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Bramwell in Mercer County, West Virginia — The American South (Appalachia)
 

Evolution of a Town

 

— National Coal Heritage Trail —

 
Evolution of a Town Marker image. Click for full size.
By J. J. Prats, July 24, 2021
1. Evolution of a Town Marker
Inscription.  
Bramwell is situated on a horseshoe bend of the Bluestone River at the eastern edge of the Pocahontas coalfield. This was an ideal location for a town. It was close to the coalfield operations yet removed from the dirt and noise of the industry.

In 1883, Bramwell was established by the Flat Top Land Company. This powerful company owned most of the coal lands in the area and planned to lease them to coal companies for a substantial profit. The company reserved the flattest land along the Bluestone for its office at Bramwell. Coal operators flocked to the town to make deals, set up offices, and build residences. Mines were opened nearby, close enough to allow workers to live in the town and either walk or take the train to work.

By 1885, the town was formally laid out in lots for homes, offices, and businesses. The town was incorporated in 1888 and named by J.H. Bramwell, an engineer from New York who served as the town’s postmaster. According to local history, Bramwell stated in poetic form.
Every little baby has a name,
This little town should have the same,
So now, if you will agree,
I choose to name it after me.
Bramwell grew rapidly during the 1890s. It boasted four churches,
Evolution of a Town Marker image. Click for full size.
By J. J. Prats, July 24, 2021
2. Evolution of a Town Marker
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eight retail stores, a school, town building, fraternal halls, numerous coal company offices and the water, sewage and electric utilities to support them. As many as fourteen passenger trains made daily stops at the depot. By the turn of the century, the town had acquired the reputation as the business and residential center for the wealthiest coal barons in the region.

In 1910, Bramwell lost its position as the leading business center in the Pocahontas coalfield. Two events played a critical factor. First, the Pocahontas Coal & Coke Company, successor to the Flat Top Land Association, decided to move its office from Bramwell to nearby Bluefield. The second, less than a week after this announcement, a disastrous fire broke out in a local pool room and bowling alley, destroying the business district. Even though the town was rebuilt, Bramwell gradually became more of a residential community than a center of business.

Bramwell underwent a period of decline in the 1920s as more and more of the business and social life gravitated to Bluefield. Many of the original coal barons passed from the scene, leaving a void of leadership. The coal industry also fell upon hard times. Over-expansion, declining coal prices, and a surplus of coal brought the Great Depression to the coalfields early. Perhaps the worst blow was the downfall of the Bank of Bramwell. Once a powerful financial institution, the decline in the coal industry drained its reserves and led to its closure
Three of the Interpretive Panels at Bramwell image. Click for full size.
By J. J. Prats, July 24, 2021
3. Three of the Interpretive Panels at Bramwell
This panel is the center panel. Behind them on the high-level platform is a Norfolk & Western heavy-weight dining car.
in 1933.

Bramwell has survived. Today, it is a remarkable residential community preserving a glimpse into the Gilded Age of America when bold men known as Coal Barons, crafted empires built upon coal.
 
Erected by National Coal Highway Authority and America’s Byways.
 
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Industry & CommerceNatural ResourcesNotable Places. A significant historical year for this entry is 1883.
 
Location. 37° 19.498′ N, 81° 18.807′ W. Marker is in Bramwell, West Virginia, in Mercer County. Marker is at the intersection of Main Street (County Route 120) and Simmons Avenue (County Route 120) when traveling west on Main Street. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 100 Simmons Avenue, Bramwell WV 24715, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 2 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. The Coming of the Railroad (here, next to this marker); The Coal Barons (here, next to this marker); The Workers (a few steps from this marker); Developing the Coal Field (a few steps from this marker); Mill Creek Coal & Coke Co. (approx. 0.8 miles away); Bramwell (approx. 0.8 miles away); Pinnacle Rock (approx. 1.2 miles away); The Birth of Pinnacle Rock State Park (approx. 1.2 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Bramwell.
 
More about this marker. This interpretive panel is illustrated with two maps and five photographs. They are captioned as follows, top to bottom, left to right.
  1. A 20th Century arial view of Bramwell.

  2. Pictured is a section of a plat of the town. This section clearly shows the location of the town on the bend of the Bluestone River. Note the lots belonging to Kate Hewitt, the Buckeye Coal & Coke Company, and Isaac T. Mann.

