In 1898, Sunday Creek Coal Company operated several coal mines. Over the years, the company changed hands several times.
In 1930 the Semet-Solvay Division of Allied Chemical took over the Harewood mine from Kanawha Hocking. Miners from Henry Clay, Kentucky, came to work at the Fayette County mines of Semet-Solvay.
As was the practice of the coal companies in West Virginia, each company created coal camps for their workers in order to house the miners and their families. Longacre was one of these.
The town set between the company's slag dump across Route 60 and the Kanawha River and was situated between the towns of Boomer and Smithers in the western end of Fayette County. Down the middle of the town was a railroad track which served to carry the coal away from the tipple at the Harewood mine just up the road. On land that laid between the Kanawha River and the railroad tracks, the company built houses on land owned by W.R. Johnson. On the other side of the railroad tracks, the homes were privately owned. In the holler in front of the slag dump were homes owned by the company that housed the company superintendent, the manager of the company store, and a few others who were considered the "big wheels" of the company.
In addition to the houses, the company built a company store that included a U.S. Post Office, which had its very own ZIP Code of 25127. Upstairs in the company store were the coal company's offices.
Beside the company store was the company's doctor's office that served all the miners who worked for the company. Behind the company store was the supply yard that provided whatever the families in the company houses needed to maintain their homes. Also, two churches were located in the community. One known as the Campbell Memorial Baptist Church, set on the side of the railroad tracks where the homes were privately owned; it is still providing religious services today. The other church was located on land owned by W.R. Johnson and was for the black residents. A school for black students stood near this church.
While the houses were provided by the company, it was the people who resided in the coal camp and the people who worked in the company's buildings that were the heart and soul of the community.
The company store building was a 3-story brick building. Waldo Graham was the manager of the company store. Every evening as he closed the store, neighborhood children eagerly waited outside to get some of the penny candy that he always had in his pocket. Sisters Maxine Gabrich and Glenna Callahan worked on the grocery and snack bar side of the store. The butcher department provided fresh meats and three of the many butchers were Alonzo Evans, Pauline Samples and Chris Workman. The dry goods and furniture department were ruled over by Opal Foster Lonosey with help from Ruth Feicke and various other clerks through the years. This department sold clothing, shoes and jewelry. Opal and the other clerks would help the miners pick out clothing for their children and gifts for their wives. The office for the company store was located beside the shoe department and was manned by Mr. Graham and various secretaries, two of of whom were Sylvia Hall and Rose Kurzyna. The company had two large window display sections for furniture and two smaller window display sections for clothing. Each week the store published a sale bill that my brother, Buddy, delivered to every home in the community.
Next to the actual company store was an office with barred windows where the miners and their dependents would go to get scrip to spend in the store. You see, the company store did not accept regular money. You had to get scrip from the barred window and the amount of scrip was deducted from the miners' checks. The miners would receive a notification from the company as to how much they could spend. Some vehicles were even purchased through a garnishment because the miner owed too much to draw a paycheck. Hence, the saying from the Tennessee Ernie Ford song: "I owe my soul to the company store." Tracy Lively was the gentleman who pleasantly handed out the scrip. After rounding the corner, you found the door to the upstairs offices. At one point, my sister, Brenda, worked in the payroll department. When the miners came each week to pick up their checks, she knew every miner's check number and had their checks ready when they walked to the barred window to pick it up. The next door was to the U.S. Post Office where Postmaster Letty Spaulding knew everyone by name and box number and was always ready with a smile.
Beside the company store was the doctor's office where Dr. Thomas Simms handled any medical emergency that arose. His nurse was Lois Smoot and the receptionist was Donna Street. Again, they knew everyone by name and always had that personal touch with their patients. Once or twice a year, the slag dump would flood the area around the company store and, as children will be children, we would be wading around in the slag and mud. Nurse Smoot would stand outside and remind everyone we had better be in tomorrow to get typhoid shots. I remember asking my daughter's pediatrician if they needed typhoid shots. He laughed at me.
Behind the company store was the lumber yard, managed by Forrest Woods. As a child, I always thought his name was made up but that was indeed his name. The lumber yard provided supplies to maintain the company houses. As a result many of the homes had the same roofing of tar paper and the same wallpaper inside. A 2-bedroom house rented for $13.40 a month with water included.
The town also had its own television supplier — the Longacre TV Association — maintained by my father, James Lunsford. At the time, the Association provided three channels and, if there was a problem, my dad was immediately up on the mountain to repair the problem. In addition, every widow in the community received free television services.
