Whitesville is a little town with a big history, and an even bigger sense of community pride. To some it looks like just another valley in West Virginia, but to others it feels like home. Here are six signs that Whitesville is your home.
1. You have stopped by the Upper Big Branch Memorial
While you’re driving down Coal River Road you’ll notice a tall memorial. If you look a little closer, you will see the words “Come to me. All you who labor, and I will give you rest” etched on the memorial’s granite exterior. This memorial holds a special place in Whitesville’s heart and was a passion project that took a year to construct and perfect.
It all started on a Monday afternoon in April of 2010 when an explosion, triggered by a spark from mining equipment and fueled by coal dust, tore through the Upper Big Branch Coal Mine in Montcoal, West Virginia, taking the lives of twenty-nine miners and injuring two more. In the days that followed, members of the community erected a temporary memorial at a gazebo in Whitesville. The temporary memorial was retired on June 11, 2011, fourteen months after its creation. In 2012, on the same sacred spot, a permanent memorial was built to honor those lost in the explosion.
2. Attending the Whitesville Haunted House has become an annual tradition
This haunted house, better known as the “Ultimate Fright,” has become a favorite annual attraction in the town. After last year’s overwhelming success, attendee numbers are expected to grow. Have you braved this ghostly tour through the town's old funeral home, donated to the Turn This Town Around group by the Whitesville State Bank. This haunted house runs for weeks at a time, so mark it in your calendar for this fall and come support a great cause…. they’ll be waiting for you!
3. No matter what changes you remember what was
Whitesville residents have seen a lot of change come to their community recently, but they still hold memories of what the town once was. When talking with some of the residents, I learned that what is now the Coal Heritage RiverWalk Park used to be the location of the Whitesville community pool. This was a place that many of the residents spent their childhood summers, celebrating birthdays and enjoying the beautiful weather.
Another fond memory held by the Whitesville residents is the Marsh Fork High School that opened its doors in 1933 and closed them in 2003. Hundreds of people graduated from this high school and they still reminisce on their years spent there. The former Marsh Fork students celebrate by holding reunions and sharing stories of their time spent there on various Facebook pages. This school might be shut down, but its memory will live on forever.
4. You went to Whitesville Elementary
Whitesville Elementary has been around since the 1930’s and is still educating Whitesville’s youth to this day. In 2013, the school was placed onto the National Registry of Historic places due to its unique history. The building was originally built to replace a school that had burnt down. In 1931, upon its reopening, the number of enrolled students was 517, with grade levels ranging from ninth to all lower grades.
The school educated many students who were immigrants, traveling from the nearby mining communities. When the school first opened it was called the Sherman District Junior High School, but later it became the Whitesville Elementary we all know and love. In recent weeks, students from West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media had the chance to work with current students of Whitesville Elementary on a wall mural. The kids had the chance to get their hands dirty and put their personal touch on the mural, making it all the more special.
5. Spring and Summers on the Coal River are never boring
Starting in May and ending in September, there is no shortage of fun to be had on the Big Coal River. This waterway has been the biggest source of entertainment for residents of Whitesville and the surrounding area for years. With events like Tour De Coal, Kevin’s Lazy River, The Big Coal River Heritage Festival, and the Trout Rodeo, residents and thousands of people from all over come together to enjoy everything the Big Coal River has to offer. These events are all focused around river cleanup, restoration and educational activities so it is something that the whole family can come together and enjoy.
6. You know that Whitesville FEELS LIKE HOME
During the short time I had the privilege of talking and working with the people of Whitesville, it became very clear to me how passionate they were about their hometown. The pride they have for every event and project is something you rarely see anymore. Everyone knows everyone and to say that this town is similar to a family hits the nail on the head. People may travel to climb mountains or go to college, but they always seem to return to the place that feels like home.