George L. Carter was born January 10, 1887. He was the oldest of 9 children. His parents were Walter Crockett and Lucy Ann Jennings Carter. Mr. Carter's father was a disabled Confederate Veteran who served as a captain in the local militia and sustained injuries that lead to the amputation of one leg. Five of his brothers and sisters died before reaching the age of 20. Three sisters lived to adult hood.
Mr. Carter's first job was working as a store clerk making around 50 cents a day. In 1877, the Wythe Lead Mine Company employed Mr. Carter in Austinville, VA. He held positions as bookkeeper, buyer and later manager of the company. The operation needed considerable improvements. At the time the operators didn't think they could get adequate financing. The board of directors authorized Mr. Carter to sell the plant and land at a specified price. Realizing he would have no trouble selling the operation and also realizing the new operators would need more land; Mr. Carter secured additional land in the surrounding areas. Mr. Carter was successful in selling the company above the specified price and all the land he had under this option. This was Mr. Carter's first successful venture and the foundation for his empire.
Mr. Carter's next step was being familiar with the iron mining and charcoal fired furnaces. He became associated with George T. Mills who was building the Dora Iron Furnace in Pulaski, VA. When Mr. Mills died before the furnaces were complete, Mr. Carter moved from vice president and manager to president of operations. While at the Dora Furnace, he got the smaller furnaces to join him. He borrowed $400,000 and using the property as collateral, he developed a new quality iron known as "Dora Pig." Click here for picture of Dora Furnace in Pulaski, VA.
Due to the high cost of coke from Pennsylvania, Mr. Carter started exploring coal veins in Southwest Virginia and South West Virginia. Because of the availability of rail service he opened his first mine at Cranes nest on Ton's Creek in Wise County, VA. In a short time he opened a second mining facility and was operating 200 coke ovens.
During this same time Mr. Carter purchased the Crozier Furnace in Roanoke, VA. This was combined with the Dora operation and Tom's Creek operation. In 1888, a new company was named "The Carter Coal and Iron Company."
Realizing that the new enterprise would require more capital, Mr. Carter, Ben Dulaney and John Colwell organized the Virginia Iron Company and Coke Company (VICCC) in 1899. Mr. Carter was the president and the central office was in Bristol, VA. Under Mr. Carter's leadership VICCC acquired the Cresent Horseshoe and Iron Company and the Radford Pipe Works in Radford, VA. He built furnances in Max Meadows and Ivanhoe, VA and a tool plant at Middlesboro, Kentucky.
Mr. Carter began his railroad building with a small project of 20 miles running from Iron Ridge near Galax and lying principally in his native county of Carroll. He next built what is known as the Virginia and Southern Railway running from Bristol, VA to Big Stone Gap and later tied in with the C.C. & O. at Spears Ferry. In the meantime Mr. Carter became interested in coal. After severing his connection with VICCC, he developed a coal property in Clinch Valley and sold out to the Clinchfield Coal Corporation. He built a short railroad running from Dante to St Paul; a distance of 8 miles.
He brought with him two surveyors - Mr. Jim McCou and Mr. Frank Zigler. They surveyed and laid out much of Coalwood and Caretta. In 1902, Mr. Carter organized the Virginia Pocahontas Coal Company and on April 5, 1905, the first coal was shipped.
When Mr. Carter came to the rugged wilderness of southern McDowell County, there was a farmhouse in the lower end of what is now called Coalwood. The only way in was by horseback or foot across the hills to Welch or War. The first houses were built around 1902. The True Vine Church was built in 1903.
One of the first mines in Coalwood was the No. 1 mine, located in the right side of the valley in Mudhole section. The No. 2 mine was up in the hollow behind Howard Baker's house in the Middle Town section. No. 3 & 4 mines were in the Snakeroot section. No. 8 was also located in this area.
The first superintendent for the miners was Mr. Aaron Collier.
In 1912, Mr. Carter reoganized the Carter Coal Company and bought 16,000 acres of land in the Big Creek District. He added to this 10,000 acres along the Cumberland River in Kentucky under the name of Interstate Coal Company. In 1916 he purchased 10,000 acres near Richlands in Tazwell County, VA. This was known as Seaboard.
