Peerless Coal and Coke Historic Company Store Destroyed by Fire- Vivian, West Virginia

August 3, 2012 Travis Dewitz

The Peerless Coal & Coke Company store was built in Vivian, West Virginia in 1921 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. Vivian is located off Highway 52 also known as the Coal Heritage Trail in McDowell County. Vivian is very easy to miss as it is tucked below and off the highway and out of sight.  I found the Peerless Coal and Coke Company store still standing tall but in disrepair.  The beautiful building was the subject of arson and has been completely burnt out. This buildings historical significance is that it is not the typical square or rectangle shape as most company stores. This building is irregularly shaped which was one of the factors when it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Inside of the building I found remnants of its past life included many files full of company and employee records. There were also many film reels scattered around the floor. I wish I knew what was on that film but the film has all been damaged. I wish I had more time to spend checking out this building and others in Vivian.

The coal mine company store is just part of the coal company’s way to control their miners. Until the formation of Labor Unions in the West Virginia mines, coal miners were under the companies full control. One part of this control included the miners being paid in the coal companies own monetary system. This monetary system including coins, forced the miners to buy everything they needed through the company store which sold their good at over-inflated prices. This is just one of many ways the coal company cheated their employees. A lot of great information about this and the West Virginia Mine Wars can be found at

Elisse Jo Goldstein-Clark ~

“You also have to understand that coal towns were not all “bad” places that exploited workers & kept them in misery. If I’m not mistaken, Mr. Carter of Carter Coal in Coalwood built the first (or one of the first) coal towns, and along with houses, he built schools, shops, a church, etc., all the things that gave people a good quality of life for their families and so miners wanted to work for Carter… and so the other coal companies had to match that to get the good workers… At the time the Elkhorn Inn bldg. was built-in 1922 by Empire Coal & Coke Co., coal companies were competing as to which one had the best Miner’s Clubhouse; Empire’s brick “mansion” rather trumped the smaller wooden ones. The use of scrip is a very complicated issue, too, & it’s not black and white “evil coal company owners taking advantage of poor, downtrodden workers”… Scrip only died out when there was no longer a tax advantage to it. In my opinion it’s grossly unfair to judge the past by today’s “PC” standards… Many of our guests grew up here in coal towns, and while mining was a hard and dirty and difficult occupation with many risks (and still is, as we know…), there was (and is) pride in being able to do that work, and many happy stories of growing up here…”

Elisse and her husband own and run the beautiful Elkhorn Inn which is just a few miles east of Vivian. You can learn more here.


I would love for you to see more of my photo series from West Virginia below.

Prince, WV Art Deco Amtrak Station

New River Gorge

Abandoned Coalwood High School

Coal in McDowell County – Part 1

Coal in McDowell County – Part 2

Coal in McDowell County – Part 3

Coal in McDowell County – Part 4

Abandoned Switchback High School

Through the creative lens of Travis Dewitz; he demonstrates time and time again how much splendor can be extracted from the interplay of the industrial world around us. In the most unusual and unexpected places Dewitz showcases images that embody the forgotten beauty of railways, factory floors, the rolling smoke of steel mills, and the cities that are built around them. He brings a certain magic as he invokes the very souls of these once-glorious industrial areas; his captures overflow with inspirational energy. Click here to view his personal series.

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Travis Dewitz

My name is Travis Dewitz and I am from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. My specialty is commercial photography with a love for expressive portraits. My work is Conceptual, Emotive, Editorial, Surreal and Eclectic. I am passionate about fashioning new worlds through photographs as I extend my visions beyond the realm of the camera. I have incredible vision, which you can see in all of my photos.

Comments (28)

  1. Alice Beardslee

    Exactly where is Vivian? I remember my dad worked there when I was young. I guess the records abandoned in the store might help explain why although he started working in the mines when he was 16, he was never eligible to draw a pension – they said they couldn’t find his employment records!

  2. Tammy Kosa

    I really wish you would do a pictorial on Northfork High School and it’s history of Basketball

  3. Linda

    Thank you for your interest in Vivian. Your pictures took me back to my early childhood there in the 1950’s. I remember trips to the company store with my dad and attending Vivian Elementary School close by. It’s so sad that there is little left of the history there!

    • Buddy French

      I was born and raised in McDowell County back in the boom days and my hobby is collection pictures and historical information about the different coal camps there. I’m currently researching Vivian and was wondering if you have any old photos or information or stories you could tell me about Vivian.

  4. Nancye Pochick

    Amazing look back.. My brother- in law was the company Dr.there in the fifties..loved visiting there.lots of good people..

  5. Colleen Vann Kelly

    I remeber all of these sites. I especially remember Peerless Company Store. My dad use to go there weekly and we as children would sat in the car until he finished his business. He would always bring us chocolate milk and a stick of pepperoni as a treat. These pictures brings back so many old memories. Some good and some not so good. Thanks you for your efforts.

