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KOPPERSTON, WV

Kopperston was named after Koppers Coal Co. who founded the town in 1938 as one of the last company-built coal camps in Appalachia. The next year they mined 329,864 tons of coal there. By the time Koppers had metamorphisized into Eastern Associated, they were mining millions of tons per year in the Eagle and Campbell's Creek seams. The tipple continued to process contract coal until it was closed in 1997. The last superintendent was Mike Phipps. Norfolk-Southern was recently still using a loadout at the Kopperston site to load coal from Eastern's Harris No. 1 mine, which came over the mountain via a 5 mile long overland conveyor that has no idlers.



May 2001 image by author

This weathered sign was still on the abandoned bath house in 2001.


1940's image from "A Medical Survey of the Bituminous Coal Industry" via the National Archives

Old photo of miners at the mine portal.


2004 image courtesy of Harold Trent

The Kopperston coal processing plant just before its demolition.


Aug. 2001 image by author

The big idle prep plant at Kopperston as it looked in August 2001.


Image courtesy VT ImageBase, housed and operated by Digital Library and Archives, University Libraries; scanning by Digital Imaging, Learning Technologies, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University)

The original prep plant before all of the upgrades and additions.


Dec. 2000 image by author

The old loadout behind the defunct prep plant.


Dec. 2000 image by author

The refuse conveyor and the slate dump.


1940's image from "A Medical Survey of the Bituminous Coal Industry" via the National Archives

This was the aerial tramway to the slate dump before the conveyor was installed.


May 2001 image by author

The railyard looking down toward the plant. This was actually the end of the line for the Virginian (later Norfolk-Southern) Morri Branch that ran from Baileysville through Lynco and Oceana.


1940's image from "A Medical Survey of the Bituminous Coal Industry" via the National Archives

I think these coal miners are standing in line either for their brass checks or to get their lamp batteries charged at the lamp house.


1940's image from "A Medical Survey of the Bituminous Coal Industry" via the National Archives

Inside the bath house.


1940's image from "A Medical Survey of the Bituminous Coal Industry" via the National Archives

Old picture of the Kopperston bath house.


May 2001 image by author

The abandoned bath house after the Kopperston mines were closed.


May 2001 image by author

The Mid-Century Modern-styled maintenance shop.


1946 image courtesy U.S. Department of Interior

Kopperston coal camp in its prime.


May 2001 image by author

Kopperston feels more like a quaint little town than a coal camp because Koppers Company took the novel approach of building houses that didn't all look alike. It probably rivaled Holden as the nicest coal company town in Southern West Virginia.


Mar. 2002 image by author

View of coal company houses along the road in Kopperston.


1940's image from "A Medical Survey of the Bituminous Coal Industry" via the National Archives

Kopperston company houses when they were newer, again showing the use of a variety of home styles, as opposed to the rows of cookie cutter houses common in most coal company towns. Of course Kopperston was one of the last coal camps to be constructed, so industrial worker reforms would be more obvious in a "model" coal town built in the 1930's than a coal camp built in 1910.


1940's image from "A Medical Survey of the Bituminous Coal Industry" via the National Archives

A back yard of a small but tidy company house.


1940's image from "A Medical Survey of the Bituminous Coal Industry" via the National Archives

This photo of the inside of a Koppertson company house defies the perception that coal mining towns had to be squalid and filthy. This looks like it could have been anywhere in America.


Image courtesy of Haga's "Triubte to the Coal Miner" with permission

The art deco Koppers Company store is no longer there.


1940's image from "A Medical Survey of the Bituminous Coal Industry" via the National Archives

Happy, healthy coal miners' kids.


May 2001 image by author

The boarded up school at Kopperston.


1940's image from "A Medical Survey of the Bituminous Coal Industry" via the National Archives

Kopperston school when it was open many years ago.


May 2001 image by author

The walkway under Rt. 85 to the Kopperston No. 1 mine mouth.


May 2001 image by author


Author's collection


Ray writes, "I grew up in an a typical coal town, Kopperston, where my step dad was the General Tipple Foreman. Kopperston was supposed to be the show-town of Eastern Gas & Fuel, Koppers Division, and was purchased by the Peabody Coal company after I left in 1959. The company store, operated by Koppers while I lived there, was sold to Island Creek Coal company, and later demolished. I was last in Kopperston in the early 1990's, and the store was being taken down at that time. I had no desire to work in the mines, being somewhat apprehensive about going underground. I do remember clouds of black dust coming down the valley (holler) day after day. Mom would have me rinse off the porch almost daily, so as not to track the dust in the house, which was a losing cause, as you can imagine. The creek ran black from the process of cleaning the coal, and remained that way for years, before they began pumping the waste water to the other side of the huge slate dump. It wasn't too long after that minnows began living in the cleaned water. We lived just south of the Company Store. My brother worked for Eastern Gas, in the main Kopperston office. He told me Kopperston was one of the most productive mines in WV, sending two 150 car trains out per day. I also remember the switch from steam to diesel."


