Company Towns

Company towns are a special type of resource extraction town, constructed specifically for the housing and needs of the workers. In the late 1800s and early 1900s when many company towns were built, transportation was difficult and often only possible on the same railroads that were used to transport the goods mined or manufactured by the company. Companies usually built entire towns, including roads, railroads, houses, stores, schools, churches, and entertainment venues such as theaters to lure workers to the isolated areas. Depending on the mindset of the business owners, life in the company town could be equivalent to working in forced servitude: expenses for food, housing, and medical treatment sometimes equaled or surpassed a worker’s paycheck, making it impossible for him to save money to leave the town. Other companies were more paternalistic, striving to attract and keep the best employees through improved living conditions and competitive pay. Company towns were highly diverse places with native-born whites, European immigrants, and African Americans often working side by side, yet living in segregated conditions.

When the industry was no longer profitable, the company that built the town often withdrew, shutting down mines and factories, removing railroad tracks, and selling or razing buildings. Towns that once had two or three thousand residents now have one-tenth that number, with workers who commute to jobs in other towns. Because many of these places are isolated and rural, the remaining buildings have often been preserved by neglect. With no development pressures, buildings are empty, yet standing. The lack of development interest in the communities is an interesting problem because many of the communities remain at least partially intact, awaiting someone with money and interest to revitalize the place and take advantage of the historic preservation and cultural tourism markets. However, because of their isolation, many of these places are too far off the beaten path to interest potential preservationists. These communities are by no means immune to new industrial pressures however: coal towns are being lost as surface miners exploit the coal beneath communities that were once the lifeblood of the Appalachians. (From Lost Communities of Virginia, p. 16-17)

 

Company Towns