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Bramwell near Bluefield in Mercer County, was incorporated in 1888. The town was named for its first postmaster, J. Herbert Bramwell, superintendent of the Flat Top Coal Company (later the Pocahontas Land Corporation), the land-leasing firm that established the town as its headquarters on a bend of the Bluestone River in 1885. Bramwell quickly became a business center for the Pocahontas Coalfield and a hub of southern West Virginia’s financial network with the opening of the Bank of Bramwell in 1889. By 1909, the Bluefield Daily Telegraph had dubbed Bramwell the ‘‘Coalfield Capital.’’

The town suffered a major setback on January 7, 1910, when a fire destroyed everything on Main Street from the train depot to Block Street with the exception of two buildings. However, the town quickly rebuilt, creating many of the beautiful Victorian houses that stand today.

In the town’s bustling heyday, passenger trains stopped 14 times a day. Once considered the ‘‘richest small town in America,’’ Bramwell enjoyed an exclusive, prosperous status until the Bank of Bramwell closed in 1933 during the Great Depression. Bramwell was home to numerous wealthy coal operators who built substantial late Victorian mansions there, including Edward Cooper, W. H. Thomas, Philip Goodwill, and Isaac T. Mann, the founder of the Bank of Bramwell and the Pocahontas Fuel Company.

It also was the childhood home of poet Anne Spencer and the birthplace of bluegrass music pioneers Melvin and Ray Goins of the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers and Goins Brothers.

Its population peaked at 1,690 in 1920 and dropped below 1,000 by 1980. A heightened awareness of Bramwell’s historical and architectural significance began when the town was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. The Bramwell Millionaire Garden Club inaugurated a popular series of annual tours of coal operators’ homes, several of which had been restored by private homeowners. Several bed-and-breakfast establishments operate in Bramwell, and the Bramwell Foundation, a local nonprofit organization, works to secure and support the preservation of the historic district’s architectural integrity. Bramwell’s population in 2020 was 277.

Read the National Register of Historic Places nomination.

This Article was written by Beth Hager

Last Revised on June 22, 2023


Bluefield Daily Telegraph, 11/1/1896.

Hager, Beth A. Millionaires' Town: The Houses and People of Bramwell. Goldenseal, (Winter 1982).

Sullivan, Kenneth. Coal Men of the Smokeless Coalfields. West Virginia History, (Winter 1980).

Cite This Article

Hager, Beth "Bramwell." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 22 June 2023. Web. 20 July 2024.


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