The journal was founded in 2007 by Michael Simms and Joshua Storey. The journal published poetry by both emerging and established writers and took its name from Coal Hill, otherwise known as Mount Washington, in Pittsburgh, PA. From 2009 to 2018 Coal Hill also published print poetry chapbooks; these chapbooks are still available through Autumn House Press.

In early 2017, the Autumn House staff began working to reimagine and redefine the journal. Beginning in November of 2018, Coal Hill became a triannual, multi-genre literary journal that offers a greater representation of Pittsburgh authors.