History of McComas, West Virginia
Original articles written for the Bramwell Aristocrat in 1992
This article is dedicated to Brammer Jones, who passed away on March 7, 1992. Brammer made the story possible by bringing the past alive, by vividly remembering the things he experienced during the years in McComas as a young boy. Working with Mrs. Thomas in her flower garden; then following his dad's footsteps, Brammer worked for several years at the Thomas and Sagamore Coal and Coke Companies.
On the morning of March 6, 1901, men and equipment were uploaded from a work train near the Duhring station at Flipping Creek. Their objective was to build a railroad called the Crane Creek Branch that would start at the train station, and end in the villages of Mannering and Mora only eight miles away. The venture would take over a year to complete, but would be one of the most successful mining operations in the Pocahontas (Flat Top) Coalfields, and one of the most profitable for the Norfolk & Western Railroad.
Mannering, located near the headwaters of Crane Creek, was first settled by the Crane, Manning and Thornhill families in the 1870s; then by the Taylor and Conner families. They were subsistence farmers, hunters and trappers. The community consisted of five or six log cabins, a one-room log school, a church, and a Post Office. Mora, on Pinnacle Creek, consisted of an equal number of cabins. The hills from Windmill Gap, across to Mannering, Mora and over to Conners Mountain, were also sparsely dotted with small farms. A 'mail rider' rode the trail from Princeton delivering letters and oral messages to the residents of the communities, once or twice a week.
About 1880, Thomas Crane built a grist mill powered by the wind upon a hill above Mannering in the place since known as Windmill Gap. This mill was not successful because the people couldn't grind their corn when there was no wind. So, the Thornhill family built another grist mill powered by water beside the creek at Thornhill.
In the fall of 1897, Will Hamlet disassembled his sawmill at Spanishburg, and hauled it on pack mules to a grove of large hemlock and white trees beside Crane Creek. Hamlet located his small sawmill down the hill from the large farm of Napolean "Pole" Harless, which about a quarter of a mile below the present day community of Crystal. In this location, Hamlet built five two room box houses, and a four room two-story boarding house, to shelter his mill workers.
In the spring of 1898, Will Hamlet along with Barty Wyatt, Sam Shrewsbury, and the mill crew, began to build a wooden rail tramway to transport the lumber from his sawmill to the Norfolk & Western station at Duhring. They followed the banks of Crane Creek to Riverside (Montcalm) which consisted of a store, a one room log school, Methodist church, and a few small farms that were scattered along the river bank, in the direction of Rock, and on Tabernacle Hill.
At Riverside store, Hamlet pointed his tramway toward Duhring, following the banks of the Bluestone River. In the fall of 1898, Hamlet started successfully transporting his lumber over the tramway, and it would be along the route of this tramway, that the Norfolk & Western Railroad would build a major portion of their Crane Creek Branch.
After the railroad hauled their supplies for preparing their mine sites to a siding on Flipping Creek, coal operators, W.H. Thomas, William McQuail and Issac T. Mann incorporated the services of Will Hamlet, by agreeing to buy lumber from him, if he would haul their mining supplies to Hamlets Mill and Mora. As the railroad progressed, Hamlet was always able to get close enough to the railroad, to pick up the coal operators supplies. By the time the railroad arrived at Mannering in the summer of 1902, the operators had their mines ready with several hundred tons of coal on the ground, ready to be loaded.
We will take a look at the three mining operations that resulted from the opening of this section of the coalfields by Thomas, McQuail and Mann.
Thomas Coal & Coke Company opened and operated by W.H. Thomas in 1902. Col. Thomas was born in Wales and came to the
Flat Top coalfields, by way of Pennsylvania, to work for the Southwest Virginia Improvement in Pocahontas. In 1889,
he became store manager for John Cooper & Co., at Coopers, where he remained until June 1890 when he became General Manager and majority
stock holder of the Algoma Coal & Coke Co. near Northfork. Upon the death of his partner, John Chalmers of Sale, Virginia, Mr. Thomas became
the sole owner of the company. Subsequently, Thomas sold Algoma to William Buery.
