Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

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This news story originally provided by The Charleston Gazette

May 7, 2005

Mountain nominated for historic status

Landowners, coal industry object

LOGAN State officials on Friday agreed to recommend the site of the countrys largest labor insurrection for the National Register of Historic Places, despite protests from landowners and members of the coal industry.

The West Virginia Archives and History Commission unanimously approved the nomination of the 10-mile Spruce Fork Ridge that was the site of the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, the culmination of a bloody struggle to unionize the states southern coalfields.

Thousands of union coal miners fought Logan County Sheriff Don Chafins forces, who were trying to block the miners from entering nonunion territory. Federal troops eventually were called in to turn the miners back.

Logan County remained largely unorganized until 1933, when Congress gave legal protection to unions.

Preservationist Frank Unger said Blair Mountain would become the first nationally recognized battlefield related to labor unrest if it is approved at the next level.

Greg Whooten, vice president of landowner Dingess Rum Properties Inc., argued that permitting and coal extraction could be hampered by the national designation.

For all of those out there who are wearing Save the Mountains T-shirts, I want to see all of you that are wearing Save my Job T-shirts, he said.

Several dozen miners stood and cheered.

Owners of properties added to the National Register of Historic Places are given the opportunity to apply for tax credits and matching grants for restoration. The register does not restrict the use of property or require public access.

But opponents noted that the designation has affected mine permitting.

A subsidiary of Massey Energy Co. had planned to begin work on a strip mine on Blair Mountain by this year, said Eric Salyer of Logan County Mine Services.

The company has spent more than $1 million on permits and was ready to employ 94 miners, Salyer said.

I have a real hard time explaining to them why our livelihood is being held up by this, he said.

The Arch Coal Inc.-owned Hobet surface mine also has permits for areas within the 1,600 acre boundary.

Theres been no tourism activity around Blair Mountain for 80-plus years, said Whooten. Whats going to change now?

The Blair Mountain standoff was the largest insurrection in American history other than the Civil War. Previous efforts to get recognition for the battlefield have been rebuffed since 1981.

Why has this taken 25 years, when Matewan which was a precursor to Blair Mountain and was really just a skirmish was given national landmark status in 1994? Unger said.

Pro-union forces led by Matewan police Chief Sid Hatfield earlier in 1921 battled a trainload of Baldwin-Felt detectives hired to halt the unionization of the coalfields.

Hatfield was later gunned down by private guards on the steps of the McDowell County Courthouse in Welch. The incidents inspired the 1987 John Sayles movie Matewan.

Attorney Bob McLusky on Friday argued that not all landowners received notification of the commission hearing within the required 30-day period. Also, 21 owners had registered their opposition to the plan before the beginning of the meeting.

McLusky said his clients would consider litigation.


State officials have 90 days to prepare their recommendation for the national registry.

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