The West Virginia. Cyclopedia

Coal River

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Upper Falls of Coal River near Tornado, WV

The basin of the Coal River lies in the south-central part of West Virginia, south of the Kanawha River. The drainage area is about 900 square miles. The New River-Pocahontas coal formation occurs at the sources of the river, and the Allegheny-Kanawha formation occurs over the rest of the basin as far down as Lurd. It empties into the Kanawha River at St. Albans, WV.

Coal River

The Coal River rises in western Raleigh County, flows northwest across Boone and Kanawha counties, and enters the Kanawha River at St. Albans, WV. The lower river winds across farms and rolling woodlands; the upper descends swiftly through narrow mountain valleys. Two significant cataracts, the upper falls and lower falls, are observable from roadside scenic areas. The lower river is protected as a public recreational waterway, wherein many natural and cultural resources have been preserved and interpreted.


Topo Map (Mouth)


The principal tributaries of the Coal River are Clear Fork and Marsh Fork and the Little Coal River. Its Clear and Marsh forks source on either side of Coal River Mountain.

Discovery of Coal

The Coal River was originally named Cole but its present name is very appropriate. John Peter Salley is credited with the discovery of coal in West Virginia -- prospected along the Coal River in 1742 during Salley's exploration of western Virginia and present-day West Virginia.


Coal River was improved by locks and dams and navigated several years before the Civil War upstream to the Peytona Mines, 35 miles above the river's mouth. The mines at Peytona were among the earliest commercial coal mining operations in the Kanawha Coal Field. The locks and dams fell into neglect during the war years and were destroyed by flooding. Ruins of the system, including piers and channels, may be found along the lower river near its upper falls and lower falls.