FAYETTEVILLE – Three generations of miners had dug miles into the south wall of the New River Gorge to blast, cut and load nearly 17 million tonnes of coal from the Kaymoor No. 1 mine by the time it went down in 1962 .
At its height, Kaymoor No. 1, the most productive of dozens of coal mines that once operated in what is now New River Gorge National Park and Reserve, had over 800 employees and supported two company towns.
Abiel Abbott Low, one of the founders of the Low Moor Iron Company, purchased the mine site shortly after the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway opened a mainline through the New River Gorge in 1873. The new track provided a rail link between the cast iron blast furnaces of Low Moor. in the Clifton Forge, Virginia area, and what would become its primary fuel source – coke made from high-carbon “smokeless” coal mined from the Sewell coal seam of New River Gorge.
Low Moor initially relied on other Gorge coal mines to produce the coke needed to fire its furnaces, holding the Kaymoor site in reserve for over 20 years before commissioning James Kay to plan mine and oversee its operations. Kay began developing the mine in 1899 and opened it in 1900.
Kay, who worked in the mines of his native Scotland as a child before emigrating to America and becoming a stonemasonry contractor, opened the nearby Royal Coal and Coke Co. mine with his brother-in-law, Thomas Laing, in 1891. and successfully operating this mine, Kay’s problem-solving abilities were put to the test, apparently capturing both Low’s attention and admiration.
At his Royal Mine site, Kay faced the challenge of hauling coal from an 820ft portal on a gorge wall to a new C&O liner at the base of the canyon at Prince on the opposite bank of the New River. . Kay’s solution was to build the state’s first aerial tram. The system used 32 iron buckets, each carrying half a ton of coal, suspended at regular intervals from a 2,800 foot cable supported by towers mounted on cut stone foundations. The overhead line of buckets descended the steep slope, crossed the river and returned to the mine portal after unloading.
At Kaymoor, Kay chose a natural bench on a gorge wall 560 feet above river level as the site for the mine portal in the Sewell Seam. To transport the coal to a tipping and processing plant on a sunken siding, Kay designed a gravity-inclined conveying system – two platforms mounted on railroad tracks, each supporting a shaped tank car tank capable of carrying eight tons of coal.
The conveyance, attached to a 1,000-foot length of cable wrapped around an 8-foot-diameter brake-operated drum, ascended and descended a 30-degree incline. The system has been balanced to use the weight of the loaded monitor moving downward to pull the empty monitor up the slope.
In addition to the inclined system used to transport coal downstream for processing and slate upstream for disposal, Kaymoor constructed a crawler-mounted mountain transport tram to transport people and supplies up and down the canyon wall. The open tram carriages had wooden seats, low wooden walls and carried up to 15 people at a time, giving them unobstructed, if not terrifying, views of the gorges on journeys up the steep slope.
Teams of mules, soon replaced by a fleet of electric locomotives, pulled wagons loaded by miners out of the mine to a mother house just outside the gate, where the coal was weighed and then dumped into a bin storage and fed by chute in the cars monitor. When the coal arrived at the base of the slope, it was dumped into another bin and conveyed on a horizontal conveyor belt which transported it to a processing plant where it was passed through vibrating screens to sort it by size or washed and then sieved.
The coal was first shipped to the Low Moor plant in Virginia to be processed into coke, but in the summer of 1901 120 coke ovens were completed alongside the Kaymoor processing plant and the siding at the foot of the gorge. There the coke for the Low Moor blast furnaces was made, in a 48-hour process that involved slow cooking of the impurities with a low-oxygen fire.
In 1918, a total of 202 coke ovens were in operation at Kaymoor, as coal was not needed to meet Low Moor’s ironmaking needs shipped to buyers on the open market.
Kaymoor, also known as Kay Moor, was named for James Kay, the man who designed and developed the mine for the Low Moor Iron Co. and served as its first superintendent.
A second mine, Kaymoor No. 2, was opened in 1904, but never approached the productivity of Kaymoor No. 1, in part because of the difficulty of mining and loading coal from the relatively thin seam that she was following. It has been worked intermittently over the years and was closed decades before Kaymoor No. 1 closed.
Like other remote, roadless Gorge coal mining sites, housing and other basic amenities were needed to attract miners and their families to Kaymoor mining. Here the Low Moor Iron Co. has built two coal camps. Kaymoor Top took shape on the rim of the canyon near the upper end of the mountain transport tram, while Kaymoor Bottom was built at the base of the gorge on relatively flat patches of land between railway tracks, buildings mines and the New River.
