Rock Stars and the Geology of the New River GorgeJuly 22, 2011
Did you ever wonder about the “who’s who” of New River Gorge coal development and geology?
Who were the names behind the stones that make up the sandstone cliffs along the New River Gorge?
Should the names David T. Ansted, Steven Sewell, John Nuttall ring a bell?
Read on to learn more about geology of the New River Gorge.
Rocks found along Mill Creek are all sedimentary and include sandstones, siltstones, and shales. The three distinct layers of coal (Sewell, Beckley, and Fire Creek) formed during the Pennsylvanian time period (a great period of coal formation worldwide).
Locally the Pennsylvanian period has been divided into the Pottsville Group (containing the oldest commercial coal beds in West Virginia) and then subdivided into the New River Formation. Each vertical foot of these sediments took about 2,000 years to accumulate, taking about 10 million years to accumulate the rocks along the trail. Today, younger rocks have been eroded away from the ridges, leaving older rocks below the stream level.
David T. Ansted
The name David T. Ansted must be included in any description of the geology along Mill Creek. Ansted (1814-1880), was a noted and well respected English geologist who on occasion exchanged correspondence with the great English naturalist Charles Darwin (of Origin of the Species fame).
Ansted surveyed the coal fields along the New River in 1853. One of the earliest geologists to recognize the rich coal seams found here, Ansted helped set the stage for the coal mining boom to come. At the close of the Civil War, interest renewed in the area’s mineral resources; and Ansted, along with local coal baron William Nelson Page, invested heavily in the coal lands of the local area.
The Sewell coal seam was named for Stephen Sewell, a mid-1700’s settler. Sewell coal has been extensively mined along the lower portions of the Town of Ansted’s Hawks Nest Rail Trail. Ideal for the making of coke, Sewell coal played an important part of the Hawks Nest / Ansted economies. A remnant of early mining operations, the Mill Creek mine at Fox Branch on the Town of Ansted’s rail trail was in operation from 1921 to 1950.
Named for John Nuttall, a noted developer of coal operations in the area, Lower Nuttall Sandstone forms both the cliffs at the start of the Hawks Nest Trail and the ridges and tablelands in the Gorge area. These sandstones consist largely of sand-sized grains of quartz (silica). These grayish to brownish sandstones comprise all of the steep areas along Mill Creek and the Gorge.
Nuttall Sandstone also forms the overlook at Hawks Nest State Park, the rapids at Kanawha Falls (Glen Ferris), and the capstone rock of the salt brines at Malden. Originally horizontal, these rocks now tilt toward downward about 60 feet/mile to the northwest because of the uplifting ofthe Appalachian Mountains.
What other names should be listed in the New River George “Rock Stars” Hall of Fame? Visit the Town of Ansted’s Hawks Nest Rail Trail to learn more.