A Brief History of McComas, WV

Page Contents
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Some of My Memories
Early History
Disaster Strikes
McComas Area Churches
McComas Community
Collectables
Coal
Coal Timeline
Southern WV Revitilization
More to come...
Credits - many areas this data came from
SOME OF MY MEMORIES
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I'm Patricia Susan (Spicer) Smith (Webmaster of this site) -- Patty Sue to many who grew up with me at McComas. I'm the daughter of the late Bill and Helen (Huffman) Spicer. After my mother's early death at age 32 from cancer in 1957 my brother Mickey and I were raised by her parents Robert and Cora Mae (Stevens) Huffman who lived in the Thomas Section of McComas. I graduated from Bramwell High School in 1963 and unfortunately left West Virginia seeking work during a time when employment was scarce at home. I've gone on to marry, have 4 children and 8 beautiful grandchildren. I raised babies, then teenagers, in additional to working many interesting jobs, traveled the world with my Air Force husband for 22 years, met and made many lifelong friendships during a time when I was pursuing my Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science. Finally in 1992 I received that little piece of paper that said I was graduating from the University of Maryland finally (it only took 12 years). We retired from the Air Force in 1985 and lived and worked in Pasadena, MD for 18 years. Jim and I retired in 2002 and now live in Walkerton, VA a little north of Richmond.  We travel back to WV several times a year to visit family and friends.

This website started as a small project which continues to grow daily. I'd like to thank everyone who has responded via email in such a positive manner after viewing these pages. It has truly been a labor of love which has given me much pleasure to see other's enjoying all I've been able to compile and present for THEM here.

This small southern West Virginia coal mining town of McComas was my home from 1946-1964. It is located in Mercer County not far from the city of Bluefield near the Virginia state line. I hope you'll enjoy this journey down memory lane throughout these pages. My parents and I were born here but my grandparents migrated into the area from North Wilksboro, NC and several different neighboring counties in Virginia during the late 1700s (as early settlers) and from the mid 1800s (as farmers) to the turn of the 20th century to live and work in this booming coal mining region. One grandfather (of German ancestory) told of their journey from NC in a covered wagon. He was only 9 years old. The family was large - many of them walked the entire journey. It took one week for their trip. Today you can travel the same route in approximately 4 hours or less. This same grandfather worked in the mines, as a waterboy, at the age of 9. He later worked for American Coal Company as a teamster. He worked with mules and wagons in the earlier days and drove a truck in his later years. When he and my grandmother married in 1912 they moved to the very end of what is now called "Pinnacle Hollow". Their trip from Montcalm was either by train or if you had a vehicle there were no roads built. They had their first car in the 1920s but had to leave it parked at Montcalm sometimes because it was impossible due to road/weather conditions to get it to McComas. They had to drive their car along and sometimes on the railroad tracks to get into "the hollow" in those days.

Families came from all walks of life and nationalities to make up this tiny place situtated between the rough WV mountainside terrains into the hollows of Sagamore, Crane Creek, Mora, Pinnacle, Pinnacle Hollow, Thomas, Conners Mountain, Windmill Gap, Church Hollow, Thornhill and Crystal WV. Today we could consider these many hollows to be termed the suburbs of McComas. We all flowed from them to attend schools such as Prosperity, Crane Creek, Sagamore, Conner Mountain, Pinnacle, Mora, Crystal and eventually McComas High School. A black elementary was located at Mora. Children were bused from around the area to attend this school. Schools were still segragated when McComas High School was still in existance and the older black children were in turn bused to Bluestone High School at Bramwell, WV. I graduated from Bramwell High School in the class of 1963 and segratation occured shortly thereafter. The old Bluestone High School is currently being renovated with hopes it can be used for another venture yet to be determined.

I attended my first grade class in the "NEW" Pinnacle Elementary School in 1951, but I also sadly attended McComas High School (1960) at the time it was closed due to low enrollment. Approximatley 125 students from McComas were transported by school bus to Bramwell, WV to attend high school. I remember Sherman Steel of Conner Mountain drove the bus route from Conner Mountain, down to Thomas and Pinnacle with additional stops on the River Road below Montcalm. Mr Brown from Bramwell (father of my fellow Bramwell High School classmate of 1963 BettySue Brown Foster) driving the bus from Windmill Gap, Crane Creek, Sagamore and McComas. It was definately a sad time for the community. Today many other towns and school districts in southern WV have experienced the same loss of their schools due to the dwindling number of children left to support keeping them open. Schools are now built as a hub to bus children from all around the counties. The tiny communities lose alot of their community spirit and togetherness when this occurs. No schools remains open at McComas today. Children attend Montcalm Elementary and High Schools. McComas High School was torn down shortly after its closing - but the steps leading up the hill to the school are still visible, which seems to resemble a monument or symbol as to what once was. An "all" McComas High School reunion occurs each year in the general area of Bluefield. They have occurred in the Armory at Brushfork and at the Holiday Inn in Bluefield. Anyone who every attended the school is invited to attend. Pinnacle Elementary has been converted into a Church for the Pentecostal Holiness Church (for several years it was a training establishment for the mining industry). The (2) classrooms which housed the 1st/2nd and 3rd/4th graders are now one large room containing the church sanctuary (which has been very nicely renovated). I have been told the church recently replaced the old roof and also replaced the old/probably original furnace. These church members over the last several years have been very active and successful in holding fund raisers to raise the money for these projects. The 5th/6th grade classroom is now used as a Sunday School classroom. The lunchroom and kitchen are still remain intact as I remembered them from childhood. In mentioning this lunchroom I must sadly report two wonderful ladies who cooked for the children of Pinnacle Elementary School have both recently passed away. Lucille Eanes Wohner and Ocie Stevens both passed away within the later months of the year 2000.

