December 6th is officially designated as Miners Day in the state of West Virginia, but this culturally-defining industry deserves year-round recognition. To recognize and celebrate the family and community members that built this local industry, weve gathered a number of photos of West Virginias mining history. Take a look at these historic photos for a glimpse of the hard work, risk, and dedication from coal miners and their families throughout our states history. West Virginia wouldnt be the same without them.
What do you think of these photos of West Virginias mining history? If youre anything like many local families, you probably have a few family photos of your own. Share your thoughts on this piece in the comments!
Coal mining is one of many things that The Mountain State is known for, but it has a lot of other things to offer. Southern hospitality, comfort food, and gorgeous views are a few of the luxuries we have to offer.
Indigenous peoples have populated this state since as early as 100 BCE, and the landscape was surveyed by Europeans in the 1670s. West Virginia was admitted to the Union in 1863, at a time when the population was circa 377,000. Today, nearly 2 million residents call this state home.
You can find all sorts of beautiful hikes in WV, and some of them hide historic treasures. Theres a hike to an abandoned coal town that you might enjoy; its called Nutallburg and it features ruins and structures from the old settlement.
The impact of Appalachias people and culture is found in food and entertainment, industry and business, music and entertainment, literature, language, and history. Often it is in the form of parody. Vast financial empires have taken advantage of the myths of Appalachian history; these can be found in Gatlinburg, Tennessee as well as neighboring Pigeon Forge, and their tourist aligned entertainment based on the myths of the southeastern mountains and their people. The real, often hardscrabble and desperate lives of the people of the region, and their contributions to American society and history are often buried beneath these myths. Here for consideration are some facets of Americas Appalachian culture, both mythical and factual.
One of Americas most enduring fictional characters is the hillbilly beauty, a tomboy as strong if not stronger as any man; voluptuous, innocent, and ever in pursuit of a man for whom she has set her cap. The image, as with many mythical perceptions of Appalachia, was born in the comic strip Lil Abner, the creation of satirist Al Capp, and his female character Daisy Mae. Ellie Mae of The Beverly Hillbillies and Daisy Duke of The Dukes of Hazzard are direct descendants of the character. A similar image of a shapely young lass, in tiny shorts and revealing top, is prevalent in advertising throughout the United States, a long recurring theme in American culture.
An impossibly obtuse, minimally educated, physically imposing, but good-hearted and gentle young man of the hills a hillbilly in American parlance was another creation of Al Capp, and remains a major character of American entertainment. Such characters wholly fictional are usually depicted as immensely stupid, expert in the use of their shooting iron, subject to the relentless pursuit of a Daisy Mae type character whom they use guile to elude, strong but gentle, and invariably handsome and more or less honest. They are often victimized by con men from the city, but eventually gain the upper hand.
Throughout the mid to late twentieth century Appalachia was presented in the nations comic strips and animated cartoons, creating stereotypes of the region and its people. In addition to Lil Abner, there was Snuffy Smith, a character in the long-running strip Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. Snuffy avoided all forms of labor other than tending to his illegal still and fighting off revenuers, while the women of his community, a mountain hamlet known as Hootin Holler, performed all the work necessary for survival. Snuffy proved so popular with readers that Barney, somewhat shiftless in his own right, was reduced to an occasional appearance, and eventually vanished from the strip altogether.
Both Lil Abner and Snuffy Smith used true Appalachian events and customs as plot devices, though in a humorous manner which created many of the stereotypes still prevalent. The Hatfield-McCoy feud served as fodder for feudin' in the comics, which carried over in motion pictures (some comedic, some less so) and later to television, as in The Andy Griffith Show of the 1960s. Hillbillies were portrayed as either pious teetotalers or ravenous consumers of their own home-distilled moonshine. Mountain people were simple folk, always wary of the strangers who found their ways to their communities, certain that they were in the neighborhood for no good, but welcomed anyway.
A good example of the stereotypes which emerged regarding the people of Appalachia can be found in Jed Clampett, as portrayed in The Beverly Hillbillies by venerable actor Buddy Ebsen (though Jed was from the Ozarks, rather than Appalachia). Jed was uneducated but shrewd, often accidentally so; devoted to family, which extended to scores of cousins, nieces, nephews, uncles, and aunts. The depiction of the extended Clampett clan has long been extended to Appalachian clans, though that stereotype is based in some truth, as clannish settlements are still a part of the region, many of them intertwined, as in the case of the modern Hatfields and McCoys.
Throughout the region encompassing Appalachia businesses are found which play on and even expand on the stereotypes which emerged over time, in restaurants, souvenir shops, ziplines, campgrounds, stage shows, and other attractions. National brands such as Mountain Dew and Kelloggs Corn Flakes used marketing campaigns based on the 1960s hillbilly craze, which also saw, in addition to The Beverly Hillbillies and The Andy Griffith Show, television programs which capitalized on the stereotypes such as Green Acres; The Gomer Pyle Show; and Hee-Haw. Exploitation of the hillbilly image remains in the south, with whole communities deriving much of their income from the tourism which it attracts.
The film Sergeant York, starring Gary Cooper as the eponymous World War 1 hero, depicted several Appalachian stereotypes while at the same time disputing others. A prevalent belief of the day, and one which remains a foil for comedians in the present day, was that the men of the region were lazy, overly fond of liquor, mired in poverty, lacking modern conveniences, and woefully ignorant of the English language. Sergeant York presents all of those aspects of Appalachian life except that the York portrayed by Cooper was far from lazy, and after experiencing an epiphany of a sorts while in a drunken rage loses his fondness for whiskey as well, or at least gives up the habit of drinking.
When Coopers Sergeant York gave up whiskey, it was because of a religious epiphany, in which he was reborn as a Christian. In truth, the region of Appalachia is and has always been populated with deeply religious people, with more than eighty different sects practicing and following their beliefs, including in many areas the art of snake handling. Venomous snakes are used to prove faith is sufficient to protect the handler from harm. Catholicism is viewed with suspicion throughout most of Appalachia. During the 1960 Presidential election, John F. Kennedy campaigned heavily throughout Appalachia and especially in West Virginia to downplay his religious views and reassure the populace.
Sadie Hawkins Day first appeared in Al Capps Lil Abner in 1937, when Sadie a character in the strip known as the homeliest gal in all them hills, was allowed to chase down her own husband. All of the bachelors of Dogpatch were forced to participate in a race for their lives, or at least for their lives as unmarried men. They were given a fair start after which Sadie set off in pursuit, with Th one she ketchesll be her husban'. Sadie caught herself a husband and the town decided the event would be a good means of ridding itself of lazy bachelors and made Sadie Hawkins Day an annual event. Within two years Sadie Hawkins festivities were widespread enough in the United States to warrant an article in Life Magazine.
With the exception of the wholesome family images of an Appalachian town which were presented to the nation by The Andy Griffith Show (Griffith was a native of Mount Airy, North Carolina), most of what is stereotypical of the region was created by outsiders. Al Capp was a Connecticut Yankee from New Haven; the creator of Snuffy Smith, Billy DeBeck, hailed from Chicagos South Side. Mountain Dews hillbilly image was born in a New York based advertising campaign. But Appalachia made many contributions of its own to American culture, outside of the stereotyped image of the area as backwards, ignorant, and poverty stricken.
The banjo is derived from African instruments and banjos were made by slaves throughout the American south, but it was in the mountains of Virginia where the instrument first became a part of the American music scene. The modern five string banjo was popularized in the area around Appomattox Court House, Virginia, by Joel Sweeney. In the 1830s Sweeney popularized banjo music on American stages, and the following decade he performed with his ensemble, the Virginia Minstrels, in Great Britain, where his performances and the instrument itself drew acclaim. Banjos spread rapidly across the United States from the instruments roots in Appalachia.
The Scots Irish immigrants of the Appalachian region developed the instrument known by many names, but colloquially as the dulcimer, in the 19th century, prompting music history scholars to seek a similar instrument in the pasts of both nations. None has been found. The dulcimer remained for decades an instrument rarely found outside of Appalachia before the 1960s, when it gained popularity among American folk musicians and was used by some British rock bands for color, including being played by the Rolling Stones Brian Jones when performing Lady Jane on both stage and record. American folk singer Joni Mitchell is another noted performer on the instrument.
Throughout early America basket making was an art practiced by settlers, with some styles copied from the natives using the available materials, and some adapted from those made in their homelands of Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Baskets woven by Appalachian settlers varied in shape, style, and manner of use based on the types of bark and reeds available in the local wilds, and the shape of the items they were made to carry. Basket weaving remains an art form throughout Appalachia. Some are ongoing commercial concerns, creating designs available for purchase in souvenir shops and online storefronts, with many supported by regional schools and universities.
Until the 20th century, and in some locales even to this day, settlements in Appalachia were often remote and entirely self-supporting. Food was what could be obtained locally. Game was a mainstay of the diet, as was fish where obtainable, including crawfish. Hunting and fishing were necessary for the sustaining of life, and in many regions are still pursued today for the same reasons. With insufficient pasturage to raise cattle for beef, hogs and poultry became the mainstays for meat, and the need to preserve pork led to the famed Virginia and Tennessee hams, today considered the equivalent of the great hams of Westphalia and Parma in Europe.
As the rest of the United States grew to the west and its cities expanded, fueled by the ports and the railroads, the regions of Appalachia were largely bypassed, other than trains which existed to exploit the regions natural assets; lumber and coal. By the 1860s citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio, well west of Appalachia, could purchase fresh oysters from barrels packed with salt which had been harvested from the Chesapeake Bay only one or two days earlier. The trains which delivered them returned carrying butchered hogs, but in neither direction were stops in Appalachia deemed worthwhile, since the region had little hard money and thus a stop would generate little in the way of profit.
