Way back when Trailways buses were traveling throughout Logan County and at least four taxicab services existed within the busy little town of Logan, women came from far and near to shop, while men found their ways to Logan, perhaps to visit one of the many pool halls or beer joints that could be found throughout the concrete and asphalted landscape that covers an Indian burial ground in a town named for an Indian Mingo tribe chieftain.
Just as the smell of roasted nuts once lingered on Stratton Street in front of G.C. Murphy’s “dime store” in Logan, so did the patrons of the many shops and restaurants wiggle their way through the crowded sidewalks of downtown, their shopping bags always full, especially near Christmastime.
I was just a young kid who sometimes rode on a Trailways bus to town with my mother, but I can recall the lines of people waiting to get into movie theaters. And I remember vividly the fish tanks in the back of the “dime store,” as well as the humongous pair of blue jeans that hung from the ceiling of Weiner’s Army and Navy Store that we sometimes visited. A sign on the pants read: “If you can wear them, you can have them.”
For me, Logan might as well have been New York City, as it was a far cry different from Island Creek’s No. 16 company store at Verdunville, where most of my family’s household goods came from.
Visits to Logan were few and far between for me as a youngster, as my family had no vehicle, and I can only imagine what it must have been like for someone my age or older growing up in or around downtown Logan. With bakeries so handy, and with hot dogs and hamburgers served in numerous locations, I sometimes envied those boys and girls who had almost immediate access to such delights.
Looking back, though, I wouldn’t change a thing about my youth, how and where I was raised, or how I grew into adulthood. Never in a million years could I imagine that I would someday be thinking that “we” — the poor kids who dotted every coal mining hollow in Logan County during the 1950s and ’60s — maybe could be the last of a generation to have lived truly free. Free to roam the hills, free to stay outside at night without supervision, free to walk the railroad tracks for what seemed like miles, free to build treehouses on land we didn’t own, free to wade the creeks, and free to climb into parked coal train cars left vacant on railroad tracks. We were truly “free” at a time when parents didn’t need to worry about drugs or neighborhood crime.
Realizing, of course, that change comes with time — be it good or bad — allows me to relate a story of interest that I believe applies to us today, at least as far as the metamorphosis of the county of Logan is concerned.
The hills were truly adventurous during my youth. From picking wild greens with my parents and grandparents in springtime to blackberry picking during summers to gathering hickory nuts during autumn to sleigh riding in wintertime — the hills provided a getaway for us all.
Teenagers and grown men fired away at rabbits and squirrels during the appropriate seasons in the same hills in which we, as kids, had worn paths from constant travel.
Long before I ever knew what a “tram road” was, the local pathway provided an avenue of travel from just behind Verdunville Grade School on Mud Fork to various locations throughout the nearby hills. So that you will know, a tram road is a dozed-out dirt road that was used to haul (tram) coal in usually small wooden coal cars from a coal mine to a nearby coal tipple, where there the coal could be dumped and later be loaded into coal cars of an awaiting train, then transported to various locations across the country.
The tram road I speak of led from Island Creek’s Coal Company’s No. 15 mine in Ellis Hollow along a 10-foot wide path located behind what became Verdunville Grade School to a tipple that stood directly across from what is now the Verdunville Church of God — the church having been built on what was called a coal bank, or slate dump. That particular coal mine (No. 15) closed even before No. 16 mine, which was located a stone’s throw from what is now Verdunville Grade School that opened in 1957. I do not believe I was even alive when the two mines were in operation, the school being constructed after the No. 16 mine shutdown.
One location I could reach by traveling the tram road toward Logan was a long hollow that served as a slate dump, but, as I later learned, also was widely used over the years by young lovers for nighttime parking — a place simply called Ellis Hollow.
On certain days when the weather was allowable, I would make the long trek by foot to the place where my father sought out tranquility in the form of squirrel or grouse hunting. Dad being a marksman and recipient of five Bronze Stars during World War II, I, much like my sharpshooting father, identified with the freedom and peacefulness the hills can provide on beautiful spring or autumn days. The hillsides that we traversed, of course, did not belong to us in the legal sense, but they certainly did in another endearing way.
To connect this story to its beginning concerning the town of Logan, I must first tell you that the hills where my father, my grandfather, myself, and many others sometimes sought refuge in one form or the other, are now the location of the Fountain Place Mall at a site formerly known as Ellis Hollow, a long hollow where moonshine stills once proved profitable before coal mining took over the scene.
The mall is often referred to as the reason downtown Logan is not so vibrant anymore. Nevertheless, it is my opinion that the opening of the Corridor G highway to and from Charleston and beyond had as much to do with the town of Logan’s business fate as did the Fountain Place Mall that was constructed over top of Island Creek’s abandoned No. 15 coal mine.
Logan has changed. The mountains have changed. The state has changed. People have changed. The nation has changed.
Gone are the bus lines, cab companies, pool halls and beer joints, as well as the many shoppers in downtown Logan. Some of us are fortunate enough to have memories of those days gone by, but we are also hopeful that “vision” for the future will include bringing Logan back into significance.
I must say that the tram road walks I experienced while picking wild greens in spring, June apples in early summer, and blackberries during the heat of July and August allowed me to see much of nature’s bounty, but never could I have imagined what would become of a mountainous hollow in the middle of nowhere — Fountain Place Mall.
Obviously, someone had a vision.
It was that vision that kept Logan County from becoming another Welch in McDowell County, which like downtown Logan, used to be a thriving place.
That old tram road I’ve mentioned — for the most part — still partially exists, but it’s certainly a long hike from my former homeplace to the Fountain Place Mall location via that venerable route I once traversed.
Nowadays, with my youthfulness and mountain stamina continuously fading away, I find it much easier to just drive there. Not nearly as many snakes to worry about either.
Well, at least not the crawling kind.