The large waterfall coming from the mountainside behind the Pinnacle Elementary School is still there - it has been converted to run into a large pipe but the water still flows swiftly out. I remember the days of playing on the playground - during our many baseball games our balls would eventually end up in the flowing down the creek. We would all make mad dashes to chase the ball before it flowed out of our reach. All the games of hide and seek, jump rope, jack rocks, and chase are still fondly remembered. My teachers at Pinnacle Elementary were Ms. Hobbs (1st/2nd grades), Mrs. Reed(3rd/4th grades) and Mrs Bailey (5th/6th grades). They have all left fond memories of my days spent here.

I know life was hard for the miners and their families. But I feel as a child I was sheltered and protected. I have good memories and good friends I'll never forget. The mining industry build the homes, jobs, schools and in essence the community. The people called this place home for less than 1/2 a century before the economy and the failing coal industry caused a mass migration from the region. Even though we don't live there anymore we will always feel a part of the community and EVERYTHING we once shared there. I still have family here and travel back several times a year. One of my Aunts lives directly in front of the old Pinnacle Elementary School (on the main road between McComas and Matoaka). She continuously has visitors who stop and chat - they lived at McComas at some point and time in their lives. She enjoys the visits and loves to share who she has seen and what they have told her about their lives today.


EARLY HISTORY
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At the headwaters of the "Crane Creek" in the mid to late 1800s settlers came to build a new life. I've read of a reference (by Barty Whitt a very public spirited citizen of Wyoming and Mercer Counties in the 1900s) of the old "Mercer Camp Meeting Shed" which was build in the 1830s or 40s. This Shed was constructed as a gathering place and was used for old fashioned revival meetings, which could last for a week when they occured. This structure was located in a gap on the mountain above Giatto separating the headwaters of Crane Creek from that of Widemouth Creek and being located near a spring on a farm owned by RUFUS ALLEN MCCOMAS. In 1904 newly elected Congressman John Kee granted a petition to have the name changed from Mannering to McComas. I'm not certain if this could be the McComas that this small community name originated from - if anyone knows differently please let me know.

