, West Virginia
May 23, 2004
Every miner was a "victim" of the company, and that is addressed underground and in
Company Store museums. Particular injustices to black miners are evidenced by
the two-room schoolhouse moved here from Helen, WV. Helen is located "up a hollow
called Berry Branch," and the coal company built the school there (1925) for the children
of black miners. Some of these men were convicts forced to work without pay. (One
must wonder how much back-scratching worked this deal!) Even after serving their
sentences, they were paid only half white miners’ salaries! We learned this and more
from the black attendant, and this is why I like this site. The schoolhouse,
superintendent’s home, and miner’s house have guides who talk and demonstrate whatever
they can. The schoolhouse is also a virtual museum of antique schoolbooks. I didn’t find
my Jim and Judy first-grade reader, but McGuffey is on hand.
In the superintendent’s house, two guides showed us the stove and refrigerator.
The stove uses coal, of course, and a compartment holds hot water. We had
questions about dinner services displayed in kitchen and diningroom, and these were
answered. The house was built in 1906 by Samuel Dixon, a coal baron who envisioned a
"beautiful," ideal coal town in Skelton, WV, named after the town where he was born in
England. The city of Beckley dismantled the house in Skelton and moved it here, and the
piece-by-piece reassembly took three years. Sociological issues weren’t really addressed
by the guides at this house, but they didn’t need to be. All one has to do is to walk from the "super’s"
to the laborer’s, and the differences in lifestyles are apparent.
First thing I noticed in the miner’s house was the picture of John L. Lewis on the wall.
Two pictures of FDR also decorate the livingroom. These people had "heroes" they
depended on for a better life! They had no power to scratch backs! Floors are
linoleum, and the furniture is mostly 1930’s. Dinner service is surprisingly
Wedgewood, just like the super’s. (I remembered that even my poor grandma had good
dinner service and good Sunday dresses.) The town seemed authentic.
We visited the church--no attendant there--and a one-room shanty where a bachelor
miner lived or itinerant miners staying for the week and commuting home on weekends.
It was a pleasant afternoon, a history lesson, a touch of nostalgia. It’s world-heritage
material, American-style--without the designation.
From journal Mountain Hoppin' with Plenty o' Stoppin'