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West Virginia State Archives to post Coal Life photos on the internet

The West Virginia State Archives of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History will post the first collection of photographs in its new internet database on Sunday, April 7, 2002. Composed of nearly 700 prints, this Coal Life Collection was attained as part of a collaboration with the Huntington Museum of Art and Oglebay Mansion Museum. The database can be accessed at

Photographs in the database include images of several McDowell County coal towns, including Gary and Coalwood; prints from Consolidation Coal/Fairmont and the West Virginia Department of Mines; and an assortment of pictures that document labor strife, mine disasters, and prominent individuals in the state’s coal history. These photographs also can be viewed at the Archives and History Library in the Cultural Center, State Capitol Complex in Charleston. Visitors who wish to access the photographs at the library must make an appointment at least one week in advance.

The Coal Life Project culminated in an exhibition that opened at the Cultural Center in 1981 and later traveled to other parts of the state as well as the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tenn. The State Archives chose the Coal Life Collection as the first to be available on the internet in recognition of the role of the coal industry in the history of West Virginia.

In the coming months, other collections will be added to the database, which currently contains only a small fraction of the more than 100,000 images held in the State Archives. The photograph collection covers a variety of topics in the state’s history, including pictures that document the administrations of West Virginia’s governors in the last 50 years. The Divisions of Natural Resources and Tourism also are well represented in the Archives’ holdings.

The State Archives began a concerted effort to copy photographs statewide in 1984. Working in collaboration with various organizations, the project has taken staff members to more than half of the state’s counties and added thousands of images to the collection. This effort to preserve a visual record of the state’s past has yielded images relating to business and industry, education, politics, social and athletic events and many other activities at the state or local level.

For more information about the State Archives photograph collection, contact Debra Basham, archivist for the Division, at (304) 558-0230, ext. 702. For more information about organizing a photograph copying session, contact Fredrick H. Armstrong, director of archives and history, at (304) 558-0230, ext. 164. The Archives and History Library is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is closed on Sundays.

The West Virginia Division of Culture and History, an agency of the West Virginia Department of Education and the Arts, brings together the state’s past, present and future through programs and services in the areas of archives and history, the arts, historic preservation and museums. The Cultural Center is West Virginia’s official showcase for the arts. Visit the Division’s website at for more information about programs of the Division. The Division of Culture and History is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer.

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