An interesting old map, recently cataloged and made accessible in the Earl Gregg Swem Library Rare Books Collection at SCRC, bears witness to the transformation of West Virginia from a region of “breathtaking scenery and lavish virgin forests” to a land where “mountain farming culture was defeated by the ever widening grasp of speculators and absentees” (Barbara Rasmussen. Absentee Landowning and exploitation in West Virginia, 1760-1920. University Press of Kentucky, 1994). Rasmussen recounts how, in the 1880’s, numerous land-holding companies backed by large eastern banks began buying up swaths of land in West Virginia. Our old map clearly originated during that era. However, the fact that it has no indication of creator or date would present a challenge for the cataloger who had to create a record to represent the old map.
The large-scale, hand-colored map bears the title Map of 47,000 Acres of Land in Raleigh County, West Virginia, Owned by Logan M. Bullitt as Trustee. It is printed on a rectangular sheet (125 x 183 cm) that is attached to and folded into a brown cloth cover. The map depicts properties in Raleigh County, West Virginia, underlain with coal, acquired by some unnamed land-holding company of which Logan M. Bullitt was apparently a trustee. It shows property lines of plots purchased, lists the individuals from whom the land was acquired, and indicates the quality of the coal underlying each property. Locations of existing buildings are marked by small black squares and show that Raleigh County was very sparsely settled at the time the map was made. Raleigh Court House, the county seat later to become known as Beckley, appears as a cluster of only about 35 buildings. Along the northern edge of the mapped area, a short section of the New River can be seen with a bit of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway beside it and with a location designated “Prince.” Historical sources say that the C & O Railway was built between 1869 and 1873–to connect Cincinnati, Ohio, to Richmond, Virginia and the port at Newport News–and that a station with a post office was built at Prince, West Virginia around 1889. Also shown are two projected railroad spurs along major river valleys in Raleigh County, planned to eventually provide transportation of coal and timber to market. Preliminary surveys for those railroad spurs were conducted around 1889. In the upper right corner of the sheet is printed a smaller-scale general map showing the whole of West Virginia and other nearby states. On this general map are depicted rivers and streams and all the railroads existing in those states at the time.
The map was evidently created some time after 1889 and before 1898 when the C & O Railway Company began the official surveying and construction of those spurs shown on the map as “projected,” but when was it made, exactly? And who was Logan M. Bullitt, and with which land-holding company was he associated when these coal lands were being bought up? A search of the internet will find many references to Logan M. Bullitt. He was a wealthy Philadelphia lawyer who, along with his father, John C. Bullitt, invested in both mining enterprises and railroads. The Bullitts were among the so-called “robber barons” of this era, getting rich on royalties from their mining enterprises and fees charged for transporting the coal on their railroads. By 1893 Logan Bullitt is listed in business reference sources as an officer or trustee for a long list of enterprises, including dozens of coal mining companies in West Virginia and Virginia. But which company of the dozens listed was connected to the Raleigh County coal lands?
The answer was found in “Brief History of Beckley, W.Va. (1943)” by Charles Hodel. Hodel describes a man named Azel Ford, a Raleigh County farmer, who was “far ahead of his neighbors in sensing the value of the lands they owned.” The author says “[h]e secured options, and with a briefcase full of them visited some wealthy men in Philadelphia. They became interested, bought the first batch and asked for more … Ford’s perspicacity in the 1880’s formed the basis of what is now the Beaver Coal Corporation. His work of rounding up the lands comprised in its holdings was finished in 1891.…” The current internet website for Beaver Coal Company, Limited, under the “About Us/History” tab, provides confirmation: “In 1889, Anthony Drexel, Logan Bullitt and J.P. Morgan, three prominent men from Philadelphia, PA, sent their land agent, Azel Ford, to Raleigh County, WV, to purchase approximately 50,000 acres of property in and around the Beckley area. The acquired property was later placed under the banner of Beaver Coal Corporation, the predecessor to Beaver Coal Company, Limited, …” The names of Mr. Bullitt’s partners mentioned here will be familiar: Anthony Drexel was a partner in his family’s banking and investment company, Drexel & Co., in 1891 he founded Drexel Institute, now Drexel University; J. Pierpont Morgan was Drexel’s protégé and partner who went on to develop another important corporate giant which today is known as J.P. Morgan and Chase.
Now a catalog record to represent the map could be completed with confirmation of the company responsible and an approximate year of creation.
Postscript: In 2017, Beaver Coal Company, Limited, still owns the 47,000 acres depicted on our old map, and is listed among the 25 largest land-holding companies in West Virginia today. For more information about the problems faced by West Virginia because of absentee corporate ownership of the land, see the internet article, “Who Owns West Virginia in the 21st Century” by Ted Boettner.
Written by Kathryn Blue, Senior Cataloger.