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89 Years in the Coalfields

A Satisfying Life in Wyoming County

By Virginia Cook

Virginia Cook teaching cooking
Virginia Cook taught home economics at Mullens High School for more than three decades. This undated photograph shows her conducting a classroom cooking demonstration.

The narrow valleys between the densely forested hills of upper Wyoming County were very sparsely populated until the beginning of the 20th century. About 1903, W.N. Ritter developed a timbering and sawmill operation at a site along the Slab Fork Creek, later called Maben. Many valuable coal deposits were being discovered in Wyoming County, and in 1906, the Deepwater Railroad (which later became the Virginian) reached the area.

My parents, Bob and Gertrude Wildey, both were born in Cincinnati, Ohio. They married in 1917. My uncle Bill Ruby had purchased a small mining property in southern West Virginia called, variously, Tracefork, Tracoal, and then Nuriva. He prevailed on my dad to move to West Virginia and become his office manager.

Several miles below Maben, at the confluence of Slab Fork Creek and the Guyandotte River, a small town called Mullens was growing into a mining and railroad center. I was born on August 25, 1918, at the Mullens hospital. I have the hospital bill, which states that the doctor charged $5 and the nurse $3 a day, for 10 days. Later, a brother and sister completed the family.

Nuriva was built on a hillside with modest frame houses, a tipple, and a company store. The superintendent, office manager, store manager, and mine foreman all had houses in the top row. We walked up a long flight of wooden steps to get home.

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