Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

April 27, 2014

Former neighbors, friends gather for fifth annual McComas Memory Walk

McCOMAS — Every hollow had a name and most were divided by nationalities, races and personal wealth. The one thing the hodgepodge of neighborhoods had in common was the name of the coal camp — McComas. In the early 20th Century, McComas was the largest coal camp in Mercer County.

“We lived in Red Holla,” James “Pedro” Spencer said as he pointed to the top of a steep, tree-covered mountain. “The families who lived there were separated by how much money they had with the richest ones at the mouth. We lived all the way up in the head of the holla,” he said, pronouncing the word as though it was spelled “haul-ah.”

“No one really had a lot of money,” Spencer continued. “It was a close-knit community where everyone got along.”

American Coal Co., bought the Pinnacle and Crane Creek mines soon after they opened in 1902. Other McComas area mines opened at Sagamore, Crystal and Thomas, but they all became part of McComas — a town that grew to include 2,000 to 2,500 people according to some estimates.

In 1955 American sold to Pocahontas Fuel, and one year later, the Pocahontas Fuel operations were acquired by Consolidation Coal, now Consol. There’s still coal running out of the area, but not like it was in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. Communities including McComas, Crane Creek, Pinnacle, Sagamore, Crystal, Thornhill, Thomas, Windmill Gap, Godfrey and Mora were dynamic communities.

Depending on how you count it, 2014 is either the fifth or the seventh McComas Memory Walk. In 2008, a group of 11 former McComas area residents came back home to the community and visited a couple of the buildings that are still standing in the community. Patty (Spicer) Smith of Richmond, Va., set up a McComas web site, and interest in the annual reunions started growing.

“I used to come back for the McComas reunions when they held them at the National Guard Armory in Brushfork and later in Bluefield,” Bobby Allen said. He grew up in “Pinnacle Hollar,” he said, and graduated from McComas High School in 1949. He was old enough to remember each of the young men who made the supreme sacrifice during World War II.

“Out of this little community, a lot of boys got killed in the war,” Allen, 84, now a resident of Fernadina Beach, Fla., said. “The first boy to die lived right up there,” he said pointing toward a tree-covered hillside. “He was from Poland and hadn’t become a Naturalized citizen yet, so he joined the Polish Army and got killed.” Allen lost one of his brothers in the war, and he called his name out in the order of the honor roll of McComas boys who gave their lives for their country.

“My dad was a Marine who served in Nicaragua in the years before World War II,” Allen said. Five of us boys were in the service.

“This was a fine place to live.” Allen continued. “There was a cobblestone walkway that led up to the colored high school. All the Spaniards lived right there,” he said pointing to mountainside with no evidence of buildings. “They did all the stone work in the mines and in the in the community. The Italians all lived right there,” he said pointing to an area near the Spanish community. “They did some stone work too, but not too much.”

“There was a lady who lived over there who bought a brand new car, brought it home and took all the wheels off of it,” Spencer said. “One day every year, she would put all the wheels back on her car and drive to Bluefield. When she came back home, she took the wheels off the car and waited a full year before she put them back on again.”

The memories and stories flowed through the community on Saturday. “This is why I love coming back here every year,” Smith said. “I learn so much just from listening.”

In addition to walking around and sharing memories, the memory walkers enjoyed lunch at the Crane Creek Pentecostal Holiness Church that is located in the same building that once served as home to the Pinnacle Elementary School. The warmth of the day was easily exceeded by the warmth of the memories the former McComas residents shared on Saturday.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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