As the Boone County roads twist and turn with the ups and downs of the West Virginia mountains, they uncover many small, often overlooked towns. Nestled in the heart of these hills lies Whitesville, a town known for its deep roots in the coal mining industry and previously prosperous state of being.
Whitesville is located 45 minutes outside of the Charleston metro area. Formerly known as Jarrold’s Valley and Pritchard City, Whitesville was established in 1935. It was named after prominent early settler B.W. White. The quaint town spans half a square mile and houses approximately 500 residents.
In recent years, the West Virginia coal mining industry has taken a hit that has left its miners and mining towns in a state of current peril. With a proud past and promising future, the town and surrounding region offer numerous opportunities to learn, remember and commemorate the history and heritage of Southern West Virginia.
Upper Big Branch Miner’s Memorial- On April 5th, 2010, a devastating explosion occurred in the Upper Big Branch Coal Mine. The explosion resulted in two serious injuries and the loss of 29 lives.
A permanent stone fixture known as the Upper Big Branch Memorial is housed in Whitesville to honor the memory of the brave men who lost their lives in the explosion. It stands in tribute to the state of West Virginia and the devotion its inhibits have shown to the coal mining industry.
In order to raise awareness after this tragic incident, local resident Gary Dillon, age 62, hiked to Mount Everest's base camp, where he held up a banner that read "Whitesville, West Virginia".
Whitesville Elementary School –This historic building, located on the main thoroughfare through town, was built in 1931. The two-story Art Deco building sits on a raised basement, where the coal ovens that previously heated the building still remain. The sign over the main entrance welcomes visitors to Sherman District Junior High School. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.
Train Caboose – Step back in time and take a tour of the little red caboose at the Coal Heritage RiverWalk. Learn about the history of the rail system in West Virginia.
The Discovery of Coal – A short drive from Whitesville along Rte 3 is the area where coal was discovered by Peter Salley in 1742 – more than a century before West Virginia became a state.
Battle of Big Coal River - On September 12th, 1861, about 60 Confederate Cavalry stopped in Whitesville (formerly Jarrold's Valley) while in pursuit of the Union Army that was traveling along present day Route 3 to get back to base in Marmet, West Virginia (Kanawha County). They caught up with the Federals, who had set up camp along the Big Coal River in present day Comfort, West Virginia.
1926 Bridge Collapse - In July of 1926, a 200-foot swinging footbridge collapsed in Whitesville, killing six and severely injuring many more. Surrounding towns sent doctors and nurses, with the Governor ordering a special train with medical staff to the area. While the collapse was initially investigated for tampering, it was later proven that the cause of the fall was a rusty turnbuckle.
Despite the decline of the coal mining industry, Whitesville residents rise to the challenge placed before them—they fight each and every day for their town and its revival. While Whitesville is a small town, there is no cap to their strong sense of home grown community pride. With great passion, they recognize the adversity of their past and aim to make their future brighter. In the past year, thousands of dollars have been raised in support of this effort, and the people of Whitesville show no signs of lost momentum or drive. In the face of adverse challenges, this initiative perseveres, backed by enough hope, love, faith, and dedication to fill the entire state.