This article is part of YES! Magazine’s state-by-state exploration of local solutions.
Five creative ways Americans are stepping up to build strong local economies.
Visitors to the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum see authentic rifles and bullet casings used in the Battle of Blair Mountain, learn about the history of the term “redneck,” and view a reimagining of the Paint Creek-Cabin Strike of 1912.
But this homage to the history and culture of coal mining—often overlooked in other parts of the United States—serves another purpose too: increasing revenue in a post-coal economy.
In the early 1920s, when miners fought coal operators for the right to unionize in the West Virginia mine wars, local economies were heavily dependent on coal. But since then, the number of mining jobs has decreased considerably. Between 1950 and 2011, coal mining jobs in West Virginia fell from nearly 120,000 to about 25,000.
In the face of this decline, coal-dependent communities have had to find alternative ways to rebuild their economies. For Matewan—site of the Matewan Massacre of 1920—that meant developing tourism by turning the state’s rich history into an attraction.
In May 2015, the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum was born. Supporters call it an example of “heritage tourism”—the celebration of a city’s colorful past through authentic places and artifacts…