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Penn Virginia Corporation records

Creation: 1864-1981
Accession: 1764


Penn Virginia Corporation was an oil and gas company, incorporated as the Virginia Coal & Iron Company on January 6, 1882. It was one of many firms established by a group of interrelated entrepreneurs headed by John Leisenring (1819-1884), a Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania, civil and mining engineer. The name changed to Penn Virigina Corporation in 1967. The records of Penn Virginia Corporation cover the development and operations of the Virginia Coal & Iron Company, a large southern Appalachian land company, with some information on its immediate neighbors and local support facilities.


  • Creation: 1864-1981



117.3 Linear Feet

Historical Note

Penn Virginia Corporation was an oil and gas company, incorporated as the Virginia Coal & Iron Company on January 6, 1882. It was one of many firms established by a group of interrelated entrepreneurs headed by John Leisenring (1819-1884), a Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania, civil and mining engineer. The name changed to Penn Virigina Corporation in 1967.

Beginning in 1854, members of the interrelated Leisenring, Bertsch, Price, Wentz and Kemmerer families formed a series of anthracite mining companies whose operations were scattered throughout the Eastern and Western Middle Anthracite Coal Fields. Their investment in anthracite mining continued to grow until the early 1920s, and they generally ranked among the top fifteen anthracite producers.

The Leisenrings were among several anthracite operators who made the transition to bituminous coal. In 1880, John Leisenring organized the Connellsville Coke & Iron Company in the western Pennsylvania basin that then held a near-monopoly on the production of coking coal. The next year, he began investing in hitherto inaccessible coking coal deposits in southwestern Virginia.

The Virginia Coal & Iron Company acquired 70,000 acres of land near Big Stone Gap. The formation of the Virginia Coal & Iron Company was part of a larger movement of northern capital and entrepreneurs into the underdeveloped natural resource industries of the Appalachian South. Penn Virginia is somewhat atypical in that it is publicly traded, whereas most such land companies have remained privately held or are subsidiaries of the coal-hauling railroads.

The Connellsville Coke & Iron Company came into competition with Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, and the Leisenrings were compelled to sell out to them in 1889. The capital and skilled personnel thus released were transferred to Virginia.

After the death of John Leisenring, the company was headed by his son Edward B. Leisenring (1845-1894) and his son-in-law Dr. John Shriver Wentz (1838-1918). In 1896, Dr. Wentz sent his eldest son, Daniel Bertsch Wentz (1872-1926), to Big Stone Gap to take charge of the Virginia operations. D. B. Wentz returned to Philadelphia as president of all the bituminous coal companies in 1904.

In 1902, the operation of the mines spun off to the Stonega Coke & Coal Company, controlled by Dr. Wentz. While operating as a lessee, it remained partially interlocked with the Virginia Coal & Iron Company.

The Wentz interests organized several other bituminous coal and land companies. Dr. Wentz purchased 8,500 acres in Harlan and Letcher Counties, Kentucky in 1899 to 1905 and conveyed them to the Wentz Company in 1907. The Wentz family also controlled the Virginia-Kentucky Coal Corporation owning 11,000 acres in Knott County, Kentucky. Dr. Wentz purchased the Royal Colliery Company of Virden, Illinois, in 1903, but it was too removed from the rest of his properties to be managed efficiently. In 1919, the Wentz Corporation acquired control of the Hudson Coal Company of Clarksburg, West Virginia.

In 1916 to 1917, Dr. Wentz had acquired a large block of the Westmoreland Coal Company, and when its president died suddenly in 1929 with the entire industry rapidly declining, its management was turned over to Stonega's officers. Its real estate was spun off to a new company, Westmoreland, Inc., so that it conformed to the land company/operating company arrangement.

In the 1960s, the entire corporate structure was reorganized. In 1962, the Virginia Coal & Iron Company acquired 52% of the Westmoreland Coal Company's stock, and a year later it absorbed Westmoreland, Inc., to form a single land company. To reflect its new functions and objectives, the Virginia Coal & Iron Company was renamed Penn Virginia Corporation on April 19, 1967. The company also divested itself of its traditional Virginia subsidiaries between 1961 and 1977. Since 1967, Penn Virginia Corporation has functioned as a holding and investment company. In addition to its coal lands, it owns limestone quarries in New Jersey and Tennessee. After 1976 it purchased several small manufacturing companies specializing in equipment for handling and processing natural raw materials.