In the remote Appalachian communities, including in the company towns which arose around the coal mines and logging camps, Appalachians preserved everything which they needed to survive. Apples, cherries, and other fruits grew well in the mountains, as did berries, and they were harvested when ripe and preserved. Canning became an art form in the mountains, and is still widely practiced. Meat was preserved by pickling or jerking. Corn was dried and ground into meal, from which it would later become cornbread and mush. The most popular sweetener, given the sparsity of sugar, was honey, which could be found readily in the woods, and which those hardy enough to do so obtained by smoking out the bees and harvesting the comb.
The coal mines which were built to retrieve the fuel for the growing United States by both strip mining and deep excavation did more than just scar the landscape. They contributed to the impoverished reputation of Appalachia. They paid wages as low as they could get away with, and in the absence of competing jobs they got away with paying next to nothing. What they did pay they recovered through the establishment of company towns, with supplies available for purchase only from company stores. Generation after generation of Appalachian families grew up with the male members only employment opportunity being the same mine at which his father, and grandfather before him, had worked.
Appalachias other big employment opportunity, other than sustenance farming, was in the logging industry, which engaged in practices similar to those of the coal industry, paying low wages, and collecting them back from the rentals on housing and the sales in the company stores. Those employed in the logging industry did not face the likelihood of an early death due to lung disease, but enough danger existed to make the logging camps equally hazardous to the mines. The railroads offered some potential to escape the circle of paying ones employer the money one had earned from him, but railroad jobs were more difficult to obtain in Appalachia, often filled by men who had learned their trade elsewhere along the system.
Education was not a priority throughout most of Appalachia even as recently as the mid-20th century, for a variety of reasons. Teaching is a profession, and those practicing a profession were (and in some cases still are) viewed with suspicion throughout Appalachia. So were strangers to the region, teachers arriving from elsewhere particularly from New York and New England were not warmly welcomed by the conservative and cautious residents. The need to work and help pay for ones own upkeep superseded the need to learn from classroom and textbooks, since how much can be taught about mining coal or felling trees from within the confines of a school? The relationship of education to poverty was simply not a concept for consideration.
Although many aspects of Appalachian history are exploited or celebrated within the region, others resent being included in the perception of the region being considered backward when compared to the rest of the United States. For example, the famous feud between the Hatfields and McCoys is presented in plays, musical shows, billboards, parodies, and in advertising and marketing for tourism, despite some within the region believing that the feud was an example of the regions slow growth into the modern world. The belief exists that perpetuating its story also perpetuates the stereotyping of residents of the regio being illiterate hillbillies. During the heyday of the rural programming which included The Beverly Hillbillies, many protested against the portrayal, though the Clampetts were not, as already mentioned, from Appalachia.
In 1940 Thomas Wolfes novel You Cant Go Home Again was published posthumously. In the novel the protagonist, a writer, publishes a novel in which several disparaging references to his hometown, Libya Hill, are made. The writer subsequently received threats and a hostile reception from his former friends and neighbors, who are aware the depiction was accurate but resent the writers making the outside world aware of the problems. While the state in which Libya Hill was located is never identified, Wolfe was from North Carolina, and the issues he referred to were those of Appalachia. The novel serves as an indication of the resentment which can occur when conditions are revealed which place ones home under outside scrutiny, a resentment which is prevalent in some areas of Appalachia as a result of its past.
When the settlers to the Appalachian region arrived they brought with them the music of their homeland, chiefly the ballads of the day, a means of regaling listeners with stories sung a capella, since few instruments existed to accompany the singer. They also brought dance music, which were played chiefly on the violin, known to the dancers, listeners, and players as the fiddle. Over the decades, the tunes of the ballads remained, with the words of the song replaced by American legends and local yore, often several times over. The songs, dances, and new instruments led to an entirely American musical genre emerging from the hills of Appalachia during the 20th century.
The term bluegrass calls to mind the rolling hills of central Kentucky, but the musical genre which bear its name is a child of Appalachia, and is an entirely American art form. It was developed from the blending, over time, of the traditional music of the Scots-Irish settlers of Appalachia, played on dulcimer and banjo, with the fiddle music of the Irish reels and clog dances. Its name came from an early performer of the music, Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys. One the of groups members was a young banjo player by the name of Earl Scruggs, who revolutionized the style of playing the instrument. Another was a guitar player named Earl Flatts. Flatts and Scruggs remain one of the most famous, and popular, bluegrass combos of all time.
The remoteness of the region from the rest of the United States, and from its own communities as a result of the mountainous terrain, led to the development of a spirit of self-preservation and independence which remains in all but the largest urban areas. The long standing exploitation of the region by outsiders, who harvested the lumber and dug the coal leaving behind the damage done, led to a distrust of outsiders. Change is often viewed with suspicion, and accomplished only slowly, when it is accomplished at all, the general belief for decades being that if it was good enough before, it remains good enough. In some mountain towns the days of the company store are remembered wistfully, if not fondly.
In 1927, in an effort to increase tourism given the rise of automobile travel in the United States, Asheville, North Carolina organized a Rhododendron Festival. The following year Bascom Lamar Lunsford, a musician with a law degree from what was then Trinity College (todays Duke University) organized the festival as the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival. Bascom performed dressed in formalwear while playing his banjo, in order to distance himself from the image of being a hillbilly. The festival he organized, no longer centered on rhododendrons, continues to celebrate Appalachian music and dance, and is the longest running celebration of Appalachian music and culture in the United States.
The rich musical culture of Appalachia has been enjoyed throughout the United States for many decades, and will no doubt continue to be for many more. Country music legend and award winning actress Dolly Parton hailed from the region. So did Loretta Lynn, who was truly a coal miners daughter. Crystal Gayle, Patty Loveless, and Naomi and Wynona Judd are but a few more. Guitarists Chet Atkins and Doc Watson, multiple instrument virtuoso Ricky Skaggs, and pianist and singer Ronnie Milsap are other famed American musicians whose work reflects the hills of the region in which they were born.
Appalachia is less a geographical term than a cultural one, describing a region in terms of its social norms and demographics rather than its relation to topographical or geographic boundaries. It is generally regarded as including portions of 13 states including only one in its entirety West Virginia. Portions of the populations of several cities and towns are considered to be Appalachian, though the cities themselves are not considered part of the region. Examples include Cincinnati, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan, both of which absorbed large numbers of Appalachian migrants who arrived seeking work during the Great Depression, and created communities reflecting Appalachian culture within the city.
Of the many American folk heroes and tales, many of the most famous have their roots in the Appalachian traditions. Davy Crockett is both a very real and significant figure in American history and a subject of folklore and tradition in the Appalachian hills of eastern Tennessee. The mythical railroad worker John Henry, whether a composite of several different characters or a complete fabrication shared by railroad workers over their campfires, is another. Appalachian culture today includes story-telling festivals, a long-standing tradition, in which Jack tales tales which feature a character going by the name of Jack are presented with Jacks heroic exploits described, to be amplified upon by the next storyteller.
In 1937 a radio program originally titled Boone County Jamboree, and soon renamed Midwestern Hayride, began broadcasting from Cincinnatis powerful station WLW. The program featured live performances of local and regional musicians and performers, many of them Appalachian, including bluegrass music. It was heard across much of the Midwest, exposing the music which had up to them been heard only in the Appalachian communities to a new audience. It was soon augmented by similar programs on rival stations, including in Wheeling, West Virginia, and later moved to television, picked up by NBC, and later by ABC. It was one of the first exposures of Appalachian culture presented to the nation in a positive light.
As recently as 2014, studies indicated that in some communities in Appalachia families were forced to subsist on as little as $5,000 per year of income. The absence of long term jobs in some communities led to the acceptance of work as day labor when available. Families continued to survive by using the barter system, or labor exchange system (work for food). During the drive for the creation of LBJs Great Society, depictions of the poverty suffered in many Appalachian communities were used to gain support for the program, but fifty years later the poverty it was meant to eradicate remained in many communities, in some even worse than they had been.
While the Bible and Christianity were always highly important in Appalachia, traditionally the role of an established church with a defined hierarchy was not. Approximately 80% of the region has always maintained to be of the Christian faith, but at the turn of the twenty-first century nearly 70% were unchurched, belonging to no particular denomination or congregation. In the late 20th century several religious organizations began aggressive proselytizing campaigns, bringing with them the inducements of charitable support for the needy and improved educational programs, but many were rejected due to the culture of independence and self-realization which has always been present in the Appalachian mind.
Appalachia is liberally dotted with small and medium sized towns, with houses which date back for well over two hundred years in some cases. Many houses were equipped with two front doors, which to a modern eye would lead the viewer to assume the house is a duplex. But in many cases the two doors signify something else. One was for entering and exiting the house under normal circumstances. The other was for entering a room where one could sit with a recently deceased member of the household. Sitting with the dead, ensuring that the body of the deceased remained escorted at all times prior to burial was a custom brought from the old country, and the double front doors made it easier for friends and extended family to visit without disturbing the rest of the house.
Because of the remote nature of many Appalachian villages and hamlets, the prospects for a bride were limited, and the competition for their hand in marriage keen, one of the reasons why Appalachian women married at a much younger age than their counterparts across the nation. Often a successful courtship which had its own rituals and rules ended when the prospective groom presented a hand carved wooden spoon, called a love spoon and decorated as lavishly as the whittling skills of the gentleman allowed, in lieu of an engagement ring. The love spoon was a descendant of a tradition brought from Wales, and demonstrated that the gentleman presenting it was skilled with his hands, and thus likely to be a good provider.
Appalachian quilting bees provided quilts for warmth, quilts for special events such as weddings and births, and the opportunity for socializing and exchanging news and gossip. It also provided young women of marriageable age (often as young as 15) an opportunity to appraise their chances of marriage by using the reliable predictor of shaking the cat. A wedding quilt would be grasped at all four corners by single women or girls, another would place a cat in the center, and the ladies would begin to shake the quilt back and forth. Whichever of the young ladies the cat leaped closest to as it made its escape was next to marry, and those young ladies with a particular gentleman in mind were no doubt encouraged.
