Bluefield, West Virginia

Coordinates: 37°15′44″N 81°13′07″W / 37.26222°N 81.21861°W / 37.26222; -81.21861
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Bluefield, West Virginia
Bluefield Downtown Commercial Historic District
Official seal of Bluefield, West Virginia
Official logo of Bluefield, West Virginia
Nature's Air Conditioned City
Location of Bluefield in Mercer County, West Virginia.
Location of Bluefield in Mercer County, West Virginia.
Bluefield is located in West Virginia
Location in the state of West Virginia
Bluefield is located in the United States
Bluefield (the United States)
Coordinates: 37°15′44″N 81°13′07″W / 37.26222°N 81.21861°W / 37.26222; -81.21861
CountryUnited States
StateWest Virginia
 • MayorMatthew Knowles
 • City9.03 sq mi (23.39 km2)
 • Land9.03 sq mi (23.39 km2)
 • Water0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2)
Elevation2,631 ft (802 m)
 • City9,658
 • Density1,069/sq mi (412.9/km2)
 • Metro
Time zoneUTC−5 (EST)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−4 (EDT)
ZIP code
Area codes304, 681
FIPS code54-08524
GNIS feature ID2390566[2]
WebsiteOfficial website

Bluefield is a city in Mercer County, West Virginia, United States. The population was 9,658 at the 2020 census.[3] It is the principal city of the Bluefield micropolitan area extending into Virginia, which had a population of 106,363 in 2020.


High school in Bluefield, 1910

The European-American history of Bluefield began in the 18th century, when the Davidson and Bailey families settled in a rugged and remote part of what is now southern West Virginia.[4] Others joined them, and they built a small village with a mill, a church, a one-room schoolhouse, and a fort for defending the settlement against invasions by the Shawnee tribe, which had a village on the banks of the Bluestone River.

In 1882, the descendants of the Davidson and Bailey families sold a portion of their land, when 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, which give the fields a purplish blue hue during the summer. Research has shown that this settlement, also known as Higginbotham's Summit in the 1880s, was probably named for the coal fields that were developed in the area of the Bluestone River.[citation needed]

Coal rush[edit]

Beneath the land of the Davidsons and Baileys lay the largest and richest deposit of bituminous coal in the world. The first seam was discovered in nearby Pocahontas, Virginia in the backyard of Jordan Nelson. President Frederick Kimball of the Norfolk and Western Railway described this as the "most spectacular find on the continent and indeed perhaps of the entire planet."[citation needed] The coal seam had been mentioned much earlier in Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, but it was not mined until 1882.[5] Around that time, coal mines were developed in the area around Harman, Bluefield, War, and Pocahontas, which together were known as the Pocahontas Coal Fields. They helped support the Industrial Revolution in the United States. The development of the coal industry in this area created a boom in the local and national economy and attracted immigrant European workers and migrant African Americans from the Deep South to the mountains in search of industrial work.

In the late 19th century, the Norfolk and Western Railway Company selected Bluefield as the site for a repair center and a major division point, which greatly stimulated the town's growth.[4] In the one-year period from 1887 to 1888, passenger travel along the railroad increased 317%. As with the extremely accelerated growth of San Francisco during the gold rush, Bluefield became a city that seemed to spring up "overnight." Growth far outpaced the existing infrastructure. Urban sprawl and blight were common complaints in the early days, as workers crowded into aging housing.

The growth and decay of the city depended almost entirely upon Norfolk and Western Railroad. 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 generated a flood of money in the area. Nearby Bramwell, incorporated in 1888, boasted that it was the "Millionaires' Town" because more millionaires per capita lived there than anywhere in the nation. The city also had more automobiles per capita than any other city in the country. In 1889, the city of Bluefield was officially incorporated.

Bluefield headquartered the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency who initially worked train crimes but became famous strike breakers and were prominent figures in the Coal Wars, including the Battle of Matewan.

With a strong Black community, Bluefield was the site of the 1895 founding of the Bluefield Colored Institute, an historically black college.[6] It developed as today's Bluefield State University. Demographics began to shift with the hiring of its first white President, Dr. Hardway, and his closing of dormitories after the 1968 bombing.[7] It is known as "The Whitest Historically Black College in America".[8]

20th century[edit]

The Upper Oakhurst Historic District was primarily developed during the 1920s

During the 1920s, the twelve-story West Virginian Hotel was built. It has been adapted and in the 21st century is operated as the West Virginia Manor and Retirement Home. In 1924, nearby Graham, Virginia decided to rename itself as Bluefield to try to unite the two towns, which had been feuding since the civil war. Nobel Prize-winning economist and mathematician John Forbes Nash was born in Bluefield in 1928. George Marshall Palmer, the well-renowned Purdue University professor of aeronautics and director of the AerospaceSciences Laboratory at Purdue, lead of the invention of the Boeing wind tunnel and a pioneer in the aerodynamic and structural testing of skyscrapers[9] was born in Bluefield in 1921.

