The Christian family of Lynchburg, VA founded Imperial Colliery Co. at Burnwell in 1901, and coal production began in 1903. By 1920 there were four mines. Imperial eventually opened and closed many mines, numbered from 1 to 24, around Burnwell, though they were not all open at the same time. In 1920 Imperial No. 1 mine in Eagle coal employed 60 miners; Imperial No. 3, also in Eagle Coal, employed 70 miners; and Imperial No. 4 in the No. 2 Gas seam employed 70 miners. The company closed the last Burnwell mines in 1984, when the WV coal industry was in a serious depression. But the company itself stayed in business, presumably managing and leasing their various assets. In the 21st Century Imperial Colliery Co. is still listed as an active company in Lynchburg, with Lynch Christian, a descendent of founder Judge Frank Christian, as president.

Belive it or not, a pop singer named Jennie Smith was born in Burnwell.

Image from "Kanawha County Images, A Bicentennail History 1788-1988" by Stan Cohen

The Imperial Colliery company store at Burnwell, WV was built in 1903, and was the last coal company store to close in West Virginia (and probably all of America). It was still being operated by the Imperial Colliery Co. as late as January, 1993, when it was burned by arsonists. They kept the store open because it was popular with workers on the West Virginia Turnpike. In its last days the store mostly sold sandwiches, but it was still functioning as a store selling such items as miners' boots.


1969-New River Company - Scarbro and Skelton stores

1970s-New River Company - MacDonald (Mt. Hope) store

Mid-1970s Consolidation Coal Company - Lynco, Bramwell, & Turkey Gap stores

Circa 1977-Westmoreland Coal Company - McAlpin, Eccles, Quinwood, and Crab Orchard stores

1980-Youngstown Mines Corporation - Dehue store

1980-Olga Coal/LTV Steel - Coalwood and Caretta stores

1980's-Amherst Coal Company - Yolyn store

1983-Island Creek Coal Company - various locations such as Holden, Lundale, Van, Oceana, Herndon, Craigsville, and others

Circa 1990-Peabody Coal Company - Montcoal store (Standard supply)

Circa 1990 - Bethlehem Steel - Eunice store

1993 - Imperial Colliery Company - Burnwell store

WV SHPO image

The company store in its later days.

When the Burnwell store burned the Associate Press wrote, "Few such stores still stand in West Virginia's withering coal towns; residents said Burnwell's was one of the best preserved. 'It feels like family died,' said Julia Massey Hall, 78 ... The fire also destroyed countless antique grocery supplies and mining artifacts and destroyed the town's post office, located inside. 'It's like a whole period of my life has been wiped out,' said Bobby Neal, 57, who worked at the store as a teen-ager ... The village, founded in 1901, was once home to hundreds, but only 60 live there now." I would add that, in the 2010's, that number has probably dwindled to about a dozen, mostly in mobile homes, and none in coal company structures.

Image from "Kanawha County Images, A Bicentennail History 1788-1988" by Stan Cohen

The now-vanished coal camp of Burnwell. All of the company-built structures shown here have vanished.

Apr. 2009 image by author

Imperial Colliery's repair shops still remain at Burnwell, although they are dilapidated. These are latter day ruins, and do not date back to the original construction of Burnwell in the early 1900's.

Sept. 2005 image by author

This small shed also remains from the Burnwell mining operations.

Circa 1906 C&O Railroad image via Google Books

Original Burnwell tipple.

Image from a 1922 Keystone Directory via Google Books