FAYETTE COUNTY COAL
Fayette County, West Virginia, is famous for its abundant natural resource, coal. Blessed with thick seams of "smokeless" coal, Fayette County has made its living through the mining of the two- to five-foot seams of 70 percent carbon coal, present in the New River coalfleld.  The town and mine at Kay Moor, located on New River, in the New River smokeless coalfield within Fayette County, thus belongs in the larger story of Fayette County, West Virginia, and indeed, Appalachian coal mining history, for the more important economic role of New River coal was its contribution to low-cost iron and for the manufacture of low-cost, high-quality metallurgical coke. Kay Moor's history is an integral part of the Appalachian coal-mining and cultural heritage.
Fayette County was formed by an act of the General Assembly of Virginia on February 28, 1831. Named for Major General Marquis de Lafayette, who a few years previously had made a triumphant tour of the fledgling United States, the county was formed of portions of Kanawha, Nicholas, Greenbrier, and Logan counties. The first county seat was at New Haven, then Vandalia, whose name changed in 1837 to Fayetteville. The county later lost area to other counties, and now consists of 666.50 square miles. 
The New River's source is in the highlands of the Blue Ridge in North Carolina. The river flows for 50 miles through Fayette County, entering from the south through a narrow channel and joining the Gauley River at Gauley Bridge. On its way, the river drops from 1,200 to 650 feet elevation, resulting in numerous falls and rapids. The authors of a Fayette County history exclaimed: "The wild beauty of this canon, known as the New River Gorge, with the clear water of the river flowing swiftly among scattered boulders at the base of its precipitous and rocky walls, has appealed to thousands of people, and has afforded ample justification for the efforts at description made by many prominent writers."  Within this sublime scenery lies the town and mine at Kay Moor.
West Virginia came into the Union in 1863 with 90 percent of its people isolated and agrarian. Most of the industrial and commercial works were connected to farming in some way, including sawmills, tanneries, and blacksmith shops. The rise of the coal industry transformed the landscape in economic, political, and social terms. The growth of the coal industry destroyed traditional mountain culture and attracted thousands of European immigrants and southern blacks to live among the native whites. The railroad and coal mining changed West Virginia so much that by 1921 the state's economy was linked to national and international markets. 
Colonials had known of southern West Virginia's coal potential. Thomas Jefferson's Notes on Virginia in 1785 mentioned that "coal is known to be in so many places, as to have induced an opinion that the whole tract between the Laurel Mountain and Ohio yields coal." Later geological surveys confirmed Jefferson's observations.  In 1873 a successful Pennsylvania coal operator named Howell Fisher visited the New River field and wrote the following description of the excellent mining possibilities in the New River Gorge:
Despite this knowledge of West Virginia's coal potential, the fields remained unmined until the coming of the railroads. The Appalachians remained impenetrable to the iron rails even though transcontinentals crossed the country. Not until the 1870s did the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad enter the New River Gorge, the proverbial "machine in the garden." The same was true of all of southern West Virginia; major industrialists as John Pierpont Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, Edward H. Harriman, and Collis P. Huntington built railroads through the area in an effort to mine and transport coal. 
Land and coal speculation ran rampant. Northern capitalists did not respect the property rights of the native mountaineers who owned the land, and used many unscrupulous means to obtain property. Original Revolutionary War land grants were purchased with claims that the speculators were the rightful owners; claims denied by the U.S. Supreme Court, but upheld by local federal judges. Native owners were thrown off their land, left, or had to sell out.  Outside capital bought West Virginia. 
Mining brought profound changes to West Virginia. The production of ginseng as a cash crop and logging had brought national economic ties to the region, but the coal industry wrought changes in more ways than economic. The traditional way of mountain life was transformed. Farming decreased, traditional family clans were broken, and new ways of thinking and value systems were introduced by the industrialists and working newcomers. The coal industry brought in a system of landless workers, a managing class, and a wealthy elite and superimposed it on a rural society. The company towns which evolved possessed a paternalism having nothing in common with the frontier spirit which had existed among the native white inhabitants. 
