Scenic Drive in West Virginia: Coal Heritage Trail


Sam and Dave Merrill

Not only rich in scenery, this area is rich in heritage, a place where coal reigned supreme. This itinerary gives you a few of the must-see highlights along the way.

Princeton-Mercer County Chamber of Commerce: Before entering the Coal Heritage Trail, a stop in Princeton at the Princeton-Mercer County Chamber of Commerce is a good way to begin your trip. Located just off U.S. 460 on Oakvale Road, the Chamber of Commerce not only has plenty of maps and information ­about the region, but also is home to the Wiley Cabin and Museum. The 1932 cabin has three exhibit rooms, a library, and a craft shop.

Bluefield: From Princeton take U.S. 460 to Bluefield to begin traveling along the Coal Heritage Trail. On Commerce Street is the Eastern Regional Coal Archives and Museum. The facility collects, preserves, and makes available coal-related heritage through photographs, memorabilia, and other artifacts. Also in town is the Bluefield Area Arts Center on Bland Street in the Old City Hall. It is home to an art gallery, the Summit Theatre, a restaurant, and the Mercer County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Bramwell: The historic village of Bramwell was once the wealthiest town per capita in America, home to 14 millionaires who made their fortunes here. A brochure with a walking tour and map of the historic highlights of the luxurious heydays of Bramwell is available at the Bramwell Town Hall and at several of the bed-and-breakfasts that are the former homes of the wealthy coal barons.

Bank of Bramwell: The Bank of Bramwell was once so prosperous that the janitor would take heaping mounds of moneybags in a wheelbarrow to the train station each day. Bust by 1933 as a result of the Great Depression, the historic bank building, still oozing with opulence and elegance, was home to the local paper by the turn of the 20th century.

Bramwell Presbyterian Church: The Bramwell Presbyterian Church was patterned after a Welsh cathedral and contains such lavish extra touches as local bluestone tiles cut and laid by Italian masons who also came to seek their fortune.

Welch: Though a tiny village now, the town of Welch is noted for its four-story granite courthouse and the History in Our Mountains Museum. At the museum visitors can begin with a 25-minute film about the coal industry. A self-guided tour takes guests on a journey through history.

Beckley: The city of Beckley awaits visitors at the northern end of the Coal Heritage Trail. In the New River Park in Beckley are two definite must-sees for those eager to experience the coal heritage of the region.

Mountain Homestead: The Mountain Homestead is located directly behind the Youth Museum at New River Park and has re-created a typical settlement on the Appalachian frontier. Trained interpreters enhance the visit to each reconstructed historical building, including the two-story log house, weaver's shed, one-room schoolhouse, barn, blacksmith shop, and general store.

Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine: This mine gives visitors a realistic glimpse into the world of coal mining as it was in the early 1900s. Tours travel underground through nearly 1,500 feet of passageways in an authentic coal mine 500 feet below the New River Park. Guides are veteran miners and provide vivid details of life in the mines. Visitors can also browse in the coal mining museum.

The region commemorates the history and culture of the coal industry and the impact it had on the physical and social environment. This winding mountain drive brings that story to life.