In 1902, Mr. Thomas and Superintendent Eugene Powell supervised the construction of the coal tipple, shops, 127 houses, a company store, payroll and doctor's offices at what would be known as Thomas, W.Va. It was located near Mannering, in what is now known as McComas Hollow. They also built a power house, operated by John Cockerham. The coal tipple at Thomas was the first structure in this area to utilize I-Beam construction. During the first three years of operation, the Thomas Coal & Coke, Co. would produce over 185,000 tons of high grade coal, and by 1921 the tipple had cleaned and shipped over two million tons.
No coke was produced at Thomas until 1904. This was due to a manpower shortage, suffered by the construction company that came from Connellsville, Pennsylvania and was responsible for the building and starting of the coke ovens. In 1904, 6871 tons of coke were produced. This figure continued to climb and by 1920, when the coke ovens were permanently shut down, nearly 400,000 tons of coke were produced. The peak years for producing coke at Thomas were from 1908 to 1912 when 175,000 tons were produced.
The worlds first foot controlled electric hammer was invented and patented by Andy Seincrack in the blacksmiths shop at Thomas. This machine allowed the blacksmith to shape large pieces of iron, while holding it with both hands. Andy also started a tradition at Thomas that was carried on by the blacksmiths John Sigmon, Brammer Jones and Ed Sheets down through the years. It was a blackboard that hung in the shop. If a person could roughly draw and give dimension of the tool or part they needed the blacksmiths could make it with a piece of iron.
The company store at Thomas was located in the center of the community. Ghost Williams was the first store manager. He was followed by Ralph Weikle. The clerks were: Ralph Anderson, Johnny Lauder, Julius Sigmon, Virginia Sigmon Gills, Irene Martin, and Bud Davis. W. R. Hicks was the teamster that delivered coal and groceries throughout the camp.
When Mr. Thomas built the coal camp, he included a community church. Mary Ellen Sadler whose father H. L. Aust, worked at Thomas, stated that in 1921 it became known as the Thomas Penecostal Holiness Church, but wasn't organized until 1932 under pastor R. L. Hager. J. T. Jewell was elected to the position, after the retirement of Pastor Hager in 1933. In 1955, under Pastor Donald Linkous, the church relocted to the vacant Methodist Church at McComas, where it remained until 1970, then moved to Pinnacle.
At Hamlets Mill Pole Harless laid off the lower portion of his farm into town lots and sold the land to coal miners that worked in the area. The new town was named Godfrey. It was named for one of Poles sons or one of his brothers.
The Cephas Coal & Coke Company opened the Peanut Mine about a quarter mile below Godfrey. J.H. Hardy was president of Cephas.
Godfrey was a town of cheaply constructed building, however, it was incorporated and had a mayor, town council and Justice of the Peace. Godfrey also had a post office and a school with Mrs. Barty Wyatt as its first teacher. With the large influx of miners the town also featured saloons and could even boast of having a distillery. It was due to such establishments that Godfrey rose to the distinction of being the 'Keystone' of Crane Creek Hollow with madams brothels spread out along the railroad tracks. Godfrey retained that position until about the year 1920. It was the hangout of all the miners and railroad men in the area.
Shortly after the town of Godfrey sprang up W. H. Thomas opened Crystal Coal & Coke Company, with L.N. Buford as General Manager, just a few hundred yards above the town. Crystal was the pet name that Thomas called his wife, Annie. It was at Crystal that Thomas first established his home, before constuction of his Bramwell mansion Thomas was a man of kindly disposition, who made and held many friends. He enjoyed wide acquaintance in this state and in coal producing and selling circles in other states. He died unexpectedly on January 20, 1918 at age 55 and his only son John Cooper Thomas just two years later. The family relied on the operation of Thomas Coal & Coke through many partnerships the Thomas's operated with the Coopers, as well as Bill Buery. Mr. Vaughn became Superintendent of the Thomas Coal operation at McComas in the 1920's and James Grainger replaced him in 1938. Grangers son Robson would later operate the Crystal Coal & Coke Company. Robson Grainger ran the Crystal mine until it closed around 1954. Upon the death of Annie Cooper Thomas, the name of Thomas Coal & Coke Company was changed to the Virginia B. Coal Company. The mine carried this name for the last twelve years it operated. Virginia Perry Buery was the wife of William Beury.
