BECKLEY, WV (LOOTPRESS) – The Gateway to Southern West Virginia; the City of Champions; these are but a few of the epithets routinely implemented in depicting the enduring significance of the City of Beckley – an area which, over time, has evolved to become a historical and cultural keystone for the Southern West Virginia region.
The historic city was recently named the “Most West Virginia Town Ever” by travel website Only In Your State, and for good reason, as the area is indicative of much of what makes the Mountain State such a fine place to work and to live.
First founded on April 4, 1838, Beckley is considered today to be the most populous city in Southern West Virginia – state capitol Charleston sits a touch too far north to be considered part of the state’s southern region, generally being grouped in with western-based Metro Valley territories such as Hurricane and Huntington.
The City of Beckley has come to embody various key aspects of West Virginia, and regularly attracts frequent fliers from surrounding areas who venture to the city to partake in commerce, politics, and entertainment.
Named for its founder Alfred Beckley, the existence of the city actually predates that of the state itself, having been established as part of Virginia prior to the recognition of West Virginia as a state by the federal government in 1863.
Not only that, the City of Beckley’s establishment actually predates that of its home county of Raleigh as well. In fact, for the first dozen years of its recognition as a city, Beckley was actually housed in nearby Fayette County. It wasn’t until 1850 that Raleigh County was established by the Virginia legislature, and Beckley was subsequently named its county seat.
On July 14, 1862, the US Senate approved the admission of West Virginia to the Union. On December 31 of that same year, President Lincoln signed the bill confirming the state’s admission, proclaiming that West Virginia would be officially recognized as a state on June 20, 1863 – at which point Beckley, West Virginia would also officially be recognized.
Beckley’s history with the Mountain State’s greatest resource – coal – is long documented, running back to 1890 when commercial shipments of smokeless coal from local mines would serve as impetus for the city’s first steps into the realm of legitimate economic contention.
The opening of the Winding Gulf coalfield in 1907 jump started this economic development, setting into motion what would become a substantial increase in population throughout the area.
Coal remains a significant economic factor in the area today, with the most recent statistics from the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training indicating 1,360 Raleigh county residents employed in the industry.
Additionally, statistics indicate Raleigh county mines were responsible for 7,581,447 tons of coal production in the year 2021 – with 4,863,195 tons having been produced from underground mining and 2,718,252 from surface mining.
The indelible risks and safety hazards associated with the monetization of the Mountain State’s most highly sought natural resource are never far from the minds of those employed within the industry and their loved ones, however. And on April 5, 2010, the Raleigh County community came together in mourning when the unthinkable happened.
The now infamous explosion some 1000 feet underground at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine claimed the lives of 29 of the 31 miners on site in what would be the most catastrophic mine disaster to occur in the United States since the 1970 Hurricane Creek Mine Disaster in Hyden, Kentucky.
The events leading up to and following the incident were recreated in the Public Theater NY musical drama Coal Country, originally performed in New York. In 2022, Theatre West Virginia – another of the City of Champions’ finest assets, as well as home to the most riveting theatre performances one is likely to find in the state – brought Coal Country to Beckley.
The original ensemble cast came along for the performance, which took place at Woodrow Wilson High School and featured live music from Coal Country co-creator and songwriting legend Steve Earle
But the significance of coal to the area is no longer limited simply to the monetary gains to be attained through its production, as the resource has become so distinctly ingrained in the cultural identity of the region that it has become an attraction all its own.
The Phillips-Sprauge Mine first opened in Beckley in 1889 as a drift mine operation, with commercial development beginning in 1905 and the first coal having been shipped on January 4 the following year.
Upon the cease of operations within the mine in 1953, the property was acquired by the City of Beckley and re-opened just under a decade later in 1962 as an educational site dedicated to imparting knowledge of mining to the general public. This would be the establishment of the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine as we know it today.
In 1988 the mine was included on the National Register of Historic Places, and offers underground tours on a seasonal schedule in the present day.
Shopping and commerce remain large draws for the City of Beckley, with the availability of various retail chains and small businesses motivating residents of smaller surrounding towns to utilize the vast array of options available with great frequency.
One such option comes in the form of the iconic Tamarack Marketplace, which has served as a cultural hub for the city for a quarter century.
The 31st governor of West Virginia Gaston Caperton, in 1989, set into motion the sequence of events which would eventually lead to the conception of Tamarack: The Best of West Virginia.
The popular tourist attraction operates through the joint efforts of West Virginia Parkways, Economic Development, and Tourism Authority, and seeks to bring attention to local creators, and regularly features artisan works of crafts, jewelry, pottery, textiles, specialty woods, books, and even recordings.
Five artisan studios are housed within the Tamarack’s unique and iconic structure. The venue is a significant economic contributor not only to the city, but to the state as a whole, bringing in several million dollars of revenue annually from sales of amenities such as food and crafts.
Additionally, the Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce is perpetually active in the promotion and introduction of brand new businesses throughout the area, and consistently works to foster community and economic growth in the region.
Education is also a motivating factor for many who venture to Beckley, with the West Virginia University Institute of Technology, along with the Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia providing just a few of the educational opportunities available in the historic city.
The aforementioned attributes are merely the tip of the iceberg for what the City of Beckley has to offer both current residents of the Mountain State and to those who have yet to experience the natural beauty, serenity, and community of the celebrated locale.
Learn more about the city itself and all that Southern West Virginia has to offer at visitwv.com!