1958 - Pocahontas Coal Field Observes 75th Birthday

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Sun Mar 16 19:48:27 EDT 2008

Roanoke Times - March 16, 1958

Pocahontas Coal Field Observes 75th Birthday

BLUEFIELD, March 15 - The world-famous Pocahontas coal fields are 75 year old.
It was March 13, 1883, that the Norfolk and Western Railway hauled the
first car of coal from Pocahontas. A car on the first train pulled by a
gaily decorated locomotive, was destined for Norfolk as a present to the
mayor of that tidewater city.
Since then, as high as 500,000 carloads of Pocahontas coal has passed
through Norfolk in a single year to be shipped to Europe and in coastwise
The original Pocahontas mine probably proved richer than any gold mine
ever discovered. From that original mine, more than 44 million tons of high
grade metallurgical coal were mined before it was exhausted in 1955.
Coal deposits in Southwest Virginia were first mentioned in the writings
of Thomas Jefferson. More accurate scientific descriptions were included in
the reports of geological research surveys made by Prof. W. B. Rogers
between 1836 and 1842.
After the War Between the States, Jordan Nelson, a blacksmith and farmer
in Abbs Valley discovered that the rich coal there would burn in his forge
without forced draft. Neighboring farmers began buying coal from him for a
penny a bushel for heating and cooking in open grates.
However, it remained for Fredrick J. Kimball, a young engineer and then
president of the Shenandoah Valley Railroad, now the Shenandoah Division of
the N&W, to see the commercial possibilities of the fabulous coal deposits.
Kimball read the Rogers reports and then made a trip overland to what is
now Pocahontas, but was then Powell's Bottom, to inspect for himself the
reputed coal reserves. He heard of veins of black diamond as thick as 13
feet and ascertained that it was true.
When the N&W acquired his Shenandoah Valley line in 1882, Kimball became
a vice-president of the larger company and began pressing at once for the
construction of a branch to Pocahontas, as it became known in March 1883.
The main line of the N&W then ran to Bristol, and the construction of the
branch, now the main line, sprouted off at Radford, 75 miles from the mine.
The crest of the Alleghany Mountain was reached at Higginbotham's
Summit, where a post office called Bluefield was established in 1884.
As other veins of coal were discovered, Bluefield became the railroad's
terminal and classification point. Today all eastbound coal trains are
classified at Bluefield and a great many large coal companies maintain
offices or headquarters there.
In 1883, 102,618 tons of coal were shipped over the N&W from Pocahontas.
Last year 800,705 cars of coal originated on the Norfolk and Western
railroad, enough to make two trains reaching from New York to San Francisco.
Bluefield, whose economy is geared directly to the coal industry, is
quite optimistic as its meal ticket passes its diamond anniversary. The
coal industry has just organized shipping companies to ship both high and
low volatile coal abroad, and new domestic uses are begin found daily.
Pocahontas in Tazewell County, the source of the lode which had produced
billions of dollars worth of coal, remains a quaint village on the
Virginia-West Virginia line.
It is the scene of America's worst mine disaster in history and the site
of the Exhibition Mine. Pocahontas, once the location of 100 coke ovens is
now one of the most charming and most unusual towns in the Old Dominion.


- Ron Davis, Roger Link

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