The rubble rests in a nook and cranny of Bramwell. It’s a sad sight.
Debris mixed with history.
Memories of yesterday, and today.
The wooden wreckage is a stark contrast to the glory days of King Coal and an era when fortunes were prominent in the counties of southern West Virginia.
My phone dings early, and often.
I barely have time for a yawn before the ringer is going off again.
The Episcopal Church in Bramwell has collapsed.
Friends in my next-door-neighbor community are reaching out to spread the news.
Five texts, three cups of coffee, two phone calls and one shower down, I prepare to leave the house.
News is breaking.
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With an early morning conference call on my schedule, I call Senior Reporter Greg Jordan and Photographer Jess Nuzzo and ask them to head to the scene.
We’ve lost a piece of history.
It is important news.
Two hours later – following discussions of holiday deadlines and housekeeping matters – I am free.
The call is over, and I can leave for lunch.
I quickly hit Route 52 on the steep and twisty road to Bramwell. I don’t know why I feel compelled to see the wreckage with my own eyes, but I do.
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The first historic structure I remember collapsing was the brownstone in downtown Bluefield.
It saddened my heart.
I loved the architecture of the building and its relevance in the city streetscape.
In an instant, it was gone.
On that morning I was alone in the newsroom. Then-editor Tom Colley, Managing Editor Charles Owens and Photographer John Nelson were in Charleston for a meeting about the loss of commercial air service at the Mercer County Airport.
I recall heading out of the office and leaving an eerily quiet newsroom to make my way to the scene of the collapse.
There were no adjectives or adverbs to adequately describe the carnage.
The historic building was gone.
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The Matz Hotel was next on the collapsed building list – and who doesn’t remember its history.
It was the gathering place for those getting off the trains during the coalfield’s glory years – prominent figures, officials, celebrities, troops and, at times, ladies of ill repute.
The hotel was legendary in its heyday, and also in its waning years.
I think there was a unified gasp – in Bluefield and surrounding communities – when the bricks and mortar took their final sigh and dropped in an effigy of disrespect and disrepair.
If the Matz could go, what was next?
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In our community it was a rural church in McComas.
Like the Matz, it was well attended during coal’s reign but popularity dropped off when the boon busted.
The church collapsed onto the road about four or five years ago. I was on scene an hour or so after it fell.
It was an iconic scene of small-town, coal-town, home-town drama.
Bricks were scattered about the main roadway. A Department of Highways crew placed “Road Closed” and “Detour” signs on the main thoroughfare.
Residents of the area, however, ignored the signs.
They got out of their cars, moved the signs to the shoulder and continued on their way.
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I hate to think what building will be next.
I’d like to believe we can save them all, but I know that is not possible.
Priorities are important.
Perhaps historic buildings should rise on that list.