The history of Helen

"Company towns were more than simply arenas of conflict. The fact that the coal industry mushroomed in an area that had been thinly settled by farmers and grazers meant that such towns had to be built to attract and house workers. While they were captive communities, in the sense that residents lacked the privacy, rights and diverse job opportunities that workers in urban settings enjoyed, they also offered amenities, such as electricity and a broad array of consumer goods, that were hard to come by in rural West Virginia before the 1930s. A number of operators built 'model' towns, responding to the doctrine of welfare capitalism, an early 20th century movement that advocated providing good housing and recreational facilities as a means of countering the appeals of union organizers. Company stores passed along to consumers the higher wholesaling costs that distribution to a large number of venues scattered over a wide area necessarily entailed, but they also provided wider choices and easier credit than were generally available to rural consumers elsewhere. Women in company towns had few employment opportunities, but they were also spared the isolation that afflicted many farm women. Men and children benefited from enhanced recreational facilities, such as the baseball fields found in most towns. While native white, African American and immigrant ethnic groups were generally housed separately in distinct clusters, the opportunities for interaction in town life and the unsegregated character of underground working conditions contributed to a richer cultural diversity than any of the three groups had encountered elsewhere. Even shared conditions of hardship and danger in the mines contributed to a sense of community solidarity that residents often later recalled fondly."   
From the Coal Heritage Authority Interpretive Themes Guide

This description fits the town of Helen perfectly.  

The historic coal camp of Helen lies in the Winding Gulf watershed along Route 16 in southern Raleigh County, West Virginia.  See The Coal Heritage Trail by Bill Archer (Wonderful West Virginia magazine, Jan. 2000) for more on that historic byway.  Helen, built in the early 1920ís and named for a daughter of C&O Railway President G.W. Stevens, lies in the National Coal Heritage Area and once boasted two highly productive mines owned by Koppers Coal Co. (which later became Eastern Associated Coal Corp., now a subsidiary of Peabody Coal).  Founded in about 1919, Helen is just a few miles south of the historic "company town" of Tams, WV.  Roads were bad and coal mining communities were very isolated.  The mining companies often had trouble attracting and keep sober, reliable workers.  Like Major Tams' own little community, Helen was provided a company store, movie theater, grill, and boarding house for single men.  It even had its own telephone exchange at one time, and millions of dollars in coal--"black gold"--moved through the little town.  Its workforce was diverse, with black and white, Italian, Polish, and others working together.   Much of community life revolved around the small church, which was used by all denominations.  

Most of the original buildings are gone, but in addition to the Superintendent's house and several original miners' dwellings Helen's rich heritage lives on its citizens and in the community's coal-related street names--Lantern, Check , and Scrip Alleys.  The nonprofit Winding Gulf Restoration Organization (WGRO) was established in 2003 to improve Helen and preserve its history.   Esteemed Senator Robert Byrd, who grew up in Stotesbury just a few miles to the north, was a frequent visitor to Helen and as a teen even worked at a gas station there.

Helen was one of the first small towns to integrate its schools, and all the children attended Helen Elementary until its closure in the late 1960's.  Mark Twain High was transformed into a junior high school, feeding into Sophia High school.