Laurel Creek is between Greenwood Mountain and Backus Mountain in Fayette County. As soon as the Cheasapeake & Ohio opened the railroad through the New River Gorge in 1873, a short branch line was built up Laurel Creek by a company called New River Coal Co. (not the big New River Co. that later operated out of Mt. Hope). This short railroad served coal mines and coke ovens that supplied the iron making operations at Quinnimont. By 1898 the railroad had been extended to around Lawton. In 1904 the C&O purchased this rail branch and built the rest of the line up Laurel Creek hollow to what would become Layland. Several coal mines exploited the Fire Creek coal seam that averaged 4 feet thick along Laurel Creek, and by 1919 nine mines were reported to be operating along Laurel Creek. Most of these mines were worked out by the 1950's, but coal was mined at Layland until the 1980's. (It was orignally a 60,000 acre lease, so no wonder it lasted so long.) Sometime after that the railroad was removed, and today there are probably less than 25 people living between Layland and Quinnimont.

At the top of the hollow is Layland. Layland was the New River and Pocahontas Consolidated Coal Company's No. 3 mine.

April 2001 image by author

The coal camp looking up the hollow in 2001. There were three foreman's homes and two miner's homes left.

Febuary 2003 image by author

In 2003 I was passing through Layland and snapped this photo of the few remaining company houses, some of which were still inhabited.

January 2013 image by author

By 2013 one of the smaller miners' homes had burned down, and the other had been demolished. However, these two larger coal camp houses were extant. Although they are empty and abandoned, someone is still mowing the grass around them, perhaps the residents of the other (well maintained) company house next door, and out of sight in this photo.

April 2001 image by author

Layland Junior High is in sorry shape.

April 2001 image by author

There were no remaining students at Layland Grade School when I took this picture several years ago. It has since been demolished.

Phyllis writes, "I was born and raised in Layland in the 40's and 50's. The pictures of the very schools that I attended brought tears to my eyes. My father worked in the Layland Mine for over 40 years until he was forced to retire in 1956 suffering from "black lung". While we never actually lived in the mining camp,we were very much part of the community-shopping in the Company Store and seeing the Company doctor who had an office upstairs above the Company office. His name was Dr.Haggerty and he delivered my brother at home."

April 2001 image by author

Old cut stone mine buildings, possibly the powerhouse or maintenance shop, are being reused by a mine supply company. I haven't found the actual tipple remnants, if there are any, but it was described by the WV Geological Survey as being "constructed of steel, and was equipped with bar screens with 3-inch, 1 1/2-inch, and 3/4-inch spaces, making it possible to load four sizes of coal, including run-of-mine."

October 1998 image by author

Another view of the old mine buildings (taken with a 5 dollar camera).

C&O Railway image via of Google Books

This is what these mine buildings looked like when they were new.

Bureau of Mines image courtesy of MSHA

The worst mine explosion in Fayette County history happened on March 2, 1915 when Layland No. 3 mine blew up. 112 men died in the blast. Here is the mine rescue train coming up Laurel Creek after the explosion.

Image contributed by a reader

Here is the Layland mine portal after the explosion. I'm not sure that this picture has ever been published.

From the Bureau of Mines report on the Layland mine explosion: "The explosion occurred at 8:30 a.m. resulting in the death of 114 men inside the mine and 1 outside. Fifty-four men afterward escaped alive from the mine. Seven came out from 2 to 5 hours after the explosion; 5 more escaped unassisted at 8 a.m. on March 6, and 42 others were rescued an hour later. Of those killed, 44 died from suffocation. The store porter passing the drift mouth at a distance of 100 feet at the time of the explosion was hurled against a post and killed. The force of the explosion bursting from the drift mouth shook buildings and broke windows in the vicinity. The drift mouth was wrecked and the fan doors blown off ... An accumlation of gas on 4 left entry off No. 4 mains was thought to have have been ignited by an open light, which resulted in an explosion propagated by coal dust to other sections of the mine. Gas was encountered infrequently, and no attention was given to maintaining ventilation on that account. No firebosses were employed."

Aug. 2018 image by author

My son and I were driving through the area and found that this memorial to the Layland mine disaster had been constructed. Very nice!

1980's image courtesy of Mary Alice Goins

The abandoned Layland tipple after the mines closed.

1980's image courtesy of Mary Alice Goins

Conveyor coming from the head house on top of the hill down to the prep plant.

WV SHPO image

Ruins of one of the Layland mines.

