top of page

Area History

The following excerpts are from:


Book Author: Bettie Woodson Weaver

Publisher: [s.n.] ; (1994)



As early as 1701, French Huguenot refugees had discovered an outcropping of bituminous coal along the south banks of the James River at their Manakin Town settlement in what is now Powhatan County. By 1730 several Huguenot families had moved from Manakin Town into the present Midlothian area and had begun raising coal from numerous pits.


During the Revolutionary War coal from area workings fueled the furnaces at Westham Foundry on the James River. Artificers at this early foundry repaired muskets and manufactured ordnance and arms for the American army. Several Midlothian patriots fought in the Revolution. Among them were Henry Heth, John Trabue, his cousin Daniel Trabue and Daniel’s brothers James, William, Edward, and John.



Following the Revolution, Governor Patrick Henry and his family lived at Salisbury from 1784 to 1786. At this time, demand for local coal brought in miners and investors from England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. Mining companies bore names such as Black Heath, Aetna, Gowrie, Stonehenge, and the Mid-Lothian Coal Mining Company. The latter probably gave the village of Midlothian its name. (Mid-Lothian is a shire in Scotland.)


Mining demanded roads and railroads to deliver the coal to markets. By 1802, a toll road, the Manchester Turnpike, had been built from Falling Creek to wharves on the south bank of the James River at Manchester. Damage to the road’s gravel surface from the heavy coal cart wheels and the added expense of the tolls led to the construction of Virginia’s first railroad--the Chesterfield Railroad. This profitable thirteen mile mule-drawn and gravity line began transporting the coal to Manchester wharves in 1831.


Throughout the Civil War, coal shipped from Midlothian’s Coalfield Station played an important role in the manufacture of Confederate arms and ordnance at the Tredegar Iron Works. The village’s railroad depot and its telegraph office and lines proved so vital to the war effort that together they became the target of a Union cavalry raid in 1864.


Today the Midlothian coal field lies dormant, a sleeping giant. Yet, in its brief awakening more than two centuries ago, it gave birth to the American coal industry. Situated along the eastern rim of the Richmond Coal Basin, the Midlothian deposit remains one of the richest in the entire 185 square mile basin. The combination of plentiful coal and its proximity to Bellona Foundry on the James River and to the Tredegar Iron Works hastened the removal of the capital of the Confederacy from Montgomery, Alabama, to Richmond, Virginia, in 1861. So important was this coal to Chesterfield’s economy that the newly elected Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors adopted a county seal depicting a coal miner leaning on his pick.


The earliest known reference to the Midlothian area mines lies in the will of Hannah Brummal Tullit, dated May 20, 1737. She left land on the south side of Falling Creek at a place called the “Coal pitt” to the children of her brother John Brummal. This property was near Midlothian, and the “pitt” opened around 1730. This reference verifies the old Virginia State Highway Historical Marker’s claim that Midlothian probably had the first coal mines in the United States. A report dated February 6, 1838, stated that “every cannon foundry in the United States was furnished with coal from the Black Heath pits.” Later, Joseph R. Anderson found the coal excellent for foundry needs and cannon casting at Richmond’s Tredegar Iron Works.


Maidenhead Pits

Wooldridge then listed collieries in operation. He commenced with the Maidenhead pits, then worked by the Heths and lying on both sides of the Buckingham Road (now Route 60), leading from Richmond to Lynchburg. Here shafts plunged from 150 to 700 feet, exposing a coal seam averaging 36 feet in depth and capable of producing 200,000 bushels of coal per year. (A bushel of coal equaled five pecks or 90 pounds at the pits. After being hauled and jostled in carts on the Buckingham Road to the loading docks in Manchester, a bushel of coal had shrunk to four pecks or 72 pounds!)