The importance of coal to the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century cannot be overstated. This country was relatively late to use coal because of abundant forests. Wood effectively supplied the colonial agrarian economy; thus, coal was not used in the United States for nearly 100 years later than in Europe. The growth of the bituminous coal industry occurred after 1850 to meet the demands generated by the use of steam locomotives, river steamers, and stationary steam engines. No longer were energy producers tied to river banks and waterfalls. The use of anthracite occurred first, because of proximity to the fields to urban centers, and because of the less sulphur and phosphorus and more carbon content in the hard coal. Urban customers preferred anthracite over bituminous coal because the latter produced more smoke and smell when burned. Bituminous coal, however, was cheaper because anthracite was in higher demand, was less available, and was harder to mine. As early as 1875 bituminous coal became a more important fuel source than anthracite coal. 
Seventy-five percent of the energy used in the United States in 1910 was supplied by coal. Coal fueled the factories, ships, and railroad locomotives, as well as warmed homes and generated power for the new electrical plants. Coke was a critical ingredient in the making of steel and iron. Coal was the main source of energy in the United States until after Wodd War I when oil and gas gained ascendancy. 
It is no wonder that so much interest lay in the rich and plentiful coal of southern West Virginia. A low volatile content and high fixed carbon rate gave rise to comparisons with Welsh coal. An average British thermal unit of 15,200 gave it the highest heat unit in the country and made it the best steaming coal available anywhere. Low ash and sulphur content made southern West Virginia coal the best coking coal and the most fuel-efficient. 
Another factor in the phenomenal growth of the coal industry in West Virginia was the relatively small capital investment required to open a mine. Coal mining in West Virginia was cheaper than in other parts of the country because the seams were large and soft and were exposed on hillsides. More economical drift or slope mines could be used, rather than the more expensive shaft mines. Usually the mines were located above water levels, which made pumping unnecessary or minimal. Additionally expedient was the easy hauling of coal from the mine to the tipple to the railroad accesses, because of the sloping of the hillsides. The operators needed only to build houses for the miners, a store for supplies, and a tipple to fill the railroad cars with coal. Little other machinery was required, as the miners supplied their own tools. Coal mine leases were easy to obtain, and most coal mining companies were organized with a few investors sinking in as little as $20,000 to $30,000. 
Within only a few decades southern West Virginia coals were foremost on the nation's markets. The cheaper and superior coals outsold the midwestern fields, and were shipped to Indianapolis, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and Dayton. Prior to 1900 most of the coal used in the upper Midwest came from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Southern Appalachian coal was used chiefly in the eastern markets and foreign trade. This changed by the tum of the century. The southern West Virginia coal operators began to open the Great Lakes trade.  Additionally, only West Virginia coal was burned in Washington, D.C., which had strict smoke pollution regulations. The high heat content and relative smokelessness of the southern West Virginia coal fields also made it the preferred fuel, commonly called "Navy Standard," of the U.S. Navy. By 1900 southern West Virginia coal rivaled the anthracite coal market in New England, and was sold in South America and the Mediterranean.  Fayette County coal production led all others until 1902 and was in second place until World War I. 
One of the major factors influencing the development of a West Virginia coal industry was the belief that an iron boom was beginning in Virginia in the 1880s. Southern West Virginia's low-volatile coal was well suited for making coke. This boom did not last long, however, and by the 1890s the iron boom collapsed, and the southern West Virginia smokeless coal and coke producers no longer had local markets. After 1910, coke manufacturing ceased in most areas, and coal was shipped unprocessed to markets farther afield. 
The Kay Moor mine was part of this larger economic scheme. It supplied coal and coke for blast furnaces located in western Virginia. The furnaces were owned by entrepreneurs from Virginia who envisioned that the use of resources in both Virginia and West Virginia would result in the two states being first among industrial states. In the New River field, the railroad was the necessary ingredient to exploit the coal potential.
