The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

March 6, 2010

Cleanups begin this week at Stotesbury historical sites

BECKLEY — West Virginia’s coal camp towns were once boom towns, home to hundreds of people.

Now, many are struggling to stay alive.

But local church representatives and a group of volunteers will begin restoration work on three historic Raleigh County locations this week.

Deacon Tom Cox of Stotesbury Community Church said a group that includes 15 AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers will be in the community from Monday through Thursday, working to restore the sites. They include a cemetery behind the destroyed St. John’s Baptist Church, New Salem Church and the Mark Twain School.

Cox said the group of VISTA volunteers include students from locations such as Illinois and Columbia University.

St. John’s Baptist Church, Cox said, collapsed last September, despite previous efforts to secure restoration funds. The cemetery behind it has graves dating back to the 1800s.

New Salem Church has an active congregation, but gathering restoration funds has been difficult.

Mark Twain School is Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s alma mater, Cox said.

Work will include resetting the cemetery’s gravestones, clearing brush and removing debris, Cox said. This particular effort has been in the works about a month. He said Dewey Cox, board president for the Mullens-based Rural Appalachian Improvement League, told him VISTA volunteers were coming and asked if he was interested in having some come to Stotesbury.

Altogether, 55 volunteers will participate in the Stotesbury cleanups, as well as projects in the Mullens area, Cox said. These include cleaning up streams still damaged from previous floods.

The volunteers will also help the Mullens Project organization.

Cox emphasized Stotesbury and other coal communities are major pieces of history that urgently need help.

“These coal towns are deteriorating and disappearing. ... These are what built West Virginia, and that’s a shame.

“This community is disappearing, and we want to try and save it. That’s why we want to preserve it — because of history.”

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