Ray also contributed a panoramic photo of Kopperston. It is too wide for this webpage, but here is part of it. (Image courtsy of Ray)


From a Bluefield Daily Telegraph article from Feb. 24, 1974 titled, "Kopperston: Don't Look For Problems Here:"

The asphalt sidewalk glistens in the February sun as you pass the little houses with closed gates and neatly trimmed shrubs. You count the broken lines on the streets worn by scuffing feet of children on their way to a nearby school. At the end of the street is Kopperston Elementary School. About 250 children attend. Across the highway in front of the school runs a creek devoid of coal dust — yet it meanders through a hollow in the heart of one of the nations most renown coal communities. You breathe cool winter air — no smoke, no smog, no pollution — only clean, fresh air. The wives of coal miners sweep their porches and sidewalks in front of their immaculate homes in a neat row along the highway. Their men amble either to or from work with little gray lunch boxes.

A jolly old man stands at the end of the walkway. He could be a grandfather. He is a retired coal miner. You talk to him for a moment and he tells you he helped build the Kopperston coal camp in the 1940s after having given up driving mules in Wyoming and Boone counties. He worked in the mines at Kopperston and retired after 20 years. Now he leads a tranquil life, swapping stories about the early days, enjoying his 76th year. Down the lane lives the Alfreys. Marvin and Judy and their son, Byron, who is a student at Kopperston Elementary. Mrs. Alfrey teaches the 5th grade at the school. She and her son walk the short distance together each morning. Marvin Alfrey is employed by Eastern Associated Coal Corp. at Kopperston Mine as a cleaning plant operator. The Alfreys have lived In the model coal camp for nearly six years. Advantages: “ It’s nice for the children here,” Mrs. Alfrey explained. “ There are playgrounds on every other block, swings, merry-go-rounds, two baseball fields, a recreation facility and other things for young people.” The mother was born at Kopperston to a coal mining family. Her father, Elba Gillenwater, 64, of Kopperston is still active in mining there. She continued about her home: “ People go out of their way to help one another here. You don’t have to be afraid. You don’t have to lock your doors. Children can play out-of-doors and ride bicycles in the street.” She added, “Some people wouldn’t believe how nice it is in Kopperston. There are no shacks, no dirty water, no dirty children as people in the larger cities imagine about coal camps.

Some 10,000 acres was surveyed out on Toney Fork in Wyoming County, near Oceana, in the 1930s and plans were made to open one of the richest virgin coal fields in the state. After 1938, a total of 238 of the most modem homes of any mine community were built each with up-to-date conveniences such as furnaces, baths and sewage facilities. Concrete sidewalks, paved streets and town lighting were included in the community. Now the miners own their own homes, purchased from Eastern Association Coal Corp. which built them for the company employes. During summer, Eastern Associated Coal Corp. sponsors a summer camp near Hinton [Camp Lightfoot] for hundreds of miners’ children.

Kopperston is served by the Virginian Railroad and is the largest single producer of coal on the railroad. Production has increased from 18,142 tons in 1938 when No. 1 Mine, Big Eagle Seam, was first opened to more then 2,000,000 tons in 1973 for both No. 1 and No. 2 mines. There are approximately 400 employes at No. 1 Mine where coal is loaded with mechanical loaders, continuous miners, and longwalls. Production is 4,200 tons daily. Number 2 mine, Campbell Creek Seam, which was opened in 1942, employes 550 men and the coal is loaded with mechanical loaders and continuous miners, producing 4,400 tons daily. The coal is pulled by 20-ton locomotives of the latest design in 8-ton drop bottom I mine cars to a bin inside the I mine where it is dumped and conveyed by retarding conveyors to No. 1 Mine and again loaded into mine cars and taken to the tipple. Number 1 Mine uses 30-ton locomotives and 10-ton capacity mine cars to transport the coal. The combined tonnage of No. 1 and No. 2 mines is approximately 8,600 tons per day. Coal reserves are expected to last about 30 years, according to company reports [turned out to be closer to 25 years].

A modern church was completed at Kopperston in 1945 where a large number of residents attend spiritual and social functions. Much interest is centered upon various activities of young people, including the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cubs and Brownies. Two log cabins were built and another is under construction for their meetings. Students attend Kopperston Elementary School and are later transported to Oceana High School. For recreation, there is the Lions Club, baseball, basketball, softball, gardening and various social functions, as well as three equipped playgrounds for the children.


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