All the children attended Oakland Elementary School from grades one through eight and they either walked or rode their bikes to the school in Smithers. We never rode a school bus until we entered Montgomery High School. There was only one bus stop and that was on Route 60 above the company store. All the students climbed that hill to Route 60 and waited for Frank Carelli to pick us up in the school bus.
Even with all the amenities provided by the coal company, the heart and soul of the community was its people. Everyone knew everyone else. The houses were never locked; in fact, any lock could be opened by a skeleton key. Bingo games were common for the adults, but it was the children of the community who were blessed with a wonderful childhood. Children played outside games such as Red Rover, Stop Light, and Jump Rope all day. It was only when the first or second street light came on that the children knew it was time to head home.
A large field was located between the company houses and the railroad tracks. On this field, a Boy Scout building was erected and Walter Street and Jack McCoy were the Scout Masters. We played pick-up softball, football, badminton and pitched horseshoes on this field. A barbecue pit was built by someone in the community and communal cookouts were held. At one point, the citizens of the town had a hot dog sale in order to raise money to build a concrete pad with a basketball hoop. Traveling circuses would set up on the field. In the summer, traveling evangelists would hold a revival or a children's program in this field. One time we even held what we referred to as "Mudstock" and invited local bands to perform on the field.
While living in a coal camp was reassuring because you could knock on any door for help, it also meant that if you did something wrong news traveled fast. Any adult in the town might give you a talking to or an occasional swat to your rear end, but your parents knew what you had done before you got home.
Although our community was unincorporated, we had an unofficial mayor, Peggy Coleman. Peggy and her husband, Dean, raised their family in Longacre. Peggy was the organizer of the hot dog sale to build the basketball court. She organized a majorette corps known as the Longacre Caretakers for the girls in the community and they marched in various parades in the area. She was always our go-to person.
In 1972, the coal company advised the residents in the company houses that an agreement could not be reached with W.R. Johnson to allow the houses to remain on his property. The residents were asked to find other housing and, as each family moved, the house was torn down. One of the houses that sat in the holler in front of the slag dump was purchased by my brother, Buddy. He had the house moved out of the holler to Falls View where he still resides today.
One of the final families to leave was my sister, Brenda Norvell. Before the families moved out, the residents voted to become a part of the town of Smithers because they did not want strangers to use the name Longacre.
The land sat empty for years and grew into a small jungle. Today, Appalachian Power uses the land for an equipment storage area. The company store became a FasChek grocery store and finally a Pizza Hut. When it was demolished, the records of all the miners were buried beneath the rubble. My family and a few others were able to get their father’s records. I always regretted that notice wasn't given by the owners at the time so that more families could have gotten the records of their loved ones. Dollar General now occupies the space.
Peggy Coleman's commitment to Longacre did not end when she moved to Cedar Grove. Several years after the last houses were torn down, she began organizing the Longacre Reunion that was always held on the first Saturday in June at the Fayette County Park.
The first reunion was held in 1982. At first, the attendees were only the former residents and their children. Then, these residents began to bring their grandchildren. At several of the reunions, we had many three generational families and some four generations. As Peggy got older, my family, and particularly my sisters and brother, Brenda Norvell, Sharon Hall and Buddy Lunsford, took over much of the details. However, Peggy always reigned supreme over the reunion.
This reunion has been held continuously for 38 years. At first, we had between 300 and 400 people, but the crowds have gotten smaller as people have passed. Prizes were provided in memory of those Longacre residents who had passed, as well as from donations received each year. Prizes were given to the oldest man and woman present, to the person that traveled the farthest, and to each and every child present.
At the end of last year's reunion, with the smallest crowd ever of less than 100, people wanted to know if we would have one this year. Peggy and my sisters and brother said that as long as one person came, we would have the reunion. Unfortunately, circumstances have forced us to cancel this year's reunion. The COVID-19 pandemic would be too much of a threat to our older attendees and crowd size has to be less than 25.
So it is with a heavy heart that I am trying to get the word out about the cancellation. If you read this and know of anyone who was planning to attend, please let them know about the cancellation.
Also, we are requesting that former residents of Longacre, or others who attended just to see old friends, or even those who never attended but know Peggy, please mail a card to Peggy Coleman, PO Box 436, Cedar Grove, WV 25039. Also, if you have a good or even bad memory of Longacre, please send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will assemble these in some fashion and hand them out next year. And there will be a next year because, as we used to say in Longacre, "If the Good Lord's willing and the creek don't rise," we will see you on Saturday, June 5, 2021. In fact, the funds paid for the shelter have already been applied to next year.