    • Buddy French

      I’m looking for any information or stories you might be able to tell me about living in Vivian. I have a lot of historical information and old pictures I can share with you too.


  6. Margaret Powell

    This is such a neat post! My great great grandfather worked at Peerless (I found it listed on his Draft registration card), and it is fascinating to see these photos. I’m amazed to see that the company files were simply abandoned.

  7. Don Jewell

    Enjoyed very much, would have liked to have seen more in the War, Berwind, Bishop Canebreak,Squire,Big Creek High School area’s. Just so sad to see such a beautiful part of WV in the shape it is today. I grew up in McDowell county in the 40’s and 50’s what a wonderful place to grow up.

  8. Jim Early

    I remember Inez, Ralph and one of the Fortuna girls working the counter. Ed with his always bloody white coat worked the butcher shop and MR Perry always the Gentleman managed the store. It was the hub of activity for Vivian.

  9. Lonnie Saunders

    I wish u could do photos on Kimball elementary school basketball in 1983 and tournament also coach Hardy !

  10. Angie

    You have some beautiful photography!!

    I grew up closer to Williamson and I know RT 52 quite well, as we used to travel it to go on vacation to Pipestem State park.

    These places brig back so many memories. I am not quite 40 yet, but I do remember a little more “bustle” in some of these areas during my childhood. So many visual reminders of being in the backseat travelling with my family.

    I have travelled this road several years ago myself bringing a camera along, however I am a bit more afraid to go into abandoned buildings/property due to a nail in the foot incident about 10 years ago LOL! So I appreciate being able to “see” all of the places that I have been curious about 🙂

    Keep up the amazing work!!

  11. Buddy French

    I was born and raised just across the mountain from Vivian at Gary and my wife went to the first grade at the Vivian Grade School when she lived at Bottom Creek. I explored the Vivian store about twelve years ago and found the water damaged store ledger book for charge accounts. I took an undamaged page from the book but now wish I would have take the whole book and preserved it. I have studied Vivians history and have several old pictures of the community. I’m currently writing a fiction short story about life in Vivian as seen through a young boys eyes during the 1930’s and 40’s.—Buddy

  12. Nellie FLippen Nagel

    I was born in Northfork WV and attended school at Keystone School and high school at Northfork elkhorn high . Lived upon Burke Mt and my family owned
    The land up there on that mt. I now live in Florida but cousins still live up there and still work in coal mines but have to travel some distance to work. Much information can be told by the cousins now on mt. Shouldcheck it out as some of them worked the mines and is retired Butch Johnson would be a Great contact.

  13. Tammy Lea

    As a coal miner’s granddaughter who worked for decades in Vivian, I am happy to have found these photos. Thank you so much for the information as it is accurate. It is very sad to me , however, to see the historic stores, buildings, and churches just left there to rot. It is disappointing and heart breaking. My grandfather and great grandfather worked more in the darkness of the mines than they did in the warm light outside. The buildings should be protected and restored. When these structures disappear, my own children and their children will lose a huge part of our family’s past. Again, thank you for taking the time to share the info and pictures with the world.

  14. dale goodman

    I viewed your pictures with great awe. As a descendant of this great area, I am impressed with your views thru the lens. I am a great great grandson of Gordon W. Rife, a confederate captain who was murdered in Abingdon, and my father was born in Yukon in 1926. My fathers 12 brothers and sisters were born and raised thoroughout the area, Welch, Matewan, and Yukno to name a few. Please contact me if you desire. I would love to further communicate with you.


  15. William H.Stacy (Bo)

    Love to look at the pictures, growed up in Bradshaw & Jolo. Back in the 70&80 left on Christmas day of 1983 moved to Alabama been here since.

  16. Connie

    I was born in McDowell West Virginia, my dad worked the mines and I am the one of 11 kids they raised. I had no idea we were poor, I thought everyone lived like we did. Now, I realize how fortunate we were to have left that area. I still have good memories as a child living in a coal camp.

  17. Carolyn

    I was born in Vivian and attended Vivian Elementary then transferred to Tidewater Elem, not sure why Vivian closed. We move to Michigan in 1963. Many of my relatives grew up on Peerless Hill. The only memorabilia that I have is a bible that I won at the church (Lovely Zion Baptist) picnic from my Sunday School teacher. Last time I visited Vivian was in 1975 for a funeral.

  18. Tammy Johnson

    My family is from Vivian wv I’m trying to locate any information on them Their name was Henry Ferris, mary Ferris,Mildred, Beuhla. My Great Grandfather Henry Ferris worked in the mines I remember going to visit when I was young in the late 60,s early 70,s. If anyone has any photos or any information please share I’m trying to find my family heritage.

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