Nearly all of us grew up surrounded by it, and nearly everyone took it for granted. But now, while facing its stiffest decline ever, the lack of coal mining has slapped our county and state squarely in the face. Are we doomed—economically, educationally and otherwise? Let’s hope not.
The fact of the matter is that since around the turn of the 20th century, Logan County has reaped the benefits of coal mining. Many fortunes have been gained and some lost, while death and dismemberment always accompanied the work of the men and women who came to our rugged county seeking to make a living. The coal camps that once were the homes of many of us have changed in various ways. Gone are the company stores, the movie theaters, barber shops and other places that accompanied most of the camps. Indeed, some whole communities like 22 Holden, Sharples, Blair and Clothier are practically nonexistent. A few people have managed to hang on to their properties in some of those areas. As time goes by and the older generation passes on, and many of the younger ones leave the area, I hope we are able to salvage the history of a generation of people who crawled on their bellies and often worked on their backs bringing the black gold from the depths of the earth to predominantly illuminate the country and parts of the rest of the world. The back breaking and dangerous efforts of over 100 years of mining must be preserved. Our younger generation needs to know and appreciate what is probably fading away — our local history.
Although I’m told there are great plans in the making for the Hatfield Cemetery, I can’t help but wonder: what the heck has taken so long? I mean, Devil Anse died in 1921. The place should already be a tourist attraction and have a museum or likeness of the Hatfield home place. Cap Hatfield’s property nearby, which still sits empty with a concrete bridge bearing his name leading to it, could be made into camping or lodging for trail riders, many of which I see nearly every time I head up Island Creek way—their four-wheelers parked at the foot of the old cemetery.
The Don Chafin House, which technically is known as the Logan Woman’s Club Library, has stood idled benefiting no one for years. That’s simply ridiculous. The roof is rotting off and the outside needs repairs and painting. Possibly the most famous sheriff in American history, who became famous nationally because of the battle at Blair Mountain, lived there. And, with the true history behind Chafin’s reign as “King” of the county begging to be told, why hasn’t something been done long before now?
The small town of Bramwell in Mercer County — once a thriving mining town that featured many millionaire residents — almost became a ghost town before people there got together, opened a fantastic coal museum, only recently opened up Hatfield-McCoy trails to the place, and now are reaping the benefits from tourism.
From Montana to Maine, and everywhere in between, people along such rivers as the Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi have watched for many years as trains on railroad tracks crisscrossing the country and barges loaded with coal are hauled from mines to power plants. People watching the black gold pass them by on such loaded trains and river barges, no doubt wonder: “Where does all of that come from?”
If you’ve ever visited the Exhibition Coal Mine and Museum near Beckley, you may have noticed the many out of state visitors who took the underground tour and then marveled at the museum and the replica structures of miners’ houses and a church. The site provides insight to a coal miner’s work and daily life years ago. In addition, it is the first historic site wholly dedicated to educating the public about coal mining. And it has been described by many visitors as a West Virginia “must see” for tourists. While some people may already know about the exhibition site, here is what I bet you don’t know — it should have been located in Logan County; in fact, at Holden. Here is the story as reported in the Jan. 18, 1962 edition of The Logan Banner:
“A mine ideally suited for development into a mine museum has been offered to the State of West Virginia by Island Creek Coal Company, members of the Kiwanis Club of Logan were told today by Cecil H. Underwood, vice president of the company. Underwood said his company has offered to deed an area of mine No. 2 on state highway 25 at Holden to the state for development as a top tourist attraction. Underwood said Island Creek “today renewed its offer to cooperate with the State of West Virginia in the development of a mine museum to add to the state’s growing tourist attractions.”
Island Creek officials said they believed the worked out mine, which was located across the creek from the company’s shop and warehouse area at Holden, “is ideally suited for the establishment of an exhibition mine”. The coal seam was said to be 72 to 76 inches high with an excellent top. The elevation of the area was said to be 737 feet above sea level (the town of Logan is 678 feet) and is flat and effectively drained. The floor of the mine was said to be “virtually level with the surface of the state road and the mine entrance is supported by a heavy tock portal.” In addition, it was reported there was suitable parking at the site. Originally opened in 1905 and operating for 18 years, producing more than 6,600,000 tons of coal, it was reopened during World War II and closed in 1951. Coal originally was loaded by hand into wooden carts and hauled from the mines by mules to the side tracks, officials noted. Underwood pointed out to the Kiwanis that some of the houses built there in 1904 were still standing and could be used as exhibits.