WV SHPO image

This was some kind of coal mine portal - perhaps a ventilating fan.

WV SHPO image

Peering inside the fan portal.

WV SHPO image

This was probably a dynamite storage shed.

January 2013 image by author

The next mine down the valley from Layland was Hemlock Hollow Mine, owned and operated by Hemlock Hollow Coal & Coke Company, who marketed their coal under the "New River Smokeless" trade name. One source said that Hemlock's coal was "shipped mostly to tide-water for steam." I understand that to mean that their coal went by rail east to Chesapeake & Ohio Railway's docks at Newport News, VA, then was loaded into barges and shipped up the Eastern Seaboard to heat homes and businesses in the Northeast and New England. This was an imporatant coal market at the time, and was probably why Hemlock Coal & Coke was stressing the "smokeless" factor in their trade name. Nobody in Baltimore or Providence or Boston wanted to heat their home with smoky, stinky high volatile coal.

Coal was mined at Hemlock Hollow from 1904 until 1933. Once there were 50 houses and a store there, but I only found this one home remaining.

Image by others

Here's a receipt for 1/2 ton of "nut" size coal from a coal distributor in Lewiston, Maine from 1934. The New England market was a good example of one of the main outlets for West Va. smokeless coal. Like another market - steam trains - it is a market that is now gone for good.

Image courtesy of Walter Caldwell

Moving down the creek the next mine we would have came to would have been Greenwood Coal Company's Greenwood Mine. This old photo of the Greenwood colliery says Brownwood at the bottom. Brownwood seems to have been the name for Greenwood Coal Company's coal camp.

April 2001 image by author

Ruins of the Greenwood power house. The Greenwood mine produced "smokeless" Fire Creek coal from 1898 until 1951.

January 2013 image by author

A closer look at the ruins of the Greenwood tipple ruins reveals the remains of a rotary coal screen. The rotting wood frame of the tipple has collapsed into a heap here. C&O Railway's 1906 shipper's directory noted that the Greenwood mine could produce up to 1,000 tons a day of lump, nut, smithing, slack, egg, and run-of-mine coal."

Image from Keystone Mining Catalog via Google Books

Although I didn't see who the manufacturer of the revolving screen at Greenwood was, here is a revolving screen from a 1920 mining catalog that was made by the Allis-Chalmers Manufacturing Co. of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

January 2013 image by author

Remaining foundations from the Greenwood incline. In 2001 I could see the headhouse at the top of these foundations was still existing, but I didn't walk all the way up to look at it. Now that headhouse is gone, and I wish I had photographed it.

January 2013 image by author

This image is showing the Greenwood incline ruins (red arrows) and a rusting monitor car (green arrow).

January 2013 image by author

A closer view of the monitor car at the Greenwood mine site.

January 2013 image by author

Although scant, I was excited to find these ruins of the beehive coke ovens at Greenwood. In 1906 there were 60 ovens at Greenwood.

January 2013 image by author

CSX pulled up the Laurel Creek railroad branch years ago, but a portion of the Greenwood siding can still be found.

Image courtesy of Mary Alice Goins

Company store at Greenwood after the mine had closed.

1915 image courtesy of Brenda Berry Hunt

Vintage picture of Greenwood coal camp, which must have also been called Brownwood.

Mike writes, "My mom's dad operated the tipple at the Greenwood mine around the 1930s and 40s, and consequently the family lived in a coal camp house near the top of the Greenwood incline. My mom remembers riding a coal car on the incline to get up and down the mountain. My favorite story is about her dad building them a doll house made from empty dynamite boxes. My mom's brother work in the lamp house at the mine, and her other brother worked in the mine until the roof collapsed and badly damaged his leg. My dad worked in the Hemlock mine, but quit because he thought it was too dangerous. He then joined the Army."

Next to Greenwood was the Quinnimont Coal Company's Lawton mine. Apparently this is not the same company as Quinnimont Coal & Coke Co.

About a quarter of a mile downstream of Lawton, the Quinnimont Coal & Coke Company operated the Big Q coal mine and coke works (98 ovens reported in 1906). I'm not sure if there was any company housing associated with Big Q, but there was a company store. I have located this mine by the description in state mining records, and also because it shows up on neighboring Glendale Colliery's mine map. In 1919 the WV Geological Survey described what would be called favorable conditions at the Big Q Mine: 3'-8" to 4'-3" of coal with a roof made of strong dark shale and a floor made of hard shale.