Before the coal mining industry took a foot hold in this tiny community several families had settled here. Around 1870 the Crane, Manning, Thornhill, Taylor and Conner families had arrived. They settled along the Crane and Pinnacle Creeks. A few cabins were scattered around. The families farmed, hunted and trapped to exist. Mail delivery came from Princeton several times a week by horseback. The wind powered gristmill built by Thomas Crane around this time was not successful. It had been built on Windmill Gap and when there was no wind they could not grind their grain. Later the Thornhill family build a mill powered by water and it was successful. Around 1902 W. H. Thomas started his Thomas Coal & Coke Company. A coal tipple, 127 houses, a company store, church, payroll and a doctors office were build at THOMAS, WV (my birthplace) Mr. Thomas later started his Crystal Coal & Coke operations at Crystal, WV. Crystal was a pet name Thomas called his wife Annie. Thomas and his wife build a house and lived at Crystal until they eventually build their "mansion" at Bramwell. Thomas died in 1918 and his only son 2 years later - Thomas was well liked by everyone who knew him. His family continued on with his operations having partnerships with the Coopers and Bill Buery. The name was changed in 1940 to the Virginia B. Coal Company (the name of the wife of Mr. Beury) which it remained for the last 12 years it operated. I remember the Company Store closing at Thomas in 1957. Virginia Sigmon Gills was the store manager. She had been there many years. The store had remained open several years after the Thomas mine closed. The company had coal operations in another location and it remained open to support them. I remember as a child going to the store. It seemed very large at that time. A large porch wrapped around 2 sides of the building with a large expanse of stairs you had to climb up to get onto that porch. In the early evening hours as children in this small community we would play on this porch pretending it was our stage - many pretent productions were performed here. Once a day the train would come up to the tipple to gather the loaded coal cars. The train also went to the tipples at Sagamore and Crane Creek before leaving the hollow to return to its destination which was probably Bluefield. Trying to travel the highway during this time could cause major delays. The roadway was blocked for long periods of time by the train collecting his "black gold". I remember being told that the legal time limit they could block traffic was 15 minutes but I've experienced longer delays than that many times. A train stop would occur at the Thomas Company Store to unload freight or whatever else they carried. To the rear of Thomas Company Store was a large office. This is where the doctor's office was located. There were apartments located on the upper floor of the Thomas Company Store. I remember how large and empty they appeared when I first saw them. In the 1950's no one rented them as I recall (they were used for storage) but when the mines were operating I know they were occupied. The store itself contained a deli section, meat cutting, weighing scales (infants were also weighted on them), and bakery items were located to the right when you first walked in. Canned goods and other grocery items followed down that wall. To the rear of this room was a section containing shoes. To the left side of the room was merchandise such as clothing and other items. At christmas time toys would line all areas around the tops of these shelves. I remember getting a doll I had seen here around 1953. It was a "Betsy Wetsey". I was one happy little girl. The U.S. mail would be delivered each day around 1 p.m. at the Thomas Company Store from the Post Office which was located about a mile down the road at "McComas". I also remember the Thomas Company Store have a flooded basement on several occasions. The creek ran directly beside the store. When those "sometimes" strong spring rains occurred - things flooded including the store basement. The area known as McComas was home to the Post Office (this building also had a doctors office), Methodist and Catholic Churches, Movie Theater, Shoe Shop, Rail Road Station, and the Community Center (containing several shops in its lifetime) - I remember Mr. Harrington's soda shop, barber shop but I know in earlier days other stores were also there. Mora Elementary and McComas High School were also located here. Houses dotted the hillside around the area and were intermingled with all these shops. This is the forks of the road. Coming from Montcalm, (through Godfrey, Crystal, and Thornhill) follow the right hand fork in the road at McComas and go to Pinnacle and on over Conners Mountain to Matoaka. Take the left hand fork in the road at McComas and go up Sagamore, Crane Creek Hollows, then across Wind Mill Gap into Crumpler.


DISASTER STRUCK Several major disasters hit this small community.
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  • PINNACLE SLATE DUMP EXPLOSION: According to articles I've read in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph on June 10, 1924 a series of incidents occurred which claimed human lives and created major havoc. After several days of heavy rains an avalanche of slate, rock, and ash poured down the mountainside near the Pinnacle tipple. Today the county has placed a new road/street marker leading to the Harmon Cemetary - this is the area where the landslide occurred. A smoldering slate dump appeared to fill with water causing the ashes to explode. The first explosion sent tons of debry down the mountainside into the Pinnacle Creek below. Houses on the hillside were destroyed. A second explosion about 15 minutes later appeared to blow like a volcono sending more ash and debry onto everything in its area. Within minutes another explosion occurred this time sending more debry into the hollow blocking/daming off the creek and burying the railroad tracks under 15 to 20 feet of ash. Ten men, women, and children were later discovered killed - it took several weeks for rescue crews to recover their bodies. The house my aunt lives in today sits directly in front of the old Pinnacle Elementary School - a picture published in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph several years ago shows the ash and debry from the explosion resting on the left side of her house literally touching the front porch, the house barely escaped destruction. One pillar holding the front porch roof was even dislodged. I've personally witnessed someone trying to dig into the ground in this location. There isn't any soft dirt - its like rock (but its actually slate rock that blew down this hillside when the slate dump exploided in 1924). I've been told all the debry was flattened out and the road going up to Thomas was built on top of the new surface. Pinnacle school and its playground also sit on the same debry field. Here we are 76 years later and that house still stands. This is the coke road area of Pinnacle - slowly one by one the few remaining houses are being torn down/demolished and hauled away.

  • FLOODING: During the 2 days of torrential rain storms prior to these explosions the Crane and Pinnacle Creeks were raging torrents of water. The water flowed so quickly that loaded coal/train cars were washed off the tracks. At this same time the grist mill that had earlier been built at Thornhill was washed away. Mass destruction followed along the creek banks that flowed from Thomas, Pinnacle, Crane Creek, Sagamore, McComas, Thornhill, Crystal, and Godfrey into Montcalm where it converged with the Bluestone River. Homes, animals, livestock, and even people were washed away. I've heard my family speak of a young child attempting to cross a foot bridge behind the Pinnacle School who fell into the water and couldn't be rescued.

  • SAGAMORE TIPPLE EXPLOSION: In December 1904 for reason still unknown the Sagamore Tipple was destroyed in an explosion. Three were killed and multiple others sustained injuries. Whether it was a mixture of built up gas fumes or some other reason the rock dust from the coal simply exploided. The coal operators did not want to see their employees go without work so they supplied employment at their Cherokee Tipple (directly up and over Windmill Gap mountain into McDowell County). These men traveled this route for several years before the Sagamore Colliery was again in operation five years later. I've heard they traveled by horse and wagon so the trip probably took a considerable amount of time.

