Thursday, June 1, 2017

From 4-Star Resorts to Coal Mines

Pete and I weren't able to join my youngest brother and his wife for our annual Memorial Weekend get-away as we are working hard to get our house ready to sell. We have extensively remodeled our home over the past 13 years, but after Mom died in 2014, I lost my motivation and never really got everything put back together after the last project. So this holiday weekend, I thought back to our most recent trip and decided to share with you memories of our 2015 Memorial Day trip to southern West Virginia. Taking a long weekend trip with my youngest brother and his wife is a family tradition which began in 2010.

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


  1. Sounds like a fun trip. Bummer you weren't able to find your Great Grandfather's grave. I too am unable to interest anyone in genealogy. It is a shame as there were a lot of interesting people. And to think of the time periods they lived in compared to how we live is fascinating.

    1. It was! My brother is quite the World War II buff and has contributed several posts to this blog so he is quite useful even if I've failed to interest him in family history. I agree. Our ancestors and their times were fascinating.