"William H. McQuail opened Crane Creek and Pinnacle Coal & Coke Companies. Calvin Shockey
was the first Superintendent for both mines. The first year they produced 48,146 tons of coal at Crane Creek, and 39,121
tons at Pinnacle. By 1903 96,353 tons of coal was shipped from Crane Creek and 71,419 tons from Pinnacle.
While the miners were preparing the mine sites and waiting for the railroad to arrive they ate and slept anywhere they could. Some lived in tents and the lucky ones managed to rent rooms from the pioneer families. As soon as the kegs of nails arrived from Pittsburg they built shanties that were cheap and quickly thrown together with clapboard from Hamlets Mill. Upon the completion of the railroad at Mannering building materials and carpenters began to arrive and they were able to build fine homes. A combined total of 321 dwellings were built at Crane Creek and Pinnacle. Each house contained three and five rooms each. The carpenter crews of Lace Honaker, Mathew Jessup, George Hurst built a major portion of the houses and kept them in repair.
At the same time the houses were under construction fire brick and construction crews began to arrive from Connelsville, Pennsylvania for the construction of 150 beehive coke ovens at Crane Creek and 150 at Pinnacle. Pinnacle produced 835 tons of coke in 1902 with their first shipment in October of that year. No coke was produced at Crane Creek in 1902. In 1903 7,915 tons of coke were shipped from Crane Creek and 12,508 tons from Pinnacle. Coke production Coke production continued to increase each year and when the coke ovens were shut down in the 1920s half a million tons had been shipped from Crane Creek and 300,000 from Pinnacle. The reason for the short life span of coke production at Crane Creek and in the coal fields in general was due to the development of an improved method for making coke in a by-product type oven that was faster and salvaged all of the volatile chemicals that had been wasted by the beehive type ovens.
In 1908 Barty Wyatt quit his job with Hamlet's Mill to fill the position as Head Master at the new and improved two-room frame school at Montcalm. Barty replaced a Mr. Bailey who had resigned the position to work in the coal mines after 12 years as teacher. During his years as School Master Barty wrote articles about the history of the area and published them in the Mora Circuit News, printed at Mannering - the first newspaper for the area.
The main source of meat at the company stores sold to the miners during the early years was bought from J.C. "Coon" Fanning. He peddled wagon loads of pork and beef throughout the coal camps after fattening the livestock on still slop that had been discharged from the disillery. Coon sold his pork and beef from six to ten cents a pound, roasts for six to seven cents each and large steaks for ten cents each. However, these were super inflated prices caused by the large demand for meat in the coal camps.
In late 1902 some union organizers from Pennsylvania came to Crane Creek and Pinnacle trying to organize the men. McQuail and some other company officials met with the organizers in the company shop. After a long and heated argument men from both sides pulled guns and started shooting, leaving one man dead and several wounded. After the incident McQuail decided that coal mining at Crane Creek was too dangerous so he sold out, but retained the option to buy it back within ten years.
In 1904, the residents of Mora circulated a petition throughout the community to change the name of Mora to McComas. The petition was a success and the name McComas came into existence. During John Kee's first term in congress the citizens of McComas presented Mr. Kee another petition with over 5,000 signatures asking for a Post Office at McComas. Congressman Kee granted their wish by moving the Post Office from Mannering down to McComas. Thus, McComas became the name of the complex of communities which included: Thomas, Pinnacle, Mora, Sagamore, Crane Creek, Mannering, Windmill Gap and Conner's Mountain. At the new post office Bertha Watts and Mason Myers handled mail for over 2,100 families.