The Great Depression was particularly damaging to Bluefield. With the government nearly bankrupt, after a series of devastating structural fires swept through the downtown area, the city was nearly destroyed. It was not until the outbreak of World War II that coal production revived. The strategic importance of the city was so great that Adolf Hitler 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.

In 1964 Helen Compton opened the now demolished Shamrock Bar, the oldest gay bar in WV.[10]

The Interstate Highway System was constructed through East River Mountain on December 20, 1974; for the first time automobile traffic could reach the city without crossing the top of the mountain. The dependence on the railroads waned and restructuring changed the industry. Bluefield lost jobs and population as a result. Its Amtrak station closed in the 1980s. Mercer Mall, the area's major shopping mall, opened in 1980.


The mountainous terrain surrounding Bluefield

Bluefield is located in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia across the state border from Bluefield, Virginia.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 8.86 square miles (22.95 km2), all land.[11]


Bluefield is a mountain city with a warm-summer humid continental climate (Dfb) bordering on subtropical highland climate or temperate oceanic climate (Cfb), due to its elevation. It is characterized by moderately cold, snowy winters and pleasantly warm to hot summers. The normal monthly mean daily temperature ranges from 31.9 °F (−0.1 °C) in January to 70.3 °F (21.3 °C) in July;[12] on average, there are only 2.5 days with a maximum of at least 90 °F (32 °C) or greater maxima, 1.3 days of minima at or below 0 °F (−18 °C), and 23 days where the maximum does not rise above freezing.[12] The hottest temperature ever recorded in the city was 99 °F (37 °C), set on July 28, 1952, and August 9, 1957, with the coldest temperature at −25 °F (−32 °C), set on December 30, 1917.[12]

Climate data for Bluefield, West Virginia (Mercer County Airport), 1991–2020 normals,[a] extremes 1909–present
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 75
Mean maximum °F (°C) 63
Mean daily maximum °F (°C) 39.9
Daily mean °F (°C) 31.9
Mean daily minimum °F (°C) 23.8
Mean minimum °F (°C) 4
Record low °F (°C) −21
Average precipitation inches (mm) 3.03
Average snowfall inches (cm) 9.9
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 13.5 13.5 15.3 13.7 15.4 13.7 13.6 11.4 10.0 10.2 10.5 13.4 154.2
Average snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 6.6 6.3 4.1 1.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.3 1.6 5.2 25.2
Source: NWS Blacksburg / NOAA[12][13]


Historical population
U.S. Decennial Census[14]

2010 census[edit]

As of the census[15] of 2010, there were 10,447 people, 4,643 households, and 2,772 families living in the town. The population density was 1,179.1 inhabitants per square mile (455.3/km2). There were 5,457 housing units at an average density of 615.9 per square mile (237.8/km2). The racial makeup of the town was 73.7% White, 23.0% African American, 0.3% Native American, 0.5% Asian, 0.2% from other races, and 2.3% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.9% of the population.

There were 4,643 households, of which 26.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 38.6% were married couples living together, 16.5% had a female householder with no husband present, 4.6% had a male householder with no wife present, and 40.3% were non-families. 35.0% of all households were made up of individuals, and 15.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.21 and the average family size was 2.83.

The median age in the city was 43.1 years. 20.8% of residents were under the age of 18; 9.2% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 22.2% were from 25 to 44; 28.6% were from 45 to 64; and 19.2% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 46.8% male and 53.2% female.

2000 census[edit]

As of the census[16] of 2000, there were 11,451 people, 5,038 households, and 3,078 families living 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 per square mile (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. Hispanic or Latino 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 55 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.23 and the average family size was 2.87.

The age distribution was 21.9% 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.


Bluefield prides itself on its hospitable climate. Since 1938, the Chamber of Commerce has given free lemonade when the temperature has surpassed 90 °F.[17] 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. The song "Sweet Georgia Brown" was co-written by Maceo Pinkard, a native of Bluefield. Bluefield is mentioned in the Stylistics' 1973 song Rockin' Roll Baby as the birthplace of Little Joe.[18] 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, West Virginia.

Lex Luger won the NWA United States Heavyweight Championship in Bluefield in a televised match on May 22, 1989, defeating Michael Hayes.

Bluefield was the hometown of fictional character Rita Stapleton Bauer on the CBS soap Guiding Light.

Ron Shelton, director and screenwriter of the 1988 film Bull Durham, played for the Bluefield Orioles in 1967.[19] Furthermore, Bluefield is mentioned in the film.

"Bluefield" is the title of a song by Stonewall Jackson about the killing of the Sheriff of Bluefield.


