The beaches on Coal River were THE place to be starting in the late 20s right up into the 50s. Of course, people had been swimming in the Coal since the dawn of time,  but where there's lots of people, there's money to be made, and so several sections of the Coal were turned into commercial enterprises with slides and swings and picnic tables and music.  Lower Falls was the most famous.  The main reason for all this activity was the sand. Coal River had an abundance of sand, more than any river around.  Coal River  was cleaner than other rivers also, at least for the most part.  As a child and young adult, we always swam at the Upper Falls.  Why I'm not sure, but I think it was because the upper falls were free.  Of course, it was hard to get to and many people broke a leg or sprained an ankle trying to get there in my day.

Below is an old photo taken at the Upper Falls.

Coal River

Coal River Beach

A good description of the beach in 1929. It would grow tremendously from here.

Coal River Beach

See that last paragraph?  More on this at the bottom of the page...

Coal River

Now, like all rivers, Coal River still had pollution, especially by those who ran their sewer lines to the river.  The coal mines upriver would later pollute the Coal even more.

The Kanawha was seriously polluted, what with the chemical plants, sewers, and other waste dumped into the river. Word had gone out from the health department that the Kanawha and even the Elk Rivers were dangerous to swim in.  So the ad below was published to quell peoples fears.

Coal River Beach

Coal River

Coal River Beach

Doc Ranson Collection

Lower Falls

My Aunt at Lower Falls Beach around 1946

Coal River Beach

Coal River Beach

Coal River

Memories from Judy Bowen Ramano

Coal River BeachMy mother, Audrey Florence Duncan Bowen bought Lower Falls Beach, in St. Albans, West Virginia in 1950, at the time I was 10 years of age.  My sister, Luana was 12, my brother, Eddie 8 and my youngest sibling Lindell was born in June of 1950. 

My mother was very independent and bought the beach against my father’s wishes.  Originally, the property was owned by the Sattes family and Mary Winkler ( Sattes was her maiden name) and her husband were the first to operate the beach as a business, then Dave and Sam Wilan and then my mother bought the property from Lefty Harrison.  Mom charged .50 cents for adults and .25 cents for children to swim. 

Amenities offered were horseshoe pitching, basketball, picnic areas, checkrooms for your clothing, restrooms, a screened in porch with a jukebox and dance floor.  Mother bought a 5,000 pound steel barge to transport bathers from a parking lot on the opposite side of the river.  A cable ran through bars that extended from the base of the barge and a tool that would grip the cable and pull the barge across the river.  She rented land from the Barnette family for a parking lot.  The first summer I did not know how to swim but was not afraid of the water.  The lifeguards at the time, Pete Peters and Shirley Hensley would make me swim the width of the bathing area before they allowed me to swim to a raft in the deep water.  The first and second summers our family lived in a small cabin at the end of the beach. 

The beach covered 3 acres of riverfront.  At the beginning of each summer Mom would let the areas youth help paint the trees with white wash about 4 feet high, pick up trash and rake the beach and she would give them a season pass so that their entrance fee was free.  We sold candy ice cream, hot dogs, hamburgers and small steaks.

I and my siblings met so many colorful people at Lower Falls Beach.  One of the most colorful people was Ike Cowl.  Ike was there every day and was an excellent swimmer; he taught my brother Eddie how to swim.  Ike could swim the width of the river and back underwater.  He had a drinking problem and was always a little inebriated, one day he was walking onto the beach and his trunks were on backwards and someone said,”  Ike, you have your trunks on backwards,”  and he took them off and put them on correctly, ( the beach was packed with bathers, who were somewhat taken aback).  The lifeguards were always teasing Ike.  There were little overgrown islands along Coal river and someone found Ike on one of those islands once and he was yelling” Man in the wilderness”, so every time the lifeguards would see him they would chant “Man in the wilderness.”  

Another frequent daily visitor was a good looking well tanned gentleman by the name of John Bess.  John would come to the beach and sunbathe for several hours and then tell Mom he was going home to take a nap and would be back later. 

Above the beach on Pennsylvania Avenue were several homes and camps.  The Silversteins and the Shaws would have a summer formal with a baby grand piano in their yard and dancing, my sister Luana and I would go to the top of the hill and sit and watch the festivities.  Also Judge Cato had a camp there and he would come to the beach each August and dance with my sister on her birthday.  My Mom would always give the Judge some of her famous food to take back with him after the birthday party. 

Mr. Charles Sattes lived in a camp at the top of the hill and many of his relatives lived there too.  Mr. Sattes was a tall robust man with grey hair and a gray beard, he would walk to the beach daily with his cane and sit and tell myself and my siblings stories of the river.  He stated that there was a fish he called “Rumhead” that no one had ever caught.  I believe my brother thought he had caught Rumhead once as when Eddie was around five or six he caught a fish( while fishing with Bub Wheaton in Coal River) as long as he was tall. 

