Sitting in a horseshoe bend of the Bluestone River, the town of Bramwell, WV, has quite a remarkable history. Built in the middle of the southern West Virginia coal fields, Bramwell is perhaps best known for having had the most millionaires per capita of any town in the United States. As many as thirteen coal barons lived there in the late 1800’s, amassing their fortunes from the hard labor of over one hundred thousand coal miners. Many of those mansions still remain and it was fun to visit the town and tour them, each decked out in their Christmas finery along a brick street in the heart of the town.
The tour started at the Presbyterian Church with a slideshow and a brief history. Tour guides, wearing period costumes, were found throughout the town, sharing tidbits of information and telling stories from years gone by. Strolling down the brick street and glancing into the big windows of massive houses, it was easy to step back in time to a wintery Victorian Christmas.
We started our tour at the R.L. Parsons house, just up the hill from the train station, where as many as 14 trains stopped each day. The Station Master had lived in this huge house. After walking through the beautifully decorated interior, we were served hot cider and cookies before continuing with the tour.
The Bank of Bramwell, which served as the financial center of southern West Virginia, was thought to have been the wealthiest bank in the country. One of the stories we heard spoke of an employee pushing a wheelbarrow full of money from the bank to the train station every payday. The train would them visit each coal camp, delivering the payroll for the miners.
The last house we toured, The Hewitt House, was by far the most impressive. Built by the wife of the Buckeye Coal and Coke Company’s president, it was the last mansion to be constructed in the town. The mansion has been meticulously restored and the Christmas decorations were stunning. Being just a few steps beyond normal, I don’t do a lot of decorating but this house put even me in the mood for a jingle bell or two!