Seven Views: The Coalfields of the Virginias


1. Pageton Coal Camp, McDowell County

Editor’s note: I came across this lovely shot on Twitter last week and after retweeting it received a note of thanks from photographer D. Renee Bolden. I was struck by the lines and the framing and the natural curve of the river forcing the road to bend. Renee gladly agreed to prepare our first ever photo gallery here at Lit South and I can’t thank her enough. I hope you enjoy her view of home and take a look at her larger body of work at Journal Appalachia and her other project sites. – J.S.

D. Renee Bolden: I attempt to capture the past, the present, and the future of Appalachia. In my area, there are numerous reminders of the past in the present. If we utilize what the past has left us, we can give our generation and future generations hope for our region. If we fail to act, our history will be erased with the wind.

My photographs reflect patriotism, industry, history, and perseverance. There are some photographs that are reflective of a deep love of God and country, an industry and history of hard working coal miners, and the perseverance of an area and people against all obstacles.

I live in McDowell County, W. Va. According to statistics, it’s one of the poorest counties in the country. We thrive on metallurgical coal. Many reporters come here to exploit the people of our county because of its condition. We may be poor monetarily, but we are rich in history.

At one point, we had 100,000 residents. Our county seat was referred to as Little New York.

I try to photograph the positives of my county. However, at times, I can’t help but capture the negative, also.

My goal is to portray our God given blessings and to inspire other residents of Appalachia to presently work towards a better future while utilizing our past.

2. Jenkinjones Company Store

The Jenkinjones Company Store was the main hub of the once thriving coal community for which it is named.

Built in 1917 by A.B. Mahood, a local architect for many coal company stores, this building was erected directly beside the N & W railroad that led to a large wooden train trestle that remains to this day. Coal miners paid in scrip visited the local company store to pay for their groceries, clothing, shoes, and anything else needed by their family members.

For many years, coal miners could only purchase goods at the company store that bore the name of their scrip. Once the era of scrip ended, many coal company stores closed their doors and fell into decay.

Once a vital piece of the community, the Jenkinjones Company store is now a canvas for graffiti.

3. Peeled Chestnut Mountain Tunnel

Built by the Norfolk & Western Railroad, this tunnel connects Anawalt, Leckie and Jenkinjones residents to U.S. 52 in Maybeury, a main artery for traffic in McDowell County, WV.

Located at the bottom of Peeled Chestnut Mountain, a treacherous road, the tunnel was constructed underneath the mainline of the railroad which is now Norfolk & Southern.

Peeled Chestnut Mountain derives its name from a battle between the Shawnee and Cherokee. It is associated with many ghost stories related to the dangerous road over the mountain.

4. Veteran’s Day Parade 2017

McDowell County is home to the nation’s longest running Veteran’s Day Parade. With veterans of wars dating from World War II, McDowell County proudly honors all veterans of all branches of military.

Hosted by American Legion Post 8 of Welch, this photo portrays members of a local VFW (Veteran’s of Foreign Wars) preparing to give a 21 gun salute.

2017 was the parade’s 99th anniversary.

5. Air Force Veteran

Appalachia loves parades and the 10 municipalities of McDowell County are no exception. Each town decorates their remaining streets and alleys with Christmas decorations and hosts a parade each year. Town and county residents participate with school and church floats, resident displays, EMS vehicles and fire trucks.

This Air Force Veteran, name unknown, anxiously awaits the town of Northfork’s annual Christmas parade in 2015.

6. Elkhorn Water Tank

Overlooking the coal camp of Elkhorn, with its copper domed Russian Orthodox Church, coal baron and miner homes, the Elkhorn water tank was a source of water for residents for decades.

Situated on U.S. 52, the area around the tank offered travelers a chance to view the coal camp of Elkhorn, an emergency stop, or a chance to prepare vehicles before traveling down the treacherous hill in the winter.

It’s no longer standing, but the Elkhorn Water Tank will always be remembered by residents traveling north or south on “Tank Hill”.

7. The Town of Pocahontas, Virginia

Pocahontas, Virginia, is the heart of the Pocahontas Coal Fields that cover parts of Virginia and West Virginia.

“Pokey Number 3”, the large coal seam that runs through both states, was found in Pocahontas. The seam was 13 feet high.

Pocahontas remembers its heritage by maintaining the old coal mine as a walk through exhibition mine that is open from May to October each year.

This photo portrays the old town of Pocahontas with its brick street. The City Hall building is still used and the Opera House adjacent to it is used on occasion. The Pocahontas Fire building is completely gutted, however, but features local art on the inside.