Heritage tourism has proven to be a valuable and major industry for West Virginia and is centered on the preservation of historic traditions, sites, music, stories, and more. Each year, we recognize a project, site, and organization that is making a significant contribution to the heritage tourism industry in West Virginia.
Mike Gwinn of Beckley nominated a new coal heritage site that memorializes the twenty-nine miners who lost their lives in a coal dust explosion at Upper Big Branch Mine on August 5th, 2010 in Montcoal, WV. Coal heritage is an important part of the tourism industry for West Virginia, and the Upper Big Branch Miners Memorial in Whitesville epitomizes the significance of this heritage. The memorial is unique, also, because it recognizes the actions of first responders and mine rescue teams.
This memorial would not exist if it weren’t for the Upper Big Branch Mining Memorial Group. It formed in February of 2011 with a plan to secure funding for a permanent memorial to honor the miners killed at Upper Big Branch. This permanent memorial would replace a makeshift memorial in a gazebo that served as a place for family, friends, and the community to gather to remember and reflect on the lives lost in the days following the explosion. The memorial group’s goal in designing the Upper Big Branch Memorial was to replicate the gazebo’s appeal but in a more permanent and appropriate way.
The group partnered with Rob Dinsmore of Chapman Technical Group in St. Albans, to design the memorial. It consists of three distinct sections: The Upper Big Branch Miners Monument; the First Responders Bronze sculpted by West Virginia artisan Ross Straight; and interpretive signage that serves as a gateway to the memorial plaza.
What makes this memorial so special is that it was designed to be more than a gravestone and historical marker. Every aspect of its design was planned with economic development and tourism in mind, as well as the intention of providing an educational experience. The information included on the interpretive signs was provided by the famous coal heritage historian Davitt McAteer and the Governor’s Independent Investigation of the Upper Big Branch Disaster.
The economic impacts of the memorial are already being felt in Whitesville and the surrounding areas. The group has leveraged social media to promote events at the memorial. It is working with Coal Heritage Area to expand the memorial’s print and online ad campaign and is reaching outside of the state to tourists through travel magazines and websites. Additionally, it is an official geocache site and has quickly become a popular location for motorcyclists and former West Virginians who are home visiting family in the area. The group has even held meetings with local business owners to network and encourage them to target memorial visitors during the summer as tourist traffic increased. Through its website, the group has introduced a community page that exists as a travel resource for visitors and lists local restaurants and convenience stores in Whitesville. It also lists the names and contact information of other coal related tourism sites in West Virginia in the hopes of attracting more visitors from greater distances. It takes a strong-minded and dedicated group of individuals to withstand such great loss and create something positive from it. It was our pleasure to present the Heritage Tourism Award to the Upper Big Branch Mining Memorial Group. Accepting the award were Sheila Combs, Pamela Miller, and Adam Pauley.
This is the first article in a series about our 2013 Historic Preservation Award Winners.
To a preservationist, it is always exciting to come across a neighborhood during one’s travels and find that many of the unique buildings are historic. Even better is when they are preserved and restored to their original fineness and being re-used in a new capacity that benefits the community. In West Virginia, we are lucky to be able to honor a different organization or business for its role in preserving and re-using multiple buildings in one community every year.
This year’s Community Preservation Award winner recognizes the efforts of several organizations collaborating to develop the Beverly Heritage Center. Mary Kay Bidlack of Beverly submitted this nomination.
The Beverly Heritage Center is a multi-year effort to develop four significant historical buildings into a major heritage tourism attraction for Randolph County. The Beverly Heritage Center rehabilitated the 1808 Randolph County Courthouse, 1850’s Bushrod Crawford Building (McClellan’s headquarters), 1900 Beverly Bank, and the 1912 Hill store building. A new gallery addition connects the buildings and provides an attractive accessible entrance without modifying the historic facades. The buildings house permanent and rotating museum exhibits, a gift shop, an archives and resources library, visitor facilities, event and meeting space, offices, and collections care facilities.
