Nuttallburg, Henry Ford, and Coal Mining in the New River GorgeNovember 9, 2011
There are well over 15 abandoned mining towns and camps in the short 14-mile stretch of the New River Gorge that is from Thurmond to Teays Landing, but none have quite the appeal or history of the mining camp that was Nuttallburg.
Built somewhere around 1872 by the Nuttall family, the Nuttallburg mines were some of the earliest mines opened in the Gorge. Located in the heart of the New River Gorge near the rapid known as Double Z, the Nuttalls owned some of the prime coal property in that canyon.
From Mountainside to Auto Works
The Nuttalls owned and operated the Nuttallburg mine until 1920, when it was purchased by Henry Ford to supply high quality steam coal for his River Rouge Auto Plant in Dearborn, Michigan.
At that time, the mine was modernized and operated as the Fordson Coal Company and recorded production as such from 1923 to 1927. Railroad regulations eventually ended Ford’s ownership of the mine complex.
It was sold a year or so later to the Maryland New River Coal Company, whose records show that it produced the most coal in a year at just over 171,000 tons. This was more than likely due to the innovations Ford spent time and money to build into the mine complex.
Maryland New River Coal Company continued to operate the mine until 1953. It was closed for good in 1958.
Nuttallburg in a Nutshell
From its original beginnings in 1873, the town was comprised of a few common features. There were somewhere between 75 and 100 houses, around 80 coke ovens, and three different conveyors on the property.
The “rope and button” conveyor that is still standing today was one of the updates that Henry Ford instituted. This particular type off conveyor was used because it was more efficient and it reduced the fragmentation of the coal. At 1,385 feet, it was one of the longest conveyors in use anywhere at that time.
Other structures included a scalehouse and scales, a drumhouse or headhouse, blacksmith shop, carpentry shop, slate dump, and a tipple located on the railroad sidings that branched off the C&O mainline. Considering the limited amount of flat space available in the Gorge, it’s remarkable to think about how the town was built.
Today you can visit Nuttallburg and see this abandoned town for yourself. The National Park Service has installed 25 interpretive signs that tell the story of this New River Gorge gem.
Do you have any memories of Nuttallburg to share?