  • CHEROKEE TIPPLE DESTROYED BY FIRE: In 1923 this same Cherokee Tipple was completed destroyed by fire. Again those employees were offered the same courtesy by their employer - they were transported from Cherokee (just across the line in McDowell County) back across Windmill Gap to Sagamore to work. The trip for these workers should have been a little easier - trucks were in use by then.

    MCCOMAS AREA CHURCHES
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    (These are Churches that I remember if anyone knows more let me know I'll add your data to this list)


  • Thomas Pentecostal Holiness Church 1921 When Mr. Thomas build the community of Thomas he built this church. (as a very young child I attended Sunday School here) The church was completely lost to fire in the late 1950s - I witnessed the first flames coming from the attic area. I was standing at our home (about 1/4 mile away) looking out the window around 6 or 7 pm when the flames first appeared. The entire community gathered around and helplessly watched as the entire building was quickly engulfed in flames - the Montcalm and Matoaka Fire Departments responded but were too far away to respond quickly enough. Community members were dashing in and out of the building carrying out pews, hymnals and other items that could be saved. I remember it was cold out but the heat from the flames felt like they could melt an on lookers face - even from a safe distance away)
  • Pinnacle Hollow Methodist This church was closed for many years I'm not certain what was in it prior to my recollections. During the early 1960s Everett Jones reopened the Church and I attended it for the last few years I lived at McComas. Mr. Jones built up a good sized congregation during those few years. I remember his wife Bertha played the piano. I enjoyed her playing - it was religious music which had a distinguishable old fashioned ragtime piano beat. I believe the entire congregation enjoyed her songs and music very much. Probably sometime around the late 1960s the church closed once again. After that the building was sold and torn down. I remember it being a small entry way with a bell we all loved to pull the ropes to make chime. When it was time for church to start we all took turns doing this. The rest of the church was the one large room that contained the sanctuary and pulpet area. I remember putting on many christmas plays while attending the church. One year we had gone to the church for play practice just before Christmas and a bad snowstorm came (really blizzard conditions). My uncle drove up that "hollow" in that raging storm and rescued about 8 of us stranded there. Needless to say we were very happy to see him.
  • Pinnacle Pentecostal Holiness Church I'm not certain what the denomination of this church was prior to but the congretation of the church from Thomas moved here after the fire in the late 1950s. If I remember correctly the miners held their union meetings in this same building.
  • McComas-Thomas Memorial Methodist Church The shell of this brick building is all that remains standing at McComas. I remember attending church here as a child with my mother and brother. It was a grand, beautiful building. The catherial ceiling still remains in my memory. None of the churches I even visit today can replace my memories of the physical beauty of this building. Dr Fitzhugh helped establish this church in 1915. He was the company doctor. He is listed on my mothers birth certificate in 1925 and he also delivered my aunt. When this aunt was named she was only given a first and last name. Dr. Fitzhugh asked my grandmother if he could give her a middle name - which she agreed failing to ask what it would be. Weeks later when the birth certificate arrived this "female" child had a middle name of Fitzhugh - we still chuckle when we hear this story.
    My mothers funeral was held in this church in July 1957. She had so many friends from her brief 32 years living at McComas - the church was filled that day.
    I know the Pentecostal Holiness Church occupied the church in later years - but it was abandoned many years back. The roof is gone, the windows are missing, and only the brick walls appear to remain standing. It looks very dangerous when you ride by it. I've often wondered why the county has allowed it to remain standing in this condition - for safety reasons. I remember attending Sunday School in the classrooms in the choir belfry area high above the entrance to the sanctuary. The kitchen and dining area in the basement was also a Sunday School classroom for me later on. I remember dinners, parties, girl scout functions, youth fellowship meetings, and other functions occuring in this room. In the late 1950s the youth group from the church had a traveling basketball team. We traveled to many locations which were several counties/states away.
    1953 Junior Choir of Thomas Memorial Methodist Church (April 5, 1953 Bluefield Daily Telegraph article supplied by Sis Laenen daughter of Virginia Sigmon Gills March 2002)
  • Prosperity Methodist Church Windmill Gap
    Prosperity Church Windmill Gap
  • McComas Catholic Church This church was destroyed by fire in 1948 along with the McComas Theatre. The church was rebuilt by its members but not the theatre. Years later this same church was closed/abandoned again. This was around the time of the 1960s. I believe alot of the congregation were immigrant miners - from European countries. Once the mines closed they disappeared in the mass migration which started in the late 1950s.
    McComas Catholic Church(taken in 1960s photo supplied by Tony Basconi)
  • McComas/Mora New Morning Star Church The denomination was Baptist and it was used by African American members of the community. It sat on the hillside near the train depot.
    New Morning Star Baptist Church

