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Community Resource Mapping


Chronicling the Coal River Valley's Coal-Bound History
Rick Bradford, Edwight

Rick Bradford, a retired high school teacher, has lived in Edwight all of his life. In addition to his career teaching history, English, civics, reading and geography, he is a documentarian of southern West Virginia's coal-bound history. Rick has self-published two photography books and one historical text on the subject, entitled "Edwight, Near the Mouth of Hazy". The book, which opens with mountain farmers settling the area, describes Edwight at the height of underground mining as a lively town centered around family gardens, the company store and the Coffee Pot Cafe.

Rick has witnessed the ups and downs of the local economy, which is tied to the coal industry. At one point in the 1960s, formerly employed miners took part in Back to Work programs that forced them to attend school one day a week. This was, as one might expect, a fairly unpopular arrangement-- Rick remembers them smoking cigarettes and making adult jokes during recess at Marsh Fork High School, where he taught.

 



He notes that today, many Coal River Valley residents are on social security, work in retail or hospitals in the nearby city of Beckley, are unemployed or struggling with drug addictions. Strip miners often travel in from other areas to work for companies like Massey Energy. Although Rick is a strong opponent of mountaintop removal mining and recognizes coal as a finite resource, he struggles to see a future for the Coal River Valley that doesn't depend on mining. When asked about his vision for a prosperous Coal River Valley, he talks about the way it was in the mid-20th century.

"It would look like 1955, when everybody was shopping and the stores were bustling. Clothing stores opened. Of course, we had all sorts of beer joints," he says, "I miss those days. You couldn’t find room on the sidewalk [in Whitesville]. It was bustling – Montcoal, Red Dragon, Eunice, Birchton, Edwight, Marfork, Paxville, and then when the strip mines came in it cooled things down."

 

Mine operators have tightened up security on land that was once part of the community-- Rick used to exercise by running up Shumate's Branch, a previously populous area now owned by Massey, until a mine security guard told him he was trespassing and asked him to leave. Rick believes that political moves like school consolidation and increasingly strict building codes are part of a push to depopulate the Valley, so that the coal companies can do whatever they choose with the land.

"This place is based on extractive industry. Whatever you come up with [regarding sustainable industries] has to be vigorous – there are a lot more people now than there were in 1960," Rick says, encouraging economic diversification while recognizing that it will be a formidable challenge.

 

-Dea Goblirsch, February 2010