The Coal House
Location: Williamson, West Virginia (2nd Ave. & Court St.)
When to visit: Daytime hours
Cost: Free to look at
Time needed: 5-10 minutes
Website: Wikipedia page (unofficial)
Coal happens to be a flammable substance. What on earth would possess someone to make an entire house out of coal?
The Coal House in Williamson, West Virginia, just across the Kentucky border, claims to be the only building made entirely of coal (there are a couple of other imposters, apparently.)
Why was it built? How was it built? What is it like to visit? Read on for the backstory.
History of the Coal House
The building was constructed in 1933 out of 65 tons of bituminous coal and features a large arched doorway. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the quirkier attractions in this part of the country.
So back to that earlier question: Why would someone construct a building from coal? According to the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce, the house was the idea of Norfolk & Western Railways Fuel Department manager O.W. Evans.
The area in West Virginia surrounding Williamson was full of coal mines, so Evans thought it just made sense to use that coal for a unique building. Architect H.T. Hicks brought Evans’ idea to life, with the help of locals who provided labor.
The coal was formed into blocks and varnished in order to be weather-resistant. That’s why, from the outside, it kind of just looks like a normal house painted black.
The walls are two feet thick, and the space covers 1600 square feet. The varnish is added every two years.
The house has withstood four floods over the decades. It is one of the most noteworthy attractions in Mingo, West Virginia.
Visiting the Coal House in Williamson, West Virginia
The building is right in the heart of this town of about 3000 people. Williamson has been referred to as the “Gateway to the Hatfield McCoy Trails.”
It’s a walkable area. You can park here, see the Coal House, and then walk over to the Tug Fork River that serves as the border between West Virginia and Kentucky.
The big arch on the building is quite impressive. On the side of a building, there’s a plaque that explains where the coal came from.
The plaque reads, “This building constructed of Winifrede seam coal mined and donated by Crystal Block Mining Co, Leckie Collieries Co, Puritan Coal Corporation, Sycamore Coal Company, Winifrede Block Coal Co.”
The Coal House has a welcome center and gift shop for those inclined to go inside and learn more about the place and its history. You’ll see all sorts of coal-related artifacts inside.
As of this writing, the building is open Tuesday through Saturday. Hours vary by day, but generally, you can go in between 10 am and 2 pm. If the building is closed, it’s totally possible to appreciate the Coal House from the outside.
It sits next to the Mingo Country Courthouse. There’s a Native American statue in front of the house as well.
Here’s a big surprise – the Coal House caught fire and was severely damaged on Columbus Day 2010. You can’t escape the irony – it’s sort of like building a house out of paper and being mad when it blows away, no?
Don’t fret – the county spent $200k to restore the structure, so it’s still going strong.
“Coal House” has become a popular phrase, since there’s now a Coal House Pizza in New Jersey, and there was a Coal House tv series on BBC in 2007.
But if you want the real thing, a building actually made of coal, Williamson, West Virginia is where you need to go!
The house is located 3 hours from Lexington, Kentucky, and 2.5 hours from New River Gorge National Park. Check it out if you’re in the area.
You may want to consider staying at the Mountaineer Hotel, which is nearly 100 years old and once hosted First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.