The elementary school kept its name. Mora Elementary was known by that name throughout the lifetime of the school. The community of Mannering, which was established in the 1870s also retained its name, but in time completely lost its identity.
However, McComas became a city of almost 6,000 people, the second largest in Mercer County. It was a self-supporting city because traveling to other towns was very difficult. If you had a car trip to Princeton it took half a day and if you go to Bluefield it was one full day, traveling through Montcalm, over Sandlick Mountain and then by way of Glenwood.
According to R. C. "Bob" Buckland, traveling by train was just as time consuming. Bob started as a fireman, then was promoted to engineer and drove both passenger and freight trains into McComas from Bluestone putting 128 miles on the 500 engine each day. He stated that you could travel to Montcalm, Bramwell, Pocahontas and Bluestone on the morning train then catch the afternoon train back to McComas. But if you wanted to visit the fine stores in Bluefield you had to catch train number 24 at Bluestone. A trip to Bluefield took two days roundtrip! If you wanted to go to Welch or Williamson you had to take train number 15 and that took longer. Bob Buckland's brothers, L.W., Charles and Walter also drove the passenger trains into McComas.
The men that kept the Bucklands moving over the rails were: Donald Duncan, Tucker Phillips, Randolph Hodge, Lloyd Smith, E. D. Bowers and Odus Patrick. They worked out of Cliff Yard keeping the track repaired for the Norfolk & Western Railroad Engineers like: Butler Ferguson, Clint O'Dell, John Imhoff and Charlie Looneym who kept the coal moving out of McComas and on to the market place. Bill Honeycutt was the Casey Jones of the coalfields. He always had his train rolling so fast that even the hobo's cleared the tracks when he passed.
In 1908, McQuail decided to exercise his option and buy the Crane Creek and Pinnacle Mines back. So he went to William C. Atwater of the American Coal Company of Allegheny County to get financing. Atwater's company was already selling all the coal from McQuail's mines at Ennis and Turkey Gap in McDowell County. Atwater told McQuail that he would finance him if he would allow his associates J.C. Pack, Colonel John J. Lincoln and himself to own 65% of the property and that he allow Mr. Lincoln to inspect the propery in McComas to assure him it would be a good investment. McQuail agreed to the request and the two men wer partners for several years.
Under the American Coal Company, Crane Creek became one of the largest operations and the heaviest tonnage operations in the Pocahontas field. In 1926, Crane Creek produced 662,682 tons of coal, while Pinnacle produced another 332,595 tons. In January 1930, 101,000 tons of coal was processed through the Crane Creek tipple. It was a record for the American Coal Company and a record monthly production for one mine in the entire Pocahontas-Flat Top coal field.
The American Coal Company was one of the most progressive energy companies in the Pocahontas field. Appliachian Power Company first installed one of the electric marvels of the time at the Pinnacle plant. It was an automatic substation that converted high voltage electricity to the voltage required for home power and lighting.
Crane Creek and Pinnacle always operated at the highest degree of safety efficiency. Every precaution was taken by Superintendent Richard Cole and the mine foremen James Hughes, Matt Lowem, Abe Maurice, and George Law to safeguard the men in the mine and at the tipple. The number of accidents usually from unforeseen and unpreventable causes were always held at the lower possible number. There was never a mine disaster at these mines. The inside bosses such as Charlie Saunders, Edgar Watkins, Eli Basconi, and Wattie Sparks, who worked over fifty years at Pinnacle, made sure the coal recovered with ample rock-cust barriers to minimize the danger of dust explosions and Crane Creek and Pinnacle were perhaps the least gassy mines in the area. They were so free of methane gas that brakemen like Roy Albert, Porter Davis, Frank Conlee, Porter Carver, S.W. Foy and Clifford Kingrea sometimes used oil torches inside the mines.
On June 10, 1924 a tragedy without parallel occurred near the Pinnacle tipple where thousands of tons of burning ash, slate and rock were hurled down the mountainside by several explosions.