Before the advent of the railroads and its improved communications, many of the traditions of Christmas were somewhat different than they are today. One was the tradition, descended from the Welsh, of calling for gifts on the day after Christmas, allowing the poor to knock on the door of the more well to do and receive gifts. Some believe that the English Boxing Day also descended from this Welsh tradition. Christmas celebrations included shooting matches, community feasts rather than private family gatherings, and in later years gifts from the coal mining company, or logging company, given to their employees along with the day off, though most often without pay.
As in all cultures which celebrate Christmas, many superstitions and myths surround the holiday, most of them based on the pagan celebrations of the winter solstice which predated the Christian holiday. One held in parts of Appalachia was that sitting under a pine tree on Christmas Day allowed the angels singing to be heard, though it was a mixed blessing, because it also ensured for the listener it was their last Christmas on earth. January 6 the twelfth day of Christmas rendered powers of healing to those born on that date. It was also believed in some areas that coal should not be given or lent on Christmas Day, a tradition which descended from the Druid belief that at the solstice lumps of coal contained the souls of departed relatives.
In the twentieth century the use of coal began the steady decline which continued into the twenty-first, and as profits dwindled many of the mines closed. Migrants began to leave the region in droves, heading to the cities where manufacturing jobs requiring easily learned skills paid well. The migration both emptied many towns in the mountains and created communities within the cities of the north and west. Finding the cities strange, frightening, and often hostile, migrants created their own communities, as had the Chinese, the Irish, the Germans, the Italians, and others before (and after) them. Many such enclaves still exist, where the accent of the mountains can be heard among the sounds of the city.
Beginning in the 1960s and continuing through the end of the twentieth century American agriculture underwent a transition with many family owned and operated farms being absorbed by commercial entities. The transition was not as severe in Appalachia, where though the climate is for the most part conducive to farming the topography is not. Smaller, family owned farms remained prevalent. Nevertheless, the number of farms and the acreage in crops has declined steadily since the 1950s, and though farming remained an important part of the regions economy the number of jobs and the income derived from agriculture, as with coal and logging, continued to drop through the twentieth century.
As mining, logging, manufacturing, and farming all declined in the second half of the twentieth century, the tourist industry expanded, and the exploitation of the perceived stereotypes of the Appalachian people and culture began. It was then that the image of the hillbilly, resented by many Appalachian people, began to be used in marketing, and to attract visitors to the region. It continues to be used in the 21st century. By the 1980s Great Smoky Mountains National Park was the most visited of all of American national parks, and the resorts of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge had expanded, largely through the exploitation of the imagery which some of their neighbors found offensive.
The census conducted in 2000 revealed that sections of Appalachia continued to lag far behind the rest of the United States in income and education, while leading in poverty. In Martin County, Kentucky, visited by Lyndon Johnson after the announcement of the War on Poverty in 1964, 37% of citizens were found to be living beneath the poverty line. In Appalachia, over 23% of all adults lacked a high school diploma, and more than 30% were considered functionally illiterate. The belief that a job in the mines, or logging camps, or driving the trucks which move their continually dwindling output of product, continued to outweigh the belief that an education is important in many of the remote areas, where the traditions of the past continued to displace the needs of the present and the future.
Colossal earth-moving machines became symbols in the 1960s-1970s environmental battles over surface coal mining, also known as strip mining. These machines some capable of scooping two-to-three Greyhound bus-size equivalents of earth with each bite laid waste to tens of thousands of acres as they uncovered near-surface coal to feed electric power plants. In 1972-73, a trio of these machines, then chewing through southeastern Ohio, became involved in a controversial proposal: to cross, and temporarily shut down, a major interstate highway to get to the coal on the other side. The event became a symbolic and actual line-in-the-sand confrontation between those opposed to strip mining and those who saw it as vital for energy, jobs, and local economies. The February 1973 issue of Smithsonian magazine ran a dramatic shot of The GEM of Egypt in operation in the Egypt Valley of Ohio, just north of I-70, as the magazine featured a story on the need for energy vs. strip mining. Note size of the shovels bucket relative to the vehicles on the road below. Photo, Arthur Sirdofsky.
There were three of the giant machines at issue: The Tiger, The Mountaineer, and The GEM of Egypt. All three were then in the service of the Hanna Coal Company, which by 1970, had been strip mining in Ohio for decades and was then a division of the much larger Pittsburgh Consolidation Coal Company, later known as Consol, itself then owned by Continental Oil. More on Hanna/Consol and the big machines in a moment, first some background on Ohios coal.
Various coalfields in the tri-state OH-PA-WV area are shown in color, overlaying county boundaries a region where coal has been mined for decades in the Appalachian Coal Basin.Coal is found in 32 counties in Ohio, though primarily in the southeastern part of the state which is located on the northwestern edge of the Appalachian Coal Basin, one of the largest coalfields in the U.S.
Coal has been mined in Ohio since the early 1800s, initially with crude mining techniques working surface outcroppings, to more sophisticated mechanized technologies that evolved following WWI and WWII. Most of the mining in Ohio through the 1930s was in deep mines or shaft mines that bore into mountainsides. Surface mining existed as well, but it wasnt until the big shovels came on in the 1940s and 1950s that strip mining began to take a larger portion of the states annual coal production.
Generally it is economic to strip mine when there is a 20:1 ratio of overburden-to-coal seam, meaning, for example that a three-foot coal seam can be surface mined economically when the overburden is up to 60 feet. However, at some surface mines in Ohio, highwalls of up to 200 feet high remain where five-foot-coal seams have been extracted. And in these cases, the size and power of the giant shovels and draglines used in those areas made that level of extraction possible.
The smallest of Hanna Coal Companys earth movers involved in the I-70 controversy, The Tiger, was among the companys first big shovels, built in the early 1940s. But even for that small shovel, mining historians noted that it took about 63 trainloads to ship its parts from Marion, Ohio to Hannas Georgetown coal complex south of Cadiz, Ohio in Harrison County, where it was assembled. The shipping and assembly of the shovel began in 1943, and by the following year, The Tiger was ready to begin digging. At the time, it was considered to be the worlds largest shovel, used to help mine coal for the steel mills during WWII. The photo below shows a portion of The Tiger in 1957 near Cadiz, Ohio. The Tiger shown during a 1950s field tour. This shovel first began its work in Harrison County, Ohio in 1944, moving on to other coal fields in Ohio through the 1970s.
The Hanna Coal Company, meanwhile, was quite an Ohio industrial power, evolved initially from Rhodes & Co., a firm in the 1840s that mined coal in Ohios Mahoning Valley area. Hanna expanded into iron ore mining in the Lake Superior region in the mid-1860s, establishing roots in the steel industry. Some years later, after considerable growth over the decades, and various business transactions, stock trades, mergers, and restructurings, including the sale of its iron and steel interests, Hanna, by 1945-46, became part of what was then called the Pittsburgh Consolidation Coal Company (Pitt-Consol). In this deal, Hanna brought to Consol its eastern Ohio coal properties, which then accounted for about 20 percent of Ohios production. A few years later, Pitt-Consol acquired more Hanna coal lands in Ohios Harrison, Belmont and Jefferson counties. But Hanna, as a Consolidation company, continued to operate in these areas under its name. Undated photo (probably circa 1950s) of a smaller Bucyrus-Erie electric shovel loading a 55-ton Euclid truck at one of Hanna's coal mines. The loaded coal would then go to Hannas Georgetown prep plant for cleaning and shipping.
Hanna became one of the major players in the Eastern and Southeastern Ohio coalfields for many years. By the 1950s at Duncanwood, Ohio, near Cadiz in Harrison County, Hanna had a complex of offices and shop buildings, and also a major coal processing center at its giant Georgetown complex of coal mines, tipples, and railroads. The companys coal cleaning operations there, which opened in 1951, was then one of the largest preparation plants in the world, and could process 1,275 tons/hour which was quite formidable in the 1950s. Hanna was also one of the first to use a coal slurry pipeline to transport coal over a long distance. In 1956 the company built a 10-inch, 108-mile-long pipeline that linked the Hannas Georgetown prep plant near Cadiz with the Cleveland Electric Companys Eastlake Generating Station in Cleveland. Crushed coal was mixed with water at a Hanna plant and the slurry mixture then pumped through the line to Cleveland. Between 1957 and 1963, this pipeline supplied about six million tons of coal to Cleveland Electric.
Headlines from July 1966 when Hanna made a big investment in a nearby West Virginia deep mine.Hanna made front-page news whenever it was inovled in a new coal investment. On June 10, 1966, for example, the company made headlines in the Steubenville Herald-Star of Steubenville, Ohio, for its plans at the Shoemaker Mine in the nearby West Virginia panhandle south of Wheeling. Just across the Ohio River there, at Benwood, West Virginia, a deep mine and related facilities were being planned. In the newspaper, an aerial photo on the front page showed the complex of coal haulage roads and preparation facilities to service the deep mine, which also included rail transport from the mine, conveyor system, and coal crushing and coal washing.
At its deep mine locations, especially in earlier years, Hanna built company housing for its miners, such as those built for workers at the Dunglen mine at Newtown, Ohio. It also operated company stores those invoked generally by the Tennessee Ernie Ford song, Sixteen Tons. Two of Hannas stores were those named Dillonvale and Lafferty, and another one was located at Willow Grove, Ohio. First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, had visited Hannas Willow Grove deep mine in April 1935. Below is an enlarged map of several Ohio counties where Hanna Coal Company mines and machines exploited the Pittsburgh No. 8 Coalfield for many years.
