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Remembering a Wyoming County Coal Camp


By David H. Halsey

Otsego in the 1930's
Otsego was formed in 1916 at the site of an older farming community called Cedarburg in Wyoming County. This 1930's photograph shows a view of Otsego from the company store complex along the Virginia railroad tracks. The superintendent's house is visible at the far end of the town's only street. Photograph courtesy of Thurman Miller.

During the 1930's and ‘40's, Otsego was the site of one of Wyoming County's most modern and productive coal operations. It was also a thriving community and home to me and my family.

Today, as I walk into the camp and travel up its only street, past the overgrown vacant lot toward the place where the company store, shop, bathhouse, and mines were once located, mixed feelings and memories fill in the details of what this place was like 60 years ago.

I can remember the many times that we stood under the overhang which sheltered the entrance to the mine office and post office, attached to the larger Brule Smokeless Coal Company's store. We stood there in anticipation of the arrival of Virginian Railroad's westbound passenger train No.3. A short time later, a twin train, No.4, would arrive going eastbound. The arrival of these passenger trains was a daily happening for us. They were our transportation to the city of Mullens three miles away and to our kinfolks living on Acord Mountain near the Slab Fork station and on Maple Meadow near the Lester stop, both in Raleigh County.

These rails, laid along Slab Fork Creek upstream from Mullens on the way to Deepwater, ushered in the coal-mining era in this region. Somewhere in its beginning, the die was cast for the village of Cedarsburg to emerge as Otsego, the coal camp. The Virginian, already the "richest little railroad in the world," was poised to haul Otsego's high-grade metallurgical coal 446 miles to the seaport of Newport News for delivery to worldwide markets, and to industrial centers throughout the nation who craved the smokeless, high-energy coal.

I suspect that Otsego was probably more like other coal camps than it was different. There was a special combination of people and mine operators here, however, which produced a camaraderie that still survives among the miners' offspring. When we have our Mullens High School graduating class reunions, we always recognize those of us who were raised in a coal camp as opposed to Mullens town proper.

You can read the rest of this article in the Summer 2000 issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.