    McCOMAS COMMUNITY
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    This was a self supporting town supplying community services and facilities)


    Around the turn of the century according to statistics Mannering (later McComas) had a population of about 6000 people making it the second largest town in Mercer County. Access into the area was still difficult at this time. It could literally take days to travel by train, vehicle, wagon or horseback to neighboring towns or cities. The owners of the coal mines supplied all items their workers should need through the "company store". These stores were built at Thomas, Pinnacle, Sagamore, and Crane Creek. These areas were "company towns," where the houses, stores, and recreational buildings all belonged to whichever coal company operated the mine. The miners were often paid in script, redeemable only at the company store. Wages were low and the work was hard - primarily pick and shovel. Miners used "script" as cash at the "company store"

    Along with building homes, churches, and stores the coal operators also provided entertainment through a variety of methods. A chain of movie theatres were scattered throughtout all the coal mining communities. Early admission to the McComas theatre would be 10 cents in script. When the theatre was destroyed by fire in 1948 it was never rebuilt. I cannot remember the theatre being at McComas - but I've heard my relatives speak of it many times. The area which was directly across the street from the old McComas Post Office which was used as a parking area - I'm told this was where the theatre sat. The catholic church to one side and the community center building to the other.

    The carnival would come to McComas. I'm been told the area which is referred to as the old baseball fields down near Thornhill (just across the bridge from the waterfall) was where the tents would be sat up and the circus performed. This was probably a spectacular site with the elephants and circus animals and performers. I never saw it but I can still imagine the excitement in the community.

    Sports always played a role in the coal mining communities. The coal operators sponsored baseball teams - which consisted of members of the coal mining community. McComas was no exception. McComas High School also produced many championship teams in basketball, baseball, and football. School spirit for our "blue and gold" McComas Loaders was very high. The spring of 1960 the Board of Education came to McComas High School and refinished the gym floor. I can still remember the sheen/shine on it. It was in great condition. By August the announcements were in the newspaper - "McComas High School Closing". The school was sold and torn down very shortly thereafter. Members of the community were invited in and given different artifacts from the building and its supplies. Years before my grandmother had given a McComas High School science teacher (who at the time lived in an apartment in the top of Thomas Company Store next door to her house) the remains of a kitten (one of her cats had given birth to) which had been born born with two heads. My uncle found this preserved kitten in the science lab at McComas High School. He took it to Bluefield State College (where he was pursuing a degree). They now have possesion of that "poor two headed kitten". My grandmother was surprised it still existed after at least three decades. A cousin who still lives at McComas has also told me he has retrieved bricks from the old school site and given them to several ex-students of McComas High School over the years.

    The area we call McComas was more the entertainment hub or center of the community. The High School, Mora Elementary School, the Post Office Building which contained a dentist and doctors office, the Catholic, Methodist, and Black Churches, the train depot, shoe shop, and last but not least the "Community Center" the largest facility of them all. It had multiple shops over the years. I remember Mr. Farrington's restaurant (soda shop to us in High School) and pool hall, a barber shop, and a gas station (on the roadside in front of the Community Center. Even though many of us lived in places such as Crane Creek, Pinnacle, or Thomas we still considered ourselves from "McComas" that was our mailing address.

    The company stores carried clothing, shoes, toys, furniture, food, groceries - essentially everything. If they didn't have it they would order it for you. The trains that traveled into McComas Hollow to Thomas, Pinnacle, Sagamore, and Crane Creek tipples would carry freight to the company stores on their appointed rounds. The stores also provided office space for the managers/operators of the coal mines. The superintendents, payroll officers, and even a doctor's office were provided. I remember the facilities and their furnishing as being very nice. One must remember the coal industry made alot of money. Even though wages were low - the operators had alot of funds to provide these services to the communties. The Coal Barons of Southern WV built their mansions and lived at Bramwell, WV. Before the stock market crash of 1929 occurred and the subsequent fall of the Bank of Bramwell - there were 13 millionaires living there. Today the mansions remain but these same Coal Barons are gone.

    The company doctor was a person admired by all. They were hard working and cared about their patients. House calls for an illness were very comman. I would venture to bet that only a small percentage of children born at McComas before 1950 could state they were born in a hospital. Home deliveries were the norm. Each company store had a doctors office someplace in its general vacinity, plus there was also one located in the McComas Post Office building. These existed until the late 1950s or early 1960s.


    COLLECTABLES
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    SCRIPT
    Because of the need for daily supplies from the company store, coal operators improvised a method of paying their employees, using coal scrip. The earliest coal scrip (tokens) dates back to about 1883. Miners could get advanced credit on their earned wages (in scrip) to pay for goods from the company store. This use of coal company scrip eliminated the need for the coal company to keep a large amount of U. S. currency on hand. Each mine had its own scrip symbols on the tokens, and these tokens could only be used at the local company store. Many miners would use up or often times extend their script limit before payday came. They were supplied their daily needs from the company store but many times lacked having cash money in their possession. Today, as with many other antiques, this same script money is a collector's item. Coin shows frequently display it for sale. Whether for nostelga/sentimental reasons many children of the coal camp era enjoy seeing and collecting it.

