Railroads and Coal Companies

It is impossible to look at Matoaka over the years without seeing the importance of the railroad and coal on the area.  Prior to the arrival of the railroad, this area consisted of forests and family farms.  Roads were mainly just paths and wagon trails.  Matoaka became a hub for the coal towns and communities that developed around this small community because of the entrance of the railroads and the railroads were searching for the coal.  While each coal town had a company store, the railroad provided transportation throughout the region - from coal town to coal town - and to the larger communities of Princeton and Bluefield, all the way to Hampton Roads VA and points in between.  Two railroads maintained stations in the town.  Travel, restaurants, stores, banking, doctors and a high school encouraged people to visit the town to spend their wages and socialize.

Flat-Top Coal Land Association / Pocahontas Land Corporation--"Notes" of Thomas Jefferson refer to the coal and mineral wealth of southwestern Virginia. (http://files.usgwarchives.net/wv/mcdowell/newspaper/Discovery.txt) In1873, the Philadelphia owners of a Revolutionary War land grant Wilson Cary Nicholas, the governor of Virginia, had acquired commissioned Jedediah Hotchkiss to appraise their holdings.  He and Arnold Welch, a geologist, explored the region west of the Bluestone River in the area around Flat Top Mountain.  Welch traced the seam of coal northward from Tazewell County into Mercer, McDowell and Wyoming Counties.  He had discovered what would become the Pocahontas Coal Field. Mining did not begin until after 1881, when the Norfolk and Western Railway developed a route from Radford VA to Pocahontas, VA.  The railroad went through Mercer County in 1883. Focused on greed and profits, out-of-state investors sent agents into the area to purchase the land or mineral rights prior to knowledge the railroad was coming.  Most of the settlers had no idea of the riches they were signing away.  By 1900, outside capitalists owned 90 percent of the coal in Mingo and Logan counties.  Over the years, the reputation of company towns ranged from unfortunate to criminal.  Some were well-planned model communities that provided higher standards of living than the inhabitants had previously enjoyed. (https://sah-archipedia.org/essays/WV-01-0003)

Located in southern West Virginia in the counties of McDowell and Mercer, the Norfolk and Western Railroad formed the Flat-top Coal Land Association to acquire the land and coal resources of the area.  The company eventually acquired more than 300,000 acres.  In 1901 the Land Association reorganized into the Pocahontas Coal & Coke Company and in 1939 it became the Pocahontas Land Corporation.  Between 1901 and 2001 more than 1.7 billion tons of coal were mined with another 1.7 billion in reserve. The Corporation is a subsidiary of the Norfolk Southern Corporation (successor to Norfolk and Western). (Article by Kenneth R. Bailey, Oct 22, 2010, "Pocahontas Land Corporation. http://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/1877)  Lands were leased for mining by other companies throughout the area.

"Smokeless" refers to the type of coal produced in Southern WV.  This coal had a relatively low gas content and produced lower amounts of smoke when burned.  This made the coal very desirable and profitable in the early 1900s, especially by the nation's largest  cities who were already seeking to limit the smoke content in their cities. (https://wanderingsoulsparanormal.weebly.com/blogs/famous-new-river-smok…)

The Flat Top-Pocahontas Coal Company has some of the best coal in the world. The coal is a high BTU (~15,000) low volitile. The company consists of the coal mining region of eastern Mercer County, McDowell County upstream of Iaeger, and Pinnacle Creek and Indian Creek i Wyoming County and into Tazewell County VA. (http://www.coalcampusa.com/sowv/flattop/flattop.htm)


Norfolk and Western Engine

The Norfolk and Western Railway--The Norfolk and Western Railway’s (N&W) interest in the coal deposits in the Flat Top Mountain area of Virginia/West Virginia provided the major push to open the coalfields of the southern counties of West Virginia. Their New River expansion from Radford to Pocahontas, Virginia, hauled coal in 1883 to Norfolk. With the N&W establishment of its western terminal in a blue field of chicory flowers near Beaver Pond, the town of Bluefield was established. Pocahontas became the name associated with the new coalfield. Even with the establishment of laws in 1895 to prevent railroads from engaging in buying an selling coal, the Philadelphia bankers behind the N&W formed the Flat Top Coal Land Association which acquired and developed many coal mines of the area. This subsidiary of the N&W became known as the Pocahontas Coal & Coke Company. The N&W established spurs to newly open mines and purchased small rail companies that already existed, providing rapid expansion across southern West Virginia and into Ohio and southwest Virginia. Throughout WWI, the Great Depression and WWII, the N&W was one of the most successful railroads in the nation. For most of its history they relied on coal powered trains and were the last major railroad to give up steam power. In 1882, the N&W and the Southern Railway merged to become Norfolk Southern Corporation, with nearly 20,000 route miles in 22 states. (Article by Robert L Frey, Aug 1, 2016 – “Norfolk and Western Railway”, https://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/1683)  


The Virginian Railway--The Virginian Railway (VGN) formed out of the Deepwater Railway and the Tidewater Railway by Henry Huttleston Rogers from Massachusetts, who used $30 million of his own money. Both lines were being completed at the same time and when they were completed in 1909, the Virginian Railway was born. The VGN was built in opposition to the N&W and C&O and ran from Glen Rogers in Wyoming County through its railyards in Mullens and Princeton to Sewall's Point near Norfolk VA. The VGN was known for its massive locomotives and 120-ton coal cars and moved the world’s longest and heavies coal trains. The company went to electrificiation of trains in 1925, which could travel at twice the speed of steam trains. The VGN merged with the N&W in 1959. (Article by Karl C Lilly III, Dec 26, 2018 – “Virginian Railway” https://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/876)