In the New River Gorge the changes came with the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad (C&O). Industrialist Collis P. Huntington had a dream of building a transcontinental railroad line from Newport News, Virginia, to San Francisco. The line was designed to link the Atlantic Ocean with the Midwest through the Teays, New, and Kanawha river valleys, and it emerged from two older lines, the Virginia Central and the Covington and Ohio.  Together with New York capitalists, including Abiel Abbot Low, and the bankers Fisk and Hatch as financiers, Huntington revitalized the railroad's construction which linked the James and Ohio rivers. At the end of 1871 the western division of the line ran eastward from Huntington to Charleston, and onto Kanawha Falls at the junction of the Kanawha and New rivers by June 1872. The eastern division ended at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. After blasting a mile and a quarter through the mountains via the Big Bend Tunnel, the connection between the two divisions through 90 miles of mountainous country, including the New River Gorge, was finished in January 1873.  The entire line from Richmond, Virginia, to Huntington, West Virginia, was opened on April 1, 1873. According to a historian of the C&O, even Collis P. Huntington underestimated the opportunities offered by coal mining. In 1873 he stated that C&O management did not consider coal in its estimates of possible revenues because the railroad could not compete with water haulage. "No capitalist was ever more mistaken." 
The main line was built along the New River's north side. Several settlements were soon built, including Stone Cliff, Fire Creek, Hawks Nest, Quinnimont, Sewell, and Nuttalburg.  Thus the New River coalfields were linked by rail to the iron-producing counties of Virginia. Once inside the New River Gorge, the C&O built nine branch lines between 1890 and 1905 into the mountain hollows in Fayette County, opening new coal-bearing lands. Kay Moor would be located on the south side branch. A large assembly yard was also built at Thurmond, West Virginia. 
Simultaneously with the railroad's entry into the New River Gorge, Abiel Abbot Low established the Low Moor Iron Company in Allegheny County, Virginia, in 1873.  Low purchased iron ore lands in Allegheny County and coal lands in Fayette County, West Virginia to feed his furnaces. In 1880 he purchased around 10,000 acres of coal land in Fayette, Raleigh, and Kanawha counties in West Virginia along the C&O route.  In the first few years the Low Moor Iron Company only pursued ore mining; however, in 1880 ironmaking was started with "the largest and most thoroughly well-appointed blast furnace ever constructed in Virginia or West Virginia." 
On July 5, 1873, less than six months after the C&O was completed, the Low Moor Iron Company received its charter from the Commonwealth of Virginia. Abiel Abbott Low, on the C&O's board of directors, controlled the Low Moor Iron Company finances from New York as treasurer. A town and iron furnace at Low Moor, Virginia, named for Low, was planned and built, and drift, shaft, and pit mines opened.  The company claimed it was the first producer of pig iron in the state, and it was a self-contained manufacturing operation. The company's only product was pig iron, made with resources from its own coal mines in West Virginia, from its limestone quarries at Low Moor, and iron ore from its Fenwick, Dolly Ann, Jordan, Rich Patch, Low Moor, and Longdale mines, located near Low Moor and other historic forging towns in western Virginia: Covington and Clifton Forge.
Between 1878 and 1895 the Low Moor Company expanded tremendously. A second furnace at Covington was operating by 1891, and a third opened at Low Moor by 1911. The Covington area became known as the "Pittsburgh of Virginia."  By 1917 every mine operating in Allegheny County was owned by the Low Moor Iron Company. The three furnaces were capable of operating on a 24-hour basis, and 8,000 tons of pig iron were blasted every month. Over 50 miles of railway were built in the county, with 42 locomotives to haul the ore. The company boasted a monthly pay roll of $160,000 and it was a $3 million concern. 
The West Virginia coalfields were held in reserve until the late 1890s. The Low Moor Coal Company gained corporation papers in the state of West Virginia in March 1890, with the purpose of acquiring and holding coal lands, of mining, shipping and selling coal, and of making mining leases of parts or all of the coal lands and real estate the corporation should acquire. The corporation papers were to last until January 1, 1940. 
In 1899, the Low Moor Iron Company opened a mine in the New River Gorge in order to obtain coal for its blast furnaces in Virginia. Construction began on a railroad siding, tipple, and a mine in a drift entry into the Sewell seam above the New River at Kay Moor. Founded on the South Side Branch of the C&O, the town and mine were laid out within guidelines established by H.G. Merry, general manager of the Low Moor Iron Company. The work was coordinated by James Kay, first superintendent at the site, hence the name, "Kay Moor." 
The first coal shipment from Kay Moor was made on August 23, 1900. A C&O railroad car carried 58,900 pounds of Sewell coal eastward to the coke ovens at Low Moor.  Initial construction of employee housing began in 1901. By November 1904, 338 people were employed at Kay Moor.  By 1917 the mines at Kay Moor produced 15,000 tons of coal every month, which were largely shipped to Virginia.  (See appendix 1 for representative shipping statement and appendix 2 for Kay Moor managers.)