    Kate Hewitt was the wife of the town’s first mayor, John Hewitt. The Buckeye Coal & Coke Company was established by John Hewitt in 1886 and remained in operation until 1939. I.T. Mann was one of the most powerful and wealthy businessmen in Bramwell and was associated with the Bank of Bramwell and several coal companies.

  3. This 1886 map shows Bramwell and the eastern edge of the Pocahontas coalfield. Note the inclusion of the Norfolk & Western Railroad line through Bramwell.

    The map was produced by Jed Hotchkiss, the famous map maker who served “Stonewall” Jackson during the Civil War. Following the war, Hotchkiss promoted industrial development in the region and worked tirelessly to attract northern investment in the Pocahontas coalfield.

  4. The excitement of Bramwell attracted many people looking for the opportunities the town and nearby coalfield offered. Pictured above is John Davis Hewitt and
  5. his wife Katharine Reddy Hewitt. They moved from Pennsylvania to take up residence in Bramwell. John has the distinction of being the first Mayor of the town, elected January of 1889, and “Kate” the original first lady.

  6. Bramwell as it appeared before the 1910 fire.

  7. The remains of the business district after the 1910 fire.

 
Additional commentary.
1. N&W Passenger service at Bramwell
The Norfolk and Western Railway
Replica of the N&W Station in Bramwell, West Virginia image. Click for full size.
By J. J. Prats, July 24, 2021
4. Replica of the N&W Station in Bramwell, West Virginia
It is a museum and gift shop and one of the National Coal Heritage Area interpretive sites. The interpretive panels are arranged around the small plaza out of frame on the left.
was built to haul coal out of the mountains to the rest of the United States and the world. But it was also a passenger carrier and in many cases it was the only reliable form of transportation for many cities and towns in the area.

In 1925 N&W operated 16 passenger trains a day on this branch line, eight in each direction, and all of them stopped at Bramwell. Many more coal trains rumbled through town. The line did not go much further eastbound-just a handful of small coal camps-but the 16 trains ran a twelve minute ride between Bramwell and Bluestone Junction. That ride took 10 minutes and was only 2˝ miles long, and that ride was not only fast, but clean, as the trains were pulled by electric locomotives. Today that railroad line is abandoned and that ride by car is a 4˝ mile ride by automobile up and down mountains over narrow country roads with hairpin curves that at one point cross into Virginia and back.

At Bluestone Junction was Norfolk & Western’s Virginia and Ohio main line. Those 16 Bramwell trains were timed to connect with the passenger trains including their crack express trains The Pocahontas and The Cavalier, both running between Norfolk VA and Cincinnati or Columbus OH. These trains stopped at Lynchburg, Petersburg, Roanoke in Virginia as well as Kenova, West Virginia, Ashland, Kentucky. In Roanoke, Lynchburg, and Petersburg, numerous trains from various other railroads could take you to Philadelphia and New York or Florida, Atlanta,
N&W Passenger Train Timetable for Bramwell image. Click for full size.
By J. J. Prats
5. N&W Passenger Train Timetable for Bramwell
The Pocahontas, Goodwill and Wenonah branch line on which Bramwell was located connected with the Norfolk & Western main line that ran from Norfolk to Columbus. This timetable is dated December, 1925. It shows 16 stops, eight in each direction.
New Orleans and beyond. At Cincinnati likewise, to Chicago and beyond. If you wanted to travel to the state capital, you took an N&W train west to Kenova WV and changed for a C&O train heading east to Charleston.

The town of Pocahontas, Virginia, was just 1˝ miles beyond Bluestone Junction and in 1925 all Bramwell trains continued to it. There was more entertainment at Pocahontas than at the smaller, more residential Bramwell. Pocahontas had an opera house where popular music artists and comedians of the day held concerts and touring theatre companies held plays.

You can be sure the many of the mine owner millionaires that lived in Bramwell had their own private railroad cars parked at the station. These train cars were apartments on wheels, and included kitchens, chefs and attendants. They would travel in comfort and style for business meetings and shopping trips to Philadelphia and New York, vacations on Virginia beaches or winters in Florida — or any other place they wanted to go — attached to the rear of the next train that was going their way.
    — Submitted August 8, 2021, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio.
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on August 14, 2021. It was originally submitted on August 9, 2021, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio. This page has been viewed 45 times since then. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on August 9, 2021, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio.   3, 4, 5. submitted on August 8, 2021, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio.

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