The West Virginia. Cyclopedia

Company Town

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A company town in West Virginia is most often a community in which most or all real estate and public utility is owned by a company or corporation. Most company towns in West Virginia were established in the late 1800s and early 1900s for the habitation of miners, or lumberers, and their families. Most included a company store and, many, a post office, yet were expected to serve no longer than the availability of the resource itself. The rugged terrain in which many resources, such as coal, were available could rarely independently support a community. Many have become ghost towns, abandoned wholly to the Appalachian forest. Many company towns

Thurmond is sometimes cited as example of New River Gorge towns that wasn't a company town, but in reality the function and the economy of Thurmond was identical to those of the surrounding company towns. The only difference was that an individual or a family owned and controlled the whole town, rather than a company or corporation. In Thurmond, the land owner refused to sell any substantial tracts of land to new businesses or for development. If a sale of a small plot was made, the land owner was very selective, making sure the business wouldn't complete with his business. In Thurmond, families couldn't hope to ever buy a home, or dream of ever being able to buy a lot on which to build. They could only hope they might be allowed to rent a ready-made housing providing by the land owner. The extremely small size of Thurmond's "business district" was due to the fact that the land owner wished to be very selective in the type of business "allowed" in town. By design, Thurmond's business district remained tiny, and never grew. The economic end result for Thurmond, and any other so-called "non company towns" in the gorge was the same as suffered by the surrounding "company towns" -- when coal went bust, so did the town. By not allowing a divisive business economy to develop, the town's economy was ultimately doomed to failure, because of its total reliance on a single industry.

Within the gorge between Hinton and Gauley Bridge, there have never been any "real towns". They were all under the total control and/or ownership by a company, corporation, individual or family that tended to operate the community in a monopolistic manner.

Many company towns, or their ruins, are found in the northern and southern coalfields of West Virginia.