Black Heath (Chesterfield County)
Coordinates: Black Heath was a home and coal mine located along the Old Buckingham Road in the present Midlothian area of Chesterfield County, Virginia. The Black Heath coal mining enterprises were operated by the Heth family between 1785 and 1844, when the mine closed following a fatal explosion.
Home, Heth family
Black Heath was the home of Captain John Heth (1798–1842), an officer in the U.S. Navy during the War of 1812. His son, Confederate Major General Henry Heth, who fought in the American Civil War, was born there in 1825.
The geology of the area about 10 miles west of the fall line of the James River at near present-day Richmond, Virginia includes a basin of coal which was one of the earliest mined in the Virginia Colony. This natural resource was mined by the French Huguenot refugees who settled there and others beginning around 1700.
By the second quarter of the 18th century, a number of private coal pits were operating on a commercial scale in coalfield located the area we now know as Midlothian. Miners immigrated to Chesterfield from Wales, England and Scotland. The Wooldridge family from East Lothian and West Lothian in Scotland was among the first to undertake coal mining in the area. It is likely that the mining community was eventually named after their Mid-Lothian Mining enterprise, a combination of their two home town names. The Heths, beginning with Colonel Henry "Harry" Heth (died 1821), who emigrated about 1759, who were English investors, opened coal pits in the county.
Black Heath was also the name of coal mines which were located adjacent to their home. Mining operations started there in 1785. U.S. President Thomas Jefferson had the White House in Washington, D.C. heated with the high quality coal from the Black Heath mines. Commenting on the area's coal in his Notes on the State of Virginia, written in 1781–82, then-Governor Jefferson stated: "The country on James river, from 15 to 20 miles above Richmond, and for several miles northward and southward, is replete with mineral coal of a very excellent quality." Jefferson was also referring not only to the Midlothian area, but also to the area of western Henrico County adjacent across the James River near Gayton and Deep Run.
According to records held by the Library of Virginia, on January 25, 1832, Beverley Randolph, John Heth, and his younger brother, Beverley Heth (1807–1842) petitioned the Virginia General Assembly for the first coal mining corporation to be chartered in Virginia. After substantial opposition to the concept, this was accomplished the following year with the incorporation of the Black Heath Colliery. In 1827, Beverley Randolph had also been one of the organizers of the Chesterfield Railroad, a 12 mile gravity line built from Falling Creek to Manchester for the purpose of transporting coal to ships in the navigable portion of the James River for export. Opened in 1831, it was the first commercial railroad in Virginia, second in the United States.
Coal mining at Black Heath was both difficult and dangerous work, and there were fatal explosions. On March 18, 1839, 40 men, mostly African American slaves, were killed in a 700 foot shaft at the Black Heath mine. On June 15, 1844, a mining explosion at Black Heath killed 11 more men. After the second incident, the mine was closed until 1938.
Around 1850, the steam-powered Richmond and Danville Railroad was built through the property of Black Heath. In modern-times, Black Heath Road extends from Old Buckingham Road north through the property on the south of the railroad tracks where a subdivision has been built.
North of the railroad and south of State Route 711 (Robious Road), remnants of the Black Heath coal pits were extant in the 1960s.
- Lutz, Frank E. (1954) Chesterfield, An Old Virginia County, William Byrd Press, Inc., Richmond, Virginia.
- O'Dell, Jeffrey M. (1983) Chesterfield County: Early Architecture and Historic Sites, Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors, Chesterfield, Virginia.
- Virginia State Library (1965) A Hornbook of Virginia History, Virginia Library Board, Richmond, Virginia.
- Weaver, Bettie W. (1961–62) The Mines of Midlothian, in Virginia Cavalcade Winter: pp. 40–47.
- Virginia Historical Marker O-45 Black Heath
- The Village of Midlothian
- Virginia Places: Coal Transportation pages
- Midlothian Mines and Rail Road Foundation
- Coal Mining in Chesterfield County, Virginia website
- Virginia Historical Society
- Chesterfield Historical Society
- Civil War Richmond
- College of William and Mary, Railroads in Antebellum Richmond
- Virginia Places, Sectional Rivalry page