Brammer Jones was an eyewitness to the disaster. He stated that for two days had been a deluge in that section of Mercer County, making Crane Creek a raging river. Loaded coal cars were pushed off the tracks by walls of water at Sagamore and Crane Creek. The old grist mill at Thornhill was washed away and houses at Crystal, Godfrey, Cephas, and Montcalm were seen floating down the Bluestone River. As the hollow behind the smoldering slate dump filled with water it seeped into the hot ash and slate producing a tremendous explosion when the hydrogen gases from the water mixed with the hot coal gases.
The first explosion sent thousands of tons of hot ash and slate down on the home of Mrs Shellman C. Vest pushing the house down the hill about 100 feet and leaving only part of the roof exposed. Superintendent H.D. Smith of Pinnacle and Luke Graham, Mine Foreman at Thomas quickly organized a rescue party. Amelio Primiveno, John Vest, Pete Double, John Cockran, Amelio Massaroni and other Italians ran toward the house to rescue anyone who may have been left alive.
The second explosion came about fifteen minutes after the first. Three members of the rescue party had cut a hole in the roof with an ax and lowered themselves inside the house when the dump exploded like a volcano throwing half the mountain on the house crusing the people inside. All the rescuers ran for their lives receiving severe burns as they fled and narrowly escaped the avalanche of hot debris.
A third explosion occurred only minutes later. It brought down ton after ton of refuse completely filling in the hollow, choking off the creek and buried the railroad tracks to a depth of fifteen to twenty feet.
The victims of the explosion were Mrs Shellman C. Vest and her five year old son, Mr. and Mrs. Fletcher Dewese, Mrs Toy Dewese, and her two daughters, Amelio Primiveno, Amelio Massaroni, and an unidentified Italian stone mason. Their charred bodies were recovered two weeks later.
In 1925 Crane Creek exteneded their main haulage way through the mountain to the Pinnacle mine. While a trestle was being constructed R. W. Wirt, Abe Lawrence and Bill Cox installed motor wire and Leo Shrader laid track to connect the two mines. When the work was completed, Pete Bailey, Rupert Whittaker, Rex Hurst, Trig Graham and the other motormen hauled the coal mined at Pinnacle through the mountain to the Crane Creek tipple. The Pinnacle tipple was torn down and removed under the supervision of foremen Jack Hurst and Harry Gillespie and the shops were combined at Crane Creek.
A new system was introduced at Crane Creek after the discontinued the Pinnacle tipple. The day shift at the tipple were men of the original Crane Creek crew while the night shift was composed of men from the Pinnacle tipple crew. The payroll office was left in the company store at Pinnacle where Mrs Annie, John Saunders, Jim Evans, J. A. Graham and Herman Hill took care of the company auditing and bookkeeping.
In 1929 the tipple at Crane Creek was completely remodeled with the latest equipment for the preparation of coal and its loading. The new preparation plant was equipped with Menzies Hydro-Separators for washing large lump coal. The dry cleaning plant was equipped with twelve air-tables and filters that were constructed by the American Coal Cleaning Corporation of Welch in McDowell County. These air-tables were the first of their kind to be used for dry cleaning coal in the United States. Other new equipment put in the updated tipple were shaker screens, picking tables and the latest type of loading booms, When the new tipple was completed it could clean and load 100,000 tons of coal each month. The tipple foremen at Crane Creek were Billy Mills, L.W. Marshall, Oscar Hurst and Leonard Bailey was foreman from 1947 to 1957. Some other men that worked several years at the tipple were Ed Kendrick, Charlie Eanes, Ed Bowling, Harry Lee Harvey, Doc Hurst, Nick Kendrick, Frankie Ferrante, Jonah Glass, and the Shrader boys, Clayton, Woodrow, Dow, and Preston. Frank Barlow was in charge of the lamp house from the time Crane Creek started using battery lights.
