Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Nellis Coal Camp

Nellis Coal Camp

Located in Boone County, Nellis is about 25 miles from Charleston in the Coal River coalfield.  Mining operations began in Nellis in 1917.  T.E.B Siler and Matthew Slush started the first mine and named the town after their close friend, Frank Nellis, the editor of the Mount Clemens, Michigan Independent newspaper.

Known as the Nellis Coal Company, they built a wooden tipple, a two-story boarding house, six four-room dwellings, and three three-room dwellings.

In 1920, American Rolling Mill Corporation, or Armco bought 10,000 acres from Siler and Slush and began their operations in July. 

Life in Nellis in 1926
                Population:  900
                Autos:   80
                Houses:  133 (40 of which were brick)
                Passenger Trains:  2 per day (morning and evening)
The following is an excerpt from “A History of Nellis, West Virginia (The mining years, 1917-1955)” provided by Tom and Judy McComas who run the archives located in the Church that was built for the community by the ARMCO Company.

“For 10 cents one could travel from Nellis to Ridgeview, or Nellis to Brushton. To shop in Charleston one could take the afternoon train to St Albans, and then a street car to Charleston. In March, 1928, the Safety Post, the Nellis newspaper, debuted. Between 1922-1929, Armco built a brick power house, machine shop and railroad shop up Stone Coal Branch at No. 2 mine at a cost of approximately $40,000. Improvements were made to the lighting and water systems, and boardwalks were built in Bricktown. Telephone service was provided by the purchase of one-fourth interest in a line owned by the Brush Creek Coal Co., and the Bradley and Easley Coal Co. In May 1928, the mine produced 36,000 tons. A cleaning plant was built in 1930 and that increased production. By 1935 mechanization programs were in full force. Jeffery loading machines and mining machines were purchased.”

The housing for the miners was built on the hillside in terraces.  The section of the town reserved for the management was the second terrace. Located there were the Store Manager’s Residence, Cashier’s Residence, Club House, and the Superintendent’s House. This was referred to this as where the “Big Wheels” lived.

 “In his book, “Memories of a Model Mining Community”, Joe Tagliente wrote: “Living conditions were the very best. Every house had electric lights, water at the back door, and indoor sanitary toilets; some had bathrooms.” The houses were built by Minter Homes Corp., and were of frame structure, with front and back porch with railing on front porch, each house wired for electricity, outside water hydrant and back door and wash room extension with Kaustine chemical toilet installed. These houses were all plastered and finished inside, with concrete footings and brick foundation, composite roof and two coats of paint. There was a coal house for every two houses. For those who lived on elevated property, the coal was delivered by a slide directly to their homes.  Flush toilets were introduced in 1932,  replacing the old Kaustine chemical Toilets, installed during the original construction of the houses.”

Important Dates:

The first attempt to unionize the mine occurred in 1924 but failed.  The Nellis mine remained non-union until July 1933.

The Nellis Community Church was built in 1926.
The first Annual Armco Safety Day and Picnic was held in August, 1926.
In 1927 a company nurse was hired.
Flush toilets were introduced in 1932.

On November 6, 1943 the worst coal mining disaster in the history of Boone County occurred at the Nellis No. 3 Mine.  Nine miners were killed instantly and two died several hours later.  Documents say that the death toll could have been much worse but a recent strike had been resolved only two days earlier and not all miners had yet returned to work. 

Here is another excerpt about the explosion.

“The 11 victims of the Nellis explosion were all family men, with a total of 49 children between them. They were William H. Gunnoe, 48, foreman, wife and four children, son Willie at the time missing in action in WWII; Lester Gunnoe, 37, machine man, wife and three children, brother of William H. Gunnoe; William O. Workman, motorman, wife and three children, two sons in the armed services; Onal O. Miller, 28, slate man, wife and three children; John Williams, 60 trackman, wife and seven children, two sons in the armed services; Julius Domokos, 34, section foreman, wife and two children; O’Dell Linville, 37, loading machine operator, wife and seven children;  Steve Turokvich, 48, slate man, wife and two children; John Setliff, 49, slate man, wife, and three children; Lawrence Vincent, 34, slate man, wife; and William C. Barker, 59. Two of the wives, Nellie Vincent and Dorothy Miller, were expecting.”

In the 1950’s, the production of coal began to decline and on June 30, 1955 the mine officially closed.

I absolutely loved reading and finding information about Nellis.  I chose Nellis because my husband’s grandmother had lived there and I wanted to find out more about the history.  I got in contact with Tom and Judy McComas who were kind enough to share a wealth of information with me.  I plan on driving to Nellis to take pictures of the community today to compare how much of the old mining community still stands.  As soon as I do, I will definitely be posting the pictures.

There is a wealth of information in the 19 page document “A History of Nellis, West Virginia
(The mining years, 1917-1955)”  and if you would like to read more(which I STRONGLY suggest), I will have copy of it in class on Thursday!

1 comment:

  1. WOW! Well researched and written. Thanks for sharing all the great information about Nellis and the history of that area.