— Coal Heritage Trail — National Coal Heritage Area Interpretive Site —
In the late 1800s, speculators, mining companies and investors were attracted to the vast,
untapped seams of coal lying under the West
Virginia mountains. The first coal operators
created company towns, or coal camps, where
everything was controlled by the company.
Miners paid rent for a company house, bought
goods at the company store, were treated by
the company doctor and went to a church whose preacher was hired by the company. Some of these early captains of industry were patriarchal, treating the miners well. Others ruled with an iron fist. "King" Samuel Dixon was one of these.
Dixon was one of the most well-known and controversial
of the early coal barons. Born in Scarborough, England, he
opened coal mines in West Virginia in 1893, including Scarbro (named for his birthplace), Carlisle, Oakwood and Wingrove. In 1906, Dixon bought Whipple and several other mines and
formed the New River Company, dominating the New River coal field.
The same year that Sam Dixon started mining, Justus Collins opened the mine at Whipple, along with several other mines. He built identical octagonal company stores in all of his coal camps. The building standing behind you is the only one left.
Collins is famous for saying that mine
managers should strive for a "judicious
mixture" of race and
believing it would stop unionization.
Sam Dixon and Justus Collins despised each other. Their feud is legendary, even coming to physical altercation. In 1906, Collins sold the Whipple mine to Dixon and left the area.
Many of the coal barons in Southern West Virginia gravitated to Bramwell, a small town in Southern West Virginia near Bluefield. Bramwell was once considered the richest town in the U.S., with more millionaires per capita than any other town in the nation. The town prospered with Victorian mansions and a lavish social life. Today, Bramwell is
on the National Register of Historic Places. The historic train depot is a Visitor Center and Museum, operated by the Coal Heritage Highway Authority. A walking tour of the town gives a glimpse of a bygone era.