Since the coal camps were isolated the coal pioneers added recreational facilities in the mining communities to make life for the miners and their families as pleasant as possible. McComas had a theatre with Glenn Scott showing the latest films nightly for ten cents in script and it was at this theatre that Tom Mix and Buck Jones once made a personal appearance many years ago. The theatre burned to the ground along with the Catholic Church in 1948. The church was rebuilt by the members but the theatre was lost forever.
Each year the company officials would invite a carnival and circus to their communities. They came to Pocahontas on the train where they staged shows before moving on to Coopers. From there they would parade down the river in their bright red and yellow wagons. Clarence Whittaker remembers watching the circus as performers and animals marched along the road like a medieval theatre troupe led by frolicking clowns to put on a show in the "Y" at Goodwill, before performing a field at Montcalm behind where the Church of God is located today. From there they would march up Crane Creek to the ballfield at Thornhill.
There were five elementary schools and one high school at McComas. The elementary schools were at Sagamore, Crane Creek, and Pinnacle with one black and one white school at Mora. These two schools were only a short distance around the hill from McComas High School. There was no black high school at McComas so the students were bused to Bluestone in Bramwell.
The teachers that were remembered by their pupils were James Bailey, Mrs. Vaughter, Mrs. Jude, Mrs Auville, Mr. Anderson, Evelyn Beggs, Mrs. Penland, Mrs Pete Rooney, Mrs. Gad. John Holston was the first Principal at Mora Elementary School. At Pinnacle there was John Bird, Margaret Spencer, Mrs. Sheldon, Mr. Cook and Robert Lacy was Principal at Pinnacle in the 1930s.
Carolyn Byrd stated, as she remembered her early school days at Mora and Pinnacle, that the school at Mora had very small rooms. There was no inside plumbing and buckets of drinking water had to be carried in the school from a pump in front of the school. Students had to bring their own drinking glass from home. The rest rooms were outhouses on the hill, far away from the school making it very rough in winter. Pinnacle on the other hand had lare spacious rooms, a cafeteria on the first floor, drinking fountains and inside toilets. She saidit was going into another world for a little girl.
At McComas High School the teachers that are remembered were Florence Hanna, Mrs. Brown, Hobert Young, Mrs Lengle, Earnest Bailey, Bruce Fleshman, John McGann, Mr. Webb, Ted Byrd, Doris Cartwright, Agatha Hughes, Carol Hurst and Mr. Edwards was the Coach. Mr. Ward Gamble was the first Principal at McComas High.
B. F. Pinkard and Charlie Bird were Store Managers at Crane Creek Juanita Byrd was Clerk and Mr. Huffman was the teamster. Some of the staff that served the public at the Pinnacle store were Douglas Short, J. L. Sutphin, Fred Hankins, Charlie Bird, Matoaka Marshall and Pauline Powers. Americo Marotti also opened a store near the Crane Creek Schoool. His store was very similar to small stores some coal companies opened only at night called junk stands.
Soon after World War II started many of the young men from McComas were inducted into military service. Some families had three and four sons in service at one time and the casuality rate was extremely high - much higher that the national average. The McComas boys that lost their lives in the defense of their country were:Bernard Ables, Howard L. Ables, John Keaton Allen, Russell J. Baldwin, Jack Benetett, James W. Brown, Lewis Cameresi, Harley Edward Christian, W. C. Edwards, Nicola Galati, Arthur R. Gersabeck, Calwood B. Palmer, Bob Joe Parsell, Preston Simpkins, Howard L. Spencer, James E. Spenser, Rodie Spencer, Edwin M. Stapleton and Lacy E. Walker. Following the war the mines worked regularly and McComas contined to grow and prosper.
Some of the notable people who worked at McComas were Senator Robert Byrd worked one year
at Crane Creek after he finished law school. Henry Warden, former Mayor of Bluefield was a Chemist and Superintendent for the
American Coal & Coke Company. Bennie Capparella, Former Mayor of Northfork, Eustace Frederick, a Senior Vice President
of Consol, Nick and Frankie Ferrante of restaurant fame all worked at McComas and James A. McQuail
once loaded coal at Crane Creek. Bob Bowman, who once pitched for the McComas wildcats went on to play for the New York
Giants and St Louis Cardinals. Joe Sparks was also a baseball player and Coach with the Chicago White Sox organization.