Map showing the Pittsburgh No. 8 Coalfield, running beneath Southeastern Ohio counties where Hanna Coal Co and others operated strip and deep mines and other facilities for decades. Source: CoalCampUSA.com
Hannas Ohio strip mining, meanwhile, was aided through the 1950s by another of the big machines, The Mountaineer, built by the Marion Co. The Mountaineer was among the first of the big super strippers. This colossus was also assembled in pieces, near Cadiz, Ohio, a build that began in June 1955. The big shovel didnt start digging until January 30, 1956. The Mountaineer had a 65-cubic-yard dipper, stood 16 stories tall, with a 150 foot tall boom. Its shovel could hold a 100-ton payload. The Mountaineer was the first shovel to have a built-in elevator for the crew to reach the operating controls, in this case, located in dual cabs at the front of the machine, one on each side. The Mountaineer shovel, from a Life magazine photo in the 1950s, shows the colossal size of this earth mover relative to nearby vehicles, locomotive, and group of workmen.
The GEM of Egypt (GEM, an acronym for Giant Earth Mover or Giant Excavating Machine), the largest of the three shovels in Hannas employ, went into service in January 1967 (There was also a fourth giant shovel that Hanna used, The Silver Spade, sometimes called the sister to The Gem of Egypt, also used in Ohio, but not involved in the I-70 crossing. The Spade in 1965 had worked at Hannas Georgetown Mine near Cadiz, among other places, active through 2008). The Gem of Egypt was 20 stories tall and weighed 7,000 tons. It had a 170-foot boom and a 130 cubic yard bucket. It first went to work at the opening of the Egypt Valley mine in January 1967. Photo of The Gem of Egypt shovel, believed to be around the time it began operating in the Egypt Valley of Ohio in the late 1960s. Note the size of the machine relative to the people standing near its shovel and around its base.
Hanna invited the public to attend the grand opening of the Egypt Valley Mine in late January 1967. An estimated 25,000 people traveled to the site, many from Ohio cities such as Cleveland, Akron, and Canton, as well as those from neighboring states. The centerpiece of the tour was the colossal GEM of Egypt, which towered over the visitors cars parked near it that day. The GEM, in fact, was capable of holding the equivalent of at least two Greyhound buses in its bucket. The giant earth mover was slated to operate in Hannas 96,000-acre Egypt Valley surface mine in Belmont County. Production there was expected to average 20,000 tons a day until the vein ran out, which the company then forecast to last for the next 30 to 40 years. January 1967 open house at Hanna Coal Cos Egypt Valley surface mine, unveiling the GEM of Egypt shovel.
Hanna also used the 1967 mine-opening event to public relations advantage, offering hand-out literature for the public that touted the virtues of reclamation and post-mining uses, some of which bordered on the far-fetched, such as suggesting spoil piles could be used for ski slopes. The reality was that this mine, and others that had preceded it, were ripping through farmland, and despite laws on the books, leaving in their wake, highwalls, spoil piles, acid mine drainage, damaged homes, silted streams and polluted water supplies.
The state of Ohio has not had a happy environmental history with strip mining; and to this day, its ravages are still taking a toll. Although Ohio was one of the earliest states to adopt a strip mining law in 1947-48, that law had very little impact in terms of environmental protection or land reclamation. As documented in Chad Montries book, To Save The Land and People, Ohio farmers were among the first to rail against the ravages of strip mining.We believe that strip mining is a menace to agriculture and the very life of our county, unless some control measure is taken. -Morgan County Grange, 1947 Farm groups such as the Grange and Farm Bureau, concerned about losing good farmland to the strippers, helped pass the Ohio law in 1947. Wrote one member of the Morgan County Grange in 1947 in support of Ohios first strip mine law: We believe that strip mining is a menace to agriculture and the very life of our county, unless some control measure is taken. A member of the Western Tuscarawas Game Association, also supporting the legislation that became law, noted: Strip mines must level their spoil banks and the land put in a tillable condition. But despite the 1947 law, that wasnt happening, and didnt happen. Essentially, there was no reclamation.
1940 post card from the Cadiz News Agency, with four photos by E.C. Kropp Co., showing coal mining scenes near Cadiz, Ohio, Harrison County with caption: Scenes From Cadiz, Ohio. Where They Destroy Good Farms to Get The Coal. Some stripping shovels at that time were mounted on rails and/or temporary rail lines & hopper cars serviced the mining area.
By 1949, the Grange and Farm Bureau were back in the legislature seeking strengthening amendments to the law. Still, little changed. In 1953, the Conservation Committee of the Ohio Grange noted that land in the strip mining areas of Ohio [is] left in such condition that it is practically worthless. By 1965, the Grange and Farm Bureau again lobbied the Ohio General Assembly for tougher strip mine regulations, but only minor changes resulted.Land in the strip mining areas of Ohio [is] left in such condition that it is practically worthless. -Ohio Grange, 1953 Some of the adopted language now called on coal operators to grade spoil banks so as to reduce the peaks thereof to a gently rolling, sloping or terraced topography, as may be appropriate, which grading shall be done in such as way as will minimize erosion due to rainfall, [and] break up long uninterrupted slopes. Large boulders were also to be removed and acid mine drainage and stream siltation on adjacent lands prevented, if possible. Needless to say, such language wasnt exactly iron clad. Farm organizations by then were filing reports of strip mine siltation and clay washing onto adjacent lands in depths of up to two feet. They called on legislators to deny strippers their license when they damaged neighboring lands. But that didnt happen either. Further reform wouldnt come until 1972, covered later below.
During the late 1960s, meanwhile, The GEM of Egypt was chewing through Ohio farm country at a rate of 200 tons per bite, continuing to work through the Egypt Valley of Harrison and Belmont counties where Hanna held thousands of acres of land with strippable coal. The GEM gradually worked its way to within sight of the interstate highway, I-70, as it dug through the hills just north of the highway. Motorists traveling on I-70 would sometimes stop to marvel at the giant shovel while it did its handwork. The Gem of Egypt working its way through the Egypt Valley strip mine of Ohio in the late 1960s early 1970s. The giant machine is removing the earth over the coal seam on the right, and then, swinging its boom and loaded shovel left, depositing the overburden on the spoil banks. A tiny vehicle mid-photo appears to be riding on a road that is the unearthed coal seam. At right, atop the hillside being mined, is a line of powdered-white blasting holes where dynamite will be used to loosen the overburden the giant shovel will continue to remove.
Hanna, at this point, had new plans for The Gem of Egypt. Hanna wanted to use the machine ten miles south, to begin stripping coal lands near Barnesville, in Belmont County. Barnesville then had a population of 4,300. But in order to move the big machine to that location, it would have to cross, and temporarily shut down, a major interstate highway, I-70. While Hanna and other coal companies had worked their will with local and state roads sometimes taking them over completely for hauling coal, or taking them out of service a federal interstate highway was in something of a different league. And this particular east-west segment running between Wheeling, West Virginia and Columbus, Ohio would become heavily traveled.
In the 1950s and 1960s, as President Dwight D. Eisenhowers Interstate Highway system was taking form across the U.S., one of the segments to be built in Ohio was the East-West running Interstate I-70. This highway would cut across Southeastern Ohios coalfields, including counties in the vicinity where Hanna and others were operating. Hanna, in fact, had acquired some 12,000 to 13,000 acres of coal lands (more??) in the area prior to the laying of the I-70 route. So when the Federal and state governments started planning for I-70, Hanna was one of the parties at the table and by that time Hanna was part of Consolidated Coal Co., or Consol.
Map showing I-70 running through a portion of S. E. Ohio near the town of Barnesville, where strip mining was headed in 1973.In the 1960s, the State of Ohio attempted to negotiate with Hanna/Consol for the necessary right-of-way for that part of I-70 which divided the Egypt Valley coalfield.
Consol claimed $8-to-$10 million in damages for the dividing of its coal field by the highway. However Ohio agreed to construct two underpasses at I-70 to permit Consols coal trucks to travel under the highway. The state also agreed to permit Consol to cross over the surface of the I-70 highway with mining equipment 10 times during a period of 40 years. The U.S. Secretary of Transportation also approved this agreement in early September 1964.
By 1968, Interstate highway I-70 was built, with about 27 miles traversing Belmont County, bisecting the coal lands held by Hanna/Consol. During this time, Hannas Gem of Egypt and the strip mining of the Egypt Valley site had proceeded, moving closer and closer to the Interstate.
Through 1967, the Ohio farm groups continued to seek stricter strip mine enforcement in the state legislature, though with little success. By this time, however, new public environmental awareness was rising across the nation and in Ohio, where the Cuyahoga River had caught on fire from pollution in June 1969, raising the states environmental profile. New activists were entering the strip mine fight there as well, and throughout the region. A 1970 strip mining symposium held in Cadiz, Ohio drew 400 attendees, including many students, but with sponsors such as the Ohio Conservation Foundation, state chapter of the Sierra Club, the Ohio Audubon Council, and others. By late December 1970, some local members of the United Steelworkers Union and the Belmont County AFL-CIO, along with others from Ohio State Universitys Marion extension campus, formed an organization called Citizens Concerned About Strip Mining. This group planned to lobby the Ohio legislature for strip mine reforms, and in the summer of 1971, sponsored a meeting that drew prominent strip mining opponents from nearby states, including a regional representative of the Sierra Club.
Title screen for The Ravaged Earth TV program pro-duced by WKYC-TV, Cleveland, 1969. Click for film.In Ohio and across the nation during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the media began to play an important role in bringing environmental issues to the attention of the general public.
