During the 1800s the Coal River was a thriving, important artery which was used to transport lumber, coal, products and people. A system of locks, dams and booms was built along the river, artifacts of which can still be seen today. The remains of the system were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.
The Coal River was important to the growth of industry in
the Kanawha Valley. Timber and coal were
transported down the river by steam boat and by a system of locks and dams that
were built beginning in the 1800s.
The locks and dams system that was constructed between the
years 1854-1857 is described in the booklet Tornado
Remembers as being: “stone-filled timbercribs that rested on wooden piles,
with thick boards driven across the upstream sides. The locks were timbercribs 124 feet by 23
feet, with oak planks driven around their foundations to prevent undermining.”
The original engineer was William Rosecrans.
Floods and the Civil War caused the system to be abandoned for several
Major Henry S. Kupp with 114 men in August, 1868 began to
repair the locks and dams. But by 1878
the system was abandoned once again because it was just too difficult to
The locks and dams were originally built to transport coal
down the river. Cannel coal, which was
used to make lamp oil, was transported in barges pushed by steam towboats. Even after the locks and dams were abandoned,
the river was still used to transport logs.
Roman Pickens, a local businessman, built a system of bumpers into the
river in 1888 to hold back the logs.
These can still be seen as small islands in the middle of the river near
the intersection of Coal River Road and Strawberry Road.
The system of locks, dams and log booms was established as a
national historic district and historic archaeological site throughout its
entire length through Boone, Lincoln and Kanawha Counties.