Blunt-Brummall’s Aetna Pits

North of Heth’s pits extended the mines owned by Thompson Blunt and his son-in-law Elijah Brummall, under lease in 1841 to Colonel Harry Heth. Also known as the Wills-Brown Etna (Aetna) Company or Blunt-Brummall’s pits, these profitable workings on the headwaters of Falling Creek used both mule power and steam engines to raise the coal from seams 30 feet thick. Approximately 90 hands dug about 400,000 bushels of this superior quality coal per year. In 1831 Blunt deeded the house, land, and a portion of his interest in the coal to his daughter Maria and her husband Elijah Brummall. The Blunt-Brummall home, Aetna Hill, still stands.

The Gowrie, Salle, Trabue, Burfoot Pits

Adjoining the Aetna pits on the north were the Gowrie pits. Here two shafts, one 160 feet deep, the other 460 feet deep, yearly hoisted about 80,000 bushels of coal suitable only for household grates and steam engines. About two miles north of the Gowrie workings lay the abandoned Salle’s pits, then owned by the English Company; close by, Trabue’s old pits extended to the James River near Bellona Arsenal. The latter pits were owned by Thomas M. Burfoot and were under lease to Standford Duval and Company. The inferior quality coal from these mines was sold mainly for domestic fuel.


Railey’s and Woolridge’s Old Pits

Returning to Heth’s Maidenhead pits on both sides of the Buckingham Road and directly east of them, were Railey’s pits, the property of Nicholas Mills, and Wooldridge’s old pits, at the time both “unwrought and exhausted.”


Green Hole Pits Mills’ Creek Company Pits

South of Railey’s near Falling Creek were the Green Hole pits where the excellent quality coal seam by 1841 also had been exhausted. A deer jumping across the creek in the snow led to the discovery of this deposit when it kicked up lumps of black coal. South of the Green Hole pits were Nicholas Mills’ Creek Company mines, employing 70 hands and raising about 300,000 bushels of coal annually.

Railey’s Stonehenge Pits

South of the Creek Company’s workings extended the Stonehenge collieries, owned in 1841 by the heirs of Martin Railey. Here the coal deposit had been discovered after a crawfish brought up coals to the surface above his hole. The Stonehenge pits were unwrought at the time of Wooldridge’s 1841 report; however, coal from these numerous old pits ignited easily and was suitable for locomotives.


Mid-Lothian Coal Mining Company

Adjoining the Creek Company mines and south of Stonehenge lay the 404 acre Mid-Lothian Coal Mining Company’s collieries. Chartered in 1835 and then valued at $300,000, this tract was owned by the heirs of William Wooldridge. The company sank several shafts, 11 feet square, the deepest being 722 feet. Its investments included a steam engine, buildings, a railroad above and in the mines, and a coal yard. Wooldridge reported that a working force of 150 men and boys and 25 mules expected to raise a million bushels of coal per annum!



At first the coal was shipped to Manchester’s James River wharves in heavy coal carts on the Buckingham Road and later on a toll road, the graveled Manchester Turnpike. Toll expenses, coal cart damage to the road, and loss of coal during transit led Nicholas Mills and local investors to search for a better way to move the coal.

By 1831 the coal was hauled on the Chesterfield Railroad, the first railroad in Virginia. Daily except for Sunday, the 70-100 car gravity and mule-drawn railway hauled coal from the Midlothian area pits to the wharves, a distance of 13/1/2 miles. Charging fees of six cents per bushel, the Chesterfield Railroad soon became so profitable as to afford a dividend of 10 percent to Nicholas Mills and the stockholders in the first six months. The chesterfield Railroad carried coal until 1851, when the steam-powered Richmond and Danville Railroad took over.