Although it is unclear from available records how many houses were in each camp, it is known that the first 50 houses were ready for occupancy in 1901 and another 62 were available in 1905. All 1901 houses were wired for electricity , but only half were equipped for indoor running water.
In 1919 two dozen additional houses were built next to Kaymoor Top on a company site called New Camp or New Town.
All of the company’s houses were one-story, four-room, bungalow-style single-family dwellings, each equipped with a fireplace or coal stove, coal shed, and lavatory.
“Houses were usually surrounded by fences so families could keep a cow, chickens, or pigs”, and contained gardens “which varied greatly in size and type of cultivation”, author Lou Athey wrote in ” Kaymoor: A New River Community”.
A company housing service, Athey continued, “was responsible for maintaining and repairing homes, including replacing roll roofing, rotting fence posts, downspouts and painting”.
The 1910 U.S. Census indicated that over 600 people lived in Fayette County’s “Kaymoor Precinct”. Most of the heads of households were born in states other than West Virginia — mostly border states and the Carolinas.
As part of a nationwide survey of coal camp living conditions in 1923, a U.S. Coal Commission investigator inspected company towns in Kaymoor for sanitation, clean water, education and quality of housing.
The inspector gave the camps an overall rating of 81.2 on a scale of 100.
Housing “maintenance” received the lowest rating recorded during the inspection, with a rating of 63. Education received a rating of 78.2, mainly due to the poor condition of the two classrooms at Kaymoor Top.
The company operated separate elementary schools in Kaymoor Top and Kaymoor Bottom, in accordance with Jim Crow laws in effect in the state at the time. While the black and white schools in Kaymoor Bottom were rated as operating in good condition, the schools in Kaymoor Top were rated as “in very poor condition, the colored school in particular”, according to the Coal Commission investigator, primarily in due to a lack of classroom seating and equipment.
A total of 101 students attended the two white schools at the time of the inspections, while 56 students attended the black schools.
The highest rating for Kaymoor Coal Camps was 95 for recreation, which took into account opportunities for fishing and swimming in the New River, hunting in the surrounding woods, a company baseball team which played in a county league, two baseball diamonds, a tennis court and a movie theater which also hosted vaudeville troupes and musical groups.
In 1925 Kaymoor was sold to the New River & Pocahontas Coal and Coke Company after demand for the type of pig iron produced by Low Moor began to decline.
The new owners closed the marginal Kaymoor No. 2 mine but did little to change the way the Kaymoor No. 1 mine, its main producer, had operated over the previous two decades. Kaymoor No. 1 reached its peak production in 1941, when over 742,000 tons were mined. Some of its coal was still loaded by hand when the mine shut down and closed in 1962.
By then, the Kaymoor Bottom coal camp, still inaccessible by road, had been abandoned and then destroyed by fire. Kaymoor Top followed suit soon after the mine closed. The coal company sold its homes there to private individuals wishing to remove them from the town site.
Kaymoor’s long life and isolated location have left the site relatively untouched, although it is deteriorating.
In the application to list the Kaymoor Mine Complex on the National Register of Historic Places, the late Dr. Emory Kemp, founder and director of the Institute of History of Technology and Industrial Archeology at the University of Virginia- Occidentale wrote that the site stands alone as “a unique historical resource embodying the technical and social history of coal mining in the Mid-Atlantic region.”
Today the site can be visited via a half-mile hike up the steep, rock-strewn Kaymoor Miners Trail in the New River Gorge National Park and Reserve to the bench where the entrance is. of the mine. There, visitors can look into the portals of the mine, walk through the remains of the mine office and lamp, see the ventilator where the mine’s ventilation was controlled, and examine the stone powder magazine.
A gentler, though slightly longer, alternative to reaching the mine site is to follow Kaymoor Trail for a 1.5 mile walk over smoother, less rocky terrain from its start along Fayette Station Road to at the mine site.
From the mine site, Kaymoor Bottom can be reached by descending the 821 steps of a staircase which ends at the preparation plant and the power station of the Kaymoor No. 1 mine.
Unofficial trails to the right provide access to side and rear views of buildings, a brush-covered railroad yard with an assortment of switchgear, and the ruins of 202 coke ovens. Paths to the left pass another overgrown stretch of rail yard, one of the mountain transit system trams, and two beached tank cars, among other remnants of the operation.
Visitors are advised to avoid the active CSX lanes between the buildings at the base of the stairs and the New River.