Widen was a complete city. With a population of over 1200 in the mid 1920's, "the company" built structures for all sorts of community activities. A selection of non-railroad related structures are presented here. Most of the structures described on this page also appear on the the overall maps of Widen and/or the detailed maps of middle Widen in 1925 and 1950 prepared by Phil Bonzon. The Bank at Widen was established in 1918. According to Widen, An Appalachian Empire, Book 1, it was originally located "in a building that had been a pool room". Theodore Griffith of Dille suggests that is not correct and that the structure was originally built as the bank. The four photos (1 through 4) are believed to be in chronological order. The first two are undated, the third from 1956, and the fourth is from some time after the sale of the company. At this time the building was now a restaurant.
The original Widen company store was built in 1912. An expanded version of the store was opened in February 1921. This building contained 9 departments including a meat shop, beauty salon, soda fountain, pool hall and the post office. According to Widen - An Appalachian Empire, Book 1, it was destroyed by fire in 1941. Theodore Griffith believes the date was 1939.
In a 1993 conversation, Bobby Caruthers, ex-BC&G hostler, said that "when you wanted something, you just went to the store and ordered it out of a catalog. A little later the train would bring it up to Widen".
The company store appears to have been a busy place in this 1925 photo.
This 1925 photo clearly shows the bank (C) and the company store (D), later the location of the gym. The track entering town (E) is more clearly visible if you click on the photo to enlarge it. It entered town through the valley in the background. The row of houses is on the same street as the 1970 Marquis photo above.
At the time of this photo, the post office was in the company store. The tipple is out of the picture to the right. It looks like the building in the lower right corner corner next to the store could be the same one shown in the Nelson Stover 1981 photos on the Tipple page.
Now for a bit of a wrinkle. The photo is dated 1925, probably placing it sometime before Photo 1 above. The building marked (F) is a mystery as it appears to be a different structure than the one shown in Photo 1. Just what it was is not clear. Did the building in Photo 1 replace building (F) and then get torn down before Photo 2? Any information or theories are welcome.
The ERC&L Co. provided housing to all its employees at a modest cost...but then the accommodations were modest, too. These four photos show both one-story and two-story dwellings. Note the house nearest the camera in the photo below right looks to be the same dark green as the bank in the Marquis photo above although during the hey-days of the BC&G, the company houses were all red.
In the photo on the right from the late 60's or early 70's many of the houses are boarded up. You can just make out the word "sandwiches" on the old bank building, now a restaurant. The large wooden company store stood just to the right of the open space in this photo (A)...see 1925 photo to the below. The tipple was down the track behind the company store.
The building marked (B) was the former grille, now post office.
David Marquis photo - circa 1970
Photos of Widen streets taken in 1961 suggest these houses did not change much from the founding of Widen until the present day.
While certainly not a major structure, I find this little mail shed to be an interesting structure. It would make another great one-evening modeling project. It says "US MAIL" on the door. The BC&G had a contract to carry US mail. My assumption is that in the years when the railbus made regular trips to Widen, it stopped here an exchanged incoming and outgoing mail in this little shed. No doubt someone from the Post Office then came over to this shed to retrieve the incoming bags. This is another nice operation for the modeler to duplucate.
Very few brick structures of any kind appear in photographs of the ERC&L property. This small brick shed stood in Widen. I assume that it was an explosives storage shed, although I cannot be sure.
On the west side of town on a rather steep hillside stood this cemetery.
In an article published in the Charleston GAZETTE on May 30, 2005, Sandy Wells provides an excellent history of the cemetery and an explanation of one of the unusual attributes of it...namely, the headstones have only numbers, not names!
Brooks Stover photo - 2007
Collection of Charles Dodrill - 1957
Collection of Charles Dodrill - circa 1925
C. W. Jerstrom collection - Sept. 1958
According to the GAZETTE article by Sandy Wells, a Mr. Dana Griffith who grew up in Widen, did some research on the cemetery as an adult. According to documents Mr. Griffith found in the Clay County Courthouse, the individuals buried there were separated by color, nationality and religion. All the foreigners and African Americans were buried here. Lots 1 through 41 were reserved for "white Protestants", lots 42 through 93 for "white Catholics", and lots 94 through 134 for "colored". Most of the burials took place in the 1920's and 1930's when many African Americans from Alabama and Mississippi and immigrants from Italy, Poland, Ireland and Hungary worked in the mine. Griffith doesn't believe that more than about 50 remains are in the cemetery, far fewer than the 134 plots.
As for why the headstones have only numbers, not names, Griffith recalls from his years living in Widen that families were responsible for engraving the plain sandstone headstones themselves. Most didn't have the time, or the skills to do the engraving and some of the deceased had no family members in Widen, so the stones remain unmarked except for the plot number. The courthouse records in some cases have handwritten notes on the cemetery map indicating some information about the deceased. Many of the notations, Griffith discovered, indicate infants were laid to rest in many of the plots. Regretably, there are some plots for which there are no notations of anykind in the courthouse records.
