It was my turn to pick a destination. In my never-ending quest to get my youngest brother interested in family history, I decided we should go to southern West Virginia where our great grandfather, Robert Muir (1875-1956), worked as a miner from at least 1920 through the early 1940s. We would tour a coal mine, drive through McDowell and Wyoming counties where he lived and worked, and hopefully photograph his grave and that of his son, Robert Muir, Jr. (1912-1959). My brother requested we add a tour of the Congressional Government Relocation Facility, better known as "The Bunker." It was a Cold War era underground facility to house Congress during a nuclear attack so the government would continue to function. So we were spending Memorial Day weekend underground!
We arrived in Beckley, West Virginia, on Saturday and met my brother and his wife there for dinner, which was our best meal of the trip.
|Dinner on the 304 Chop House patio; personal collection|
Sunday morning we drove to the White Sulphur Springs Valley and toured the Bunker, the grounds of the Greenbrier resort, and ate lunch at the hotel's restaurant, Draper's. We drove back to Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine and toured the museum, miners' housing, and went underground into the drift mine.
|Front entrance of the Greenbrier; personal collection|
|Down in the drift mine; personal collection|
We ate dinner at Tamarack, West Virginia's economic development project for arts and crafts. The cafeteria is staffed by chefs from the Greenbrier.
|Tamarack arts and crafts facility; courtesy of Wikipedia|
On Monday we drove south through Wyoming and McDowell counties, where nothing is flat and the valleys are narrow and pinched together with only room for a creek, railroad tracks, and a road, which would have been a great racing road course! We found the cemetery, which was huge and mountainous (of course). However, we did not find the graves of our ancestors. The records for 1950s burials were burned several years ago. We drove through Welch, West Virginia, the county seat, which is practically a ghost town now, but once was one of the fastest-growing cities in West Virginia. The decline of the coal industry has wreaked havoc on the economy. While we were there yet another mining company announced large layoffs.
|Welch, West Virginia on a Sunday afternoon, 1946; courtesy of Wikipedia|
|Same street on a Sunday afternoon, 2015; personal collection|
Perhaps the most fascinating part of the trip was learning about the West Virginia Mine War, which occurred in 1920 and 1921. It is still the largest labor action in our Nation's history. There was certainly the need for unions in that era of barely regulated capitalism.
I don't think I made much progress getting my youngest brother interested in genealogy or our family history. But I haven't given up yet!
If you are interested in looking at the photographs of the rest of our trip, you may want to review my album on Facebook: 2015 Southern West Virginia Photo Album. There is a county historical society, which has been quite helpful in my research.
Memorial Day Traditions
Project Greek Island: The Bunker
Welch County Courthouse: Then and Now
Welch, West Virginia: The Nation's Coal Bin
West Virginia Mine Wars