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Virginia’s Coal Towns
An Exhibition at the Library of Virginia
Originally Displayed April 2—October 27, 2001
Life in the Coal Camps

Jewell Ridge, Virginia Supply incline track, Jewell Ridge, Virginia.
Photograph. Virginia Chamber of Commerce.
The Library of Virginia.

Images of Pocahontas Mine

Images of Pocahontas, Va.

Although the Great Depression and development of alternative fuels forced many mines to close and many families to leave, some coal towns survived. Today several communities, such as Stonega and Derby, are pursuing designations as Historic Districts to preserve their architectural history. Researchers have recorded buildings in Clinchport, Scott County, for the Historic American Buildings Survey. HABS researchers also surveyed the mining camp of Trammel, in Dickenson County, which was built in 1917. Oral history projects at East Tennessee State University, Radford University, and the University of Virginia at Wise have preserved memories of residents.

Bluefield's Eastern Regional Coal Archives, although focused on West Virginia, collects materials relating to the region's rich coal history. The Internet also offers a means of preserving the history of Virginia's coal camps. People who grew up in the camps have designed websites about their towns and established guest books filled with memories of life in the coal towns.

What was life like in a Southwest Virginia coal town? Photographs and company annual reports and financial records are valuable sources of information but leave silent the voices and memories of miners and their families. During the Great Depression, the Virginia Writers' Project, a state-sponsored program of the Federal Writers' Project, an agency of the Work Projects Administration, conducted interviews about occupations and experiences in Virginia's urban and rural areas. The interviews of people who lived in the coal towns of Southwest Virginia attest to the dangers of mining and the hardships endured by the families. Older men and women frequently lamented their lack of education and stressed the need for their children to have better educational opportunities. Mining coal was seasonal; demand fell during the summer months and miners' families gardened and worked at other jobs to make ends meet. The interviews also record the changing relationship among miners, their families, and the coal companies.