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The New River Company
The history of the New River Company begins with the story of Samuel Dixon, the man whose efforts caused the company to be formed. Dixon, a native of England, came to Fayette county in 1877. After working for his uncle at a mining operation near Montgomery, Dixon came to Macdonald in 1893 as superintendent and general manager for the newly opened Macdonald Colliery Company. In the years that followed Dixon began working on his goal to build a great coal empire, by acquiring leases to various coal lands in the local area.

Within a relatively short period of time Dixon purchased many valuable coal lands, using his own money and that of investors. Sometime about 1900, Dixon formed the White Oak Coal Company, to market and sell the coal produced by mines he and his investors owned. In 1905 he put his holding together under the name of the New River Fuel Company. In 1906 the company's name was changed to the New River Company.


PHOTO - Samuel Dixon
Samuel Dixon
(1855-1934)

Dixon served as president of the his newly organized company which continued to expand its influence and holdings. His strategies for the development of his company and the marketing of the its coal are now considered to have been well ahead of its time. Unfortunately for Dixon, a revolt led by several of the company's majority stockholders during the period of 1911-1912 caused him to lose control of the New River Company by 1913. Dixon also suffered defeat in another area during this same period of time. Although he never held an elected office, Dixon had achieved the role of a political leader within the local area. In 1912 and again in 1916 the party and persons backed by Dixon suffered major defeats in the local elections. Despite all of these setbacks, Dixon acquired a lease to a mine his had previously operated located at Price Hill and to operate it with great accomplishment for a number of years.

Following Dixon's retirement, Robert H. Gross was elected president and Col. Samuel A. Scott took over the role of manager of the New River Company's mines and properties. Scott soon proved his management abilities, transforming the New River Company into a revitalized enterprise. During the coming years Scott would advance within the company and hold several offices, including that of company president.

PHOTO - New River Co. Coal Operation

Under Scott's able management, one by one, the company's aging wooden tipples were replaced with modern up-to-date coal processing plants, such as the one shown in the photo at left, of the company's Scarbro tipple.
The period of time from the mid-1910's through the 1920's was an era in which the company experienced much growth and expansion. At that time, the local coal industry was only twenty years old, however rapid advances in technology had occurred. The New River Company wisely decided to take advantage of any and all new techniques and tools available. The company began to modernize its plants, replacing older tipples and machinery with new and more efficient facilities. In 1915, the company completed a new general office building located in Mt. Hope on land donated by the city. A new repair and machine shop, foundry and warehouse complex was built in 1920, also located in Mt. Hope.

During this period, the New River Company became a leader within the coal industry in regards to the safety and welfare of it employees and their families. The New River Company was the first in the country whose entire work force had individual instruction in first-aid with each employee holding a certificate. The New River Company conducted first aid contests each year, with teams from each of its mining operations completing for cash awards and prizes. The company's mining towns were well maintained and considered to be models of their kind. Annually, the company held a garden and yard contest for its employees, awarding as many as sixty-eight prizes for the best kept yards and gardens in its fourteen mining towns.

The coal market had its share of both upward and downward trends during the 1920's. However, the local area and the entire nation enjoyed the progress and prosperity that seemed to be the very essence of period called the "Roaring Twenties". It was an time of great optimism, with almost everyone, from politicians to industrial leaders to the common man and woman, all feeling that life would simply keep getting better and better. The writers of the day quoted local coal leaders as saying that the local coal industry was still "in its infancy" and numerous articles were written stating that it would be at least 130 to 160 years before the area's vast reserve of coal would be depleted. Despite the appearance of electricity as the "new energy" of the age, most observers of the day regarded electricity merely as a type of energy that would forever be dependant upon coal. After all they reasoned, electricity was only a means of storing or transmitting the power generated by the consumption of coal. Many intelligent persons of the era reasoned that, "It is unlikely that any power will replace coal anytime in the future!"

However, by the 1930's the sobering effects of the Great Depression followed by the threat of a global war seems to have erased much of the optimism that had been prevalent during from previous decade. But despite the economic hard-times during the early part of the decade, the New River Company achieved new levels of coal production by the mid-1930's.

