Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

March 10, 2006

Pocy coal seam propels railroad into Southwest Virginia history

The numbers jump through my memory — March 12, 1883. That was the day the first car of coal was shipped from Pocahontas to Norfolk. Contrary to popular belief, I was not present for the occasion. Nevertheless, my interest in local history always seem to come back to Pocahontas and it seems that maybe I was beside the track.

The Norfolk & Western Railway Company had no track closer than the Radford, Va., spur at the time. When the Southwest Virginia Improvement Company put together a financial package to begin a coal mining operation in the wilds of Tazewell County, it did not take the N&W; long to get on board, so to speak.

The Walker expeditions into this area as early as 1750 had documented the existence of coal seams. In between the time of those early explorers and the actual beginning of the coal boom in Four Seasons Country, the American experience as a whole was undergoing profound changes.

For example, the English, French, and Spanish were wrangling for control of various pieces of territory. Mexico was mixed up in the struggle, as well. The so-called French and Indian War set the stage for the Revolution. It was during that time that George Washington, a young surveyor from Westmoreland County, Va., got his first taste of military action. You may know that he did not fare very well at the outset but once he began to taste victory, the rest is history.

Unfortunately, one of the most important inventions of the era, the cotton “gin” (or engine) was invented around 1793 by Eli Whitney. Because of the spectacular amount of cotton that could be processed, the cotton industry in the South flourished as never before. Slavery, which was on the decline, became attractive to large plantation owners because of the huge profits to be made.

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