North American Coal turns 100

POWHATAN – North American Coal Corp. is celebrating its 100-year anniversary and will continue to celebrate the entire year, which includes having an event at each mine site. For Belmont County, an event will be held Sept. 21 at Undo’s in St. Clairsville; registration for this event will begin at noon that day.

In observation of this event, North American has donated $5,000 to Powhatan Point.

North American is one of the top 10 producers of coal in the United States and possibly the oldest as well. A book has been written about the history of North American Coal and is due out in May.

“On behalf of the village, we want to thank Tom Kovach (manager, Ohio & Pennsylvania Properties) and Steve Hill (property manager),” said Powhatan Mayor Mark McVey. “North American Coal has always been a great neighbor.”

The money will go toward the village’s recreation fund and a bench at the Powhatan Marina to recognize North American Coal for its generous donation. In the many years that North American Coal has been based in Powhatan, it has given back a lot to the community.

“Back in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, anytime Powhatan needed help with something – like when North American helped with the ball fields, they help build the park – if (Powhatan) needed the roads cleared of snow, North American always helped them or if they needed streetlights changed,” said Hill. “When you speak of North American Coal, you also speak of Powhatan Point – this is the roots for North American Coal. This was where it all started.”

“We’ve been around for 100 years and plan on being around for another 100. Everybody is really excited,” said Hill. “We just want to let people know that we are 100 years old, and I don’t think there are too many companies that can say they are 100 years old.”

North American Coal has a rich history in the Ohio Valley with its roots buried deep near Powhatan Point where there were once seven fully operating mines.

The first mine, known as Powhatan No. 1 mine, opened in 1922 and changed the economy of Powhatan dramatically; what was once a river town became a village that was based on coal. The town and population grew and evolved into a mining town. Much of the information about Powhatan and North American Coal is from the book “A Sesquicentennial History of Powhatan Point, Ohio” written by Carol Rutter.

When North American Coal opened its first Powhatan mine, the company itself was still young, having been created Feb. 18, 1913, by founder Frank E. Taplin. It was originally called The Cleveland and Western Coal Co. before changing its name in 1925 to North American Coal.

Taplin was born in Cleveland in 1875. After graduating from high school in 1893, he went to work as a clerk for Standard Oil. Taplin remained there until he joined Pittsburgh Coal Co. as a salesman and went on to become a sales manager for Youghiogheny & Ohio.

Four years later in 1917, The Cleveland and Western Coal Co. moved from sales to the actual operations of coal mines in Belmont County and consolidated with A.J. Morgan Coal Co. With the operation of the Powhatan property, The Powhatan Mining Co. was born. No. 1 mine was the largest deep mine in the state of Ohio and the first to be fully mechanized; No. 1 was located so that it had access to both rail and river transportation.

North American, like most coal-mining companies, was not without tragedy. On July 5, 1944, 66 miners lost their lives in what is known as the Powhatan No. 1 Mine Disaster. This mine fire is one of the most devastating in the coal-mining community of Powhatan. Today, standing on the edge of the Powhatan Cemetery, facing Route 7, stands a large tombstone, listing the names of the men who went to work on that summer day and never returned to their families.

Almost 60 years after its opening, the decline in the coal industry caused the permanent closing of No. 1 in 1981. No. 1 was not the first mine to close, nor was it the last. No. 2, which was purchased in 1944, closed in 1952, and No. 5 closed in 1980 when the reserve was exhausted. No. 6, which is still in operation today, was purchased by Ohio Valley Coal Co. in May 1989, and No. 4 was purchased by Consol.

Though the seven were fully functioning mines that have closed or been purchased, Northern American Coal has not forgotten its roots. It now has two plants in Powhatan, and it is currently looking at another project that will benefit all those involved and surrounding the village of Powhatan.

“Back in its heyday, the main office was (here in Powhatan) and employed upwards to 7,000 people at one time, and in the ’80s when the coal dropped off, the main office … (was moved) to Dallas, Texas, and they have strip mines now throughout the country,” said Hill. “What we do here in Powhatan is we have two AMD plants.” That refers to acid mine drainage and “the orange water that comes off the old coal mine works, what we do is we treat that and we put it back into the old mine workings.”

North American Coal is also in the process of discussing the building of new treatment plants in Powhatan that will treat this water and it can drain into the creeks, which would also be of use to the gas industry. They are currently talking to state Rep. Jack Cera and state Sen. Lou Gentile about this project.

“The coal is mined out here (in Powhatan) with the exception of Century and No. 6, the prospect is water treatment that we are hoping the village and North American can work together on,” said Hill. “North American is huge … and is not going to go away. They are going to be around for a long time.”

For more photos of North American Coal, please see B1.