To celebrate completion of the Chesterfield Railroad, Nicholas Mills and a group of friends to an inaugural ride from Manchester to Midlothian and a barbecue. Mules pulled the cars upgrade to Midlothian; on the return trip, mules road in the last car while gravity returned the cars. Southern R. R. sketch


Thompson Blunt’s pits caught fire in 1816 while the miners were outside at their dinner. Volcano-like flames, 200 feet hight, rushed from the shaft--perhaps giving the pits their subsequent name--the Etna (Aetna) pits. In 1839 an explosion at the Black Heath pits killed 40 men. Bodies of several of the 55 victims of the Mid-Lothian pit explosion in March, 1855, lie in the old Mt. Pisgah M. E. Church Cemetery at the crest of Falling Creek Hill. To celebrate the completion of the Chesterfield Railroad, Nicholas Mills and a group of friends took an inaugural ride from Manchester to Midlothian and a barbecue. Mules pulled the cars upgrade to Midlothian; on the return trip, mules road in the last car while gravity returned the cars. Southern R.R. sketch



Midlothian village played an important role in the Civil War. Its coal fueled the furnaces at two ordnance manufacturers vital to the Confederacy, helping to shift the capital of the Confederacy from Montgomery, Alabama, to Richmond, Virginia, in 1861. A deciding factor in the move was the abundance o coal in the Midlothian area and its proximity to nearby Bellona Foundry and Arsenal on the James River and the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond. Throughout the war, these foundries burned Midlothian area coal in the manufacture of cannon, gun carriages, shot, shell, small arms, torpedo parts, and heavy machinery. Midlothian’s Coalfield Station on the Richmond and Danville Railroad was the target of a Federal raid involving 3,000 Union cavalry.

Midlothian was the birthplace of Major-Generals Edward Johnson and Henry Heth, C.S.A. Edward Johnson was born April 16, 1816, at Salisbury, his mother’s ancestral home. By December, 1861, he was promoted to brigadier-general and went on duty in western Virginia, where he was known as “Old Allegheny” to his men.


Following General T. J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s death, Johnson led Jackson’s old division at Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and Spotsylvania Courthouse. During the defense of the Bloody Angle on May 12, 1864, Johnson and most of his command were overrun and captured. Upon his release in July, 1865, he returned Salisbury where he farmed with his brother Philip. Johnson died March 2, 1873, and is buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.


Henry Heth, Johnson’s neighbor, was born in 1825 at Black Heath, his family’s coal mining property. Heth was the son of John Heth and his wife Margaret Pickett, making him a cousin of the future Major-General George E. Pickett, C.S.A.


After promotion to major-general, he engaged in the Pennsylvania campaign. Heth’s troops touched off the Battle of Gettysburg when he advanced a brigade to Gettysburg to get a supply of much needed shoes. The brigade met Federal General John Buford’s cavalry there.


Heth miraculously escaped death at Gettysburg. Heth conducted his division during the retreat and surrendered with Lee’s forces at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865. Historic Chesterfield County map by artist Bernard Davis locates Civil War sites such as Bellona Arsenal, Drewry’s Bluff, Bermuda Hundred, and Lee’s Retreat Route. Mrs. Frieda Davis. After Heth’s parole, he engaged in coal mining and in the insurance business. He was also a special agent in the Office of Indian Affairs. Heth and his wife Harriett Selden were the parents of three children. Heth died September 27, 1899, and was buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond.


Johnson returned to Salisbury, his family estate in Midlothian, where he was welcomed home by his bachelor brother Philip Turpin Johnson. Although diarist Mary Boykin Chestnut described Johnson as having had numerous amorous affairs with the ladies of Richmond, he, too remained a bachelor. Together, Edward and Philip Johnson continued to farm Salibury’s 1,512 acres.

General Edward Johnson's portrait hangs in the Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Virginia.



The Sycamores

One eighteenth century frame house built by the Woolridge family stands beneath a canopy of sycamores and is typical of early vernacular architecture. Damaged by fire in 1976, the Sycamores has been reconstructed on its original site on Route 60 in the heart of Midlothian. The two room plan east wing with outside end chimneys was built one story and a half with steep winding stairs to two small loft rooms lighted by dormers. The adjourning late 18th century west wing featured the only gambrel roof in the village. Sleeping chambers on this second floor provided more headroom than those in the east wing loft. Today the Sycamores serves as a restaurant and the roadside focal point for a Williamsburg style shopping center.