Visioning and planning for the project began in 2001 with support from project benefactor John C. Allen, Jr. and under the guidance of heritage tourism consultant Scott Gerloff. Victor Greco of SMG Architects was chosen as architect and has guided the project throughout. Construction began in 2004 and has continued in phases based on funding availability. The Visitor Center remained open to visitors throughout the project, moving from building to building as work progressed. Major contractors were Allegheny Restoration and Steorts Contracting. The primary facility with gallery and exhibits was completed and open for visitors in 2010. One final phase of construction is still underway to complete additional interior build out, landscaping, and to rebuild the cupola on the Courthouse.
Operating partners for the project are Historic Beverly Preservation and Rich Mountain Battlefield Foundation. Many other organizations contributed assistance, including the Randolph County Historical Society, Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike Alliance, Beverly Historic Landmarks Commission, and the Town of Beverly. Staff, consultants, and volunteers who had a significant role in shepherding the project through have included Darryl DeGripp, Terry Hackney, and Michelle Depp, executive directors; Victor Greco architect and Gabe Hayes landscape architect; exhibit team David Vago, Hunter Lesser, and Robert Whetsell, with film by Walkabout Company; and the boards of the core organizations represented by Phyllis Baxter of Historic Beverly Preservation; and Richard Wolfe of Rich Mountain Battlefield Foundation.
The Beverly Heritage Center continues to bring visitors to Randolph County, and to serve them with an innovative facility, quality museum interpretation, and a hearty welcome. It is open seven days a week through the summer, and five days a week – including weekends – the rest of the year. The Center sponsors frequent events, ranging from Civil War reenactments to community potlucks, and attracts a wide range of visitors including scenic byway travelers and Civil War enthusiasts. Accepting awards were representatives from Historic Beverly Preservation, Rich Mountain Battlefield, and Victor Greco of SMG Architects for the Beverly Heritage Center.
A new exhibition at West Virginia University’s Royce J. and Caroline B. Watts Museum explores the lives of miners and their families in the coal towns of Appalachia.
“Outside the Mine: Daily Life in a Coal Company Camp” focuses on four central components of our region’s coal communities—commerce and the company store, religion and faith, domestic work and activities and social time and leisure. The exhibition features historical artifacts and photographs from the days when coal was king.
From the late 19th- to the mid-20th centuries, self-contained communities called “coal camps” sprang up across the Appalachian landscape.
“Coal companies built homes, churches, schools and stores in the region’s remote coalfields to attract miners,” said Danielle Petrak, curator. “Although mining operations sustained these towns’ existence, there was more to life in coal camps than laboring underground.”
“Outside the Mine” illustrates how the spirit of hard work and sense of camaraderie typical among miners impacted the development of a distinct coal camp culture. Often isolated by geography and limited in their means, camp residents relied on coal companies for their basic needs and found creative ways to relax, socialize and entertain themselves. Company-provided amenities, including barber shops and post offices, fulfilled practical purposes but also served as social gathering spots. Many company stores contained saloons or social halls, and churches often sponsored youth socials and picnic dinners. Children created makeshift playgrounds out of mining equipment, while women kept each other company by tackling household chores with friends and relatives.
“Outside the Mine” is on view through July 2014. The Watts Museum is located in Room 125 of the Mineral Resources Building on the Evansdale campus of WVU. The Museum is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday, from 1–4 p.m., and by appointment.
Admission is free, and parking is available at the WVU Coliseum. For more information, contact the museum at (304) 293-4609 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Housed in the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, the Royce J. and Caroline B. Watts Museum is dedicated to preserving and promoting the social, cultural and technological history of the coal, oil and natural gas industries of the state of West Virginia through the collection, preservation, research and exhibition of objects relevant to these industries.
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The bid opening date is 10/08/2013 at the Department of Administration, Purchasing Division in Charleston, WV. For questions and a full copy of the RFQ contact Connie Oswald by September 18th at email@example.com.
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