Nuttallburg was a booming coal town along the New River utilized by Henry Ford for his steel mills. Before Ford purchased the coal business, Nuttallburg was founded by John Nuttall, who only enjoyed modest profits until he sold his company to Ford. During Ford’s coal mine operation, technological advances were created in this area to enhance the transfer of the coal from its place in the mountain to the coke oven. Along with Nutalburg’s unique coal history comes the diverse ethnicities of miners who worked in the area. Among them was Carter G. Woodson, known as the ‘Father of Black History,” who moved to Nuttallburg with his brothers to earn money for schooling. He worked several years at Nuttallburg and the nearby Kaymoor mine. Mining operations ceased in 1958, and the area's economy is now centered on a variety of activities, including outdoor and heritage tourism. Many of the structures built by the Ford company remain. The site is now operated by the National Park Service and with various trails and interpretive signs that share the history of coal mining along the New River.
Backstory and Context
In 1870, English businessman John Nuttall decided to invest in the coal-rich area of the New River Gorge. In 1873 he and his family founded the town of Nuttallburg, a profitable coal mining town located next to the C & O Railway and along the New River. When he died in 1897, the Nuttall family owned thousands of acres of land, operated profitable coal mines, and provided a source of employment for hundreds of mine workers and their families. Nuttallburg, however, did not wholly prosper until the 1920s when the Fordson Coal Company made improvements to the town.
During the 1920s, Henry Ford attempted vertical integration, a practice whereby an industry controls all aspects of production, from raw materials to finished product. By purchasing coalmines such as Nuttallburg, Ford wished to control the coal supply for his steel mills. In the end, Ford’s vertical integration was unsuccessful because he could not control the railroads. Despite this, the Fordson Coal Company upgraded several pieces of mining equipment, including the tipple and conveyor. The mine entrance was located halfway up the mountain; in order to transfer coal without breakage, the Fairmont Mining Machinery Company engineered a 1,385ft. long conveyor featuring button and rope technology. This technology consisted of a heavy wire (rope) with iron discs (buttons) spaced at four ft. intervals to move coal safely down the sharp inclination. The tipple was constructed to store the coal, load it into rail cars, and transfer it to coke ovens. Nuttallburg had three tracks that passed underneath the tipple, allowing for optimal coal production.
African Americans made up a large part of the workforce in mines throughout the region; many were immigrants from the south seeking a better life. To be sure, the advertising campaigns of coal companies and the professional labor recruiters spurred southern blacks to move to the coalfields (Trotter, Coal, Class, and Color, 79). Nuttallburg was one of the many towns that recruited African American labor workers. The town, however, was segregated and maintained separate schools, churches, and other facilities. Despite this, African Americans were able to earn a decent living in the New River area. At the age of seventeen, Carter G. Woodson moved to Nuttallburg with his brothers to earn money for schooling. He worked several years at Nuttallburg and the nearby Kaymoor mine, often reading the news to illiterate black miners. Once he received his Bachelor of Literature degree, Woodson moved to the town of Winona to teach. Woodson went on to become the second African American to earn a Ph.D. at Harvard University, making a life for himself out of his humble beginnings in the small mining town of Nuttallburg.
Nuttallburg's mines passed through the hands of different owners until production ceased in 1958. In 1998 the Nuttall family transferred ownership of Nuttallburg to the National Park Service. By 2005 the site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, mostly due to Henry Ford’s role in the production of the town. In 2011 the National Park Service completed a multi-year project that involved clearing vegetation and stabilizing structures. Today it is considered one of the most intact examples of a coal mining complex in West Virginia and one of the most complete coal-related industrial sites in the United States.
“Nuttallburg.” National Park Service. http://www.nps.gov/neri/historyculture/nuttallburg.htm (accessed October 26, 2014). Trotter, William Joe. Jr. Coal, Class, and Color: Blacks in Southern West Virginia, 1915-32. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1990.