Homer Hickam gives us a short tour of the Coalwood community.
Written by Homer Hickam
Photos courtesy of Linda Terry Hickam and Brian Kutner
Coalwood isn’t much like the town immortalized in Homer Hickam’s books Rocket Boys, Sky of Stone, The Coalwood Way, and his latest, Carrying Albert Home. But there’s still plenty to see for fans of the beloved West Virginia author. Here, Hickam gives us a short tour.
“Although first abandoned and then set afire by arsonists in the 1970s, the ruin of the Coalwood School can be safely viewed by climbing the steps up to it and then carefully walking around the site. The building, with its arched entrance, is of interest to fans of my memoir Rocket Boys and my other Coalwood books. Although the engraved letters at the entrance proudly announce ‘Coalwood High School,’ the school, for most of its working life, only housed grades one through nine.”
“Although, like the school, the Club House has not been preserved and is closed to the public, it can be safely observed from the exterior. When Coalwood was a vibrant community with a working coal mine, the Club House was the center of most company-sponsored social gatherings. The lower floor included a ballroom, a lounge, a kitchen, a dining hall, and several well-appointed apartments. The stone wall and foundation are examples of the skill of Italian stoneworkers and masons who were brought in to do this work by Mr. George L. Carter, the founder of the town. Most of the Italian craftsmen stayed on in Coalwood to work in Mr. Carter’s mine.”
“The Coalwood Community Church was built by the coal company in 1948 and is still in use. It was here in Rocket Boys that the young rocket builders first realized they had supporters in the town when the preacher, risking his job, took up for the boys against the company officials. Coalwood school teachers, most of whom were in the choir, supplied a hearty ‘Amen’ to the preacher’s sermon. The result was the Rocket Boys were allowed to use an abandoned slack dump for their rocket range. Today, the members of the church welcome visitors and hope you will attend services with them.”