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SWITCHBACK & MAYBEURY, W.VA.

Switchback and Maybeury are two coal camps that kind of run together. Shamokin Coal & Coke Co. built Maybeury circa 1890, and it was named after coal operators James May and William Beury. Shamokin, which was probably named after the Pennsylvania anthracite coal town, shipped their first coal in 1888. A few years later the company began coking some of their coal in beehive coke ovens at Maybeury.

Maybeury and Switchback also housed the workers and their families of Norfolk Coal & Coke Company's Norfolk, Angle, Delta, and Lick Branch mines, which began production in the 1890s. In 1905 Pocahontas Consolidated Collieries Co. bought out Norfolk Coal & Coke, as well as Shamokin Coal & Coke Co. After 1916 the company was renamed Pocahontas Fuel Co., and they operated these mines until, one by one (Lick Branch 1936, Shamokin 1942, Delta 1943), the reserves ran out. They closed the last one, Angle mine, in 1958.

The mines and mining camps up Barlow Hollow (Elkhorn Coal & Coke, Mill Creek Coal & Coke) could be considered part of Maybeury, too.

50 men died in an explosion in the Lick Branch coal mine on December 29, 1908. About two weeks later, on January 7, 1909 the Lick Branch mine blew up again, this time killing 65 men. Both were attributed to "operator errors" of the miners.

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Mar. 2005 image by author

One of the last wooden company stores in WV was this one in Maybeury. Allowed to fall into ruin, it has been demolished.


Circa 1991 WV SHPO image

This is the company store at Maybeury as it looked over 25 years ago. There was even a portion of it on the right front that later came completely off.


Image courtesy of elkhornhigh.com

Although Pocahontas Fuel Co. closed the company store in the 1950s, as you can see here, it still functioned as a local convenience store into the 1970s.


2002 image courtesy of Mick Vest

Scant remains of coke ovens near Maybeury. A 1918 article in The Black Diamond stated, "Of the 2,700 beehive coke ovens originally owned by the company but 300 are now fired and it is the intention of the management to discontinue their use as soon as existing contracts can be terminated as they realize the enormous waste of burning Pocahontas No. 3 raw coal in the old-fashioned beehive ovens."


Feb. 2017 image by author

Nice brick company houses in a section of Maybeury that may have been known as "New Row" because it was built later. It has been suggested that these were constructed from fire brick from the coke ovens when they were removed. If so, then someone did a heck of a job cleaning the sooty fire bricks up.


Feb. 2017 image by author

Other styles of coal company housing in Maybeury.


Mar. 2017 image by author

A few years ago these Maybeury homes were still occupied. Too many people have had to leave McDowell County, either by outmigration, death, or even imprisonment, and there aren't enough people moving in to take their place.


Feb. 2017 image by author

This big train trestle runs over Route 52 in Maybeury.


Mar. 2022 image by author

Norfolk-Southern coal train going over the trestle. Click here for high-resolution image.


April 2014 image by author

These coal camp houses along Route 52 in Switchback sit behind cut stone walls that were probably built by Italian stone masons. The black arrow points to a remaining "coal house," where the company would deposit the coal that the families in the company houses would use to heat and cook with.


Mar. 2022 image by author

Eight years later I found these company houses still in existence, a little worse for the wear.


April 2014 image by author

Another "coal house" in front of a company house at Switchback.


Feb. 2017 image by author

A once magnificent house - probably for a mine official - in Switchback.


Feb. 2017 image by author

These Switchback coal camp houses were probably for the families of the miners of the Delta and Lick Branch mines.


Feb. 2017 image by author

Someone took one of the original "coal houses" and made a shed of sorts.


Feb. 2017 image by author

This was probably a row of management houses at Switchback.


Feb. 2017 image by author

This is a well-kept little cottage on the hillside in Switchback. In the background is the former mansion of coal baron James Ellwood Jones.


Mar. 2022 image by author

Former home, with swimming pool, of the well-regarded James Ellwood Jones, son of Pocahontas Coalfield pioneer Jenkin Jones. The house sat on a point overlooking the surrounding coal mines and coal camps. James Jones was part of the managment of Norfolk Coal & Coke. Later he was General Manager of Pocahontas Consolidated Collieries Company. After that, Jones was Vice President of Pocahontas Fuel Co. He passed away in 1932.