Kay Moor soon consisted of an operational mine with coke ovens, known as Kay Moor No. 1, supported by a town built by the Low Moor Iron Company. This company town was located at two sites, at the top (Kay Moor Top) and bottom (Kay Moor Bottom) of the gorge. A second mine and town was opened in 1903, known as Kay Moor No. 2. These mines' coal production was used primarily at the Low Moor furnaces; extra coal was marketed through the Chesapeake & Ohio Coal & Coke Co., with offices in New York, Newport News, Richmond, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Chicago, and London. 
The financial status of the Low Moor Iron Company fluctuated between 1880 and 1930. The company was one of the largest pig iron producers in the state, but it was not significant in the larger national economic picture. High expectations held for the Virginian iron industry were not met, which left the smokeless coalfields looking elsewhere for markets. The investments in equipment, land, and railroads could not be dismissed, which led to the entry of southern West Virginia's coal into other markets as early as the 1890s. Falling coal prices and labor struggles occurred at the same time. These factors, added to the collapse of the Virginia iron industry and the premature development of the New River and Pocahontas coalfields, contributed to the "chronically chaotic" conditions in the bituminous coal industry. 
The Low Moor Iron Company itself opened the mines at Kay Moor after the Virginia iron industry had passed its peak, and after early belief in the potential for regional development went sour. Southern West Virginia coal mining, however, survived because new markets in the Northeast and Midwest were sought and entered during the 1890s. 
Prices of coal declined during a financial panic in 1907, but Low Moor recovered dramatically during World War I. Problems with labor, procurement, and needed repairs were solved with government aid, yet the problem of supplies and cars for shipments continued to grow.  The economic picture did not remain rosy, and the post-war downturn seriously hurt the Low Moor Iron Company. Prices for pig iron fell, and a short-lived depression in 1921-1922 shut down its furnaces. Even though one furnace was refired in November 1922 the company never recovered. Talk of merging with two other iron companies was not fulfilled. Liquidation of property occurred, beginning in 1925, in order to provide capital and to specialize in iron production. Part of this liquidation involved selling the Kay Moor coal mines and towns. 
The New River and Pocahontas Consolidated Coal and Coke Company purchased 5,000 acres of coal lands from the Low Moor Iron Company on March 1, 1925. At the time of this sale the Fayette Tribune reported that Frank Lyman, New York millionaire and son of one of the company's founders, had not realized a profit on the furnaces at Low Moor for several years. The elderly Lyman did not wish to operate the company any longer. After Kay Moor was sold, the Low Moor Iron Company was out of debt with pig iron valued at several thousand dollars in its yards. The Low Moor furnace reportedly was in good condition, and there was a possibility that a purchaser or reorganized company could take over the property and continue the operations. According to the Fayette Tribune, "Dissolution of the old company will bring deep regrets from hundreds of old employees who have spent their lives in the organization." 
Following the sale, reports came that the Low Moor Iron Company was considering abandoning its operations at Low Moor and Covington, Virginia. According to the Fayette Tribune, "The Virginia furnaces are unable to compete in the iron market with other plants more favorably situated as to natural shipping advantages for both raw and finished products."  In spite of the hopeful longings for a takeover, the Low Moor Iron Company continued to sell its holdings and finally dissolved in 1930. Unfair increases in freight rates on the C&O, and the discovery of rich iron ore in the Midwest, are reasons given for the demise of the Virginia iron industry. During the early years of the Low Moor Iron Company the conditions for manufacturing iron were favorable, with room around Low Moor for expansion, and the control of raw materials. Outside economics, however, tolled the final bell for the company. 
The outside economics included the dreams of entrepreneurs to develop industry in Virginia and West Virginia. The coalfields and railroads were developed, but further industrial build-up did not occur. The two states lacked the industry to consume the coal, and became conduits for passing the coal to other more industrialized states. The South suffered the same fate; plentiful natural resources did not necessarily mean industry and prosperity. Northern states such as Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio possessed interregional transportation, had investment capital, and honed business skills. In the South, and the Virginias, the predominantly agrarian economy resisted the change to a commercial-industrial economy. 