In Cleveland, a small group of TV producers and writers at NBCs WKYC-TV station, produced a 1969 documentary that focused in part on strip mining in Ohios Perry County and the environmental ruin it was causing there. The film was part of WKYCs Montage series of documentary programs on local and regional subjects that aired in Cleveland from 1965 to 1978. The title of the strip mine program was The Ravaged Earth. Linda Sugarman, one of the associate producers at the time, wrote a July 31, 1969 memo, statement of need, and description of the planned program, to be broadcast in late September 1969:
For twenty five years giant steamshovels have been clawing their way across the beautiful hills of Southern Ohio, unearthing shallow veins of coal and leaving a scene of utter devastation. The strip mines, which are dug instead of deep mines when the coal is close to the surface, bring about in their wake a stark, and almost worthless wasteland of steep spoil banks whose overturned earth is so acidic weeds can barely grow on it. Rivers and streams become red with sulfuric acid pollution. Public heath hazards are created by uncontrolled clouds of coal dust and carbon monoxide fumes. Property damage, caused by blasting goes uncompensated. Many of the mining interests seem to be in almost total disregard of the local laws, property rights, safety, and health of the nearby residents.
Although a few of the coal companies attempt to renew and reclaim the land they have strip mined, the ones who have made so much damage seem to be able to continue their activities without much opposition. Since the coal companies bring in most of the income in many of these counties, most public officials seem hesitant to prosecute or even confront them. Residents of the area who depend directly or indirectly upon the mines also seem hesitant to complain about the coal companies actions
Montage will talk to these conservationists, as well as local citizens, elected officials, and mine representatives. The film will also show the damaged as well as the reclaimed areas of Southern Ohio.
Screen shot from The Ravaged Earth of light green automobile (center) moving through unreclaimed strip-mined area with remaining highwall, spoil debris, and rugged terrain.The program included extensive footage of strip-mined lands, eroded hillsides, miles of highwalls, polluted run-off, closed and detoured local roads, and more (especially in Perry County, Ohio). Some mining operations of the Ohio Power Company were shown, featuring its gigantic dragline, Big Muskie. A Peabody Coal Co. roadside billboard was also shown with its boastful Operation Green Earth headline and wildlife mural, as the camera slowly panned across an adjacent and continuous view of poorly-reclaimed spoil piles and strip-mined lands. One official interviewed during the program explained that problems such as the acidic run-off and lack of successful reclamation, resulted from turning the land upside down and not saving and segregating topsoil during the mining process so it could be used in reclamation. Other officials were also interviewed during the program from Perry County Planning Commissioner, James Brown, to former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall.
Stewart Udall, as he appeared in the 1969 TV report, The Ravaged Earth.Of course, the whole history of coal mining in this country is a rather sad story, of lack of any control or regulation And lack of any conscience on the part of the industry, until very recently. And as someone said, in those parts of the country that were fortunate to have coal, when you look at the long haul, coal has been a curse. [here Udall may have been referring to Harry Caudill].
Coal as an extractive industry, like all extractive industries, once the mineral or product is mined, the values are gone, and the industry usually walks away and youre confronted then with the long haul with what people will do with what is left
We calculated once in a strip mine study we made about two years ago what the cost would be of restoring all the stripped areas in the United States. As I recall it was a very big cost, something like $2 billionAnd its also an uneconomic cost because this should have been done at the time the coal was mined and should have been charged as part of the cost of the mining So I fear this [reclamation] will have a very low priority, that it will not be done in the near future, and the result is that were going to be denied the use and benefit of these lands for recreation,[T]heres no damage to the land that is more permanent, and really more devastating, than what you see in the worst strip mining areas of the United States Stewart Udall, 1969 as watershed lands, and for the contribution that they can make to the country
Ive probably seen as much of this nation from a helicopter in the last 6 or 8 years as anybody and thats the best way to see it.. Because you see the beauty, you see the scars, you see the damage. And of course, theres no damage to the land that is more permanent, and really more devastating, than what you see in the worst strip mining areas of the United States The reason this is damaging is that if action is not taken to restore these stripped areas, theyre left there; they cant revegetate themselves at least it will take many, many tens or hundreds of years for anything to occur And that these become sort of permanent, man-made wastelands. We have too many people; we have too many things we need to do with our land; too much need for outdoor recreation and playgroundsWe cant afford to have wastelands created by man in this country. And this is the reason all of us have to regret the mistakes of the past and we have to determine that were not going to repeat those mistakes now.
In the Ohio academic community, meanwhile, Arnold Reitze, from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, wrote a 1971 law review article entitled, Old King Coal and the Merry Rapists of Appalachia, in which he focused on some of strip minings effects in the Egypt Valley where Hanna was mining. Reitze found that in Belmont County, some 200,000 of the countys 346,000 total acres had been sold, leased, or optioned to coal interests. That beautiful county, he wrote, like scores of others, seems destined to become a wasteland of silted, acid waters, barren land, and patches of crown vetch, all legally reclaimed.New activists and a new governor were changing Ohios strip mine politics. Another professor who became involved was Dr. Theodore Ted Voneida, a professor of neurobiology also at Case Western. Voneida and his wife had built a cottage on Piedmont Lake in the Egypt Valley in the 1960s and soon began to see first hand the results of strip mining in that area. Voneida didnt like what he saw, and was amazed at what the strippers were doing to the land and communities. He began gathering documentation of strip minings impacts in the area measuring water pollution, taking photographs, and generally chronicling what was going on there. He also succeeded in getting The Plain Dealer newspaper of Cleveland, the Akron Beacon Journal, and others news outlets interested in the strip mining story. By the early 1970s, Voneida would be quoted in newspaper stories on strip minings harmful effects, sometimes opposite Hanna Coals CEO, Ralph Hatch.
New political developments in Ohio also brought more attention to the lack of effective strip mine reclamation. John J. Gilligan, a democrat from Cincinnati who had served in the U.S. Congress for one term in 1965-1967 and had run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate, was elected Ohios Governor in November 1970 (Gilligan was also the father of Kathleen Sebelius, who would later serve as Governor of Kansas and U,S. Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama Adminstration). Governor Gilligan took on strip mining as one of his top priorities, and he specifically backed a bill in the legislature that would bring tougher reclamation standards to Ohios coalfields.
Hanna Coal, meanwhile, made plans for mining south of I-70 and sought to exercise its highway crossing agreement with Ohio and the federal government. However, by late 1970, Hanna, and strip mining in Ohio, were getting some unwanted national attention, now cast in an Appalachian regional and national context over how best to deal with surface coal mining. And Hannas hulking machines were part of the theater and the damage being done.
On December 15, 1970, Ben Franklin, a reporter with The New York Times, did a story on strip mining that his editors ran on the front page with a photo of a ravaged Ohio strip mine scene. Strip-Mining Boom Leaves Wasteland in Its Wake, was the headline. Franklin filed his story from St. Clairsville, Ohio. And while the story covered strip mining nationally, it featured particular problems in Belmont County, where Hanna was then operating day and night.
Dec 15, 1970: Front-page story in the New York Times with photo of strip mine damage in Belmont County, Ohio and story that prominently featured Ohio strip mining, environmental issues there, and the Hanna Coal Company.
This rolling, unfarmed farm land, just west of the Ohio River, is being chewed into billions of tons of rocky rubble by strip mining for coal. More than five billion tons of it, long considered low-grade fuel too marginal for mass mining, lies less than 100 feet from the sur face in eastern Ohio, and a boom is on to recover it.
It is bringing an upheaval of terrain unmatched since the glaciers of the last Ice Age scoured these hills and valleys as far south as Cincinnati, compacting thick bituminous coal beds that have aged 300 million years
To lay bare the coal, farms, barns, silos, houses, churches and roads are being dynamited, scooped up by mammoth power shovels that tower 12 stories high, and piled in giant windrows of strip mine spoil banks.
Scores of aggrieved persons here have lost well water, have suffered sleepless nights from blasting, or have seen timbered acreage at their property lines turned into the 100-foot-deep pits of strip mines.
In his story, Franklin also quoted U.S. Congressman Wayne L. Hays, an Ohio Democrat who then lived in Flushing, Ohio, a Belmont County town which Franklin described as isolated on three sides by abandoned strip mine highwalls, the sheer, quarry-like cliffs where the strip mine excavation stopped. Congressman Hayes, cited in Franklins story, had this to say: Theyre turning this beautiful place into a desert Theyll take anything thats black and will burn It costs them more to really reclaim this land than the land is worth when theyre finished. No one has figured out what will happen to us here when theyre through, but I can tell you it isnt going to be pretty.
The GEM of Egypt at work in Ohio, circa 1960s-1970s, also illustrates the problem of highwalls the sheer-face cliffs, seen here on the right often left as unreclaimed final cuts when the mining was finished.
During 1970, environmental concerns continued to rise across the nation. On December 20th that year, President Richard Nixon established the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In the strip mine fight, just after Christmas 1970, West Virginias Secretary of State, Democrat John D. Jay Rockefeller announced that he would seek a ban on the surface mining of coal in West Virginia, with bills to that end introduced in the legislature in late January 1971. At the federal level too, by July 1971, West Virginias Congressman, Democrat Ken Heckler, had introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to ban surface coal mining. The prohibition efforts, however, at state and federal levels, would prove to be uphill fights.
A New York Times Op-Ed by Belmont County, Ohio resident brought further attention to the impact of strip mining on Ohios land and small towns.Ohio coal mining, meanwhile, continued to receive more national attention as a local Belmont County resident and former newspaper man named Doral Chenoweth wrote a January 1972 Op-Ed piece on that topic in the New York Times. The title line used for the piece was, Say Good-by to Hendrysburg, a small town then in the cross hairs of Hannas strip mining.
As the article contended, Hendrysburg would be ruined as a viable small town given what the strippers were doing to depopulate the area, having bought out many landowners. A pull quote used in the piece noted: All the farms started going in 1967 when the big shovels were moved in.
