The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

I Remember Raleigh

By Margie Moon Coburn © 1992

Issue: June, 1992

Raleigh, West Virginia is but a mere dot on the map, but this tiny coal-mining community has a special place in my heart. It was there I was born and reared, not knowing much about life anywhere else. Strangely, the more I have learned about life outside, the more special Raleigh becomes.

The hub of the community was the Company store, owned by Raleigh Coal and Coke Company. Credit was easy to get and the miners used it to the fullest to provide for their families. The store was divided with a friendly soda fountain dominating the front part, and the "serious" groceries through a doorway into the back. A rarity these days is that, in the Company store, both loitering and dogs were allowed. It was a common sight to see both. It was the waiting place for the school bus for high school, and the city bus to take us into the County Seat; and the ultimate shopping experience for many of us until we reached our teens. Many tales were told among friends waiting in line or enjoying ice cream cones at the drug store, and news of the community was passed. All this without any real gossip, I believe because these mining people loved and respected one another greatly.

Evenings and weekends it was a common sight to see the men sitting outside the store on the crowpoles passing the time of day. And during election campaigns, it was rather amusing to see the politicians perching precariously up there with them. They tried so hard to fit in with our miners, but you could tell them and their uneasy seat did not last long.

The townspeople kept up easily with important hours. The dominant landmark was the company whistle high upon a hill in the midst of town. The whistle blew loud, long, and shrill to signal the beginning of the work day, lunch time, and the end of the shift. Everybody knew those hours. Miners worked and stopped work by the whistle. The whistle also was the town signal of alarm. The moan of the whistle sounded when our mine exploded one fateful morning and many of us lost friends and families. The whistle blew when some of our miners went over the mountain in derailed trip cars on their way into the mine one morning. It also blew to signal a fire in the community. During the war, the whistle blew to tell us to cut off our lights, we were having an air-raid drill, and blew again for the all-clear. It didn't take long for a child to learn if the whistle blew unexpectedly, something was wrong. All but one time; I remember the morning in August, 1945 when we got the word the war was over and how the whistle blew! People came out of their houses, businesses (the one shoe repair shop in town) closed, and everybody literally danced in the dirt streets and hugged as we shouted along with the happy wail of the whistle.

Much of the community life centered around the church. The Coal Company provided three. A Protestant Church, a Catholic Church, and a Black Church, and we each loved our own. During the summer the churches held Vacation Bible School and all the children went. On the last day, the Coal Company provided free ice cream cones to all the children who attended, and we would march proudly, in a single file, from the church to the Company Store to get our treat. Sometimes the Company officials would be along the sidewalk at the store and would shake hands with some of us. At Christmas time they gave bags of fruit to each child in every miner's family and these were distributed at the church following the Christmas program.

There were two schools in the community and parents were most supportive of each. Many characters were formed there. Unfortunately, many "characters" also attended, like the boys who put rockdust at the entrance one morning to be tracked all over the building by hundreds of little feet.

Winter fun was riding our sleds down the hill from the school to the Company Store. The coal Company very generously did not clear the road until the miner's children had at least a good half-day's fun in the snow. Some of the big boys would build a fire at the top of the hill and we'd warm our hands and dry our mittens and spend the whole morning enjoying the rides.

Summer fun was swimming at Blue Hole. Brave boys jumped from the top of the falls, and the rest of us just swam and played in the swift water of White Stick Creek. The school ground was also a fun place for basketball, football, roller skating, and a miner's child's version of hopscotch we called "peever."

Medical care was provided free to all the miners and their families by the Coal company. The doctor's office with its separate waiting rooms and the old stuffed owl on the wall can't be forgotten. Dr. Banks delivered most of us at home and cared for us until adulthood.

Yes, Raleigh was a special place. It was our hometown.

Editor's Note... When we think about coal mining towns, we tend to think of the negative aspects and the harshness of the lives of the people. This story is a wonderful reminder of what life looks like through the eyes of a child. Life among the miners was hard, yes, but there was also a closeness of everyone in the community that is lost in today's world. These children had a different kind of security many children of today will never know - the sense of community and being a part of it all.

When you read this story, you can feel the closeness, the warmth, of a loving, caring community. You can sense the security of knowing the same doctor that delivered you would always take care of you. You can feel the ties binding the community together to face disaster, if and when it came.

Perhaps this story is what the word "community" is all about. Community is not about the richness of material wealth, but the loving, caring friends and families support of each other in good times or bad. They didn't turn on each other, they turned to each other, and somehow, with the help of their fellow man, made it through whatever had to be faced.

We salute the many coal miners who could give us a lesson in what family values are all about. They deserve our respect because, in spite of adversity, they raised caring, loving, and compassionate generations of responsible children.