“Williamson is the county seat of Mingo County, the chief city and trade center not only for the county but for a population of more than 100,000 people who live within 35 miles of the city. There is no other city closer than Huntington so large or so important.”
This excerpt begins a 1931 promotional pamphlet published by the Williamson Chamber of Commerce hoping to generate business and tourism for their town, nicknamed the Heart of the Billion-Dollar Coal Field. Having just completed the 1930 census with a population of 9,410, Williamson was a growing community, flourishing in coal country atop a site that was nothing but a cornfield a mere 35 years earlier.
The town was in its heyday in 1931. Coal—and plenty of it—was dug by hand and transported by rail. Norfolk Southern Railway built a large marshalling yard in the town, a symbol of how valuable a commerce and industry center it was. And the residents mostly walked where they needed to go.
Today, Williamson stands as a community of roughly 3,000 residents along the Tug Fork River and the state line between West Virginia and Kentucky. A flood wall encircles the city, built in 1991 by the Army Corps of Engineers to protect Williamson from the all-too-common, devastating floods that had washed away historic parts of the town and caused economic struggles for local businesses.
There is one visible similarity about the two periods in time; you can still see people walking through town. The walking is less of a transportation necessity these days, though. Instead, it’s part of a movement for the town to take back their health, happiness and prosperity called Sustainable Williamson…