In the early years of coal mining, many miners and their families lived in coal camps. Coal camps were communities owned by a coal company. The company owned houses that they rented to the miner and operated a company store. Many camps had schools, movie theatres, doctor’s offices, baseball teams and even opera houses. They were most often found in the region of the Appalachian Mountains, particularly in West Virginia. In fact, in 1910, 90% of West Virginia miners lived in coal camps.

Life in a coal camp was hard. Miners toiled underground and their wives worked just as hard in the houses above. Furthermore, the company had total control over the coal camp. The company store charged more money than those outside the coal camp and miners were paid in scrip, coins made by the company that was only good in the coal camp. But, what most Appalachian families remember is not the difficulties of living in coal camp, but the close-knit community. Neighbors banded together to create an extended family that supported each other. The coal camps were quite diverse, too. People of many different nationalities and races lived and worked together, creating a strong and vibrant community.
By the 1950’s, coal camps began to die out. The 1950’s saw an important change in mining technology. Prior to that time, coal was mined and loaded by hand, dug out by a large workforce of coal miners. But, with the invention of long wall mining in the 50’s, the workforce was reduced. It is interesting to note that the industry that fueled the Industrial Revolution was the last to be industrialized. At any rate, as fewer miners were needed, coal camps were no longer profitable for the companies and began to fade away. Today, coal camps are just a memory of another time.

West Virginia storyteller and writer, Karen Vuranch, has spent years collecting the oral history of people who lived in coal camps. She has written a one-act play, Coal Camp Memories, about the lives of women and men living in early coal camps. The play chronicles the life of Hallie Marie Jones. The audience sees her grow up from an exuberant child to a demure teenager to a young wife and finally an old woman, wise with years. The metamorphous of age is completed on stage while traditional musicians sing music of era. Karen Vuranch has toured Coal Camp Memories throughout the US and Great Britain. She has received a number of awards for capturing the spirit of a time gone-by. Now, Coal Camp Memories is available on DVD. Copies of the DVD may be purchased by clicking on the DVD button on the left side of this page. This website provides an educational curriculum that accompanies Coal Camp Memories.