Barely a town by that point, Hendrysburg had been badgered day and night for several years by the hulking operations of The GEM of Egypt. Blasting and digging to get at the coal as well as 100-foot-deep excavations made around and near the town had unnerved residents. Wells were disrupted in some places. And since the shovel worked around the clock with lights, the towns homes were sometimes bathed in an eerie electric glow, as one reporter described it.
Florence Bethel, a Hendrysburg resident who worked as a telephone operator, had first-hand experience with The GEM of Egypt. She later recounted her tale to reporter George Vescy of the New York Times:
It started around Christmas of 1969. You could feel the blasting three and a half miles away. I had a brand new sealed well, 53 feet deep. The water got so muddy, it clogged the valves. Then my basement walls cracked. I was working nights and trying to stay in college. I couldnt sleep during the day. I called them up and asked them to take is easy, but it just got worse. Then my health started to go. I had a 3.2 average but it dropped to Ds and Fs. I had to drop out. Bethel sued Hanna for $107,500 and damages and moved to a mobile home south of Barnesville.
In February 1972, a two-day strip mining conference at Zanesville, Ohio attracted about 100 activists. Also that month, on February 26th, the Buffalo Creek disaster in West Virginia occurred. In the upper reaches of the Buffalo Creek watershed in Logan County, West Virginia, a series of large coal slurry waste gop impoundments burst after heavy rains, releasing a tidal wave of coal waste water on more than a dozen downstream communities. More than 125 people were killed, with at least 1,000 more injured and 4,000 left homeless. Upstream strip mining and mine wastes were implicated as contributing factors.
In March 1972, Ohio Governor John Gilligan, addressing the state legislature in opening his administration, listed strip mining legislation as among his priorities. As the new Ohio state strip mine bill was being considered in early 1972, among those coming to testify was Mrs. Alice J. Grossniklaus, of Holmes County, Ohio. Mrs. Grossniklaus had a cheese store near Wilmot, Ohio that she had run since 1932.Theyd call me at 2 or 3 a. m. and tell me that their cupboard doors were opening and closing from the blasting, flower pots were falling off the walls, and that the walls were cracking In the early 1960s, she had her first experienced strip mining on about 1.000 acres of land in nearby Tuscarawas County. She would explain that the mining was driving some of the neighbors crazy. Theyd call me at 2 or 3 a. m. and tell me that their cupboard doors were opening and closing from the blasting, flower pots were falling off the walls, and that the walls were cracking. What can we do, they would ask. I told them to call up the mine owners and get them out of bed so they could be bothered too. Grossniklaus had crusaded for tougher strip mine laws since 1963. Until then, I didnt even know what a strip mine was, she would say. But in March 1972, she drove to Columbus to testify before a Senate committee on the pending strip mine legislation, calling for the strongest possible bill. Ted Vonieda testified on the pending bill as well. He recommended a three-year ban on strip mining until a detailed study could be made of strip minings environmental impact on the state.
The new Ohio strip mine bill, backed by Governor Gilligan, was passed and took effect on April 10, 1972. But it wasnt clear how much the new law would help those in Belmont County facing the expansion of strip mining south of I-70, as the giant shovel prepared to cross the interstate. Local newspapers were reporting that the crossing by The Gem of Egypt could occur before June 15, 1972, ahead of the summer vacation season when traffic on I-70 would be at a peak levels. Local activists, however, were vowing to fight the crossing.
Among local residents who were opposed to the I-70 crossing was Barnesville City Council member Richard Garrett. After a couple of residents had come to him when strip mine blasting had damaged their homes, Garrett formed Citizens Organized to Defend the Environment (CODE) in June 1971, a grassroots effort aimed at the environmental impacts of strip mining.
The local opponents, however, were outnumbered by those who saw coal mining as key to their local economy and those who worked directly at the mines. During a summer 1972 public meeting sponsored by CODE in Barnesville, part of which was captured by an ABC-TV documentary, Echo of Anger, some of those working at the strip mines came out to offer their opinions.If that GEM is not able to cross the road, Im out of a job[I]f they keep the publicity up on this thing [i.e., the crossing], we are going to boycott the busi-nesses in town Bernard Delloma, mine worker A bulldozer operator working at the Egypt Valley Mine, Bernard Delloma, voiced his objection to the lawsuit filed to stop the crossing. If that [mine] shuts down, there are 322 of us [out of a job]. If that GEM is not able to cross the road, Im out of a job. Im out of a ten or twelve thousand dollar a year job. And he added that he and the other strip miners have organized and we say that if they keep the publicity up on this thing [i.e., the crossing], we are going to boycott the businesses in town. If we do, there wont be no town left.
I dont like stripping or any part of it, explained Barnesville furniture store owner John Kirk, quoted in a Wall Street Journal story. Kirk, in fact, had gone to Columbus to protest new mining regulations. Still, it isnt that simple, he said. Better than 10 percent of the work force in this county works for the mines. Newspaper editor Bill Davies of the Barnesville Enterprise agreed, Our future is definitely tied to the strip mining industry its more important to us that you think.
Map shows approximate location in Ohio of a planned I-70 crossing by a giant strip-mine shovel owned by the Hanna Coal Co. N.Y. Times map.But others in Barnesville were working on a plan to establish a one-mile greenbelt buffer around Barnesville where new surface mining would be prohibited. They also wanted additional reclamation for areas leading to and from the village to reduce the visual aspect of strip mining. The greenbelt group had some support from Governor Gilligan. Hanna/Consol, in negotiations with the group, agreed to reclaim its mined lands in the area to meet the standards of the 1972 Ohio Strip Mine Law, though technically Hanna was only bound by the less stringent 1965 law. Hannas Hatch also agreed to fund a land use plan for the area around the village and to work with local officials to ensure that reclamation did not violate the plan, which would also provide for post-mining planning and development of industrial sites and access roads.
Meanwhile, a permit for the crossing of I-70 by The GEM of Egypt strip mining shovel was issued to Hanna/Consol on August 7, 1972. Thats when the CODE group joined the Ohio Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) in a lawsuit to challenge the I-70 crossing. Garrett in comments to the Times-Leader newspaper of Martins Ferry, Ohio, had stated earlier his groups intent to fight every one of those machines when they try to bring them across. The lawsuit was filed in federal district court. CODE was joined by Friends of the Earth and two local residents as listed plaintiffs
The legal battle would delay any further action on the crossing. Still, on September 29, 1972, Hanna/Consol moved to amend the crossing permit to substitute The Mountaineer and The Tiger (also known as 46-A) shovels, instead of The GEM of Egypt. Some speculated this was partly a public relations move on Hannas part, since the bigger GEM of Egypt had drawn national notice at the time. But Hannas CEO, Hatch noted that The GEM had plenty to do north of the interstate and would make the crossing later in 1973 or early in 1974.
In their legal challenge to the crossing, CODE and fellow plaintiffs made federal and state arguments. They raised questions of federal procedure and decision making under the Administrative Procedures Act; whether the U.S. Secretary of Transportation could approve such a crossing under the Federal Highway Act; and whether the action to cross might be construed to be a major federal action under the National Environmental Policy Act requiring an environmental assessment.
From Associated Press story, December 29, 1972, Observer-Reporter (Washington, PA).The plaintiffs also claimed that the state of Ohio lacked authority to allow Hanna/Consol to cross I-70 for three reasons: the Ohio Constitution required public roads to be open to the public at all times; the Ohio Director of Transportation may permit only special uses or occupancy of highways that will not inconvenience the traveling public; and Ohio law prohibits access to limited access highways at undesignated access points.
On each of these counts, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Kinneary in Columbus offered his findings and analysis, and on December 15th, 1972 he dismissed the plaintiffscase and allowed the crossing to proceed.
In his ruling, the judge cited as valid the 1964 shovel-crossing agreement the company had made with Ohio and the Federal highway agencies. He did note that the crossing of 170 would be an inconvenience, but one that would only slow traffic and not stop it, with suitable detours. Hanna would, however, be liable for any damage to the highway. So with Judge Kinnearys ruling, the crossing was allowed to proceed.
One protest group, The Commission on Religion in Appalachia, from Knoxville, Tennessee, made an 11th-hour appeal to Ohio Gov. Gilligan to step in and halt the crossings. But the giant shovels would not be stopped. Still, a coalition of protesters from Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia planned a peaceful march to the crossing site.
On January 4, 1973, in the early hours of a bitterly cold winter morning, the two mammoth machines first, the 5.5 million pound Mountaineer (65 cu yd bucket) followed by the smaller, 4.5 million pound Tiger (46 cu yd bucket) crossed I-70. The machines moved very slowly in making the transit, at a rate of about three miles an hour.
Grainy black & white photo of The Mountaineer shovel at left moving toward its crossing point of Interstate highway I-70 near Hendrysburg, Ohio, dumping sand ahead of itself as part of the land bridge being built to protect the highway surface from damage.
The crossing required a rerouting of traffic off I-70 for approximately 1 miles. Temporary entrance and exit ramps in both directions were constructed, connecting with State Route 800 onto which traffic was routed for a mile or so, until it could return to I-70. Uniformed flagmen were stationed to direct traffic through the re-routing. To protect the highway pavement, a special gravel and earthen land bridge was built across I-70 over which the Hanna shovels crossed. At least six feet of crushed stone and earth was used for the land bridge and heavy wooden mats were also placed over the crushed stone and earth. Sensors were also placed beneath the highway surface to test for any stress on the roadway.
The Mountaineer shovel shown continuing to aid in the construction of the land bridge upon which it and another shovel, The Tiger, would cross interstate highway I-70 in Ohio in order to strip mine coal fields on the other side.
A fleet of some eight bulldozers worked around the base of the big shovels, helping to shape and stabilize the land bridge ahead of the crossing. The transit of the big shovels began at noon on January 4th, 1973. Under the permit, Hanna was allotted a period of 24 hours to move its equipment, and officials at the company had estimated it would take from two to three hours to make the actual crossing. However, the crossing was made ahead of schedule and was actually completed by 6:30 pm that day.
