Helen, WV

A memorial with statue of coal miner with train cars behind
Coal Miners Memorial in Helen, WV

Mark Bollinger

Quick Facts
Helen, WV

Historical/Interpretive Information/Exhibits, Parking - Auto

African American Heritage Driving Tour Stop 13: African American Coal Miners

In the 1910s, the East Gulf Coal Company opened what came to be known as the Helen Mine and Coal Camp. Realizing their need to attract a more reliable and family-oriented workforce, the coal operators began constructing “model towns.” Here in the model town of Helen there was a boarding house, company store, clubhouse, movie theater, and even a telephone exchange. 

Although Helen had separate and segregated residential areas and businesses, equality for the black coal miner did exist in the coalfields of southern West Virginia.  African Americans could vote, hold public office, and send their children to school. In the mines, blacks were provided equal wages for equal work. About 75 percent of black workers became coal loaders. Others were daymen and coke workers. Picking and loading coal was hard, dangerous, back-breaking work, but provided the most opportunity for earning money. Loaders were paid by the ton, rather than by the hour. A coal loader performed the laborious task of cutting, drilling, blasting, and loading the coal. A dayman hauled the loaded coal from the rooms to the mine face where the coal was weighed and the miner credited for payment. Coke workers performed the hot and laborious job of tending the “beehive” ovens. They filled the ovens with coal and unloaded the finished coke into train cars.

Helen’s population began to decline, especially for African Americans, in the 1950s with the advent of new machinery. After 1953, the services of hand loaders or unskilled laborers were no longer needed. The town, like so many, began its long decline in population and vitality. Helen’s rich heritage lives on in its citizens and in the community’s coal-related street names: Lantern, Check, and Scrip Alleys. 

For the full story go to: African American Coal Miners: Helen, WV

Other nearby places of interest:

Byrd Prillerman High School

Driving Directions:

Physical Address: Tams Highway (Highway 16), Helen WV 25853
GPS Coordinates: N37.636248 -W81.314486

From Beckley, WV: Travel on I-77 north or south to Exit 42. Take Exit 42 (Highway 16 south and 97 west, Robert C. Byrd Drive) and travel three miles on Highway 16/97. Move into the left lane and continue straight at the split onto Highway 121 (Coalfield Expy). Travel 3.8 miles to McKinney Mountain Road (Route 12/12). Turn left on McKinney Mountain Road and travel until it dead ends into Highway 16. Turn right on Highway 16 south and travel 5 miles to Helen, WV. Turn right into the Coal Miners Memorial Park (Old Delta 60, Route 16/26). Tour Stop location (Coal Miners Monument) is on the right.

Directions to the next Tour Stop:

Stratton Elementary School
Physical Address: 1129 S. Fayette Street, Beckley, WV 25801
GPS Coordinates: N37.766545 -W81.173965

From Helen, take Hwy 16 North 8 miles to Sophia and turn left at the traffic light. Travel 5.5 miles to Neville Street in Beckley and turn right. Travel 5 blocks to South Fayette Street and turn right. Travel 1.2 miles to Stratton Elementary School. Tour Stop and parking is in front of the school.


New River Gorge National Park & Preserve

Last updated: May 24, 2022