Mar. 2022 image by author

Detail of the stained glass windows on the Jones house. Note how three of the windows together form a quasi-circular shape.


Mar. 2022 image by author

In the back yard of the house can be found this circular fountain and detached covered patio. Jones imported non-native tree species to this property, and a some of them can be seen in this photo.


Mar. 2022 image by author

James Ellwood Jones's terraced garden.


Mar. 2022 image by author

What looks like a coal mine portal lintel dated "1918" on the Jones property. Perhaps this was his private entrance into the maze of mines that he was operating.


Circa 1991 WV SHPO image

This was once the Pocahontas Fuel Company Switchback store. I saw it from Route 52 when I was riding in a car in 2000. Next time I was through there it was gone.


Apr. 2014 image by author

This forlorn structure near Switchback was once Elkhorn District High School.


Feb. 2017 image by author

This defunct old power house overlooks the Switchback community. This power station, which came on line in 1907, was originally built to power the Angle, Delta, Lick Branch, Norfolk, and Shamokin mines; and even the Sagamore mine several miles away in Mercer County. Later it also powered Cherokee, Rolfe, and Caswell Creek mines; and even mines in Tazewell County, Va. A 1918 article in The Black Diamond states, "The central power station of the old Pocahontas Consolidated Collieries Company, Incorporated,located at Switchback, was taken over by the Appalachian Power Company at the time of its entry in the field and is now reserved for emergency uses. The company's power comes in from its hydro-electric power stations on the New River, in Virginia, over 88,000 volts long distance transmission lines and at the Switchback sub-station a step down is used for securing a voltage of 13,000 volts for distribution over the field."


Feb. 2017 image by author

Front wall of the power house.


Feb. 2017 image by author

Behind the powerstation lies a clue about its origins. Red arrow points to what was probably the coal mine portal. Pocahontas Consolidated/ Pocahontas Fuel originally fed this powerhouse right out of the ground from the Delta coal mine via conveyor or mine locomotives.


Feb. 2017 image by author

Detail of a door on the power house.


Feb. 2017 image by author

Another view of the Switchback power house.


Feb. 2017 image by author

Detail of an infilled window on the power house.


Feb. 2018 image by author

This little old building in Maybeury was once a pump station for the town's water works. (Thanks to Alex Schust for identifying this for me.)


Feb. 2018 image by author

From the other side of the pump house a tower on the roof is visible.


2009 WVDEP AML Program image

Abandoned bridge from a mine locomotive railroad that brought coal to the Norfolk/Angle tipple.


Mar. 2022 image by author

A few remaining houses from the Angle mine.


Nov. 2000 image by author

Tipple foundations near Maybeury were from the Angle / Norfolk mines tipple.


Mar. 2022 image by author

Ruins of the Norfolk mine.


Mar. 2022 image by author

Looking down from the site of the Norfolk mine toward the tipple foundations on the other side of Route 52. The sections of steel beams once supported a conveyor that crossed the road to the tipple. The tipple also processed coal for the Angle mine.


ERCA collection image

The Norfolk - Angle tipple a long time ago.


Mar. 2022 image by author


Nov. 2000 image by author

Concrete piers from a railroad trestle at Maybeury. Norfolk & Western realigned the railroad in this region in the 1930s. This trestle was removed at that time.

"The landscape record of mining infrastructure is expressed subtly by numerous relict features. Sealed mine entrances, like the entry opened at Deerfield in 1945, make a tacit statement from the past. At Maybeury, only the concrete piers of the railroad trestle remain, standing as stark monuments to a past era of economic activity. Across the region, stoneworks of foundations and retaining walls crafted by immigrant Italian masons exist as ubiquitous markers indentifying abandoned mine entries and tramways. Sue Newton, a Keystone resident, observed that today people look unkindly on McDowell County and its hard times and forget that for a long time it brought a lot of money and jobs to West Virginia. It also is easy to forget the area's lengthy contribution to national industrial expansion." From "A Southern West Virginia Mining Community Revisited" by Tyrel G. Moore. (Southeastern Geographer, 1998)



Source(s):

Schust, Alex P. Billion Dollar Coalfield: West Virginias McDowell County and the Industrialization of America. Two Mule Pub., 2010.

Sone, April, WV SHPO. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Jones, James Ellwood House. 1992

WV state mining records


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