Schools were established early on using some stores and churches or in private homes. The first accredited high school in Wyoming County was at Mullens in 1914. The Ben Dunman School building was at first the Slab Fork District High School and later Mullens High School. A new Mullens High School building was built on the outer edge of town in 1928 and served until 1998.
During the Depression years, 1926 to 1938, many of the coal mines were closed down or working only two or three days a week. At the same time, the railroads were not working and many of the employees had been laid off. During the Roosevelt Administration, the New Deal works projects brought a recovery to the economy. With the outbreak of World War II in Europe, the demand for coal increased. New coal mines in the area were opening and several thousand men were hired or put back to work. Mullens once again became a congested boom town. The Wyoming General Hospital was fully staffed, with 55 beds. It was the only hospital in Wyoming County.
During the war, there were more men and women in the service from Mullens per capita than the national average. The mines and the railroad had a demand for full employment and worked with two or three shifts a day. Housing was scarce and rationing of food and other essentials was tight. While home on a 10-day furlough, I was entitled to two pages of food ration stamps.
After the war, in 1945 or 1946, the boys came home and needed new clothing. They were much larger after four years and did not have any new civilian clothing. The stores had trouble supplying them. New cars would not be available for two more years. Many marriages brought on a demand for new housing in Mullens. Three new subdivisions were added in West Mullens and many of the vacant lots saw new houses being built. A new Mullens Elementary School and a new Conley High School was built for the black students. A new gymnasium was added to Mullens High School. New lights and a new baseball-football field was laid out. New buildings were built in the business section of Mullens. New coal mines were opened near Mullens and on the Virginian Railway line. This boom period of the economy continued through the Korean War period.
The population of Mullens was 3,026 in 1940; 3,470 in 1950 and 3,544 in 1960. However, the mechanization of the mining industry saw the machines replacing employed men. In some cases, five men on a continuous miner machine replaced 50 men. With layoffs in the mining, railroading and service fields, the population of Mullens began to decline. The Virginian Railway began using diesel locomotives and retired the steam engines. This reduced employees in the Elmore repair shops. The Virginian and the Norfolk and Western merged in 1958 and soon after that the use of the electric locomotives discontinued. This eliminated more than 600 jobs.
The Vietnam War brought additional employment due to the demand for coal. Strip mining was a common scene on the hillsides. The washing of coal blackened the streams and the drying process blew coal dust into the air. For a period of time, the environment was not desirable. A new high speed highway was built from Mullens to Beckley and the West Virginia Turnpike gave the residents of Mullens a quick and easy way to shop in Beckley. This added to the decline of merchants and business in Mullens.
There was no new employment and the population began to decline more rapidly. The hotels were closed, the wholesale grocery closed, the lumber company closed, all four of the new car dealers closed, the three chain supermarkets closed and two smaller grocery stores moved out of downtown.
The school enrollment declined to the point that it was necessary to consolidate Mullens High School with Pineville High School to form Wyoming County East High School, located about mid-way between the two.
The population in Mullens had declined to 2,200 in 1990. The official population of Mullens in 2000 was 1,720. In 2001, the population was estimated at 1,500.
Editor’s note: Jack Feller (1922-2013) was a well-known historian who wrote a series of books “Memories and Photos of Mullens, West Virginia,” featuring the years from 1894 through 1946, detailing the history of Mullens. Unfortunately, Feller’s books are out of print. Feller was active in numerous community and church organizations, and owned C.V. Feller Insurance Agency in Mullens, which is now operated by his son.