It was not until the recession beginning in 1952 that a great exodus from the community began and the population of McComas dwindled to just a few hundred people. In 1956 the Pocahontas Fuel Company bought the mines at Crane Creek.
The Pocahontas Company owned Sagamore Colliers which opened in
1902 when the railroad reached Mannering. Bramwell Banker Isaac T. Mann like W.H. Thomas and William McQuail recognized
the value of the coal lands being opened in what would become later known as McComas Hollow.
With Mann on the Pocahontas Companies, Board of Directors were such legends in the coalfield as Phillip Goodwill, John J. Tierney and Frank Randall. The first General Manager at Sagamore was S. M. Buck and the Superintendents who guided the operation down through the years were B. B. Murphy, Seymore Snow, Aubrey Bailey and Avron Gibson. Each man had their own speciality and led the company through some difficult times. They supervised the building of the coal camp which consisted of 133 homes, a tipple, power plant, shops, company store and school. The carpenters who accomplished this tremendous job were Bill Burgess, Troy Miller, Elmer and Buck Conner, Lace Honaker and the Chief Carpenter was Bill Davis. These men also build the structures in the area of the Community Building and kept them in repair.
The Blacksmith's at Sagamore that kept the iron works going and could make anything containing iron were Monty Wolfe and Mr. Blackwell. A restaurant was in the Community Building where miners and their families could eat some good food that Manager Ted Farrington Sr. had on the menu, or shoot pool or entertain themselves with some other activity. The restaurant and pool room in the Community Building were segregated. Each place had a partition in the middle of the room that extended from the wall to the counter. One side of the room was for whites and the other for blacks. The Barber Shop where Pete Begovich cut hair was also segregated by a partition. The town's Service Station was located in front of the Community Building.
The Methodist Church was located on the hill across from the Community Building. Dr. Fitzhugh got it established in 1915. Before this time it was a community church with no affliation. The church closed in 1954 when most of the members were forced to move away to look for work. There was also a black church above Mora School.
All the property around the Community Building belonged to Sagamore and it was Sagamore Colliers that built all of the establishments. Across the railroad tracks from the Community Building was a shoe shop where Enrico Pizzini or "shoemaker" as the citizens called him, would sell you some new shoes, or some that he had repaired, or fix the old ones you were wearing. The company health care was provided by Doctors Foley, Fox and Delmonico. The dentist office was located beside the Post Office. Doncie Lilly came from Athens two or three days a week for the people that had dental problems.
The N&W passenger and freight stations where Mr. McMillian was Station Master and Ole Luke carted the mail over to the Post Office was just below the dentist office.
The Saturday night hot spot at McComas was the Hoot Owl Inn where Carl Marrioti or Pinch Shrewsbury would serve you a cold beer and on Friday and Saturday nights they had live entertainment in the form of brawls. These live performances were free of charge.
The Sagamore Elementary School was a two-room building located up Sagamore Hollow where Agnes Pietrantozzi was Principal. Norma Smith Riggs and Evelyn Poe were teachers.
The company store at Sagamore was always well stocked with anything a family needed. One miner said their motto should have been "If we aint't got it, you don't need it!" During the Christmas season the company store put the toy department in one section of the store completely covering the wall.
The clerks that gave such good service to the company and to the customers were: Francis Fuda, Terry Whittington, Faye Bailey, Wallace Bailey, Kyle "Butch" Barnett, Mr. A. V. Alvis, and Evelyn Wirt. Mrs Murphy was the Bookkeeper in the Payrole Office and Mr. Bailey was the Paymaster.
Charlie Kade was the Teamster for the Sagamore Company Store that delivered groceries and coal to the families. Even after Sagamore purchased a delivery truck Charlie stayed on as teamster because there were places a truck couldn't go.
