Commercial coal mining was underway in Chesterfield County by 1730. It comprised not only the first such operations undertaken in North America but also the county’s first true industrial development.
Coal was first discovered in Chesterfield during the early 1700’s near Chesterfield County Seal Manakin Town, a French Huguenot settlement. Later, several French Huguenot families such as the Trabues, Salles, Ammonettes and DuVals operated coal pits near Falling Creek and the James River. Thomas Jefferson, in his Notes on Virginia, stated that the quality of Chesterfield’s coal was excellent. Eventually, mine workers settled in the vicinity of Midlothian, responding to the opportunity for employment in Chesterfield County’s coal pits. By the second quarter of the eighteenth century a number of private coal pits were operating on a commercial scale. Miners immigrated to Chesterfield from Wales, England and Scotland and the Heths, who were English investors, opened coal pits in the county. The Wooldridge family was among the first to undertake coal mining in the Midlothian area and it was likely that the mining community got its name.
When war broke out between North and South in 1861, Chesterfield County’s coal industry was stimulated, for the fossil fuel was sorely needed by the Confederacy’s defense industry, especially in the Tredegar Iron Works, which produced heavy ordnance. Although the Union Army marched up the Buckingham Road and through Midlothian in May, 1864, intending to destroy the county’s railroads and pre-vent reinforcements from reaching the embattled Confederates at Drewry’s Bluff, no combat is know to have occurred in the immediate vicinity of the Mid-Lothian Coal Mining Company’s property. After the fall of Richmond, 100 troops of the 9th Vermont Infantry were detailed to guard the Midlothian mines and encamped in the vicinity of the Railey Hill pits for about a month. One of the 9th Vermont’s officers, who occupied the home of the mine superintendent, reportedly etched his name in a window pane in the parlor.