Another factor was the opening of iron ore ranges in the upper Midwest. The Lake Superior ores were lower in phosphorus than the Virginia ores, and their mining was less expensive since they lay close to the earth surface. The iron ranges of Marquette, Menominee, Gogebic, Vermilion, and Mesabi provided an endless supply of high-grade ore to Northern iron and steelmakers at lower prices. 
The mines at Kay Moor fit into these generalized conditions found throughout West Virginia. During the first 25 years of its life, Kay Moor existed for the sole purpose of supplying coal and coke to the Low Moor Iron Company. Extra coal mined which could not be utilized by the Low Moor furnaces was sold, through agents, on the open market, but it was Kay Moor's new owners who were deeply involved with supplying New River smokeless coal on the national and international markets.
Rumors of the impending sale of Kay Moor appeared in the Fayette Tribune as early as April 1924. New River management, including General Superintendent H.M. Bertolet and Charles F. Berwind, inspected the machines and mines at both Kay Moor Nos. 1 and 2. They also tested an undeveloped portion of the property lying on Wolf Creek, and these tests were satisfactory. In 1924 the Kay Moor property was considered to be one of the most valuable on the New River, with more than 5,000 acres, two mines and several hundred coke ovens. 
By August 20 the newspaper predicted "final consummation of the sale of the Low Moor Company coal properties" at Kay Moor and Fayetteville within a few weeks. Negotiations had been underway for several months, and the deal closing was awaiting only the completion of the title abstracts.  Despite this prediction, the sale was not finalized until the following year. Two lawyers were hired, John Wehrle of Charleston and Alexander Hamilton of Fayetteville, to oversee all the details of title and deed research for the property sale. 
The New River and Pocahontas Consolidated Coal and Coke Company took possession on March 1, 1925. Low Moor Superintendent F. U. Humbert confirmed the sale. According to the Fayette Tribune the new company was expected to make "extensive improvements and greatly increase the output of the two mines." One hundred new houses for miners were to be built at Kay Moor Top. 
Chades F. Berwind paid $1,001,000 for the Kay Moor mines, coke ovens, and coal lands. At the time of the sale Frank Lyman was the principal owner of the Low Moor Iron Company. He also headed the Coal Run Land Company, which owned almost all of the coal land in fee on the New River's south side from South Fayette to Thurmond. The Low Moor Iron Company holdings on the New River included 3,000 acres owned in fee and 2,000 acres under lease from the Coal Run Land Company.  Josiah Low, president of the Coal Run Land Company, received $150,000 for two tracts of 1,684 acres in fee and 407 acres of mineral rights. The Low Moor Iron Company conveyed all 3,000 acres, half of it in fee. 
The New River and Pocahontas Consolidated Coal Company produced the greatest tonnage of coal in Fayette County in 1923. It operated 10 mines in the county and 9 mines in McDowell County. The New River and Pocahontas was among the top five coal producers in the Flat Top-Pocahontas and New River coalfields, and was a subsidiary of the Berwind-White Coal Mining Company. An office was located at Minden in the Fayetteville district, and another at Layland in the Quinnimont district. 
Charles F. Berwind was a nineteenth-century industrialist, raised in a Philadelphia banking family. He became vice-president of the Powellton Coal and Iron Company at age 21, and was a parrter of Robert Hare Powell. By 1874 Berwind had reorganized the firm into Berwind-White and Company. He and his brothers Edward, John, and Harry gained a dominant position in coal on the Pennsylvania Railroad and supplied coal for every significant New York steamship company. 
When New River and Pocahontas Consolidated Coal and Coke Company purchased Kay Moor the mine and town became only a small aspect of the Berwind-White empire consisting, in 1947, of the Wilmore Steamship Company, the Porto Rico Coal Company, the Kentland Coal and Coke Company, the Atlantic Coal Company of Massachusetts, the Berwind Fuel Company, the Cabell Coal Company, the Eureka Stores, and the Windber Electric Corporation. The Berwinds sought to control coal production from its mining to the retail outlets. Kay Moor, then, was part of a large corporation which was involved with energy production in the international community during the first 50 years of the twentieth century. 
