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Americana & Nostalgia

Coal Baron Mansions & Oktoberfest in Bramwell, WV

Bramwell: A Look Back

Photo of a postcard from 1909 in Bramwell.

This historic postcard is a photograph of Bramwell, WV, in the early 20th century, prior to World War I.*

By Susan J. Young

Settled in 1885, Bramwell in southern West Virginia was once considered the richest town in the United States for its size. At least 13 millionaires called the town home in the early 20th century, thanks to the successes of coal companies in mining ore locally in the Pocahantas Coalfield.

The coal town flourished for decades after its founding. Business was good, the train station was busy and residents enjoyed a robust social life.

But it all came crashing down in the early 1930s when the Great Depression swept over the coal industry, the state and the nation. Tough times even forced the closing of the wealthy Bank of Bramwell.

Well-Preserved Mansions

While Bramwell is certainly no longer a hot spot for bustling industry, it has something better. Many of its 1800s and early 1900s structures -- including upscale coal baron mansions -- remain. Many are well-preserved, a testament to West Virginia's "Gilded Age" when coal fueled most of the nation's energy needs.

Many of the homes have original ornate woodwork; leaded and stained-glass windows; and slate, copper and tile roofs. Visitors will be amazed at the amenities. The barons built indoor swimming pools, ballrooms, fancy parlors, wide porches, turrets and gables, guest houses, dumbwaiters and even central vacuum-cleaning systems.

Twice yearly, usually the second Saturday in both May and December, many of these privately owned homes open their doors for public tours. Travelers may get a taste of what the “good life” entailed in the heyday of the Bramwell area's coal production. For details, contact Betty Goins at 304-248-8381 or 304-248-7114.

Theater Festival and Oktoberfest

Other activities? Visitors might tour the Coal Heritage Interpretive Center (304-248-8381), built within the re-creation (in the late 1990s) of an 1800s train depot.

Photo of the Bramwell Interpretive Center goes here.

Bramwell's Coal Heritage Interpretive Center resides within a train depot. The original was torn down many years ago but this exact replica was built in the 1990s.*

In early summer the town hosts the annual Bramwell Theatre Festival (304-248-8145). Contact Jim Bishop at 304-248-8145.

And on Oct. 7 between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., visitors might party West Virginia style at the town’s 11th annual Oktoberfest. This year’s festival will feature guided outdoor tours of Bramwell's Millionaire Row Historic District and live musical entertainment -- traditional folk, blues, bluegrass and alternative artists.

Bramwell was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. A detailed history of the town is revealed in a 1988 book, "Bramwell -The Diary of a Millionaire Coal Town," by Martha Jane (Williams) Becker. 

Want More Information

Visit www.bramwellwv.com for an abundance of local historical information and photos. We found it quite a treasure. Just keep in mind life moves at a bit slower pace in Bramwell; some pages have not been updated in some time. It doesn’t lessen the fun of reviewing photos and learning about the coal barons' mansions.

Another option is to surf to the Mercer County Convention & Visitors Bureau, WV, site at www.mccvb.comIt lists all events in Bramwell. Or contact the bureau at 800-221-3206.

In addition, you might contact the Southern West Virginia Convention and Visitors Bureau at 304-252-2244 or 800-VISITWV, or www.visitwv.com

*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used courtesy of the Southern West Virginia Convention and Visitors Bureau and Bramwell, WV. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.

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