Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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April 28, 2013

A sign of time: Historic marker dedicated for Pocahontas Mine

POCAHONTAS, Va. — A threat of rain may have kept some people away from the annual grand reopening ceremony at the Pocahontas Exhibition Mine on Saturday afternoon, but the spirit of history still burned brightly in Southwest Virginia thanks to the passion of the people in the community.

Pocahontas Vice Mayor Arthur Scott demonstrated a solid grasp on the significance of “Genuine Pocahontas Coal,” as he provided an overview of the coal mine.

“The loaders used to throw scatter tags in every coal car that went out of here,” Scott said. “For those of you who don’t know what scatter tags are, they’re little aluminum discs about the size of a quarter that had Genuine Pocahontas Coal stamped on them so everywhere we shipped our coal in the world knew it was Pocahontas Coal — the best in the world.”

Although they didn’t plan it, Mike Hymes, Southern District representative on the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors, appeared to take over where Scott left off in his speech. Hymes explained how Andrew Stowers was mining the hot-burning Pocahontas No. 3 Seam coal as early as 1860, but after the Civil War ended, another farmer/blacksmith — Jordan Nelson — traded his Boone County farm for Stowers’ property in Tazewell County, Va. Nelson grew his coal sales business by selling coal to other blacksmiths in the region.

In 1873, Jed Hotchkiss commissioned a survey of the Pocahontas No. 3 Seam, and started promoting development in the remote rural area. “When the Southwest Virginia Improvement Company first broke ground for their development, the area was 50 miles distance from the nearest railroad, so coal was hauled by wagon across two mountains and over almost impassable trails to the railroad at Hinton or Wytheville, Va.,” he said.

He said that from the time the Norfolk & Western Railway opened its New River Division on May 21, 1883, until the Original Pocahontas Mine was closed in 1955, “more than 40,000,000 tons of coal have been taken from this, the Original Pocahontas Mine.”

Hymes said that the Exhibition Mine opened to tourists in 1938. “It is the only exhibition coal mine in the world in which tourists may view the famous Pocahontas No. 3 Coal Seam,” he said. “The Pocahontas Exhibition Mine is the only exhibition mine recognized as a National Historic Landmark in the country.”

After Hymes concluded his remarks, Pocahontas Mayor Benjamin Aaron Gibson and Thomas Childress, Northern District representative on the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors, unveiled the new highway sign that is located in front of the entrance to the Exhibition Mine. The town of Pocahontas provided a luncheon for those attending the ceremony.

Mayor Gibson said that although volunteers have worked for the past several weeks to prepare the mine for this season’s opening, the actual opening won’t be for another three weeks, he said.

“We are thankful for our volunteers and everyone that supports us, but we still have some more work to do before the mine’s ready to open for the season,” Gibson said.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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