Even after Kay Moor was sold the Low Moor Iron Company continued to purchase coal from the mines there, if only for a short time. In November and December 1925 Low Moor management ordered coke at a net price of $4.00 per ton f.o.b., (meaning free on board, freight charges paid by sender as opposed to cash on delivery) and different sizes of coal. 
New River and Pocahontas operated Kay Moor No. 1 until it closed in 1962. Near the end of the mine's operational life, New River and Pocahontas leased it to the Barbara Gale Coal Company, which finished the work. 
The coal operators of West Virginia supplied an ever-increasing percentage of coal for the nation's energy needs. They did so, however, at the short-term expense of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and other unionized coal-producing states, and at the long-term expense of West Virginia's economic health.
In West Virginia itself, few benefits were derived from the exploitation of its chief natural resource. The initial development brought in railroads and shipping facilities, but with the exception of the lumber industry, no other industrial investments were made. The concentration of landholding, together with the area's rough topography, made diversification difficult. Because no local or regional markets were available, West Virginia's coal economy became one of labor intensity with only a single export. Most of the income from the coal industry went to a few men who controlled government and economy, while the local population used its income to purchase the necessities of daily life. According to labor historian Thomas Edward Posey, "But the tragedy of it all is that these resources in most instances have been used to enrich outsiders rather than raise the standard of living of the West Virginians." 
The coal industry in southern West Virginia continued to grow even though the hopes for interregional development failed to materialize. The area's topography provided excellent conditions for low cost mining, and the importation of southern blacks and immigrants provided a low cost labor force. The low-volatile coal provided a rich source for steaming and coking, than did coal from other regions. Additionally, southern West Virginia coalfields kept producing even in periods of labor strikes in other states.  Despite this growth, the southern West Virginia region failed to keep up with the rest of the nation both economically and socially.  These same characteristics may be applied to the Appalachian region as a whole.
Throughout the twentieth century southern West Virginia continued to produce one single raw product which was shipped, not to local or regional markets, but to distant ones. The success of the industry deterred a more diversified economy. Income from coal flowed out, into the pockets of out-of-state investors. 
A U.S. Geological Survey analyst, Edward W. Parker, surveyed the situation in 1911;
The height of bituminous coal production was reached in 1923 when more than 700,000 miners worked in 12,000 mines, producing almost a billion tons. Depression in the industry set in by 1925, and by 1927 mines in Appalachia began to decline. Smaller operations folded first, while the larger companies continued to operate but reduced the size of their production and workforce. When the Great Depression hit, the Appalachian coalfields were filled with hunger, unemployment, and destitution. With the outbreak of World War II coal production recovered, but it never again reached the peak of the 1920s. 
Other factors influenced the fall of southern West Virginia coal. Favorable freight rate differentials on the long-haul transportation of coal had allowed southern operators, including those in West Virginia, to enter the Great Lakes markets. Northern operators brought suit before the Interstate Commerce Commission to change the freight rate structure. They requested a .20-per-ton reduction in their rates to the lake ports. On May 28, 1927, the ICC ruled in favor of the northern operators, and this loss of competitive advantage in the midwestern markets aided in depressing the Appalachian coal industry. 
A decline in market demand for coal accompanied the problems of increased shipping costs and overproduction. Gas and oil began to claim their share of the market. Additionally, mine mechanization occurred quickly after 1915. Most of the larger operations used mining machines by 1930, and mechanization significantly reduced the work force. 
The mines at Kay Moor were opened as part of a larger interregional scheme to develop a Virginia iron industry; as this industry failed, Kay Moor became part of another larger market one with national and international influence. But even as a captive mine for the Low Moor Iron Company, Kay Moor exhibited general characteristics of Appalachian coal mining as a whole. It was a mine worked by native and imported laborers who suffered their share of fatal and near-fatal accidents while welding picks and shovels and coping with mechanization. Kay Moor was also renegade in that its owners banded together with other New River operators to keep labor costs down by keeping the UMWA out of West Virginia mines. The story of the major mine at Kay Moor is woven into larger themes of miner pride and independence, senseless deaths resulting from a dangerous occupation with haphazard safety laws, and the decades-long bloody struggle of the UMWA to unionize the West Virginia coalfields.
Last Updated: 30-Jan-2009