched, but ready to yield profitable employment for many years when the richer one has been worked out. The development, too, is all by the drift process -- execpt for one or two mines that get to the coal by shallow shafts -- and nobody yet knows how much there may be of this great bed that can be profitably worked under the water level, as it dips to the northwest.

A quarter of a century ago this section was a wilderness, its hills and valleys covered by almost trackless forests, inhabited by wild animals, uninviting by day and fearsome by night; today it is the abiding place of busy thousands, while the smoke and flames from myriad ovens arc the pillar of cloud by day and the fire by night that are leading on to greater and still greater progress and prosperity.

George Byrne.