The crossing of the big shovels made The NBC Evening News with John Chancellor on Friday, January 5th, 1973. The event was also front-page news in many Ohio newspapers, and was also covered in the New York Times and Washington Post. One local newsman rode along in The Tiger as that shovel made the crossing.
Jan 4, 1973: The Mountaineer earth-moving shovel makes the transit across I-70 near Hendrysburg, Ohio, on its journey south through Belmont County to help strip mine coal lands owned by Hanna Coal Co. near Barnesville.
Ted Voneida of Case Western Reserve University was one of the activists at the crossing. He was quoted in an Associated Press story on the day of the crossing: Im protesting the idea that we must trade off the environment for [electric] power in this country. I hope to let people know, especially in the western states, what is happening. Strip mining was then about to move west in a big way, to states such as Montana and Wyoming, where the land was flat to gently rolling, the coal seams thick, and the odds against reclamation even greater. Voneida was sounding a warning: the giant shovels were headed their way and the results would not be pleasant. Other protesters at the crossing all peaceful; there were no confrontations sought to highlight the fact that costs were being created costs to roads, water, and land that would be borne by the public, not the companies making the profits.
On January 5th, 1972, after the two shovels were moved across the highway, Arthur Wallace, who then headed Hannas reclamation efforts, conducted a bus tour of reclaimed areas for newsmen, as a contingent of press from out of state had gathered for the crossing. Wallace noted that Belmont Countys farming land, after strip mining, would be used for cattle grazing due to the lower quality of the restored land. Wallace noted that the cattle would graze on a variety of vegetation including alfalfa and crown vetch.
Once on the south side of I-70, The Mountaineer and The Tiger resumed their digging as Hanna/Consol continued strip mining in Belmont County for many years. And despite the new 1972 Ohio strip mine law (the implementation of which was blocked for several years by coal company litigation), Hannas Egypt Valley Mine continued its southward expansion, as the big shovels worked to turn the landscape upside down. True, some reclamation occurred in that area and throughout the state, and the land in some cases was returned to passable condition. But environmental problems from strip-mined land, and disruption for nearby communities, persisted for many years throughout the coal mining areas of the state, continuing for some areas as this is written.
But during the 1970s, in the Belmont County area and other Ohio counties, there appears to have been continued struggle between local residents and coal mining companies. Among those residents, for example, was Mary Workman of Steubenville, Ohio (shown below) who would not sell her land to Hanna Coal Company even though the company owned much of the land around her and many of the local roads were closed. In the early 1970s, she filed a damage suit against the Hanna Coal Company for ruining her water (still searching for the outcome of that case).
Photo date, October 1973. Mary Workman of Steubenville, Ohio holds a jar of undrinkable water that comes from her well. At the time, she had filed a damage suit against the Hanna Coal Co.; she had to transport water from a well many miles away. She also resisted selling her land to the coal company, even though much of the land around her was sold and many of the roads closed. Photo, Erik Calonius, U.S. EPA Documerica Project.
By August 1977, the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act was signed into law by President Jimmy Carter, providing hope in the nations coalfields for improved regulation and better reclamation outcomes. Among those invited to the Rose Garden signing ceremony was Barnesvilles Richard Garrett and Case Western Reserve Universitys Ted Voneida. Yet even with the 1977 federal law, which did help raise mining safety and reclamation standards across the country, the record now 40 years later remains mixed, with the laws Abandoned Lands Reclamation Fund a frequent target of the industry, and in 2017, slammed by an Inspector Generals report for diversions of reclamation monies in some states for non-reclamation purposes.
In southeastern Ohio, meanwhile, strip mining, and the regions reliance on a single industry, has not made for a viable economy. As Allen J. Dieterich-Ward noted of the region, writing in his 2006 dissertation, Mines, Mills and Malls: Regional Development in the Steel Valley:
By the late 1970s, the rise in mining employment coupled with the failure significantly to diversify employment or to develop the regions infrastructure meant that the areas economic fortunes increasingly rested on a single industry. The continued use of surface mining had also depopulated large swaths of the area, leaving behind thousands of acres unsuitable for either industrial or recreational development. The collapse in the market for the areas high sulfur coal during the 1980s prompted a steep drop in mine employment. Combined with losses in the heavy industrial employers along the Ohio River, the mine closures created a mass exodus from the region and the collapse of the local economy.
Columbus Dispatch newspaper map of the Egypt Valley Wildlife Area in S.E. Ohio.Back in Barnesville, meanwhile, in the mid-1990s, a group of residents began to mobilize around their earlier Greenbelt plan the plan agreed upon in 1972 but never afforded legal standing. When another mining company later acquired mineral rights in the Barnesville area, a group of residents, including some of those who had protested the original I-70 crossing, petitioned the Ohio Dept. of Natural Resources to deny the company permits, sparking a series of legal battles that continued through the late 1990s.
Elsewhere in the region, some of the land where Hannas monster shovels roamed, ironically, has been converted into parks and wildlife areas. In Harrison County, the surrounding hillsides of what is now the Sally Buffalo Park were strip mined for coal in the 1950s. Hanna had also built a dam there in 1953 to reclaim some of the mined land, and the area was first used as a recreation area for company employees. The restored area became a public park in 1965.
The 18,000-acre Egypt Valley Wildlife Area was created by the state of Ohio in 1994-95. It includes land in the northwest corner of Belmont County where The GEM of Egypt worked for a number of years. Approximately 80 percent of the acreage in the Egypt Valley Wildlife Area has been strip mined. The last active mine there was completed in 1998. The converted wildlife area, however, as of 2015, has been targeted for coal re-mining. Oxford Mining Co. a subsidiary of Westmoreland Coal Co, won a 2015 case before the Ohio Supreme Court allowing it to strip mine there. Given this decision (which involved a privately-held in-holding), other Ohio parks, forests, and wildlife areas may also be vulnerable to strip mining. 2009 map of abandoned coal mines and unfunded cleanup sites in SE Ohio. Source: Columbus Dispatch.
Part of coals legacy in Southeast Ohio continues to be the abandoned mines that have been left behind. As of 2009, the state estimated that more than 600,000 acres of coal had been mined underground in Ohio and more than 720,000 acres had been strip mined. The Columbus Dispatch map at left shows those areas of known mine sites underground and stripped that have been abandoned, as well as unfunded cleanup sites.
In 2012, a Columbus Dispatch story on coal and polluted streams in the state, noted: Coals legacy on Ohios waters, particularly in the southeastern part of the state, is visible in creek after yellow creek. In some instances, coal companies intentionally pumped water out of coal mines into nearby streams. In others, abandoned coal mines that fill with rainwater continuously leach water into nearby watersheds. Some 1,300 miles of streams or creeks in Ohio have been polluted by water from coal mines.
Scientists and citizen organizations in Ohio have initiated some remediation efforts in a few watersheds that have been heavily mined. One of these has been a partnership working to restore the Raccoon Creek watershed in southeastern Ohio. This watershed with multiple streams drains 683 square miles of land in six counties: Athens, Gallia, Hocking, Jackson, Meigs, and Vinton. Coal extraction over nearly 100 years in the area has badly damaged the watershed. On a map of the watershed below, strip-mined areas are indicated in dark blue, while deep-mined areas are shown in red.
In the early 1950s, Ohios Division of Wildlife performed the first study of the Raccoon Creek basin and found little aquatic life due to abandoned coal mines and acid-producing wastes. Some 350 million tons of coal were mined in this watershed between 1820 and 1993, affecting nearly 40,000 acres.
Blue (stripped), red (deep-mined), 6-county Raccoon Ck. watershed.Given poor mining regulation and the lack of reclamation that prevailed until the mid-1970s, vast amounts of waste and spoil were generated, and thousands of tons of toxic coal refuse were spread throughout the watershed. Erosion and acid mine drainage were rampant. Stream water quality, however, has improved as the result of reclamation in the watershed from the 1980s. And substantial improvement has occurred since the 1950s.
As of 2005, however, Ohio scientists believed that it would still take a decade for recent remediation efforts in the watershed to have any pronounced changes on the water quality and biology of its streams. A number are still in poor or fair condition. But in a few streams, there have been improvements in water chemistry and aquatic habitat. Findings of aquatic insects and fish in Little Raccoon Creek, for example, while not in great numbers, show a diversity that some scientists find promising for the future.
As for the monster machines that caused all the damage and commotion back in the 1960s and 1970s, all three of them had long mining careers. The Tiger, from 1944, worked up through the 1970s; The Mountaineer, began working in 1956, stopped digging in 1979 and was scrapped in 1988; and The GEM of Egypt of 1967, dug its last shovelful in 1988. The Silver Spade, a sister shovel to The GEM, and also used by Hanna, continued mining though January 2006, in part because The GEM was used for parts to keep The Spade running. More history and background on the big machines, and Ohios surface mining history, is available at the Harrison Coal & Reclamation Historical Park in Cadiz, Ohio.
For additional stories at this website on the history of coal and coal mining, see for example, the following: Paradise: 1971 (about a John Prine song, strip mining in Muhlenberg County, KY, and the demise of a small town); Mountain Warrior (profile of Kentucky author and coal-field activist, Harry Caudill, noted for his famous book, Night Comes to The Cumberlands and his life-long critique of Appalachian strip mining); Sixteen Tons, 1950s (the famous Tennessee Ernie Ford song and some coal mining history); and, G.E.s Hot Coal Ad, 2005 (a General Electric TV ad that casts a new breed of coal miners).
Louise C. Dunlap, An Analysis of the Legislative History of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1975, Proceedings of the Twenty-First Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute, Matthew Bender & Co.: New York , 1976.