Penn Virginia Corporation was adversely affected by the increasing volatility of bituminous coal markets in the later 1980s and 1990s. Its coal lands had been mined for a century and mining costs for what remained were becoming non-competitive. The January 1, 1989, retirement of E. B. Leisenring, Jr., as CEO of both Penn Virginia and Westmoreland Coal, ended the direct management link between the two companies. In 1992, Penn Virginia sold most of it subsidiaries, including its limestone operations and began to concentrate on more profitable natural gas. Westmoreland Coal closed its operations on the Penn Virginia properties in Virginia and West Virginia in 1995, and Penn Virginia sold its last interests in Westmoreland Coal in 1996 to 1997.

In 2001, Penn Virginia Corporation segregated its traditional coal and timber lands in Virginia and elsewhere into Penn Virginia Resources Partners, L.P., which was spun off as a separate enterprise in 2010. The coal lands and infrastructure are leased to independent operators. Penn Virginia Corporation repositioned itself as a company engaged in oil and gas exploration and production, particularly in Texas and the Midcontinent Field. In 2021, Penn Virginia was acquired by Texas-based Lonestar Resources and subsequently renamed Ranger Oil Corporation. Ranger Oil then was acquired by Baytex Energy in 2023.


Part I. Penn Virginia Corporation and direct predecessors (1880-1981);

Part II. Predecessors and subsidiaries in Virginia (1880-1981);

Part III. Wentz Corporation and independent bituminous coal companies controlled by Wentz family (1889-1962);

Part IV. Anthracite coal companies (1864-1968);

Part V. Papers of individuals and historical files (1880-1980);

Part VI. Modern subsidiaries (1899-1980)

Scope and Content

The records of Penn Virginia Corporation cover the development and operations of the Virginia Coal & Iron Company (VC&I), a large southern Appalachian land company, with some information on its immediate neighbors and local support facilities. There are no records covering the profound restructuring that took place after 1981. There is also little material on the other Leisenring/Wentz coal companies, both anthracite and bituminous.

The records of the Virginia Coal & Iron Co. give relatively complete coverage of its development and operations. The coverage of predecessor and subsidiary companies is more fragmentary.

The Connellsville Coke & Iron Company is represented by some correspondence of Superintendent John K. Taggart (circa 1851-1896), mostly instructions from President E. B. Leisenring. Subjects of particular note include the strikes and labor troubles of 1886 to 1888, production and marketing problems and some of the events leading up to the sale to Frick and Carnegie.

The Tinsalia Coal & Iron Company is represented by prospectuses and several letters of General Imboden.

The records of the Virginia Coal & Iron Company are fragmentary up to 1910 and relatively complete thereafter. A small collection of correspondence covers the organizational period from 1896 to 1902, when VC&I was an operating coal company. The Virginia office files are complete from 1905 to about 1950 and represent the complete range of activities of an Appalachian land company. These include monitoring the activities of the mining lessees, inspecting the mines and negotiating changes in leases and royalties. Also represented are sales of timber, renting of farms and cabins and difficulties with timber poachers, undesirable tenants and moonshiners.

The Philadelphia office files are less complete for the early period, but continue into the 1970s. They cover primarily policy matters related to property ownership and diversification.

Records of the Virginia subsidiaries are fragmentary, but adequate coverage is available for the Interstate Railroad, the two water companies and the two oil and gas ventures. The records of Westmoreland, Inc., include land records, minute and account books and correspondence focusing on the acquisition and development of the West Virginia property.

The records of The Wentz Company, Inc., and the Wentz Corporation reflect the activities of a small Appalachian land company. The process of acquiring the land and its subsequent sale to U.S. Steel are well documented.

Records for the other Wentz companies are rather fragmentary and have been retained primarily to show the scope of these investments. The Virginia-Kentucky Coal Corporation conducted little business, but most of it is reflected in the minutes and correspondence.