    MINING HATS and LUNCHBUCKETS
    About three years ago my husband and I took our two grandsons to tour the Beckley Exhibition Mine. I had been there in the 1950s (Wow! 50 years ago) but I highly recommend it to anyone. Its all newly renovated and nicely presented. We all enjoyed it tremendously. They have the coal camp houses to tour, a giftshop, and 2 museums in the parking lot area. During the tour into the mine our guide was explaining about the old carbide lights (including many different iterations of them over the years), scooters (hand crafted by the miners to maneuver around - sometimes in the dark) in the mine - remember many of the coal seams they worked under could be extremely short, the lunch buckets (remember many had the water containers on the bottom - with the lunch container area above it), tools used (from augers to drill dynamite holes in rock to pick and shovels), just everyting related to working in the mines. His lecture covered the fact that these items "we saw so much in our youth" is hard to find anymore, thus, making them "collectors items" today. Once I heard this I began looking for any of the items over the past few years... and he was correct. You can't find them!

    FURNITURE
    I recently visited an antiques show (very large) near Baltimore, MD. They had one hugh section labeled the post-WWII years. Everything my friend and I saw we could relate to from our youth. She grew up at Charleston and myself at McComas. It made us wonder are we "antiques" now ourselves. My answer only if we want to let ourselves be. I know after the death of family member all the treasures we found emptying out their house. So many old family pictures (everyone please write names on them - we didn't know who many of them were), literature (even 1930s Sunday School certificates), old valentines, magazines, not to mention the furniture in the attic and basement. What once was trash is now considered "treasures" to antique collectors.


    COAL
    That magical burning BLACK ROCK that built
    and later abandoned McComas

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    Although coal was known to occur throughout much of West Virginia, no extensive mining took place until the mid-1800s. Due to its remote location Mannering/McComas was not developed until a transportation system (mainly the railroad) was incorporated. West Virginia's southern coal fields were not opened until about 1870, though they were known to exist much earlier. One of the major southern coal fields was the Flat Top-Pocahontas Field, located primarily in Mercer and McDowell counties. The Flat Top Field first shipped coal in 1883 and grew quickly from that time. Operations were consolidated into large companies, and Pocahontas Fuel Company, organized in 1907, soon dominated the other companies in McDowell County.

  • McComas Timeline of Events
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    1870 Community of Mannering established
  • One room log school house, scattered cabins and a few farms existed.
  • 1897 Will Hamlet relocated his sawmill from Spanishburg to Crystal, WV.
    1898 Hamlet began construction of a wooden rail tramway so that he could transport his lumber to During, WV.
    March 6, 1901 Railroad construction began between During and Crane Creek (Mannering), WV. In order to build its Crane Creek line Norfolk & Western Railroad used much of the same right of way (or in close proximity to it) that Will Hamlet had cleared previously for his tramway.
    Coal Operators W.H. Thomas, William McQuail and Issac T. Mann agreed to buy lumber from Will Hamlet in exchange for him hauling supplies to his sawmill at Crystal. These same coal operators later hired a crew to clear the land and build the first wagon road into Mannering.
    Transportation into McComas is now open and coal operations rapidly start.
    SAGAMORE COLLIERY
    1902 The Pocahontas Sagamore Colliery owned by W.H. Thomas, William McQuail, and Issac T. Mann start coal production.
    Sagamore owned all the property around the McComas Community Center and built all structures in that area.
    A total of 133 homes, a tipple, power plant, shops, company store and school were built.
    December 1904
  • Sagamore Tipple explodes from unknown causes
  • Workers transported across Windmill Gap to Cherokee to provide work for them.
  • December 1909: Sagamore Tipple rebuilt
  • 1923: Disaster struck again Cherokee Tipple destroyed by fire
    This time workers were transported to Sagamore to proide work for them.
  • 1910 Pocahontas Fuel Company started which contributed to the Sagamore Tipple being so successful.
    Sagamore Statistics:
  • 1910-1921: 2 million tons of coal cleaned and shipped
  • 1921-1929: Over a million tons of coal were shipped
  • 1930s - depression years: Production of coal almost halted.
  • 1940-1952: WWI years saw growth again.
  • 1952: Crane Creek was purchased by Pocahontas Fuel Company of Sagamore. The mine saw continued growth.
    The tipple was remodeled and had a capacity to process two million tons of coal annually - which was accomplished on several occasions as their records indicate.
  • 1980: Coal production dropped - layoffs started occuring - another mass exodus from McComas occurred.
  • December 1984: Drift mouth to the mine was permanently sealed.
  • THOMAS COAL & COKE COMPANY
    1902 W.H. Thomas opened Thomas Coal & Coke Company
    Superintendant Eugene Powell supervised building 127 houses, store, payroll and doctor's office, and a coal tipple for Mr. Thomas.
    Thomas Coal & Coke Company Statistics:
  • 85,00 tons of coal produced in first three years
  • 1903: Coke production began(6,871 tons produced)
  • CRANE CREEK and PINNACLE COAL & COKE COMPANIES
    Before 1903 William H. McQuail's Crane Creek and Pinnacle Coal & Coke Companies were opened
    Crane Creek & Pinnacle Coal & Coke Co. Statistics
    Superintendent Calvin Shockey oversaw both operations
    321 houses were built at Crane Creek and Pinnacle

