Coal Camps: Glen Rogers, West Virginia
Mother Nature wasn’t kind in some respects on the drive down into Wyoming County to visit Glen Rogers, West Virginia. After having explored Surveyor, West Virginia’s Trap Hill High School, noted in this earlier entry, I made the best of the wintry precipitation and climbed over several snow covered mountain passes and dived into the heart of coal country. You can’t get any deeper than Glen Rogers.
I drove down into the Trough Fork valley, snaking down a narrow two-lane blacktopped road and came across my first sight of the coal camp. The remains of a relatively modern tipple and the sight of a small inactive strip mine at Big Branch along the abandoned ex-Virginian rail line made me perk up, but it was not until the junction with County Route 3/Glen Rogers Road that I saw my first taste of the coal camp town: an abandoned high school.
But what made Glen Rogers notable in the grand scheme of coal mining in the state?
Glen Rogers was constructed by the Raleigh-Wyoming Mining Company in 1918, with the #1 mine opening three years later. Served by the Virginian Railway, the coal camp was named after Henry Huttleston Rogers who founded the railroad using $30 million of his own fortune. The Virginian was the combination of two railroads, and the newly formed company was able to reach the Atlantic Ocean in 1909. The railroad competed against two Class-I carriers: the Chesapeake & Ohio and the Norfolk & Western, and coal produced at Glen Rogers was sent along the Virginian, through the hills of West Virginia, to the power plants of the United States and the ocean vessels at Newport News, Virginia for export.
The railroad from Glen Rogers followed the Laurel, Milan and Marsh Fork valleys, and featured a tunnel at Polk Gap. At its height, the town was served by two schools, a hotel, a large two-level company store, an amusement hall and a fueling station. The mine, Wyoming County’s largest, employed over 1,000 by 1930, and produced over 867,000 tons of coal by 1933, which earned it the distinction of being West Virginia’s second largest mine.
But it was not rosy. Mining accidents were quite common in the early history of the coal producing counties, but the most notable at Glen Rogers was an incident that occurred on November 6, 1923 that killed 27 men and trapped another 30 at the #1 mine. The cause of the explosion was likely the ignition of methane gas from the back fire of a shot, or a spark set from short-circuiting wires.
In 1960, the Glen Rogers mine closed and the company, then the Old Ben Coal Corporation of Chicago, went bankrupt. By the time of its closure, a total of 160 employees were killed at Glen Rogers, making it one of the most dangerous places to work in the state.
Glen Rogers is notable in that much of the town still exists. While the multitude of company houses have been mostly demolished, the hotel still exists many years after its abandonment. Inside, the remains of crude toilets, marked with the crescent shaped carved into aged wood, call back to an earlier time. The reinforced-concrete building is still structurally sound, and the brickwork has held up remarkably well, but it won’t be long before it will become just another ruin in the coalfields. The company store is a partially collapsed mess, with only the shell remaining, and the amusement hall and fueling station is in a state of disrepair.
The elementary school, now an assisted living center, is still in use and in good condition. Adjoining it is the high school, constructed in 1951 to replace and earlier structure, although it is in poor condition for having been abandoned for nearly twenty years. Inside, some of its history remains: desks and schools are piled up in some of the rooms, while others are used for storage for the assisted living center. Water leaks throughout the building, and the second floor is all but sealed off due to a weak roof.
Glen Rogers is one of the more preserved coal camp communities in West Virginia, and was once one of the largest. It is notable also for its contribution to the Virginian Railway’s initial success and for the disasters that plagued the mines that gave the area such a poor reputation. But it’s not the last that will be covered.