Old Coal Mining Towns of Appalachia Linger in the Past
Coal Miners of the Past
Ghosts of the Past
Some of the old coal mining towns of Appalachia are fading away, some have been taken back by nature -- yet they all linger in the past. Some, or most, spirits may have found a better home, but in the silence, one can hear sounds of long ago.
A once lovely front porch where family members used to gather after supper and talk about the day now waits for time to take it. Concrete steps, covered in moss, once felt the footsteps of everyone in town. Once they took folks up to the entrance of the company store, they now lead to nowhere and look out of place in the woods. In some places, there are little or no traces at all where a coal mining town used to be. Now only memories of such towns linger in the past.
Down in the hollow one may hear echos of the drills that bore into the hillsides, eking out mines with seams so narrow in some places that miners had to move through on their knees. If anyone could go down into the mines now, there might be sounds from the distant past -- pick axes, hammers and other tools still chinking away in the dark underground.
One might hear voices of the miners calling back and forth to each other to keep in touch and to know they were not alone down there. In some mines, the men worked, lived, ate and slept for a week at a time, not seeing daylight till a Sunday rolled around.
Spirits and Tommy Knockers
There were many miners who did not come back up to see the sunlight. Cave-ins and fires took some to linger on in spirit with the Tommy knockers, wandering the tunnels, picking away at the rock, their hammers and picks can be heard echoing back and forth. They are the underground spirits of the past who walk in the dark.
Above ground, away from the mines, were the flimsy, cheap houses the company had built for the miners and their families. One may be able to hear the sounds of children as they laughed and chased each other, or played hide and seek in the nearby woods -- or maybe hear their mothers calling to them to come in for supper.
Even though the houses were not mansions, women made them cozy and charming homes for their families. Kitchen gardens out back provided fresh vegetables, maybe some flowers once grew out front around the porch. If the husband and father was lost to the underground, the family had to leave the town and abandon their home.
Changing Shifts at the Mine
What are Tommy Knockers?
The Town, a Lone House
The little town would have had a post office, a store where food and supplies could be bought, maybe some trinkets for the kids to play with.
A now empty church, that once rang cheerfully with song and prayer, stands forlorn, guiet, ready to give up and let nature reclaim her territory.
Down a barely visible old dirt road, might be one lone house that managed to hold together a bit longer than the others. A dusty window, where a child's face may have looked out of on a rainy day, now hides what is inside.
Another window, broken out long ago, shows a tattered curtain panel, its dark gray lace that once gleamed white in the sunshine, billowing in and out as if trying to escape the lonely house.
The back door that leads to the kitchen hangs open, rusted hinges creaking loudly in the wind, bemoaning the loss of family and days when the cooking aromas poured out each time it was opened by someone.
Inside the back door is a darkened pantry, once stocked with all that was needed for the family's table.
If one stands still, very still, for some time, a faint hint of baked goods may be detected, or a lingering scent of spice.
On the dusty floor, dried and torn lies part of a jar's label. This door, too, creaks and moans as it is opened, calling out to the kitchen door in answer to the lonely call. This was once a home, the heart of the home, this dusty old kitchen and pantry.
Old Coal Mining Town
Coal Company Town
The Church and Graves
Away from where the town and row of houses were, deep in the woods by the church, is the cemetery.
A few tombstones can still be seen, sinking into the moss and soft floor of the forest. Nearly completely covered with vines and moss, one may be able to see a name here and there, and maybe a date of birth and death.
No one visits the graves anymore, except the occasional explorer or photographer, looking for signs of the people who lived and died there. As one stands there in silence out of respect, the faint sound of voices from the church may be heard, singing the lost soul to Heaven -- but, it is only the wind in the trees, lamenting.
Old Forgotten Graves
Traces of Memories
These memories and traces of a way of life are not from a fiction story -- they are as real as the woods and time that have taken over and hidden many old abandoned coal mining towns throughout the Appalachian Mountains.
Time has taken a toll on these old towns that once thrived with life. Few people are left now who lived there and some of the towns may be forgotten and lost forever. Yet, as long as there are historians, photographers and writers who find traces of the past, these coal mining towns will linger on in the pages of history.
Coal Mining Towns Fading Into the Past
Cornish miners would not go down into a mine until the boss assured them that the Tommy Knockers had already begun the job of making sure all was well. Tommy Knockers are very similar to Irish Leprechauns -- they could be helpful, mischievous, or down-right mean. If any mishap occurred, if someone's tools or lunch was stolen, the miners blamed it on a Tommy Knocker. Sometimes, the miners gave blessings to the Tommy Knockers for warning them of impending disasters.
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© 2014 Phyllis Doyle Burns