2013 image courtesy of Randall Rice

Ruins of the Big Q tipple foundations.

Image courtesy of Walter Caldwell

This is the Glendale Colliery Company store that used to be located at the Glendale mine. The C&O Railway shippers guide glowingly described this store as "a splendid commissary carrying a large stock of goods which are sold at reasonable figures." I guess that so many of the coal company stores charged exorbitant prices that when one of the charged "reasonable" prices it was noteworthy.

Image courtesy of Walter Caldwell

Shown here are students at the Glendale school. In 1906 the C&O Railroad reported that the Glendale Colliery company "has also a large number of houses for the use of its employees." By looking at the USGS map (shown below) I believe that the Glendale coal camp was located at the top of the mountain, near Backus, and not down along Laurel Creek. But their tipple was on Laurel Creek.

Image courtesy of Walter Caldwell

This vintage photo features the engineer and the brakeman of this little locomotive at Glendale. The layout of the Glendale Colliery Co. mine was interesting: The mine portal was on top of Backus Mountain, and a rail haulage tram road brought the coal from this distant portal, through their coal camp, and to a headhouse at the top of the mountain overlooking Laurel Creek. Then it was brought down an incline to the railroad and shipped to market. Later the tram road was extended to another mine two hollows away. The coal was brought out of the drift mouth and onto a bridge across Bucklick Branch, then through a tunnel, across another bridge, through another tunnel, and finally joining the main tram road to the incline. They must have used one half of their coal just to run their locomotive back and forth all day.

Glendale Colliery Co. was part of the Beury family portfolio of coal mines. The Glendale mines average output in 1909 was 250 tons per day. It was worked out and abandoned in 1916.

January 2013 image by author

Laurel Creek was not only the name of the hollow and rail branch, but it was also the name of a mine and coal camp down the creek from the Glendale tipple. In 1898 a drift entry was punched into the Fire Creek seam, and mining at Laurel Creek had begun. Eventually Laurel Creek Coal Company built 60 houses and a company store. Coal production peaked with 196,680 tons in 1934, and the mine closed in 1953. This photo shows Laurel Creek today - one remaining house and the company store ruins. Though this picture was taken at 1:00 in the afternoon, the house in the shadows had seen all of the sun it would see on that day in this narrow Appalachian "holler."

January 2013 image by author

A closer look at the roofless remains of the Laurel Creek company store.

Continuing down the hollow from Laurel creek one would have came to the Export Mine. This mine was opened in 1907 by the Robbins Coal Co., which I have also seen spelled with one "b." In 1908 either the company was renamed Export Coal Company or Robbins sold the one year old coal mine to a new firm. Anyhow, the rechristened Export Mine produced coal until 1926, even though a 1920 Keystone Coal Fields Directory listed the company as having gone out of business. But state mine records show Export Coal Co. owning the mine until at least 1926.

The Export mine was described by the West Virginia Geological Survey in their 1919 Fayette County report: "The coal at this mine was mined by hand near the top of the bed, and was shot down with black powder. The tipple was not equipped with screens; the entire output was shipped as run-of-mine coal. This is a coking coal, but there was no ovens (sic) at this plant."

Image from 1906 C&O Shipper's Directory via Google Books

Coke workers in 1906 at Quinnimont Coal Company's beehive coke ovens. These coke ovens were constructed in the 1870's to supply the iron furnace at Quinnimont. In 1879 80 ovens were reported to be in operation. By the time this picture was published C&O claimed that there were 100 ovens, though another source I have seen said 93. (I can't help but believe the 93 figure is more accurate. I think some of the other reporting back then rounded up, because there are too many quantities from back when that are nice round multiples of ten.) In 1919 the WV Geological Survey reported that the Quinnimont mines feeding these ovens were in a section of Fire Creek coal that ranged from 30" to 48".

February 2003 image by author

As you can see the Quinnimont coke ovens are still partially there along Laurel Creek. The creek's shoreline was not originally that close to the ovens. Rather this is erosion and damage from the monster July 8, 2001 flood that caused the road between Quinnimont and Layland to be closed for several months.

I have quilted the Beckley and Meadow Creek USGS topo maps together to show the complete Laurel Creek district of the New River Coalfield. I have also added text to show some features. At Quinnimont the Laurel Creek railroad branch joined the main line of the C&O at the "wye" train yard there. Then the fine "smokeless" Fire Creek seam coal could go east to heat homes in Northeastern cities or west to midwestern steel and industrial facilities.