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Social Control

Most company towns were constructed for the purpose of housing coal miners and their families. Coal companies built houses, churches, stores, hospitals, schools, and public buildings for miners and their famillies. Company headquarters were often placed at the center of these towns -- a physical reminder that miners' lives revolved around the coal company (Nida, 2013). 

Coal deposits were often located among the hilly landscapes of West Virginia, and coal operators used this geography to their advantage. Many company towns were constructed in valleys, surrounded by mountains on all sides. This terrain made them physically isolated from nearby towns and from broader society (Obenauer, 1924). 

Furthermore, these remote towns could often only be accessed by a single railway. Railroad stations were often patrolled, preventing miners and their families from traveling anywhere unnoticed. With limited opportunities for external assistance, these towns and their inhabitants were left at the mercy of their employers ("Company Towns").

Coal mining families generally fell into three major categories: white natives of Appalachia, African Americans from the south, and immigrants from Europe. These populations would be housed in different sections of the town, keeping them largely separate. In many towns, these groups even had their own churches and schools.

Coal operators believed that this would make miners less likely to unionize, as the segregation would hinder the communication necessary for organization (Wagner, 2011). 

Because the company had built these structures, coal operators also exerted complete control over all buildings in the company town. All functions within a company town, including businesses and positions of leadership, were under the authority of coal operators. They also controlled the rhetoric of community leaders and retained the ability to fire anyone who was found sympathizing with labor unions (Wagner, 2011). 

                                                                                                                 Dave Corbin, Even the Heavens Weep




Company towns were designed to exert control over mining families. From town infrastructure to community leadership, miners were forced to live at the mercy of their employers.