It may not match the big cities of today, but in its prime, Bluefield was bustling.
It was nicknamed “Little New York” during the coal boom, springing up almost overnight. It exploded in growth, becoming one of the first cities in the nation with a distinct skyline. Coal was fueling the Industrial Revolution, and Bluefield was the gateway to up to 40% of that fuel.
Another unique piece of mine history is the Baldwin House, the secret offices of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, a controversial agency that became known for its involvement in coal mine wars across the state.
1780: Two families, the Davidson’s and the Bailey’s moved to Southern West Virginia, building a small village consisting of a church, a mill, and a schoolhouse.
1882: The Bailey and the Davidson families sold portions of their land to Captain John Fields of the Norfolk & Western Railway.
1883: The first train car came out of Pocahontas full of coal.
1887: The railroad decided to make Bluefield home for its Pocahontas Division headquarters because of the “hump” that allowed natural-gravity switching of trains.
1888: There were 13,448 travelers to Bluefield, a phenomenal growth in only 1 year.
1889: Norfolk & Western’s Bluefield site was top of the line. Its resources included a coal wharf for fueling the steam locomotives and a ten stall sixty foot radius turntable roundhouse, among many other state of the art technologies.
1889: Bluefield, West Virginia was chartered under West Virginia State Law.
1892: Bluefield’s first City Hall was built.
1905: The Greater Bluefield Chamber of Commerce began servicing Bluefield.
1907: The first streetcar in Bluefield began running.
1911: Bluefield’s Beaver High School was built. This school was later destructed and rebuilt in a different location, with a different name. Bluefield High School still educates young people today.
1923: Construction of the West Virginia Hotel began. This hotel was the ultimate luxury hot spot with a barber shop, newsstand, ballroom, and Paris-trained chef from the Greenbrier.
1923: The Bailey building was built. This building housed the offices of the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency as well as the Pocahontas Operators Association and a Hudson dealership! It was later remodeled in 1938 by Appalachian Power Company.
1924: Graham, Virginia changed its name to Bluefield, Virginia. There was a spectacular “Wedding of the Bluefields’” on the state line in the City Park.
1924: The Bluefield Municipal Building was erected. This building housed City Hall for some time and provided the city with municipal services for 50 years. This building now houses several offices, The Summit Theatre, and a restaurant.
1939: Bluefield served its first glasses of free lemonade for abnormally high temperatures exceeding 90°. Since Bluefield was coined “Nature’s Air-Conditioned City” early on, it was said that the temperature would reach 90° so rarely, that when it did, free lemonade would be served to everyone. This tradition still occurs, and in 2010, lemonade was served for the 200th time.
1939: Baseball became a way of life during the Great Depression. Bowen Field became home to the Bluefield Blue-Grays, a predecessor of the Bluefield Orioles, who played at Bowen Field for 53 years until 2011 when the Blue Jays will begin playing in Bluefield.
1947: The Scott Street Parking Garage opened; becoming only the third one in the nation.
1959: There were over 21,000 residents of Bluefield and Beaver High School won its first state football championship.
1960: Over 60 million tons of coal passed through Bluefield.
1973: A fire devastated Bland Street, destroying many beloved buildings.