Jewett-Bass Store

East of the Sycamores on Route 60 is the Jewett-Bass Store, built around 1870 by George and John Jewett. A narrow rectangular brick structure with second floor living quarters and porch, the general merchandise store was operated by the Jewett brothers for many years. The building was painted white and converted into a restaurant. Today the Jewett-Bass Store is the property of the Mt. Pisgah United Methodist Church.


Railey Hill

East of the Jewett-Bass Store off of Route 60 stands Railey Hill. This L-shaped early nineteenth century story and half frame house boasts a slate roof. Martin Railey, proprietor of Railey’s pits, owned the dwelling that later housed the superintendent of the Mid-Lothian Coal Mining Company.

Old Mt. Pisgah Cemetery

South of Railey Hill at the juncture of Route 60 and Old Buckingham Road is old Mt. Pisgah Methodist Church Cemetery. Here in a grove of sheltering oaks, a carpet of blue-eyed periwinkle fringes toppled stones that mark the graves of young miners killed in an 1855 explosion. One broken marble gravestone in memory of 29-year-old John Evans and 25 year old Nicholas Ham states simply, “They were natives of England.” Another victim’s carefully carved inscription bears a warning:


“Farewell dear wife and friends so dear. I am not dead but sleeping here. Behold the place where I now lie As you are now so once was I. As I am now you soon must be Prepare for death and follow me.”

Trabue’s Tavern

Motorists on Old Buckingham Road can see several structures connected with Midlothian’s coal mining past. The largest house and closest to the road is Trabue’s Tavern. Descendants of Antoine Trabue, Manakin Town French Huguenot settler, the Trabues operated pits near the James River and also kept a tavern. Their eighteenth century story and one half frame house build by Jacob Trabue has a catslide roof over a lean-to in the rear. This was the home of Lt. John Trabue of the continental Line during the Revolutionary War. Early in the nineteenth century the Trabues added a two story wing with a long tavern porch, now removed, and a wine cellar. These amenities attracted stagecoach travelers and drovers en route to and from Buckingham to Richmond, as well as the local coal miner’s trade.


Adjacent to Trabue’s Tavern is Melrose. Believed to have been a dwelling on the Trabue plantation, the early nineteenth century frame story and one half structure typifies local Huguenot style architecture. Twin front doors side by side open into each of the two first floor rooms. A steep staircase winds to small loft rooms originally lighted by tiny windows in the gable eaves. End chimneys rising from the raised brick basement furnish each room with a fireplace. These well preserved fireplaces are unique in Midlothian. Their mason had a knowledge of Count Rumford’s fireplace design principles. (Born in Massachusetts in 1753, Rumford designed a shallow firebox with a depth of one third to one half the width of the opening. Rumford’s real wall or fireback is as narrow as the firebox is deep and slants forward as it rises.) Melrose’s Rumford design fireplaces, like those at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, give a hotter burning fire and consume less firewood while reflecting more heat into the room. Members of the Robinson and Cole families occupied Melrose for many generations. Their cemetery, enclosed by a picket fence, lies west of the house.

Aetna Hill

Deep in the pine woods northwest of Old Buckingham Road lies Aetna Hill. Build in 1791 by Thompson Blunt and his wife, Huguenot Manakin Town descendant Frances Morrisette, Aetna Hill is also a typical Huguenot style frame story and a half cottage, one-room deep originally with two front doors, end chimneys and a raised basement with wooded barred windows. Samuel Vincent, also a worker in the mines, purchased the house in 1873. It remained in the Vincent family for a century before being sold to the present owners. In 1831, local coal entrepreneur Thompson Blunt deeded the property to his daughter Maria Louise and her husband Elijah Brummall. The older east wing, a Huguenot style cottage, originally had two front doors. In 1847 the Brummalls erected a two story and garret west wing to house their growing family. Several filled-in pits, the results of a recent mining land reclamation project, are all that remain of the one productive Blunt-Brummall Aetna mines.



The first Midlothian postmaster was James Morrissett, who was also the first Richmond and Danville Railroad’s Coalfield Station agent.

