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City of Bluefield, West Virginia
—  City  —

Nickname(s): Nature's Air Conditioned City
Bluefield, West Virginia is located in West Virginia
Location within the state of West Virginia
Coordinates: 37°15′44″N 81°13′7″W / 37.26222°N 81.21861°W / 37.26222; -81.21861Coordinates: 37°15′44″N 81°13′7″W / 37.26222°N 81.21861°W / 37.26222; -81.21861
Country United States
State West Virginia
County Mercer
 - Mayor Linda Whalen
 - City 8.7 sq mi (22.6 km2)
 - Land 8.7 sq mi (22.6 km2)
 - Water 0.0 sq mi (0.0 km2)
Elevation 2,611 ft (795.8 m)
Population (2004)
 - City 11,222
 Density 1,311.3/sq mi (506.3/km2)
 Metro 107,578 (Bluefield Micropolitan Area)
  U.S. Census Bureau, 2004 Population Estimates
Time zone EST (UTC-5)
 - Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)
ZIP code 24701
Area code(s) 304
FIPS code 54-08524[1]
GNIS feature ID 1553939[2]
Website Official website

Bluefield is a city in Mercer County, West Virginia, United States. The population was 11,451 at the 2000 census. It is also the core city of the Bluefield WV-VA micropolitan area which has a population of 107,578. The micropolitan area is the 350th largest statistical population area and the thirty-third largest micropolitan area in the United States.



Bluefield is located at 37°15′44″N 81°13′7″W / 37.26222°N 81.21861°W / 37.26222; -81.21861 (37.262219, -81.218674)[3].

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 8.7 square miles (22.6 km²), all of it land.


Historical populations
Census Pop.  %±
1940 25,000
1950 21,506 −14.0%
1960 19,256 −10.5%
1970 15,921 −17.3%
1980 16,060 0.9%
1990 12,756 −20.6%
2000 11,451 −10.2%
Est. 2008 11,093 −3.1%

As of the census[1] of 2000, there were 11,451 people, 5,038 households, and 3,078 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,311.3 people per square mile (506.4/km²). There were 5,966 housing units at an average density of 683.2/sq mi (263.9/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 75.84% White, 22.14% African American, 0.12% Native American, 0.56% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.21% from other races, and 1.13% from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 0.52% of the population.

There were 5,038 households out of which 24.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.5% were married couples living together, 13.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 38.9% were non-families. 34.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 17.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.23 and the average family size was 2.87.

The age distribution was 21.5% under the age of 18, 9.0% from 18 to 24, 23.5% from 25 to 44, 24.5% from 45 to 64, and 21.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 42 years. For every 100 females there were 84.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 79.5 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $27,672, and the median income for a family was $36,508. Males had a median income of $31,396 versus $21,051 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,751. About 13.0% of families and 19.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 28.2% of those under age 18 and 10.9% of those age 65 or over.


View of Bluefield from the East River Mountain Overlook

The history of Bluefield begins in the 1700s, when two families settled in a rugged and remote part of what is now southern West Virginia, and built a small village with a mill, a church, a one-room schoolhouse, and a fort for defending the small settlement against invasions by the much larger Shawnee Indian tribe on the banks of the Bluestone River. The Davidson and Bailey family had to sell a portion of their land when in 1882, Captain John Fields, of the Norfolk and Western Railway pioneered the area and began building a new railroad through the hills of Bluefield. The city is traditionally thought to be named after the chicory flowers in the area that colored the landscape a purplish blue hue during the summer. However, research has indicated that this settlement which was also known as Higginbotham's Summit in the 1880s was probably named for the coal fields of the Bluestone River.

Coal rush

Beneath the land of the Davidsons and Baileys lay the largest and richest deposit of bituminous coal in the world - the soft burning coal which was ripe for fueling the industrial machines of the developing world. The first seam was discovered in nearby Pocahontas, Virginia in the backyard of Jordan Nelson which was, in the words of President Frederick Kimball of the Norfolk and Western Company, the "most spectacular find on the continent and indeed perhaps of the entire planet." The seam is also mentioned in Thomas Jefferson's "Notes on the State of Virginia," but it was not mined until 1890.

Around that time, the coal mines that soon opened up in the area—around Harman, Bluefield, War, and Pocahontas—were known as the Pocahontas Coal Fields; they helped drive the Industrial Revolution in the United States and fuel the US and British Navies during both World Wars. The herculean effort to extract the coal from the mountains created a vast boom in the local and national economy, bringing emigrant European workers to the mountains in search of work. Almost overnight, a metropolis was born.

The city's growth was phenomenal. In the one-year period from 1887 to 1888, passenger travel along the railroad increased 317%. Like the extremely accelerated growth San Francisco experienced during the gold rush period in California, Bluefield became a city that sprung up "overnight," and it far outpaced the infrastructure available to it at the time. Urban sprawl and blight were common complaints in the early days.