For an excellent retrospective on the 1970s-1990s history of the strip mining fight, citizen activists involved in that fight, and history on the strip mine law, The Surface Mining Control & Reclamation Act of 1977, see, Special Issue on the 20th Anniversary of the Federal Coal Law, Citizens Coal Council Reporter, August 3. 1997.
WKYC-TV, NBC, Cleveland, Ohio, The Ravaged Earth (1969 documentary film on strip mining, featuring in part, strip mined lands in Perry County, Ohio and officials from Perry County, commenting on strip mine damage in that county; 21:24 minutes), Michael Schwartz Library, Cleveland State University,
James Hyslop, Vice President, Consolidation Coal Company, Some Present Day Reclama-tion Problems: An Industrialists Viewpoint, The Ohio Journal of Science, Vol. 64, No. 2 (March, 1964), pp. 157-165.
Allen J. Dieterich-Ward, Mines, Mills and Malls: Regional Development in the Steel Valley, A Dissertation Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy (History), University of Michigan, 2006.
Ken Hechler, Strip Mining: a Clear and Present Danger, Not Man Apart (Friends of the Earth), V. 1, July 1971 (discusses strip mining and urges support for his bill, HR 4556, which would ban all strip mining six months after its passage).
Interior Committee, House, U. S. Congress. Regulation of Strip Mining, Hearings, 92nd Cong., 1st Session, H.R. 60 and Related Bills. Washington, D.C., U.S. Govt Printing Office, 1972. 890 pp. Hearings held Sept. 20 Nov. 30, 1971.
Citizens Organized to Defend Environment, Inc. v. Volpe, 353 F. Supp. 520 (S.D. Ohio 1972), U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio 353 F. Supp. 520 (S.D. Ohio 1972), December 15, 1972.
Mountaineer Goes for A Cruise, [Thursday, January 4, 1973, The Mountaineer and The Tiger crossed I-70 near Hendrysburg, Ohio. The following pictures are from the January 5 Times-Leader (Martins Ferry and Bellaire, Ohio) and were taken by Boyd Nelson.]
Erik Calonius, Photo Albums (freelance photographer hired for EPAs Documerica Project, 1971-1977 ) Included at this URL are some extensive photos, now in the National Archives, of strip mining and strip mine damage in Southeastern Ohio, circa 1973-74.
On a sultry August morning in 1921, some 15,000 coal miners converged at the foot of the steep, brambly slopes of West Virginia's Blair Mountain. On a high ridge above, coal industry forces, private detectives, and state police officers peered out from fortified positions, training Thompson submachine guns and high-powered rifles on the men below.
After years of violent confrontations with mine operators in West Virginia coalfields, the miners were marching to Mingo County, West Virginia, to free miners imprisoned by state authorities and unionize workers who lived in dire poverty in company towns. But the 1,952-foot-tall (595-meter-tall) Blair Mountain stood in the marchers' path. So the minersarmed with machine guns and other weapons, and wearing red bandannas around their necksstarted up the slopes.
The ensuing battle, the second largest civil insurrection in U.S. history, lasted about five days and claimed dozens of lives. And while the miners eventually decided to lay down their arms when federal troops arrived, the battle of Blair Mountain focused national attention on the oppressive company towns of West Virginia and dangerous mines, resulting in part from lagging state safety regulations.
Twelve years later the federal government passed an act giving workers the right to form unions and bargain collectively, and the United Mine Workers of America dispatched its organizers across the United States. Blair Mountain, said Barbara Rasmussen, a historic preservation consultant in Morgantown, West Virginia, "was the flash point. This was where it all boiled over."
Today, Blair Mountain is again the focus of a pitched battlethis time pitting preservationists against coal companies. Subsidiaries of two of the United States' largest coal producersArch Coal, Inc., and Massey Energy Company, the owner of the Upper Big Branch Mine that in April claimed the lives of 29 miners in Montcoal, West Virginiahold permits to blast and strip-mine huge chunks of the upper slopes and ridge of Blair Mountain, removing much of the mountaintop. (See mountaintop-removal mining pictures.)
This strip mining, some say, would bring welcome employment to struggling local communities. "Mining-occupation jobs are the highest paid [blue-collar jobs] in our region, if not in the country," said Jason Bostic, vice-president of the West Virginia Coal Association, an organization that represents coal-mine operators, "and the economic effects ripple out from there."
But many local residents are incensed by the devastation left by mountaintop-removal operations elsewhere in West Virginia. And they deeply oppose any such operation on Blair Mountain, seen as one of the most important historic sites in the U.S. labor movement. "It's like they're trying to destroy anything that the union had to do with," said retired West Virginia coal miner Paul Nelson. "I think they want to destroy Blair Mountain and all memory of it."
The president of the United Mineworkers of America, Cecil Roberts, has called publicly for the protection of the entire battleground. "Blair Mountain," he noted in a formal statement in 2005, "stands as a pivotal event in American history, where working men and women stood up to the lawless coal barons of the early 20th century and their private armies and fought for their rights as Americans and indeed, the rights of working families all over the world."
To protect the mountain's historic battlefield, an informal coalition of concerned citizens, archaeologists, historians, and environmentalists from the Sierra Club are now fighting to list Blair Mountain in the National Register of Historic Placesa battle hampered, they say, by interference from a state government hooked on tax revenue from the coal industry.
Two leaders in the movement to protect the mountain are Harvard Ayers, an archaeologist and professor emeritus at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, and Kenneth King, a local avocational archaeologist. In the summer of 2006, they put together a small team and began a three-week field survey of Blair Mountain, searching for traces of the historic battle.
Two previous archaeological surveys, commissioned Arch Coal, had recorded little evidence of the fighting, leading many to conclude that the battleground had been heavily disturbed by loggers, collectors, and others. But Ayers, a researcher experienced in Civil War archaeology, wanted to take another look.
Walking along the upper slopes and the 1,599-acre (647-hectare) ridge between the mountain's north and south crests, the team mapped 15 combat sites and discovered more than a thousand artifacts, from rifle and shotgun shell casings to coins and batteries.
Moreover, the sites, buried beneath two to three inches (five to eight centimeters) of topsoil, revealed little sign of disturbance. In one site, for example, the team found a tight grouping of 13 shell casings, each fired by the same gun. "If these casings had been stirred around and disturbed," Ayers said, "they wouldn't have all been lying there together."
Strongly impressed by the integrity of the site, Ayers and his colleagues stored the artifacts locally and nominated Blair Mountain for listing on the National Register for Historic Places, a measure that would prohibit any strip mining on the site. And when Janet Matthews, then Keeper of the Register, announced in the early spring of 2009 that Blair Mountain was officially listed, the coalition celebrated, convinced that they had succeeded in preserving a lasting memorial.
But one week later, West Virginia's State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) Randall Reid-Smith, a political appointee, formally requested that Blair Mountain be taken off the register. A majority of Blair Mountain property owners, he claimed, opposed the listing.
Those who fought to preserve Blair Mountain were shocked. "But I got busy," Ayers said, "because I was distraught." Suspecting errors in Reid-Smith's list of property owners and objectors, the archaeologist hired a West Virginia real estate lawyer, John Kennedy Bailey, to pore over tax records, property deeds, death records, and other relevant documents.
The list of objectors, Bailey discovered, included two dead menone of whom had perished nearly three decades earlieras well as a property owner who had sold her land years before the nomination process. In addition, Bailey identified 13 property owners who did not appear on the SHPO list at all. "The final count we reached was 63 landowners and only 25 objectors," Ayers said.
The archaeologist submitted these findings and the pertinent records to the SHPO and to the office of the Keeper of the Register. But the new findings failed to trigger a comprehensive investigation. Susan Pierce, West Virginia's Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer, concluded that the information Bailey had provided was insufficient for an accurate assessment of the property-owner list. Moreover, she determined that his findings had arrived too late under SHPO regulations.
In December 2009, Paul Loether, Chief of the National Register of Historic Places, officially accepted the SHPO list of property owners and objectors. The task of evaluating West Virginia property records, Loether explained, was the sole responsibility of the SHPO. Interim Keeper of the Register Carol Shull then officially removed Blair Mountain from the historic-places list.
The preservationists were stunned. "My sense is that if we can't protect this mountain, we can't protect any mountain," said Denise Giardina, West Virginia State University's writer-in-residence and a novelist who has published a book on the 1921 battle of Blair Mountain.
Today the coal companies applaud Loether's decision. The events of 1921, noted Massey Energy spokesperson Blair Gardner, "do not dictateand the federal National Historic Preservation Act in no manner supportsan outcome that treats the entire nominated area as a shrine that may be visited by the curious, but unused and undeveloped by those who actually own it."
Arch Coal spokesperson Kim Link noted, "we respect the decision of the National Register to remove Blair Mountain from the list of historic sites," but she declined to answer questions on the company's specific plans for mining the mountain.
The preservationists haven't given up yet. Only a listing on the National Register, Ayers said, can "do justice to the men who fought and died on Spruce Ridge Fork [on Blair Mountain] almost 90 years ago." So Ayers and his colleagues are now launching a new offensive, mounting a major public letter-writing campaign to Carol Shull, the interim Keeper of the National Register, to relist Blair Mountain, and contacting the Archaeological Conservatory, a nonprofit organization that purchases and preserves important endangered archaeological sites.
Moreover, for many in the region who view coal companies as intent on leveling the mountains of Appalachia, the miners who fought on Blair Mountain have become potent symbols of resistance. "The activists are all wearing red bandannas around their necks," said Brandon Nida, a University of California, Berkeley, doctoral student who has been studying the modern fight, "just like the miners did in 1921."
Strip mining operations on one part of the battlefield could conceivably begin at any time, and while Ayers, King, and other historic preservationists are clearly in for a tough battle, they vow to fight every step of the way. "I know I'm doing the right thing," concluded King, whose grandfather marched with the miners. "I'm trying to save some of our heritage."