The Role of Coal in Southwest Virginia the heritage of coal mining is dominant story in the Appalachian Plateau of Southwest Virginia, including Miners Park in Big Stone Gap The first settlers at Jamestown may have searched for gold, but the primary mineral wealth of Virginia was in the iron deposits until the Civil War.
In the Piedmont and the Shenandoah Valley, bloomeries and then iron furnaces provided an industrial component to the agricultural economy. Even the Coastal Plain had iron furnaces. Beforean iron works was started at Falling Creek upstream from Jamestown. Governor Spotswood developed an iron plantation rather than one based on tobacco at Germanna, and George Washington’s father Augustine managed an iron works in Stafford County just north of Fredericksburg.
They used water power from the streams to pump furnace bellows, and the Potomac River to ship the heavy product. However, with the development in the early ‘s of more-efficient iron furnaces in Pennsylvania using coal and coke rather than charcoal for fuel, Virginia’s iron mining and processing industry declined. Place names such as Catherine Furnace and Clifton Forge dot the map of Virginia, but the primary value of iron deposits in Virginia now is for paint pigment.
One mineral resource still shapes the economy and culture in southwestern Virginia. After the Civil War, Northern capitalists financed railroad expansion into the coal fields of West Virginia and Virginia. Coal Seam 3 at the Pocahontas Mine in Tazewell County was so thick, miners debated whether jobs preferred tall coal or short coal.
Mining jobs coal required reaching above your head – the seam was nearly 13 feet high in mining places – whereas “short” coal involved back-wrenching stooping. Map showing thickness of the Pocahontas No. H6 After the railroad arrived in the ‘s, the Appalachian Plateau – especially Buchanan, Dickenson, and Wise counties – jobs from subsidence agriculture to a cash economy based on lumbering and mineral extraction.
Company towns were constructed and new employees recruited to man the deep mines women were excluded from mining until recently. Mining communities grew up and shut down, based on the boom and bust cycles of the international energy markets.
This population influx, and then the emigration when mines closed, altered the racial and social balance dramatically.