Bluefield was not a city that controlled its own destiny. Indeed, the growth and decay of the city depended almost entirely upon Norfolk and Western Railroad—which in turn regarded the whims of the international market as a higher priority than the longevity and prosperity of Bluefield. When coal tonnage was good and the market for coal was booming, Bluefield was essentially a "Little New York," as it was called in the day. A bustling metropolis, it had a nightlife and a personality that was "a little bit Chicago, a little bit New York, and a whole lot of Pittsburgh" (citation needed) -- rugged and with steel and coal embedded in its soul.

The coal boom fueled a flood of money into the area, and nearby Bramwell, incorporated in 1888, boasted itself as the "Millionaires' Town" because more millionaires per capita lived there than anywhere else in the nation. The city also had more automobiles per capita than any other city in the country at the time which meant that, in the early days, Bluefield experienced the "five o'clock traffic jam/gridlock" long before the majorityof the rest of the nation—even before New York City.

Also called "Summit City" because of its high elevation and its naturally sloping divides in the coal yards, Bluefield became one of the first cities in the world to have a noticeable skyline - with highrises that were comparable to New York and Chicago in their day. Today, although many of those highrises remain, they are no longer similar to the many famous skylines in many modern American cities.

Primarily due to the introduction and globalization of other fuel sources, today's Bluefield does not resemble the Bluefield of long past. Bluefield is now a much quieter town compared to the boom between 1890 and 1960 (the coal rush years). Many run down remnants of once-grand mansions and office buildings still remain in the north side of town near the railroad tracks.

In 1889, the city of Bluefield, West Virginia was officially incorporated. The city government was always known in those days as being corrupt, inefficient, and was quite a scandalous affair, with drunken brawls and fights breaking out on the floor of City Hall on an almost daily basis.

With a strong ethnic community, Bluefield was the site of the 1895 founding of the Bluefield Colored Institute, the nation's first college with primarily black students. That college is today's Bluefield State College, and the site of a November 21, 1968 terrorist bombing.

20th century

During the 1920s, the most impressive high rise in Bluefield history was built, the twelve story opulent West Virginian Hotel, now the West Virginia Manor and Retirement Home. It was one of the first "skyscrapers" in the area and one of the tallest buildings in the world at the time.

In 1924, nearby Graham, Virginia decided to rename itself Bluefield, Virginia to try and unite the two towns, who had been feuding since the civil war. Nobel-prize-winning economist and mathematician John Forbes Nash was born in Bluefield in 1928.

The Great Depression however, broke the city's back. With the government nearly bankrupt, and series of devastating structural fires that swept through the downtown area and nearly took down every high rise the city had so feverishly built, the city was nearly destroyed. It was not until World War II came that the coal fires started burning again.

The importance of the city was so great that Adolf Hitler even put Bluefield on his reputed list of German air raid targets in the United States. Air raid practice drills were common in the city during this time.

The worst thing to happen to Bluefield was the Interstate Highway System, which finally punched through East River Mountain in the 1960s and for the first time allowed automobile traffic to pass through the city without crossing the top of the mountain. The dependence on railroad traffic waned and the city began to shrink in population and eventually lost its Amtrak station in the 1980s. As the importance of the railroad continued to decline, the city shriveled to a much smaller version of its prior glory.

Thomas Edd Mayfield, one of the Mayfield Brothers Bluegrass musicians of West Texas, died of leukemia in a Bluefield hospital in 1958 at the age of thirty-two while he was on tour with Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys.

Educational Institutions

Culture and Pop Culture

Bluefield prides itself on its hospitable climate. Since 1938 the Chamber of Commerce has given free lemonade when the temperature has surpassed 90°F.[4] The city's motto is "nature's air conditioned city, where the summer spends the winter."

Jazz musician Louis Jordan's song "Salt Pork, W.Va." was inspired by his time in a Bluefield jail.

A controversy exists over whether or not Hank Williams was last seen alive in Bluefield on his way to a show in Ohio. He was discovered dead in Oak Hill, W.Va..


Bluefield is the home of the Appalachian League (rookie) Bluefield Orioles baseball team who play their home games at Bowen Field, which is in the city's park but is actually located on the Virginia side of the border. They are a minor league affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles.

Bluefield is largely a football town and the rivalry between the Bluefield Beavers and their sister city Bluefield, Virginia's Graham G-Men always draws a large crowd at Mitchell Stadium. 2005 saw the introduction of the Bluefield Barons, an Alliance Football League team.

Bluefield is also home to the East River Soccer Complex which has five fields and hosts local high school and college soccer games.


External links

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