Coal operator William ‘‘Bill’’ McKell (March 1, 1871-August 1939) was born in Chillicothe, Ohio, the son of Thomas Gaylord McKell (1845–1904) who had built the Fayette County community of Glen Jean and named it for his wife. T. G. McKell owned valuable Sewell and Fire Creek seams of high quality ‘‘smokeless’’ coal in the New River Coalfield.
Young Bill, after graduating from Yale, settled and built his home at Glen Jean in 1893. Upon his father’s death he managed the family inheritance with his brother, John. He constructed a fine two-story building of native stone for his Bank of Glen Jean. The bank closed in January 1939. After a disagreement and court battle with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, McKell built his own branch railroad to connect with the C&O’s competitor, the Virginian Railway, at Pax. Completed in 1913, this 15-mile railway was a short line with a long name—Kanawha, Glen Jean, & Eastern. A lifelong bachelor, Bill McKell took an active interest in sports and Fayette County Republican politics. He developed a slow-pitch softball game called ‘‘Let-em-hit-it’’ that became a favorite local pastime.
By the mid-1930s McKell was facing competition from other coal operations, such as the New River Company, and the organizing efforts of union miners. Failing health forced McKell to return to Ohio where a cousin cared for him. As his empire began to collapse, William McKell died. His holdings were sold to the New River Company of Mount Hope.
This Article was written by W. Eugene Cox
Last Revised on October 08, 2010
Sullivan, Charles Kenneth. Coal Men and Coal Towns: Development of the Smokeless Coalfields of Southern West Virginia, 1873-1923. New York: Garland Publishing, 1989.
Bragg, Melody E. Glen Jean, Echo of an Empire. Goldenseal, (Winter 1988).