George martin, a local banker had a beautiful home that he rented in the summer months.  Several car salesmen rented the house one summer.  They would bring beautiful girls down to the beach to swim, go back to the home and sometime later bring another group of beautiful girls. 

Lower Falls Beach was the place for all high schools to come and swim and especially dance at night.  Stonewall, Charleston, St. Albans, South Charleston, Dunbar and all area schools would come to dance at night.  Because of rivalry between these schools a lot of fights would break out and my Dad would have to keep a vigilant watch over the youth. 

I recall how  the lifeguards and myself  would have races underwater to see who could swim the farthest and fastest under water.  They taught me to go to the bottom of river, a sandy bottom, and to run you would take three steps digging your feet into the sand then glide.  It was a very effective way of swimming fast underwater.  Once when I was working in the check room, I was sitting in the large open window, and a large man approached and started talking to me, he said, “you are San Quentin quail”, I did not know what that meant so I asked my Mom and she proceeded to give him a piece of her mind.

My Mom was only 4 feet 11inches tall but she was not afraid of anyone.  I recall one day a couple was having a quarrel on the beach and it was pouring rain, he took the woman out into the river and was holding her underwater.  My Mom grabbed my Dad’s golf umbrella and went down to the river and started beating him over the head with the umbrella so he let his lady friend go.  The first summer at the beach my cousin Sonny Duncan recalled one evening he spent the night with us and my Dad said to Mom turn out the light and my little feisty Mom said if you want the light our turn it out yourself so he threw his shoe and knocked out the light bulb. They were a pair. Sonny was scared to death. But we took it all on stride. They were comical to say the least.  Once Dad came home and a big fight between schools was on the porch and Daddy picked up a table tore the leg off and took the two guys upstairs out of our area to let them fight it out. My Mom was concerned about Daddy so she went up the stairs to the top of the hill with her pistol and one of the onlookers had a lug wrench and was going to hit Dad so she had him drop it.  Mom was not afraid of anything or anybody.  One evening the Stonewall bunch was there Jim Samples, Ray Staab and others and someone stomped on Ray Staab’s glasses so she proceeded to knock out all the lights in the building.

 I also recall Mom’s famous Sand Dances she would have an orchestra and they would perform on the porch and people would dance on the sand.  I remember the band marching around the porch playing “When the Saints go marching in”.  Herk McGraw was also one of our life guards and Ross Kirk...Herk had twin sisters Pam and Paula and a younger brother Tommy.  The boys were always teasing my pretty sister Luana,  and Ross Kirk was chasing her one day with the hose. She got a knife and was going to just tease him with it and as she walked out the door he stuck the hose up to her face and was hit in the hand by the knife and had to be taken to the hospital.  My Mom had an old car which she had at the beach and you just had to turn this knob to start it.  I would take it to the end of the beach and drive fast and then put on the brakes to see how far it would skid…There was no one on the beach when I tried this.  Henry Bono, Floater Peters, Bobby Peters and a cousin they called Gumshoe Peters were regulars at the beach.  The Taylor’s were neighbors –and many people rented cabins near the beach.  Mr. Bracy, Marvin Titus and others rented cabins.  Mrs. Hattie Caplan would come to the beach and play cards with the lifeguards and we would bring her drinks and sandwiches to the beach, she had a famous son who was an actor in Hollywood her family owned a laundry in Charleston and they had a summer camp near the beach.

Luana Ramano Chandler adds:

On rainey days, my sister and I would play cards and try to get anyone else we could find to join in.  They were always shocked to learn that we knew so much about poker (my dad had taught us at an early age).  Also, we kept the juke box going all day long so that we could practice the latest dance steps.  Our beach was situated between the shoals and the falls.  We would walk down to the falls and walk out onto the slippery rocks and watch the water snakes slither by our feet.  (My mom was unaware of this activity).  We made a lot of friends whom we never would have had occasion to meet otherwise.  We had our St. Albans friends and our South Charleston friends.  It was a great time in our young lives.  Fortunately, our children, Jerry, Vicki, and Gina, were able to enjoy the beach as well before my mom sold it.  My son always loved music.  My mom had a row of metal trash cans with lids by the side of the porch, and my son would pull up a lawn chair and bang on the tops of the garbage cans with sticks, pretending they were his drums.  He was only three years old.
Coal River Beach

Now, about that airplane

Doc Ranson Collection

The airport was located in Lower Falls. Circa 1921. 

Now... about that last paragraph in the article near the top of the page.  Howard Mays was one of the areas more prolific flyers, especially considering when he started to fly, and the fact that he died of old age and not a crack-up like most of the pilots of his era.  His son also flew, and became a big shot with Eastern Airlines.

Howard Mayes

Blaines Island

Coal River Mill

1916 picture of the Sattas Mill shows the Lower Falls with a portion of the lock chamber walls still in place.

Photos courtesy of Bill Currey, Templeton, and Clendenen families,

Doc Ranson Collection,  and the Coal River Group

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