The excerpts below are from:


Author: Bettie Haskins Weaver Brandt



A stately old home stands sentinel over one of the busiest crossroads in central Virginia. “Belgrade” was home to Anthony T. Robiou, for whom Robiou’s Railroad Crossing was named. The Norfolk Southern Railway traverses Route 147 and Robious Road at the busy intersection; shopping centers, businesses, residential areas, churches, public schools, a park, and the village of Midlothian lie within a two-mile radius of the bustling junction. Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse now occupies Robiou’s former home.


Few travelers trying to navigate the five-way intersection know of Belgrade’s notorious past and of the crime that launched one of the most sensational and lengthy trials to come before the courts of Chesterfield County: the murder of Anthony T. Robiou at the hand of his father-in-law, John Wormelely. Shot twice at close range on July 16, 1851, only a few miles distant from Belgrade, Robiou died within moments. His inquest commenced the next day at the house with a dozen Midlothian citizens acting as jurors and many others testifying.


The case revealed unsavory aspects of a life seemingly well-lived in the big house at the crossroads. Verbal abuse, harassment, stalking, fistfights, gossip, reconciliation and separation, and accusations of infidelity were the hallmarks of the story. Sensational testimony and protracted legal procedures fascinated people throughout Chesterfield county; red tape ensnared judges, lawyers, juries, witnesses, prisoners, and the Courthouse for nearly three years--a lengthy trial, according to standards of the time.

In the early 1800s, during happier days, Belgrade shared with nearby Salisbury and Black Heath the distinction of being one of the three largest houses in the Midlothian area.


Thomas Friend left the house, its 670 acres of land, and one silver spoon marked “T.F.” to his son Edward in a will witnessed on December 31, 1758. The design of Friend’s house probably was based on a one or one and a half story hall-parlor plan. Edward Friend, in his will dated February 10, 1806, left the property to his grandson Edward O. Friend, who enlarged the dwelling in 1824 to its present plan of a two-storied central block balanced by two wings covered by unusual hipped gambrel roofs.



At this time, the “River Road,” originally an Indian trail, was a vital east-west link in the area, connecting western Virginia with Chesterfield County via present day Robious Road and reaching Manchester in south Richmond with its access to the James River. A growing population and the demands of industry required other transportation routes; thus, on March 8, 1847, the Richmond and Danville Railroad received its charter. Construction took eight years before rails connected Richmond and Danville in 1856. The first leg from Richmond to Coalfield was completed in 1851, the year of Robiou’s murder. For a time, the new railroad was the longest one in Virginia; flag stops and stations sprang up along the route. Land values soared.



The name “Robiou” appears as a place name in some of the earliest of this railroad’s documents. Talcot stated that “the location commences at the James River and Kanawa Canal between 14th and Virginia Streets, crosses the James River obliquely in a southwesterly direction...and follows the river bluff as far as Powhite Creek, up the valley of the Powhite, and crossing south at Robiou’s house to the valley of the north east branch of Falling Creek, down the valley and up that of a spring branch between the Chesterfield Company’s Pits and Brummall’s Pits” in Midlothian. Soon the area was called “Robiou’s.”


Robiou’s Crossing and Station soon became the destination for visitors on excursion to Huguenot Springs in Powhatan County, seventeen miles west of Richmond near the Manakin Town Ferry.


“Taking the waters” was a popular summertime diversion for Americans and especially Virginians in the mid-nineteenth century. Warm and hot springs attracted both the healthy and the infirm; hotels and cabins boarded visitors throughout the season.


Virginia was known along the east coast for its springs, particularly Hot Springs, Warm Springs, and Healing Springs, large establishments that were located in cool mountainous counties.


In newspapers such as the Richmond Enquirer, however, the closer and smaller Huguenot Springs resort was advertised extensively as a “pleasant retreat” known for its three kinds of mineral waters: sulphur, chalybeate, and a combination of the two.


These “medicinal” waters were said confidently to be ”highly beneficial, especially in dyspeptic cases and in the diseases of females and children.” The Monacan Indians frequented the Springs and believed in their healing powers many years before the arrival of the Huguenots in the area.

bottom of page