Apparently in 1962, there were those who did not have the foresight to see the benefits from opening a tourist attraction, although I really don’t know for sure what happened with the proposal. Now, some 53 years later, I hope there are those who realize that our past is actually the future of Logan County. We need to think ahead—even if coal does make a miraculous comeback. Our future may lie in tourism—which, no matter how you cut the cake, will still involve coal in one way or another.
BITS and PIECES
By now you’ve probably heard: longtime Magistrate court employee Tammy Morgan of South Man has retired after 30 years of working in the dungeon of the Logan courthouse known as Magistrate Court…..I believe Tammy was 25 years old when she started as a magistrate assistant…..she could barely speak of her leaving without tearing up, but retirement, plus another part-time offer, was the logical choice for her…..she will be missed and was a great asset, particularly to my office…..in the last several years, it has been almost like “musical magistrate assistants” in the dungeon as the following people have served and left for one reason or another: Stefanie Avis, Ruth Stollings, and Susie Copley all found out what working near the depths of hell is like…..a magistrate assistant is a very important and extremely stressful job…..my assistant, Lisa Ellison, has been with me for the past 15 years and has been a fantastic servant to the people of Logan County and beyond…..Lisa, like Shawn Evans and new assistant Cindy Armstrong, are the front lines of Magistrate Court, just as Magistrates across the state serve as the front lines of the state judicial system…..hats off to Logan businessman Chester Stapleton, who owns the Stratton Street business known as Gold Town…..Chester is expanding his locale and remodeling what used to be parts of the old G.C. Murphy’s dime store…..it is a nice facelift for the town…..Chester allowed me to visit the four stories above the location, and I was amazed at what was upstairs…..there is room for 50 apartments in that place, although at least one of two elevators there would need repaired…..more Logan property owners need to invest in the town; after all, like the old saying goes, “you can’t take it with you”…..speaking of the town, word is that the work on replacing the bridge nearest Logan Regional Medical Center that connects to the boulevard will not begin until sometime next spring…..work was originally slated for last month….. I’m also hearing the building that used to be the Logan Bus terminal and now is identified as the Barber Shop building, will not be purchased in a plan to construct a new bridge…..Social Security recently celebrated its 80th birthday, but it now stands at a pivotal point because more people are becoming eligible for benefits and there are fewer workers left to pay the taxes…..our elderly are our most vulnerable and they are the souls who worked to build this country…..to Congress, I must say, take care of them first, then spend your trillions around the world in other matters…..with the average monthly SS payments being $1,221, it is becoming more difficult for the elderly to survive…..on another matter that needs addressed, there reportedly are at least 600,000 people who need help for drug addiction in West Virginia…..the problem: only 750 treatment beds in the entire state; no wonder we average 629 overdose deaths per year…..it is my understanding that Mingo County’s Board of Education is virtually financially broke……this comes from a reliable source in Mingo…..I hear Boone County now is being hit hard financially, while the Logan County Board of Education remarkably is in really good financial shape…..also, compared to most other counties, our Logan County Commission, is in good shape, despite recent major purchases and improvements…..somebody must be doing something right…..of course, there is room for improvement for schools following results of the 2015 GSA testing; but for now, special congrats to the staff and students at Holden Elementary for tremendous increases in third grade scoring proficiency in math and reading…..Hugh Dingess, Justice Elementary and South Man were closely behind Holden….. QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “We are all broken, that’s how the light gets in.”— Ernest Hemingway…..I recently saw where State legislators were told that more than 800 coal miners have failed drug tests over the last three years…..this year alone, 214 mining certificates have been suspended and 160 people failed pre-employment drug and alcohol screening…..meanwhile, DID YOU KNOW that recent statistics show that older teens and young adults drink 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States? Or, that there is a total of 130,524 mobile homes in the state of West Virginia?…..although I never know how many people bother to read my ramblings in this newspaper, a few readers, like Kathy Guy and Judy Adkins, two ladies working in magistrate court, let me know they read by making comments about certain articles…..Kathy recently brought to my attention that in an earlier writing I said WOWO radio station was located in Ft. Worth, Ind..…the radio station that we loved to listen to as teenagers was, of course, in Fort Wayne, Ind.……thanks Kathy, again…..FINAL NOTE: Although I love the brilliant autumn colors that our mountain state has to bestow during this time of year, I cannot help but lament the end of summer. Autumn is a time of harvest, but when the leaves are all gone, we will see what we need to harvest—all the garbage and appliances that people illegally dump despite a free dump provided each summer throughout the county. People should know that the penalty for violators who dump an amount exceeding 100 pounds is a $1000 to $2000 fine and 16 to 32 hours of community service. Over 500 lbs. dumped is even worse. Warning — there will be no mercy……
Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.