Bluefield was the home of the Appalachian League (rookie) Bluefield Orioles baseball team until 2010. The Orioles have had a team in Bluefield since 1958, which was the longest relationship between a parent club and a town in affiliated baseball.[20][21] The Toronto Blue Jays replaced Baltimore for the 2011 season with the Bluefield Blue Jays. The team played at Bowen Field (former Orioles stadium) through 2020. In conjunction with a contraction of Minor League Baseball beginning with the 2021 season, the Appalachian League was reorganized as a collegiate summer baseball league, and the Blue Jays were replaced by the Bluefield Ridge Runners, a new franchise in the revamped league designed for rising college freshman and sophomores.[22]

Bluefield High School has 522 state championships in all sports, which is more than any other AA school in the state. Bluefield ranks second (tied with now-closed Ceredo-Kenova) in total football state championships with 11, behind national powerhouse Parkersburg High School (16). Bluefield won the High School State AAA Football Championship in 1959, 1962, 1965, 1967, 1975 and 1984. They won the West Virginia State AA football title in 1997, 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2017. Bluefield High School won the West Virginia AA State Championship in boys basketball in 1995, 1996, 2013 and 2014.

Bluefield is largely a football town and carries on a rivalry between the Bluefield Beavers and their sister city Bluefield, Virginia. The annual Beaver-Graham game is played at Mitchell Stadium, the home field of both schools.

Bluefield is also home to the East River Soccer Complex which has five fields and hosts local high school and college soccer games. The Southern West Virginia King's Warriors of the USL PDL began to play their home games at the East River Soccer Complex in 2014 before dissolving in 2017.[23]

Bluefield is also the home of the Rough and Rowdy Brawl, an amateur boxing tournament owned by Barstool Sports and broadcast on pay per view via its website. The tournament features many local and non-local fighters who compete in 3 one minute rounds.



Norfolk Southern Railway's Bluefield Yard


U.S. routes 19, 460, 21 and 52 run through the city. Interstate 77 is a short distance to the east. Proposed and under construction are interstates 73 and 74, labeled as King Coal Highway.


The last passenger train was the Catlettsburg, Kentucky to Washington and Boston Hilltopper train of Amtrak, which was terminated in sweeping cuts in 1979. Until 1977 Amtrak's Mountaineer operated from Chicago and Cincinnati, through Bluefield, and then through lower Virginia to Norfolk, Virginia. Into the 1960s the Norfolk and Western Railroad operated trains from the Mid-West to the metropolitan Norfolk-Newport News, Virginia area, and Bluefield City was a stop. The station was located at 715 Princeton Avenue.


General Aviation service is provided at Mercer County Airport, located off State Highway 123 between Bluefield and Princeton. The last commercial service by Colgan Air ended in 2007. This therefore makes Raleigh County Memorial Airport the nearest airport with commercial service.


Bluefield Area Transit provides bus routes throughout Mercer and McDowell counties.[24]

Notable people[edit]


  1. ^ Mean monthly maxima and minima (i.e. the expected highest and lowest temperature readings at any point during the year or given month) calculated based on data at said location from 1991 to 2020.


  1. ^ "2019 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved August 7, 2020.
  2. ^ a b U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Bluefield, West Virginia
  3. ^ "Census - Geography Profile: Bluefield city, West Virginia". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved February 9, 2022.
  4. ^ a b McGee, C. Stewart (February 10, 2023). "Bluefield". e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 15, 2023.
  5. ^ Lambie, Joseph T. (1954). From Mine to Markets: The History of Coal Transportation on the Norfolk and Western Railway. New York, New York: New York University Press. p. 33. ASIN B0007EEEVK.
  6. ^ "Heritage". Bluefield State College. Retrieved January 5, 2021.
  7. ^
  8. ^ "The Whitest Historically Black College In America". Retrieved January 5, 2021.
  9. ^ "George Marshall Palmer Obituary (1921 - 2019) Journal & Courier".
  10. ^
  11. ^ "US Gazetteer files 2010". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on January 12, 2012. Retrieved 2013-01-24.
  12. ^ a b c d "NowData - NOAA Online Weather Data". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved June 13, 2021.
  13. ^ "Station: Bluefield Mercer CO AP, WV". U.S. Climate Normals 2020: U.S. Monthly Climate Normals (1991-2020). National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved June 13, 2021.
  14. ^ United States Census Bureau. "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved August 27, 2013.
  15. ^ "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 24, 2013.
  16. ^ "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  17. ^ "Bluefield, West Virginia Official Web Site - Bluefield Fun Facts". Archived from the original on June 27, 2009. Retrieved November 3, 2008.
  18. ^ The Stylistics - Rockin' Roll Baby (Official Lyric Video) on YouTube
  19. ^ "Ron Shelton". Baseball Reference. Sports Reference. Retrieved November 7, 2022.
  20. ^ "Orioles leaving Bluefield". Bluefield Daily Telegraph. August 28, 2010. Retrieved August 29, 2010.
  21. ^ "Orioles out of Bluefield". Orioles Insider: Baltimore Sun. Retrieved August 29, 2010.
  22. ^ "MLB, USA Baseball Announce New Format for Appalachian League". Major League Baseball. September 29, 2020. Retrieved September 29, 2020.
  23. ^ "King's Warriors Make Move To Bluefield". United Soccer Leagues (USL). February 8, 2014. Archived from the original on February 23, 2014. Retrieved February 8, 2014.
  24. ^

External links[edit]