Industrialist Joseph Gardner ‘‘J. G.’’ Bradley (September 12, 1881-March 16, 1971) was born in New Jersey but came to West Virginia in 1904. A descendant of U.S. Sen. Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania, Abraham Lincoln’s first secretary of war, and Justice Joseph P. Bradley of the U.S. Supreme Court, Bradley had just graduated from Harvard Law School when he became vice president of the Buffalo Creek & Gauley Railroad. He soon became president of the Elk River Coal & Lumber Company, which had been buying land in central West Virginia since 1896.
Controlling 36.5 percent of Clay County land, the Elk River Company was so significant to Clay County’s economy that the county could not meet its obligations until the company paid its taxes. The coal company town of Widen and the former lumber town of Swandale, built by Bradley’s company in the rugged eastern section of the county, and many colorful memories are his legacy to Clay County.
Bradley attracted capital investment from Massachusetts and Pennsylvania to his Clay County ventures. He was a director of the Dauphin Deposit Trust and the Harrisburg Trust Company, leading Pennsylvania banks. He was president of both the National Coal Association (1921–22), and the West Virginia Coal Association (1916–46). Bradley lived in an elegant estate at Dundon, near the town of Clay.
Staunchly antiunion, Bradley sought the loyalty of his work force by providing attractive houses, schools, and a variety of recreational resources, as well as an independent or ‘‘company’’ union. The onslaught of the Great Depression and organizing drives by the United Mine Workers resulted in strikes at Widen in 1933 and 1941, but both failed.
Following a prolonged, deadly strike in the early 1950s, Bradley sold the Widen mine in 1959. He returned to Massachusetts where he lived until his death.
This Article was written by Lou Athey
Last Revised on September 26, 2012
Cantrell, Betty, Grace Phillips & Helen Reed. Widen: The Town J. G. Bradley Built. Goldenseal, (January-March 1977).
Stewart, C. C. Strike Duty: A State Trooper Recalls Trouble in the Coalfields. Goldenseal, (Winter 1995).