|WIDENS DAYS: WEEKEND JULY 28|
By Bob Weaver 2006
Numbered graves in Widen Cemetery
The concrete tombstones have numbers with no names, about one hundred graves,
in the almost forgotten Widen Cemetery on Buffalo Creek, down the holler from the
faded Clay County mining town of Widen.
A map shows the first burial in the steep
hillside cemetery was about 1912, with sections for Catholics, White Protestant and
Colored. Vines, small trees and brush cover the burial ground, with some recent
efforts to clean it up.
Many of the graves are occupied by children who died at birth or from epidemics that
swept through the community in the early part of the century. Some were men killed
in mine accidents. Many residents of West Virginia coal camps were recent
immigrants, but Widen was mostly populated by settled mountain people from the
Old company houses are privately owned
Houses were all painted red and white and once rented for $4-$6
Widen was once a prosperous mining town of 2,500 people and 500 houses in 1925,
whose life continued into the 1960's, barely surviving one of West Virginia's violent
It is a ghostly image of its former self, with a few company houses
remaining, some in great disrepair. There are a number of families with roots deep in
the community, having dug in or returned from out of state to their ancestral village.
They enjoy Widen, their home, with great pride.
Hundreds of Widen descendants return to "Widen Days" held the last Saturday in
"Mayor of Widen" Punk Young remembers old days
Widen is remembered by people like "Punk" Young, who some call the unofficial
Mayor of Widen. Young grew up in the town, graduating from the Widen High School in
1946 before going to Cleveland to become a firemen. He and his family returned in
Current Widen residents maintain their roots in the community
"The town was well maintained during those early years by the coal company," said
Young, unlike some coal operations in West Virginia. J. G. Bradley was the President
of the Elk River Coal and Lumber Company.
He and his family provided conveniences
and services to the coal communities of Dundon, Swandale and Widen, connecting
them by railroad to the Elk River.
The line was built between 1909-11, with the Town
of Widen being named for railroad engineer L. G. Widen. The train ran through the
mountain valleys three times a day, with passenger service available.
Benjamin R. Hamrick remembered owner J. G. Bradley. "Mr. Bradley was a good man,
and he took care of his employees regardless of so many tales to the contrary."
Hamrick said the state and county law officers would not come to the private
property owned by the company without a warrant, so coal bosses would enforce the
law with the threat of losing a job. He said he worked on a conveyor in 1946 for $11 a
"The houses were nice, painted red and white. The company always kept them
repaired," he said. The houses were rented for $4 to $6 a month, and some had
Steps to the "excellent gym" remains,
schools and commercial buildings are
The most used building in the town was the combination store, company office and
post office. The coal company built a YMCA and a large gym for recreation.
a bank, schools, bowling alley and movie house. Hamrick said all was open to colored
people, except the Sportsman's Club, which was "mostly for the upper class." The
town had a company doctor.
The electric plant provided lighting to the community in 1913, with power run into
the mines on copper wire. The town even had its own newspaper "The Widen
The Presbyterian and Baptist churches were established, but the colored maintained
their own house of worship and school.
"I feel the colored would have been welcome
in the white church, but I think they preferred it that way," said Hamrick. "There were
no racial problems."
Hamrick said "The coal was loosened from the seam by powder. A hole was drilled
and the powder put in the hole. A battery was used to discharge the blasting cap."
The coal was then hand-loaded.
When Clinchfield Coal purchased the operation, the houses were sold and the
company properties began to fall down.
A Widen resident said "It is only fitting to say that beauty can be found everywhere (in
Widen), even if it is partially hidden by a covering of coal dust."
Today, when visiting the long-gone prosperity, there is a presence of people and a
time which will be forgotten, lingering ghosts who lived between the rough-shod hills
of Clay County in the Town of Widen.
Widen's community center was former fire department building
Monument a tribute to Widen men who served in World War II
Numbered grave, a stark reminder of life in a West Virginia coal camp
SCABS, GINNEY WINKS AND GREASED BREAD - Widen Mine Wars Recalled
COAL MINE LIVIN' AT WIDEN-DILLE - “Prayin' Down To Hell”
EARLY DAYS OF WIDEN AND DILLE - Given Recalls Early Clay County Days