Bramwell Additions Historic District

Bramwell Town, Mercer County, WV

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Town of Braamwell, WV

The Bramwell Additions Historic District [†] is significant for its association with community planning and development of coal company towns, and the development of the coal extraction industry in southern West Virginia and the Flat Top coal fields; for its association with founders of coal companies significant in the Flat Top field and West Virginia development; for its association with black history in the southern coal fields; for its association with the recreation and social history of the coal fields, the baseball clubs; and is a good example of the development of standardized company housing and company towns.

The Bramwell Additions Historic District is significant under Criterion A for its association with community planning and development of coal company towns. The towns included in the Bramwell Additions Historic District are Cooper, Freeman, and Simmons. It is also significant for its association with the development of the coal mining industry in southern West Virginia and the Flat Top Field. Prior to the middle of the nineteenth century, settlement in southern western (West) Virginia was highly limited. This was mainly due to the mountainous terrain and limited opportunities. During the Civil War, Virginians who entered the area noticed the evidence of coal in the region and brought this information back with them after the war. This resulted in surveys and investigation into land and mineral speculation. Major Jedediah Hotchkiss and Captain I.A. Welch surveyed 480 square miles of a land grant dating from the Revolutionary War. Welch was employed to survey the area to determine timber and mineral resource value. Their reports in 1871-1873 interested potential investors from Philadelphia. Recognizing the need to transport the resources, their early activities centered on transportation construction as well as mineral land acquisition.

The lands were sold by the new state, West Virginia, following the war and Philadelphian Thomas Graham purchased coal lands and developed the Atlantic Mississippi and Ohio Railroad. The rail­road passed into the control of another group of Philadelphians, Clarence H. Clark and Frederick J. Kimball, through the E.W. Clark and Company bank. They converted the railroad into the Norfolk and Western Railroad. Following this they began to amass land in the coal fields. In 1881 EW Clark and Company established the Southwest Virginia Improvement Company, shortly followed by the Flat Top Coal Company. Thomas Graham was vice-president of Flat Top. They constructed the first mine tipples and ovens in the fields, located in the town of Pocahontas, in Virginia. The rail line was completed to Pocahontas in 1883.

The company determined to lease coal lands rather than operate the mines themselves. This resulted in the development of smaller mines and operators and the settlement of the town of Bram­well. Operators from Pennsylvania's coal fields who came to southern West Virginia included John Cooper and JL Beury, Mill Creek Coal and Coke Co.; Jonathan Bowen and William Booth, Booth­Bowen Coal and Coke; and John Freeman and Jenkin Jones, Caswell Creek Coal and Coke Co.

The Pocahontas coal fields first began shipping coal by rail in 1883 from nearby Pocahontas, Virginia. Due to the fact that most of the holdings were actually located in West Virginia, in 1884 they purchased land along the Bluestone River in Mercer County, West Virginia. The Bluestone Coal Company planned the town of Bramwell and established its headquarters there in 1885. Bramwell was incorporated in 1889. The local manager was O.H. Duhring. The town was the location of the offices for the company, residences of operators and company families, and retail and commer­cial services to support the new town. The Bluestone Coal Compa­ny became the Flat Top Coal Land Association, the largest coal land owner in the Pocahontas coal fields. Flat Top eventually became the Pocahontas Coal and Coke Company.

Bramwell quickly became the center of commerce and finance for the coal mines in the Flat Top field. The Bank of Bramwell was formed in 1889 by James Mann and his cousin, I.T. Mann estab­lished as its cashier. The bank grew to be the major financial institution for the coal fields and Mann one of the largest coal owners in the fields. When the state capitol burned in 1921 in Charleston, the Bank of Bramwell bought the entire block on Capitol Street. The land was developed into building lots and sold. They also invested in the Burning Tree Golf Course in Washington DC. Mann, at one time, controlled all of the lands of the Flat Top Coal Land Association, which he in turn sold to the N&W Railroad at a handsome profit. At one time there were seven­teen millionaires in the little town of Bramwell. The nationwide depression resulted in the closing of the Bank of Bramwell in the early 1930 1 s and signaled the end of an era. Several coal operators lost control of their large fortunes and were forced to sell their mines. Subsequently, many families and businessmen moved away from downtown Bramwell.

Though the boom and bust cycle of the Flat Top Coal Company is appropriate for explaining the significance of downtown Bramwell proper and the existing historic district, the conditions in the outlying coal camps were slightly different. They developed as residential and working commercial centers and continued in that capacity as long as the mines were active. Once the operators or their children moved out of the camps, the managers, workers, and employees of the companies remained and the towns were relatively stable. As examples of this stability, while Bramwell proper declined, the Mill Creek Coal Company constructed a major company store facility in Cooper in 1924. This is a large, three-story, masonry building, befitting a major company.