Sagamore operated fairly good the first three years producing 15,649 tons of coke and 160,245 tons of coal. In late December 1904 dust ignited from an unknown cause inside the tipple causing a tremendous explosion. The disaster killed three men, injured several others, and completely destroyed the tipple. Rather than lay off the men the Pocahontas Company transported the miners in wagons over Windmill Gap to their affiliate at Cherokee. The Sagamore tipple wasn't rebuilt until December 1909 when 15,367 tons were shipped. From 1910 to 1921 coal production at Sagamore was very high with almost two million tons cleaned and shipped through the new tipple, which was kept running by Clarence Dunford, the Webb brothers - Frank, Albert, Floyd and Toy Bowen. The major factor for this success was the formation of the Pocahontas Fuel Company in 1910.
In 1923 disaster stuck a second time. However, on this occasion it was the Cherokee tipple that was destroyed by flames and their miners were hauled over the hill in trucks and buses to work at Sagamore. Later an entrance was made for the Cherokee miners above the Sagamore mine and a haulage way was pushed through to Cherokee allowing their coal to go through the tipple at Sagamore. The tipple at Cherokee was not rebuilt for several years.
Although there were 75 coke ovens at Sagamore all were never in operation at the same time and no coke was produced from 1905 through 1911. In 1912 only 100 tons were produced. The best year of the production of coke at Sagamore was 1913, when 15,825 tons were shipped. In 1916, the coke ovens were shut down, dismantled and new houses built over their ashes by Jim Farris, Tom Maize, Mr. Wright and Mr Watts then Head Carpenter.
Sagamore produced over a million tons from 1921 to 1929 when the great depression brough the mines to an abrupt halt and it wasn't until the outbreak of World War II when full production was started once again.
High production continued at Sagamore from 1940 until 1952 and the motormen Everett Kade, Claude Hall, Virgil Garrison and Johnny Hurst kept the rails hot. A major portion of the success up to 1952 was due to an excellant class of foremen that were highly experienced and well schooled in coal production and safety. Some of these foremen were: B.B. Murphy, Avron Gibson, Onnie Mangus, Bill Burgess and the bosses inside the mines Bill Neal, Mr. Cooper, Arnold Tabor, Mr. Hodge and Vernard Spear.
Then in 1952 a recession put the brakes on the motors and slowed down the machinery inside the tipple. In 1956 the Pocahontas Fuel Company at Sagamore bought the mines at Crane Creek just before the old Crane Creek tipple was completely destoryed by fire. Pocahontas Fuel sent in construction crews to build a new tipple. The construction of the new Pocahontas Fuel tipple was headed by B. E. Wassum who came to the coalfield from Pittsburg after 1900 to construct tipples for different companies. Elbert Bolen was a member of this construction gang.
After the new tipple was completed the Sagamore tipple was torn down and a conveyor belt extended across the road from Sagamore to the new Pocahontas Fuel tipple making it all one mine operated by Sagamore division.
The new all steel preparation plant had a capacity to produce two million tons of clean, high grade coal annually and with machine operators like Tommy Bailey, Rickie Isaac, Bootie Bailey, Tom Profitt, James Moore, Pete Bailey, Mike Hartwell and Russell Bailey Pocahontas Fuel did produce annual tonnage in those numbers on several occasions.
Pocahontas Fuel continued operating very well until 1980 when the demand for coal dropped creating more layoffs and causing more people to move away looking for work.
In 1983 George Law headed up a management team consisting of Bobby Grose, Superintendent; John Sylvester Jr., Number 6 Mine Foreman; Carnes Cecil, Number 12 Foreman; Roland Smith, Preparation Plant Foreman; Lawrence Meadows, Chief Electrician at Number 6; and Roy Crollis, Chief Electrician at Number 12. This was the team for the Pocahontas Fuel Company at Crane Creek at the close of its history. The death blow came when the mine shut down in October 1984 and Ernie Shoemaker closed the door on McComas when he permanently sealed off the drift mouth to the mine in December 1984.