    150 coke ovens built at Pinnacle
    1902: 835 tons of coke produced at Pinnacle


    150 coke ovens built at Crane Creek
    1903: 7,915 tons of coke produced at Crane Creek


    1920: Coke ovens shut down at Pinnacle and Crane Creek-better productions methods came along in essence outdating the coke ovens being used at McComas.


    1902/3-1920: Total Coke Production
          300,000 tons for Pinnacle
          500,000 tons for Crane Creek

    1904 Petition circulated to have name changed from Mannering to McComas
    1905: Petition to request a Post Office for McComas submitted
  • Post Office was moved from Mora to McComas
  • Postal records show that 2,100 residents received mail at McComas
  • 1908 McQuail goes into partnership with American Coal Company which was owned by the Atwater intrests of New York.

    Crane Creek & Pinnacle Statistics after the merger:
  • Crane Creek became largest operation in Pocahontas-Flat Top Coal Fields
  • 1926: Crane Creek Production was 662,682 tons of coal
  • 1926: Pinnacle Production was 332,595 tons of coal
  • 1930: Crane Creek Tipple processed 101,000 tons of coal
  • June 10, 1924 Pinnacle Explosion Disaster and torrential rainstorm which caused physical and property losses.
    1925 McComas High School opened its doors
    1925 Crane Creek & Pinnacle combine operations:
  • Crane Creek operations/tunnel broke through mountain to Pinnacle
  • Tram Track Tressle was build across highway between Pinnacle and Thomas
  • Pinnacle Tipple torn down and operations combined with Crane Creek using the new tunnel and tram tracks
  • The Crane Creek crew ran the day shift while the Pinnacle crew ran the night shift at the Crane Creek Tipple.
  • 1929 Crane Creek Tipple remodeled
  • The Nation's first air separation coal cleaning plant was build at Crane Creek. This new preparation plant could clean and load 100,000 tons of coal per month.
  • 1940 Thomas Coal & Coke name changed to Virginia B. Coal Company a partnership in the company was started.
    1947-1960 Richard O. Cole was Superintendent of the American Coal Company (Information furnished by his daughters Judy (Cole) Dodd, Mary Francis "Twinkle" (Cole) Burgess, and Linda Sue "Susie" (Cole) Britton)
    1948 McComas Theatre and Catholic Church burned
    1951 First classes held at the new Pinnacle Elementary School
  • Children from Sagamore, Crane Creek, Windmill Gap, Mora, Conner Mountain eventually came to Pinnacle when their schools (they were reassigned to Mora) and Mora was closed.
  • McComas Elementary School children now go to Montcalm Elementary School
  • 1952 Virginia B. Coal Company stopped operations at McComas/Thomas
  • Thomas Company Store remained opened several more years supporting other Virginia B. mining operations.
  • 1952 Recession hit the area A mass exodus began - only a few hundred people remained.
    Houses were torn down - entire communities vanished
    1956 American Coal Company was purchased by Pocahontas Fuel Company's Sagamore operation - their history is outlined in the preceding Sagamore timeline.
    1957/8 Thomas Company Store closed and torn down.
  • Sagamore, Crane Creek, Pinnacle Company Stores are torn down.
  • Shortly after 1960: The McComas Community Center, train depot, shoe shop, Mora (white and black) Elementary Schools were already gone or being torn down.
  • Years later the McComas Post Office was also eventually torn down. A trailer held the Post Office for several years but now the community is on a Rural Route from Montcalm.
  • March 1958 Consolidated Coal bought the mines from Pocahontas Fuel Company.
    1960 McComas High School closed its doors forever
  • Students were bused to Bramwell High School
  • Bramwell is closed now - all these students attend Montcalm High School
  • 1961 McComas High School torn down
    Mid 1960s No more Public transportation - buses from Bluefield HALTED their McComas runs.
  • City buses operated hourly in years past. Even a bus ran from McComas to Matoaka (via Conner Mountain, Wyonake, Giatto, Matoaka, on to Princeton and back to Bluefield if you wished - or back across Conner Mountain to McComas)- these bus runs stopped operating in the 1950s. I remember those large buses and the small two lane road it had to travel across that mountain. I suppose if you drove a car you simply granted the bus the right of way "all the time" or else!!!!.
  • Passenger trains had stopped running many years before this.
  • 1984 Crane Creek officially closed. Mine was permanently sealed.

