The remarkable success of the relatively new West Virginia Mine Wars Museum in Matewan tells me that heritage tourism could be a huge opportunity for this historic little community in West Virginia’s deep south.
Even just the name of the town itself immediately conjures up images of some of West Virginia’s most famous moments in history, most notably the ongoing feud between the Hatfield and McCoy families, and the bloody battles that took place there over the rights of mineworkers in the early part of the 20th century.
The Mine Wars Museum, which received an early kickstart thanks to a $2,500 mini-grant in 2014, part of Matewan’s Turn This Town Around program, has been able to take advantage of the strong interest that Americans everywhere still have for the fascinating stories of our past.
But there was another historical renovation project identified during Turn This Town Around in 2014 that hasn’t quite developed so quickly – yet.
Earlier this summer a mostly new group of Matewan residents sparked some renewed energy behind a plan to restore the old Matewan Jail, and turn it into a heritage-tourism attraction.
The seven-member committee believes the jail is an important piece of Matewan’s history, and they don’t want to see it disappear.
The jail has already, in its recent past, been a tourist attraction. Some years ago the jail used to host courageous overnight visitors, each of which would receive a t-shirt proudly emblazoned with “I Spent A Night In Jail.”
However, the attraction has since fallen by the wayside. Until now.
Thanks to funding support from the Benedum Foundation through Turn This Town Around, the energetic group of locals has begun the long process of restoring and renovating the jail. The first step is to hire an engineer to make sure the building is structurally sound, and to do some design work for the renovation of the building.
The group then plans on marketing and promoting as another historic attraction in the blossoming heritage-tourism area!
Way to go, Matewan!