Many transformations occurred during the 1930's in the coal industry. President Roosevelt's "New Deal", the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) and the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (the Wagner Act) brought about many changes in the coal fields of the area. In 1935, the New River Company and the United Mine Workers of America signed a two-year contract. In 1938, the President and General Manager of the company, Samuel Scott, died and Robert H. Gross assumed the role of president at the age of 74. In 1939, the C&O Railway bought one-half of the company's stock and L. Ebersole Gaines was named President of the company. That same year, the company purchased the Price Hill Colliery Company giving the company 1,100 acres of land adjacent to the company's Cranberry mine.

As the company entered the decade of the 1940's and the country moved closer to war even more changes would soon take place. Following the death of William McKell in 1939, the New River Company acquired the coal properties of the McKell Coal & Coke Company from the McKell heirs in 1940. This acquisition gave the company ownership or control of the largest acreage of Sewell coal in the district. In 1941, J. A. Hunt accepted the position of Vice-President in Charge of Operations of the company. With the entry of the country into the war in 1941 the demand for coal was greatly expanded. The company set several new records for coal production during the war years.

Following the end of World War II, the market for coal temporarily declined. During this period of time the C&O Railway purchased the remaining one-half interest in the New River Company. John L. Lewis became involved in a long and bitter dispute with the federal government as he ordered his United Mine Workers to go on strike in April of 1946. The citizens of the local area and the nation greeted the end of the war with much relief and in-general, everyone seemed to have the basic desire to get back to a normal life. But would life during the period of time that followed the war ever be "normal" again? The atomic bomb had unleashed a new weapon (and a new form of energy) that was in the words of President Truman, "the like of which has never been seen before on this earth."

As the New River Company entered the decade of the 1950's a great number of changes were taking place in the local area and around the world. The company sold many of its company houses and closed several company stores during the decade and several of the company's area mines were closed during this period of time. In 1954 J. A. Hunt assumed the role of company President of the company. But as the local coal industry passed the age of sixty years old, the nation's dependence on coal as an energy source was declining. It was a time when much progress was occurring quite rapidly throughout the industries of the country. "Automation" was occurring throughout various industries as machines and computers began to replace workers. The homes, offices and stores of the country were no longer heated primarily by coal. Even the use of coal in industry was declining.

By the end of the 1950's, the country's Class-I railroads were no longer using steam locomotives that were fueled by coal. As the nation's railroad switched from coal-fired steam locomotives to diesel-powered locomotives one of the major markets for coal disappeared forever. During the coming years the remaining markets for coal would continue to diminish, leaving the market for metallurgical coal as one of the few remaining markets for coal. Although its business continued for several move decades, by the 1980's, the New River Company found itself being forced into extinction. With the once-great company's passing, an never-to-forgotten era that made a lasting impact on the region and its people came to abrupt and unceremonious end.

The NRC's Siltex Mine
Originally opened by McKell Coal & Coke Company in 1924, the Siltix mine (sometimes also spelled as "Siltex") was acquired by the New River Company in 1940. The mining operation was one of the last mines to be operated by the New River Company, and the last deep mine to operate in Mount Hope.

New River Company's Siltex Mine - Mount Hope, WV
Coal-loading facilities of the Siltix Mine, c. mid-1960's
Click to view enlarged

Meadow Creek Coal Processing Plant
As a CSX train-load of the famous New River "smokeless coal" roars by, the New River Company's Meadow Creek coal processing plant is visible in the background. This scene from the mid-1980's is no more, as the company's Meadow Creek complex is now only a memory. The company's modern coal prep plant came to an undignified end, being dismantled and sold for its scrap value during the late-1980's.


New River Company's Meadow Creek Coal Processing Plant
A CSX coal train races past the New River Coal Plant at Meadow Creek, WV
Click to view enlarged

New River Company General Office Building
In 1915 the New River Company general office building (shown at left) was constructed in Mt. Hope on land donated by the city. The building is still standing and in use today (1999). Just a short distance away, the former New River shop complex is still in use. Although no longer operated by the New River Company, the old shops are still used to rebuild heavy industrial equipment.


New River Company General Office Building - Mount Hope, WV
Click to view enlarged

 

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