The Layland Mine Explosion on March 2, 1915 is recorded as the worst mining disaster in Fayette County history. A total of 112 men died from the explosion. During the first few days after the incident, 53 men were found to have survived the blast. The explosion of the mine surprised many in the area as it was believed that the Layland Mine was one of the safest in West Virginia at the time.
The New River & Pocahontas Consolidated Coal Company
owned and operated a series of mines in Layland, Fayette County. On the morning
of March 2, a massive explosion swept through Layland No. 3 mine. The blast
killed 112 men inside of the mine. The explosion was so powerful that a grocery
delivery man walking nearby was killed outside of the mine. Shortly after the
blast, the first 7 survivors walked out of the mine. This gave hope to the
crowds surrounding the mine, which was quickly lost as several bodies were
recovered during the following days.
One of the greatest dangers to the miners were the deadly
gasses, called after-damp, which filled the mine after the explosion. In fact,
many of the bodies recovered from the mine were found to have died of
suffocation, not from impact of the explosion. Two groups of men inside of the
mine barricaded themselves from the after-damp and survived for three days
until the mine fan was turned off, allowing enough clean air for the men to
escape. On March 6, the first group of five men walked out of the mine. On
their way out they found a note from a group of 41 men who also barricaded
themselves in the mine, and rescuers soon helped the second group out. These
men survived by chewing on their shoe laces and eating bark from the mine
props. Many of the survivors, fearing the worst, had written death notes to
their loved ones during the time they were trapped. Their survival surprised
the Layland community, who had prepared coffins and dug graves for the survivors,
expecting the men to be found dead.
The explosion was found to be the result of ignition of
methane spread by coal dust. Controversy surrounds the disaster. When the
secretary of the interior wanted to recognize the efforts of the federal rescuers,
many in the community argued that it was not the rescuers but the surviving miners’
ingenuity that saved them. Coal continued to be mined in Layland until the
1980s. The closure of the mines and the removal of the railroad caused the once
prospering town of Layland to diminish.
In 2014 a memorial was erected remembering the miners who
lost their lives in the Layland Mine explosion and recognizing the 53 men who
survived the disaster. The memorial was funded in part by the National Coal
Heritage Area Authority and through funds raised by the Layland community. The
organizers of the memorial said that the Layland mine incident had been
forgotten. This memorial now remembers the sometimes forgotten and tragic
history of West Virginia coal mining.