Coalwood, West Virginia

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Coalwood, West Virginia
Coalwood, WV.jpg
Coalwood, West Virginia is located in West Virginia
Coalwood, West Virginia
Location of Coalwood, West Virginia
Coordinates: 37°23′14″N 81°39′09″W / 37.38722°N 81.65250°W / 37.38722; -81.65250
CountryUnited States United States
StateWest Virginia West Virginia
Elevation1,450 ft (442 m)
 • Total900
Time zoneUTC-5 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s)304
GNIS feature ID1554166

Coalwood is an unincorporated community coal town in McDowell County, West Virginia, United States. The coal mine in Coalwood reached its peak in the 1960s and finally shut down production on October 1, 1986. As of the 1990 census—the last time the town was counted separately—the population was 900. The town is the setting of the best-selling memoir Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam and the October Sky movie that is based on the book.[3]


Coalwood was founded by George Lafayette Carter in 1905.[1] He came on the back of a mule and eventually found rich seams of coal, and bought 20,000 acres (80 km2). He constructed a mine, calling it the Carter Coal Company and built offices, houses, a schoolhouse, the Carter Coal Company Store, a church and more. Carter hired a dentist and doctor to provide service to his miners.[4]

Coalwood WV postmark.jpg

In 1922, Carter sold the mine and properties within the town to the Consolidation Coal Company. The company rebuilt the community and recruited new employees to work in the mines, but Carter regained the company when Consolidation Coal defaulted on its payments in 1933.[5] Carter died in 1936, and the company was then taken over by his son James who sold it in 1947 to a group of industrialists who changed the company name to the Olga Coal Company.

In 1956, the Coalwood mine was connected underground to the nearby Caretta mine which was also owned by Olga. In 1959, Olga ceased bringing coal to the surface via Coalwood which prompted the Norfolk and Western Railway to begin pulling up the tracks leading to and from Coalwood.[1]

The Coalwood-Caretta mine continued to be productive throughout most of the 20th century, producing on average one million tons annually until the mine was finally closed.[5]

The Coalwood Community Church in Welch County

At its peak, Coalwood had a population of over 2,000.[5]

In 1980, the Olga Coal Company was bought by the LTV Corporation which closed Coalwood's mine in 1986.[1]

As of 2019 much of Coalwood sits abandoned including Big Creek High School where The Rocket Boys went. The buildings of the town still stand, although time and the elements have taken their toll. A primary school has be built at the former site of Big Creek High School.

October Sky Festival[edit]

Once a year, in October, Coalwood hosted an October Sky festival in honor of the accomplishments of the Rocket Boys. Many scientists and astronauts attended and Homer Hickam always made an appearance. The 2007 festival also represented the 50th anniversary of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to go into orbit around the earth. Commemorating both events, an actor from the movie October Sky, Scott Miles, attended the festival to sign autographs.[6] On February 7, 2012, the Cape Coalwood Restoration Association announced that the October 2011 festival, the 13th October Sky Festival, had been the last October Sky Festival. After the cancellation of the Rocket Boys/October Sky Festival was announced, Hickam was approached by a group of concerned Raleigh County citizens to inquire to the possibility of bringing the festival to their city. After weeks of conversations between the parties it was agreed that the 2012 Rocket Boys/October Sky Festival would be held in Beckley with many events taking place on the grounds of the Exhibition Coal Mine at New River Park on October 5–7.[7] The Rocket Boys Festival remained an annual event in Beckley from 2012 to 2019, which was the last festival in Beckley. The 2020 festival was cancelled due to COVID-19.[8]

Carter Coal Company Store in 2007
Flood damage in 2002


  1. ^ a b c d "Coalwood History Timeline". Archived from the original on 2008-12-19. Retrieved 2008-12-19.
  2. ^ "Coalwood". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. 1980-06-27. Retrieved 2008-12-19.
  3. ^ Hickam Jr., Homer (1998). Rocket Boys. Delacorte Press. ISBN 0-385-33320-X.
  4. ^ Hickam, Homer (1998). October Sky. Dell Publishing. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-440-23550-7. He hired a doctor and a dentist and provided their services to his miners and their families for free.
  5. ^ a b c McGehee, Stuart (Summer 2001). "Historic Coalwood". Goldenseal. Archived from the original on 2008-12-19. Retrieved 2008-12-19.
  6. ^ 2007 October Sky Festival
  7. ^ October Sky Festival
  8. ^ "Rocket Boys Festival LLC - Home". Retrieved 2017-07-10.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 37°23′14″N 81°39′09″W / 37.38722°N 81.65250°W / 37.38722; -81.65250 (Coalwood, West Virginia)