Other coal companies continued to construct housing and facilities into the twentieth century as well. The Spicer Town section of Simmons, to the east of Route 52, was developed mainly in the late 1940 1 s and 1950's to provide housing for the miners and railroad workers working on the large double track tunnel at Cooper. The ca. 1930 Pure Oil service station, along Route 52 in Simmons is another example of the continued growth and significance of the area. The large high school, constructed in 1934, and grade school, constructed in 1929, in Freeman and the black school, constructed in 1948, all indicate a continued growing or stable population.

Population of greater Bramwell and Mercer County steadily in­creased and peaked around 1950. This indicates the continued dependence on coal economy of the area into the 1950's. Though downtown Bramwell may have begun a dormant period with the Depression, Freeman, Simmons and Cooper did not, and the historic district reflects this continued significance of the former company towns in the modern mining industry. They, the former independent communities, also represent the concept of individual entire company towns. The town was devised by the owner/opera­tor, constructed by them and was a creation of the company.

The Bramwell Additions Historic District is significant under Criterion C as an example of company houses and the planned construction of neighborhoods by a company for its workers. These include all of the functions of a community from housing to work. They included all levels and strata of that community as well. The managers, owners, and workers all lived in the same geograph­ic location. Under this significance, it is important to look at the overall interrelationship of the resources rather than the individual building or structure. It is this overall effect that makes the area significant.

Cooper is a good example of the traditional company town, with the owner's residence adjacent to the company store, the manag­ers• residences, the railroad facilities and the individual housing clusters. Freeman contains all of these elements as well, though an interesting quality of Freeman is that it was the home of not one company but three. Thus, the groupings and functions are intermingled. The best extant example of standard­ized company housing, though, is in Freeman, with the Buckeye Coal and Coke company houses, numbers 229 to 234. The companies also provided for the spiritual needs of the min­ers. Elizabeth Bowen Jones provided funds for the Memorial Methodist Church, constructed in 1878. Members of the church included Greer Belcher, H.H. Tabor, H.H. Yost, and Mary Welch. The Tabors are an early settlement family in the county from the Pinnacle Rock vicinity. Belcher had settled in the vicinity in 1866 in what is now the I.T. Mann playhouse site in downtown Bramwell. The Cooper Methodist Church was the first Methodist Church in the southern West Virginia coal fields. It was formed in 1884. The first church building was constructed in 1916. This was donated to the ·Board of Education for the Negro school when the new church was constructed in 1918.

The First Methodist Church was constructed in 1903. Members included E.W. Freeman, S.A. Toy, Harry Bowen and Edward H. Jones.

Education played an important role in Bramwell history. The first organized public school was located where the high school s currently located. Private schools were formed for the operator's children. One was located where the Bluestone High School, is currently. The small building, behind the company store in Cooper is reported to have been a private school. One was also located where the home of Nannie Sexton currently is.

The first school is reported to have been on Caswell Creek property where the Joseph Whitehead residence was. Professor Brown was the teacher with five students: George Freeman, Westley Freeman, Raleigh Freeman, Edward Jones, and Mae Llewellyn Jones. The building burned to the ground. With the growth of Bramwell, a public school system was estab­lished and in 1894 the Bramwell Public Grade School was con­structed. It had eight rooms and a library. Professor Baker, from Greenbrier County, was principal. Private subscriptions from John Hewitt, Harry Bowen, Jenkin Jones, and Captain IA Welch supported the extension of the school term over the state's six month limit. There were 200 students enrolled. A few years after the grade school was constructed, the first high school was organ­ized. The school burned and a new one was constructed in 1934. Grade school was taught at the high school building during con­struction. In 1935 Bramwell had two school buildings, one for grades 1-8 and one for high school. The Bramwell Additions Historic District is significant for its association with the black history of the southern coal fields. It represents the economic and social development of minorities in the coal fields. The companies provided housing for minorities as well, and there are separate neighborhoods for black miners in the various camps. The houses provided were comparable in scale and architectural character to those provided for other workers. The only difference appears to be the segregated location of black housing. Within these black sections schools and churches are also located. In 1885 Mrs. Cooper provided funds for construction of the Mill Creek Missionary Baptist Church, for black families in the town of Cooper. Cooper also had a distinct neighborhood for African Americans and this extant cluster is still in original condition. The houses are all similar and contain a fair amount of architec­tural character .

At the Booth-Bowen community, things were similar. The Bluestone Missionary Baptist Church, located on Simmons Avenue, was organized in 1890. The land for the church was donated by Booth-Bowen. Rev. R.H. McKay was pastor for 50 years. This served the black mining community of the Booth-Bowen Company. They also provided a school lot and school as well as the adjacent company housing cluster.

† Michael Gioulis, Historic Preservation Consultant, Bramwell Additions Historic District, nomination document, 1995, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Street Names
Bloch Road • Bluestone Avenue • Bluestone Lane • Booth Lane • Bowen Lane • Bramwell Hill Road • Coopers Road • Hill Top Road • Howery Road • Jones Hill Road • Main Street • Pocahontas Street • Prospect Avenue • River Road • Rogers Street • Route 20 • Simmons Avenue

Models / Floorplans: B

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