A coal town, also known as a coal camp or patch is typically situated in a remote place and provides residences for a population of miners to reside near a coal mine. A coal town is a type of company town or mining community established by the employer, a mining company, which imports workers to work the mineral find. The 'town founding' process is not limited to coal mining, nor mining, but is generally found where mineral wealth is located in a remote or undeveloped area, which is then opened for exploitation, normally first by having some transportation infrastructure brought into being first. Often, such minerals were the result of logging operations by pushing into a wilderness forest, which clear-cutting operations then allowed geologists and cartographers, to chart and plot the lands, allowing efficient discovery of natural resources and their exploitation.
Usually, the coal camp, like the railroad camp and logging camps, began with temporary storage, housing and dining facilities —tents, shanties, shacks— until more permanent dwellings could be built. Often the first built structures were log cabin storehouses followed closely by kitchens, a lumber mill and smithies, then management offices, housing. Gradually, within a year or so, the camp grew into a community with a variety of housing types including boardinghouses for transients and new hires, all the growing community organized around a Company Store. The company would often give credit in the form of scrip, a form of token money that would discourage workers from purchasing items in stores outside the town. The store, to the wives and families joining the miners in the developing community, was perhaps "the most essential structure in the town...".
The coal operator, would normally divest itself of unprofitable lands as soon as possible, rather than paying land taxes, so sub-divided the tract and sold lots and eventually the housing it had built, recouping part of its capital (money) out of the unproductive property of the tract. The more typical structures such as churches, and schools would appear later as the town grew, often with a donation by the employer, but mostly financed by the community growing around the main employer.
Given the typically remote location and the absence of any travel infrastructure at the mines, 'coal camps' often became a part of being a coal miner.
In point of fact, the operators built towns because they had no alternative. The mining of coal requires miners; miners require houses. Since most mines were opened in virtually unsettled areas, there was no existing housing....Since the almost complete absence of all weather roads made it necessary for the miner to live close to his work, small villages (often called "camps") were built close to each mine.— William Tams, The Smokeless Coal Fields of West Virginia: A Brief History
- Sadler, Spencer (2009). Pennsylvania's Coal and Iron Police. Chicago, IL: Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7385-6470-8.
- Shiflett, Crandall (1991). Coal Towns Life, Work, and Culture in Company Towns of Southern Appalachia 1880-1960. University of Tennessee Press. p. 35. ISBN 0-87049-678-6.
- Crandall, page 33
- Tams, William (2001). The Smokeless Coal Fields of West Virginia: A Brief History. Morgantown, West Virginia: West Virginia University Press. p. 51. ISBN 0-937058-55-6.