Its length is about 15 miles and very winding. Some say that’s how it got its name: Winding Gulf.
The stream begins at Mitchell’s Ridge and a few miles later it butts up against Guyandotte Mountain near Hotcoal and then flows on to the mouth of Mill Branch, where it empties into the Guyandotte River at Stonecoal Junction. It drains an area of about 33 miles.
Few landmarks remain along this narrow tributary. Most of the remnants of the early coal mining days have vanished over years of slow abandonment.
And yet, Winding Gulf is a place where people go when they want to reminisce about Raleigh County’s coal mining past.
Now a quiet and remote station of cool summer breezes, Winding Gulf once promised steady work for miners and a good place to raise children.
In late spring, the mountain hamlet once featured coal camp houses with front yards laden with phlox, zinnias, marigolds, rose bushes, sweet William, gladiolus, petunias, and black-eyed Susan’s—all standard country flowers of the day.
Peggy Grubb resides on Farley Hill, a residential site that was part of a thriving coal economy in Raleigh County after the turn of the 21st century.
“I’ve lived here since I was born,” she says. “I was born in my grandparents’ house, belonging to the late Neal and Edith Lacy; my parents were Foncie and Frieda Campbell. They lived here most of their lives.”
Economic times were booming when Peggy was growing up in the Winding Gulf community. “My grandfather and my father worked at the old No. 1 mine, owned by Winding Gulf Collieries. At that time, there were lots of people around here.
“There was Epperly Hill, Farley Hill, Lynnwind Hill. Winding Gulf had some 40 to 50 houses. Nobody would believe it today, though. There’s hardly anything here now, a couple of old mine shafts, and that’s about it.”
The woman continues: “There was a No. 2 mine. Now it’s all torn down; my grandfather worked there. My grandmother Campbell lived at the No. 2 camp when my dad was just a kid.”
Her husband, the late Virgil Lee Grubb, worked for 30 years with the West Moreland Coal Co. before he was disabled following a mining accident in Boone County in 1985. He was killed in 1997 while cutting firewood near his home when a tree fell on him.
“We had a wonderful life together,” Peggy says. “We had eight children and we loved it here.”
Peggy likes to remember her girlhood days at famous coal camp community: “There was a company store at Winding Gulf, and one at Lynnwind and Epperly. The old Collins High School was located on Epperly Hill. We had to walk from Farley Hill to Epperly Hill in the 7th and 8th grade. Farley Hill Elementary School only went to the 6th grade. When my mother was growing up, she had to walk to the old Collins High School at Epperly…”
Peggy can recall shortages during World War II: “I remember when the war was going on, I was just a little kid. I used to walk to Winding Gulf Company Store with my grandmother. The store sold everything: clothing, groceries, furniture, candy—pop was a nickel. We had coupons to get meat and margarine during the war. You could only get so much each day. I still have some of those coupons, tokens, and scrip from those early days.”
What happened to the old coal camp houses?
“They were abandoned when the mines worked out. They were torn down for the lumber. Or they were neglected and they eventually caved in after people moved away to follow the work elsewhere,” Peggy says.
The camp was a thriving district when Peggy was a girl. “We had a movie theater, pool room, doctor’s office, barber shop, boarding house, and a great big three-story company store and a post office.”
Peggy has seen things come and go at Winding Gulf.
“It’s so sad. I would go out on Sunday evenings with my grandfather Neal to check the pumphouse and make sure the water was coming out of the mines…My brother, sister and I walked to the company store to get a bottle of soda pop for a nickel.
“It was quite a thrill. People didn’t mind walking two or three miles to the store or to school, but you can get hardly anyone to walk nowadays. We’d come in from school and Mom would send us after bread, and it might take us 35 or 40 minutes to get back to the house…”
Peggy says she isn’t lonely, even though many of her neighbors pulled out years ago. Much of the community is gone, but Peggy isn’t ready to leave—not by a long shot.
“I have a burro that I talk to. His name is Jack. He is just a pet. If he’s near the fence, people will stop and give him donuts and crackers. We’ve had him 20 years. We always had horses and dogs around the house. A tree fell on my husband in 1997 and killed him. I kept his mule and his dog for years…”
There are too many memories and too much proud tradition to leave Winding Gulf, as far as Peggy is concerned: “My grandparents brought their furniture from Quinnemont with a horse and wagon. Dr. Covey delivered me and my sister at my grandparents’ house. He delivered my mom too. His son, William Crockett Covey, delivered three of my children. Both doctors are gone now, passed away years ago.”
Even so, Peggy isn’t dismayed about being one of the few remaining in Winding Gulf. “I like it,” she says emphatically. “There are about 16 houses in our quiet little community; and it’s so beautiful up here. We have animals. About all you see is horses and dogs, not many little children anymore…”
Top o’ the morning!