Bobby Caruthers collection from Doug Andre - Date Unknown
While not exactly a structure, I didn't know where else to put this interesting piece of equipment. This photo appeared in the October 29, 1953 issue of WIDEN NEWS. I apologize, for I cannot recall who sent me this photo. Please let me know if it was you! The caption under the picture reads:
"Fire fighting equipment does not always have to be big to be effective. This truth is demonstrated by the above well-equipped "Fire Fighting Jeep" now garaged in Widen for use in combatting the forest fires that may occur at any moment in the ultra dry weather, and in bringing under control fires starting in homes in Widen.
The equipment is in the charge of the Deputies, and is ready to roll at a moment's notice. The jeep is easily handled and can go anywhere a driver can pilot it. It is another feature added by the Elk River Coal and Lumber Company to further the protection of lives and property in this modern industrial set-up."
This photo appears to date somewhat after the photo above right. The vehicles in this picture are early 1930s vintage. The post and wire fence has been replaced with a wooden one. Obviously, the fabric awnings have been replaced with a wooden roof and the building is now light colored with darker windows and trim.
From a modelers standpoint, there is more information about the front door and the configuration of the big windows on either side of the door.
From the collection of Loretta Samples - Date unknown
The Garden Club of Widen monthly presented an award to the homeowner with the best appearing lawn. The winner proudly displayed a cutout figure of a duck at their residence for the month. Notice the awning hanging on the porch of this month's winner.
Photo from collection of Loretta Thompson Samples
David Marquis photo - circa 1970
Richard Manning collection - 1956
Photos 1,2 and 4 from Loretta Samples collection
Mr. J.G. Bradley, and the ERC&L Co., took good care of their employees. At Widen the company built a large YMCA that was the center of activities for the residents. These three photos, all undated, are from the collection of Loretta Johnson Samples. It is my assumption that the photo on the left is the older photo, as some of the windows are boarded over in the lower pictue.
I've put this picture here because clearly the YMCA is in the background. But the mysterious part is the 'railroad' and the bridge structure in the foreground. Dating the YMCA will help establish the date of the photo, but I don't currently have information about when it was built. The radius of the curve in the track suggests this is not part of the BC&G 'standard gauge' railroad. Frank Criswell has suggested that this track leads directly into a shaft of the mine. Any definitive information would be appreciated.
This photo is from the collection Loretta Samples. I've included it for two reasons. First, it shows a nice view of one of the Widen Houses. This house was owned by the Woods family the year this picture was taken, 1979. Second, the woman in the middle is my sister-in-law who lived in Widen with my brother, Nelson, doing community development work for several years. The left Widen in 1981.
Mr. J.G. Bradley is remembered as being very concerned about the well-being of the youth of the families of the ERC&L Company. It is reported that he paid a premium to get the best teachers he could get. These four images, provided by Loretta Samples from her collection show the Widen grade school, students enjoying lunch, apparently in that building, and a teacher at the front of her class. Not to be outdone by their peers in larger towns, Widen High School had a football team and marching band.
Five photos from collection of Loretta Samples
The original Widen grille is shown next to the bank in Picture 1 at the top of this page. Dances and other events were held on the second floor according to Loretta Samples. She recalls the building burned down in the late 1940s. The building in the photo to the right was the new grille. It became a hangout for teens in the early 60s after the mine closed. It is now the Widen Post Office.
The highschool gym is visible beyond the grille.
Loretta Samples recalls that the YMCA contained a pool hall, movie theater and grille. At one time there also was a bowling alley here. After the Widen Store burned, it was relocated to the back of the YMCA, replacing the high school basketball court.
Theodore Griffith provided this photo of a mural painted on the side of a of the new company store which was built in 1956 or 1957. This building was located adjacent to the high school and was the first building encountered when entering Widen. Prior to this, the store had been housed in a portion of the gym of the YMCA following the destruction of the original store by fire (see top of page). The mural was painted in the 1970s and shows a map of the town with images of key events from the towns history. The building and mural were taken down in the mid-1980s.
The community gym is the large light-colored structure in the background in the photo above. According to Theodore Griffith it was constructed in 1956 or 1957 and was built on the foundation of the original three-story company store. The original plans called for refurishing the basement to serve as team locker rooms and coaches offices but work was halted when Pittston took over in 1959.
According to Lois Kincaid, the photo above shows Mrs. Ashley's 3rd Grade class. The picture of the girl in the large dress was drawn by Lois. This photo appeared in the Clay County Free Press in 1957-58.
This photograph was found on the internet. It is dated April 1962 and is copyrighted by Tom Sink. I've placed it here on this page because the location is similar to the 1925 photo above. The former bank building, by now a grille, is the green building in the background It can be compared to photos of the bank above. The grey building behind the engine is the Widen Fire Station. In any case the photo is a classic and the ever-present crew member is standing on the pilot of a spotless #4.
Bob Slavey has provided this photo he took of the fire station in 1974. The sign confirms the building's function and this view provides all the detail necessary to build an accurate model of this structure.
Bob Slavey photo dated 1974.
The image on the right was found on the internet. It is the best view of the 'track side' of the company store. It has been suggested that because there is a vertical section on this wall without windows that there may have been an elevator here. The small structure on the roof directly above could have been where the elevator mechanism was located. The covered dock along the track is clearly visible.