As mining progressed, the Olga #1 shaft was sunk in 1912-1914. The coal seam was hit on April 14, 1914, two days after Easter. Mr. Dean Luther, who was in charge of sinking the shaft, had at one time helped build the Holland Tunnel in New York City.
From records of the Virginia Pocahontas Company (Carter Coal Co.) did not own a right of way to the property off Dry Fork. Mr. Carter filed a condemnation lawsuit. While this was going on Mr. Carter started the construction of a railroad from Coalwood to Caretta using the Sewell Seam as the level for the railroad going through the mountain from Coalwood to Caretta. Before the railway was complete the courts ruled in favor of Mr. Carter and the project was dropped.
Mr. Carter turned his attention to his biggest and most audacious achievement, the building of the Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railroad known as the CC. & O. It started in Dante and went to Spartanburg, SC, 400 miles. He pushed a line through to Elkhorn City, Kentucly where he connected with the Chesapeake and Ohio. The tunnel near Dante was a mile long and the second longest south of the Mason and Dixon line was bored through in 1913.
Mr. Carter was principally known as a railroad builder and coal operator. He was quite successful as a real estate operator. He was reponsible for the development of Kinsport area, owning 16,000 acres in the center of what is now Kinsport. He organized the Kingport Brick Works and a number of other enterprises, later selling his holdings to the Kinsport Corporaton.
In 1906, for what ever his reasons, Mr. Carter quit Bristol, TN and moved his operations and family to Johnson City where he lived until 1916.
While living in Johnson City he became a leading landowner and developer. When the state of Tennessee was looking for a town in which to build a new college, Mr. Carter donated $100,000 and 150 acers of land. This was to become East Tennessee State University. Mr. Carter gave his home to the college and they used it for a boy' dorm. Earlier a girls dorm was constructed on campus and was named Carter Hall. Mr. Carter left Tennessee and moved his family to Coalwood in 1916. (Carter Family)
Early in 1887, Mr. Carter saw potential in mining the Pocahontas seam. This seam of high quality coal, located in McDowell County, extending in Tazwell County, VA sparked such interest that he road on horseback from Tazwell through the mountains where he made his first contact with Daniel Harmon who owned much of the land where Coalwood and Caretta are located. Carter then began buying the land. (Carter on horseback)
During the period from 1900 until 1920, Coalwood and Caretta quickly got the reputation of being a good place to work and live. Being isolated as it was, Coalwood was very self sufficient and modern by the standards of the era. Coalwood had company stores to supply peoples needs, a bakery, ice plant, pop factory, movie house, a doctor and a dentist. It was written, Mr. Leorge L. Carter built a model town for his employees.
"Mr. Carter owned - lock, stock and barrel the model coal town of Coalwood -- houses, stores, churches, police, clergy, and medical services - all that makes up the life of a miner. It is a town of remarkable contrast to the surrounding villages where squalor and poverty are the world. With houses painted and surrounded by flower gardens and lawns, it looks more like an Alpine Village than the begrimed coal town of most of America."
Mr. Carter was beginning to reap the profits from his holdings when in 1922 he sold his holdings to Consolidated Coal Company of New York for 17 million. Consol spent millions in capitol investments and operated the mines for 5 or 6 years. Then the coal industry collapsed and Consol was forced into receivership. Carter negotiated with creditors and got the Coalwood and Caretta facilities back for 4 million. They were transfered back to Mr. Carter on March 16, 1933. At the same time Mr. Carter got the property back, a policy was in effect from Washington know as the National Recovery Act - ACT. This act was one of the new deal types: make-work, make jobs, anything to ge the country out of the depression.
The Company was reorganized with his son, James Walter Carter, as President and George L. Carter as Vice President. In 1935 Carter Coal Co. sold its Kentucky tract to investors.
One section of the ACT (7A) stated that all employees were to have made available to them collective bargaining rights. The United Mine Workes of America (UMWA) was all for this act but Mr. Carter would not sign a union contract. He would abide by the contract, but not sign it.
On December 30, 1936, George L Carter died in Washington, DC hospital of pneumonia at the age of 70. His son James was to carry on at Coalwood for several more years. Carter Coal Company sold out in November 1947 to Youngstown Sheet and Tube. The end of one era - the beginning of another.
But for so many hundreds or thousands of peopld who owe their beginning to one man and his dreams, the county owes much to George L. Carter, a man of vision as" Empire Builder."