    SOUTHERN WV REVITILIZATION
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    This is the saddist portion of this page to write. Those of us who visit McComas and see the decay that has occurred can't help but ask "why". We have the fondest of wishes that tomorrow will bring some form of prosperity to this our hometown. Maybe hope comes in small packages. Here are a few attempts to boost an ailing economy where even the smallest investment in help could manifest appreciation ten fold from the community and its friends.

    Coal Fields Reclamation

    • Sagamore Hollow
    • Crane Creek
    • Thomas (flats and hollows above and around this community)

      These are a few of the areas which I know the State of WV has enforced reclamation of strip mining land. Many forms of coal mining operations contributed in the destruction of the land which ravaged of all its resources. These areas were once HIGHLY damaged by the coal mining industry. The area where the Crane Creek Tipple once sat is now "clean" - one could say "beautiful". I was amazed at how clean and almost peaceful it now looks. Grass and trees have now replaced the soot and grime left behind by the coal processing at the tipple. Strip mining occured heavily on many of the ridges surrounding all of McComas after WWII. Slate dumps were created and left in a very dangerous condition. The disaster that occurred at Pinnacle was a result of this same type of problem. I remember sitting at McComas High School in the late 1950s watching hugh dump trucks creating a virtual mountain directly across the road from the school. This continued for several years. When it would rain the Department of Roads always had to come and remove debry from the main road. Loose dirt and other dumped material would wash off that mountainside into the roadway. I've been informed this was one area the state enforced cleanup efforts.

      I've also heard that many of these reclaimed areas are now used for recreational purposes - namely ATV (All Terrain Vehicles) or 4-wheelers. Riders come not only locally but from surrounding states to ride these remote back country roads. Visit the link below to the new Hatfield and McCoy trail currently being constructed in WV. I know of several area residence who live near the trails and have successfully opened stores (selling sandwiches, snacks, sodas, etc.) to the trail riders and they appear to be successful endeavors during the months when the trails are in use.

    Southern WV Revitilization Links

    Visit the following linked pages to learn more concerning attempts to boost the southern WV economy. Highway development and improvements, tourism, and recreational facilities to help promote industry, new jobs, and bring money back into the area.
    MORE TO COME
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  • Workers - there were a large variety of skills
  • Business Establishments
  • Carl Marrioti Store & Hoot Owl Inn - Crane Creek
  • Basconi's Place - Thornhill
  • Farringtons Resturant - Community Center
  • Shoe Shop - McComas
  • Barber Shop - Community Center (Pete the Barber)
  • Everette Bailey & Sons Sawmill Company - Thomas Hollow & Pinnacle Creek of Pinnacle Creek and Thomas
    (major suppliers of timber to the coal mining industry in McComas and other areas)
  • CREDITS
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    Information for this website was gathered from several sources:
  • My personal memories along with discussions (recent and old) with family members and friends.
  • Years of reading the Bluefield Daily Telegraph.
  • Four Volumns of "A New River Heritage" written by William Sanders Lawyer, Princeton, WV and published by the McClain Printing Company, Parsons, WV. In his own words he wrote the books to promote the historical significance of Mercer County. He has been a long time advocate of the Shawnee Parkway. The Parkway would provide access to many of the remote Mercer County communities, help preserve historical sites, promote tourism, bring jobs to the area, and help boost the ailing economy.
  • "Clay Family Settlement on the Bluestone River" also written by William Sanders published by McClain Printing Company, Parsons, WV.
  • Various State of WV informational internet sites.
  • "The Diary of a Millionaire Coal Town" by Martha Jane Williams Becker. Ms. Becker used a considerable amount of data gathered by Dwight W. McCormick (ex Mayor of Bramwell, WV and Principal at Bramwell High School during the days I attended Bramwell). Mr. McCormick's students over the years wrote compositions and he incorporated them into all other historical data he gathered about Bramwell and its thirteen Coal Baron Millionaires.
  • A History of the Middle New River Settlements and Contiguous Territory published by David E. Johnston in 1906
  • Magazines, newspapers, books, and other articles I've read over the years relating to West Virginia history.
  • Princeton Court House, County Clerks Office records.

    I love history and remember exactly when my fondness began. The year was 1958, the school was McComas High School, my grade was 8th, and my teacher was Doris Cartwright. Teachers do make a difference - they lay a foundation for us to build upon for our entire lives.
  • This page was last updated on 02/21/08.
    Copyright 2001 Patricia Spicer Smith All Rights Reserved.