Road Trip! Destination: Coal Heritage Trail, W.Va.
Journeying through the coal fields of southern West Virginia, visitors pass through deep valleys, follow rushing streams and rivers and find themselves surrounded by breathtaking scenery. The glorious mountains, charming towns and deep-rooted traditions are just a few of the appeals that draw visitors.
The National Coal Heritage Area encompasses 13 counties in southern West Virginia and is situated in the heart of the formidable Appalachian Mountains. It is one of 40 nationally recognized heritage areas in the United States.
The Coal Heritage Trail winds through more than 187 rugged miles of scenic industrial heritage, where thousands of hard-working miners labored to produce the coal that helped to create modern America.
The story of the “smokeless” coal fields is a remarkable legacy of working-class culture, industrial might, racial and ethnic diversity and the creation of a distinctive culture of national significance.
Details: 304-465-3720 or www.coalheritage.org
Canyon Rim Visitors Center
Start the journey by gathering information at the Canyon Rim Visitors Center in Lansing, W.Va., before heading down to the nearby Nuttallburg part of the U.S. National Park Service's New River Gorge. Nuttallburg was the focus of industrialist Henry Ford, who, in the 1920s, leased the town's mines to provide coal for his company's steel mills.
Nuttallburg was one of almost 50 towns that sprang up along the New River in response to a growing nation's need for coal.
In 1870, England-born entrepreneur John Nuttall saw opportunity in the coal rich New River Gorge and began buying land and building infrastructure along the Keeneys Creek drainage.
When the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway was completed through the gorge in 1873, the town was ready for its arrival. Nuttallburg became the second mining town in the New River Gorge to ship the “smokeless” coal.
An estimated 300,000 people stop each year at the center, which is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day.
Details: 304-574-2115 or www.nps.gov
Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine
Take a guided tour through Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine in Beckley. The hands-on exhibits and underground coal-mining tour offer wonderful opportunities to learn, explore and interact.
The underground mine, the re-created coal camp, Youth Museum and Mountain Homestead are surrounded by lawns, colorful flowers, picnic areas, an imposing coal-miner statue and whimsical 20-foot peace totem.
Visitors can ride through the dark passages of a vintage coal mine. The guides are veteran miners and provide firsthand accounts of miners. And there are tours of the period coal camp buildings situated throughout the grounds.
The exhibit operates from April 1 to Nov. 2 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Tickets are $20, $15 for seniors, $14 for military, $12 for ages 4 to 17.
Details: 304-256-1747 or www.beckleymine.com
Bramwell is known as the “Town of Millionaires,” because it was home to many of the first coal barons. The town is renowned for having an abundance of well-preserved Victorian- and Tudor-style mansions. At one time, 14 millionaires resided in the area. Bramwell's wealth was supported by the Pocahontas coal fields, which employed 100,000 miners.
Bramwell is on the National Registry of Historic Places and is the leading tourist destination in Mercer County.
Details: 304-248-7114 or www.bramwellwv.com
The Thurmond Depot in Thurmond is a two-story wood-frame structure from 1905 that still serves as the “Flagstop” for Amtrak trains. Just recently, the old railroad depot was restored and now houses a visitors center and museum.
Located in the heart of the New River Gorge National River, the depot is visited by thousands of rail fans each year.
During the first two decades of the 1900s, Thurmond was a classic boomtown. With huge amounts of coal brought in from area mines, it had the largest revenue on the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway. Having many coal barons among its patrons, Thurmond's banks were the richest in the state. Fifteen passenger trains a day came through town — its depot serving as many as 95,000 passengers a year. With the advent of diesel locomotives and less need for coal mining, the town began a steady decline.
The Thurmond Depot was restored as a visitor center by the National Park Service in 1995.
Details: 304-465-8550 or www.nps.gov
Kimball War Memorial
The Kimball World War I Memorial in Kimball, W.Va., was the first memorial built in the United States to honor African-American veterans of World War I. During the early years of the 20th century, McDowell County had a large black population, many of whom came from the South to build railroads and work in the coal mines.
Originally, the memorial housed an auditorium with a small stage, library, meeting rooms, kitchen facilities and trophy room with displays of plaques dedicated to veterans. It was a multipurpose facility, hosting diverse activities.
Over time, the declining coal industry led to shrinking employment, income and population. Deterioration, abandonment and a fire in 1991 left the memorial in ruins, leaving only its exterior shell.
Restoration of the structure was accomplished as the result of funding provided through a combination of sources including state and federal funds. The memorial is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily.
Details: 304-585-7789 or www.forgottenlegacywwi.org
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7889.