Efforts to nominate a former coal-mining town in southern West Virginia to the National Register of Historic Places could spur economic growth there, according to a spokesman for three development agencies engaged in the effort.
Once a mining boomtown, Helen, with a population near 125 residents, is among the last coal camps that remain in the mountains southwest of Beckley, and financial incentives for historic rehabilitation there would be provided if the nomination succeeds.
According to Kyle Bailey, Preserve WV AmeriCorps member serving with the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia, who is conducting the survey to nominate the community, financial incentives such as grants and tax credits will supplement the costs of expenditures needed for property repairs and improvements.
The nomination would also secure the community's status as historically important on official state and federal levels, he said.
"This would help homeowners and other property owners in Helen fund tasks such as replacing the roof, preserving the windows, and updating electrical systems," Bailey said.
"Helen could once again experience growth and expansion, especially in light of recreation initiatives, such as the development of hiking and ATV trails, and transportation initiatives, such as the completion of the adjacent Coalfield Expressway."
A joint effort by the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia, the National Coal Heritage Area Authority, and the Winding Gulf Restoration Organization, the effort builds on projects already established in the town, including the development of a Coal Miner's Memorial Park and the stabilization of a historic apartment building there.
Helen was recently selected as a stop along the African American Heritage Auto Tour, sponsored in part by the coal-heritage authority, and wayside that interpret the town's history will soon be installed, Bailey said.
Like other camps of the Winding Gulf Coalfield, Helen experienced rapid growth through the early and mid-20th century. Mines there produced some of the highest quantities of coal in the state, and by 1940 almost 2,000 people lived in the town.
Bailey, who grew up in a coal camp in nearby Amigo, is a member of the Preserve WV AmeriCorps program, a statewide service initiative established to help communities capture their history and preserve beloved West Virginia landmarks.
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