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1909–1990s. East side of WV 16, 10 miles southwest of Beckley

Consider the dates as those of an obituary. Hardly anything now remains of this once thriving community, namesake of Major W. P. Tams, Jr. Tams was an early developer of mines in the Winding Gulf field, named after the creek that winds through the area. As recorded in the introduction to Coal Country, Tams had a sawmill brought to the site and supervised construction of the first 125 houses. The year was 1909, and Tams was all of twenty-six years old. The Virginian Railway reached his town on October 1, 1909, and the first coal was shipped the same day.

The housing stock at Tams was basic, egalitarian, and very well maintained, mostly because Tams, unlike most mine owners or operators, lived in a small cottage among his miners for sixty-eight years. He was “the high justice, the middle and the low,” and as he chose to reside at the mines, he insisted on a decent place to live. In 1911 Tams provided his town with Raleigh County's first movie theater, the Golden Gate. The town also had piped water and electricity before Beckley did, and it ranked fortieth in the U.S. Coal Commission's 1920s investigation of 713 company towns in the nation's bituminous coalfields. Major Tams chronicled the history of his town and enterprise in his 1963 memoir, The Smokeless Coal Fields of West Virginia, which remains a classic in the study of the industry, and he was interviewed by Playboy in 1973. A history of coal in West Virginia, published in 1984, declared that the town of Tams was still in existence. An obituary notice would now have to conclude that there are no survivors.

Writing Credits

S. Allen Chambers Jr.


What's Nearby


S. Allen Chambers Jr., "Tams", [Helen, West Virginia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

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