Most of the Royal Colliery Company records passed to the Chicago, Wilmington & Franklin Coal Company. Those that remain are limited to the period of initial organization. The Virden Supply Company (1909-1915) is represented by its accounts books, and the Virden Equipment Company (1910-1915) by its account books and minutes.

The Valley Coal Company is represented by minutes and account books. In addition, there is a complete run of financial and cost statements for the Hudson Coal Company receivership.

The records of the Wentz anthracite companies are extremely fragmentary. Most of the records were turned over to Jeddo-Highland, where they were destroyed by fire in the 1970s.

The exceptions were the land companies like the Nescopec Coal Company and the Raven Run Coal Company, the associated store companies, and the Silver Brook Coal Company, which had already been dissolved. These companies are represented primarily by minutes, account books, and other corporate records. There are maps and operating data for Silver Brook, and some operating and financial reports for Hazle Brook. The store company cash books contain some data on purchases of goods for resale and on clerical salaries, but no information on miners' accounts.

The Leisenring family papers consist of a small number of letters from the three generations of the Leisenring family and two generations of the Wentz family, along with genealogical materials collected by Mary D. Wentz around the turn of the century.

There are about a dozen of John Leisenring, Jr.'s, letters from the 1830s and 1840s, mostly to and from his father. These offer a few glimpses of his early business and family life. The wills of the leading members of the Leisenring and Wentz families are also included. The account books of the Estate of Edward B. Leisenring show the range and disposition of his investments.

John K. Taggart's private papers are distinct from those generated in his official capacity with the Connellsville Coke & Iron Company and the Virginia Coal & Iron Company. They primarily document his outside business ventures, including his role as receiver of the Appalachian Steel & Iron Company, as well as some of the details of his life as one of Big Stone Gap's leading citizens.

The records of the Bullitt law firm arranged under this heading include all those pertaining to his personal and outside work. Cases involving any of the companies controlled by the Wentz and Leisenring interests are arranged under the heading of the company in question in the archives of Penn Virginia Corporation or the Westmoreland Coal Company.

The records document Bullitt's work in corporate and land law: securing charters and deeds, preparing title abstracts, and handling litigation over title conflicts. Among the companies covered are the Virginia, Tennessee & Carolina Steel & Iron Company, the Interstate Coal & Iron Company, and the Virginia Iron, Coal & Coke Company. Other large land companies include the Interstate Investment Company, the Mineral Development Company, and the Clinch Valley Coal & Iron Company, the first controlled by the Ballard and Thruston families of Louisville, and the second by McGeorge, Benson and Altemus of Philadelphia. The South Appalachian Land Company was organized by Bullitt and McDowell. The records shed some light on the early development of coal and timber resources in the Big Stone Gap area.

In the early twentieth century several firm members acted as agents in assembling coal lands in eastern Kentucky. Chalkley acted for the Kellioka Coal & Coke Corporation, which was controlled by H. Hardaway of Pulaski, Virginia, while junior partner R. D. Baker acquired tracts for John L. Kemmerer and his brother-in-law, Robert C. Ream. Firm members also took part in such local activities as the Athletic Association. Other files document James L. Camblos' role in monitoring the passage of the Social Security Act for the Virginia Manufacturers Association.

The records of Penn Virginia's subsidiaries are fragmentary. Beyond a few photographs, there are no records from Limestone Products, Pennsylvania Crusher, or Merrick.

There are no records from Whitehall with the exceptions of a few stockholders' mailings and the minutes of an early subsidiary, the Clear Springs Water Company. There are minutes and some correspondence relating to Ceramtec Industries and mine reports on Bralorne Resources. The most interesting series are the records of the fly ash companies, which document the technical and economic difficulties inherent in finding practical uses for what otherwise would be an industrial pollutant.

Access Restrictions

No restrictions on access; this collection is open for research.

Litigators may not view the collection without approval.

Use Restrictions

Literary rights retained by depositor.

Language of Materials


Additional Description


On Deposit from the Penn Virginia Corporation.

Separated Material

Penn Virginia Corporation photographs (Accession 1993.261) Audiovisual Collections and Digital Initiatives Department, Hagley Museum and Library.

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Penn Virginia Corporation records
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA