Heritage Trail of New Commerce or (CHTONC)

Focus Area: All of Wyoming and McDowell Counties as well as Upper Guyandotte Watershed in Raleigh County and Upper Bluestone Watershed in Mercer County

Project Directors needed for the following Components

Economic Development

  • Organize a Cooperative of Commercial Enterprises to network, advertise, and promote commerce along the CHTONC.
  • Establish a land use plan.
  • Educate public and local government on value of zoning and building codes.
  • Establish GPS Locater to pinpoint businesses and others entities that can provide information pertinent to CHTONC participants.
  • Assist 40 entrepreneurs in building a business based on resources within the region.
  • Marketing Bed and Breakfast, Marketing unique quality hand crafted items, marketing variety of quality agricultural products.

Community Development

  • Streamline Mullens Opportunity Center for sustainability and profitability.
  • Establish Junior Achievement in six high schools in our targeted area.
  • Extending, expanding and improving life quality programs for elderly and disabled.
  • Organize and streamline housing repair for elderly and those in poverty.
  • Establish graduate program with Goddard College-Dealing with Poverty Effectively.
  • Expand Adult Education (GED) and Healthy Lifestyle programs at MOC to four locations.

Agriculture and Aquiculture

  • Study utilizing local coal bed or other methane and/or biomass to provide electricity.
  • Develop 1,200 acre wildlife sanctuary on Abandoned Mine Lands Brownfields site.
  • Develop quail, pheasant, turkey, and trophy deer on mountain top removal sites.
  • Producing fruits, vegetables, fish locally to save on transportation/improve local nutrition.
  • Study wind and solar farms on mountain top mining sites as energy source.
  • Build Biofuel program to power greenhouses and other major initiatives.

Culture and Historical Preservation/ Recreation and Tourism Development

  • Stotesbury (Mark Twain School Site) established as Gateway to the Southern West Virginia Coalfields and mount campaign to establish appropriate honorarium for Senator Byrd.
  • Complete restoration of Wyco church by end of 2011.
  • Place Beartown School on National Register and begin Restoration.
  • Place Tams church on National Register and begin Restoration.
  • Catalog listing of historic sites and lay ground work to mount a campaign to assure no more structures or historic sites are lost to neglect and decay.
  • Expand and increase efforts to record Coal Camp Culture by those that lived it.

Addressing Environmental and Green Initiatives.

  • Study utilizing local coal bed or other methane and/or biomass to provide electricity.
  • Develop 1,200 acre wildlife sanctuary on Abandoned Mine Lands Brownfields site.
  • Develop quail, pheasant, turkey, and trophy deer on mountain top removal sites.
  • Producing fruits, vegetables, fish locally to save on transportation/improve local nutrition.
  • Study wind and solar farms on mountain top mining sites as energy source.
  • Build Biofuel program to power greenhouses and other major initiatives..
Rural Appalachian Improvement League, Inc September 6, 2010

2010 Activities


Columbia and Univ of IL Chicago at Mark Twain School Site
Columbia and University of Illinois Chicago Spring Break Teams clear Mark Twain School Site of Brush and Debris

Mark Twain School Site

Mark Twain School Site Volunteer Workers
RAIL, Mark Twain Alumni, local residents, and Spring Break Teams Work together clearing school site


In 2009 Wyco church Building was placed on the West Virginia Endangered Structures listing. In 2010 the Structure was placed on the National Register of Historic structures and awarded a $51,000 restoration grant from WV Culture and History. To date volunteers have committed over 6,000 hours to the project.

Charleston Daily Mail Article - Monday August 30, 2010 Volunteers work to restore historic W.Va. Church

April 17, 2010
Student volunteers renovating historic Wyco church

Wyco Church Renovations
Rick Steelhammer

Flanked by roof-support cribbing, a pair of Cornell University students prepare to remove windows at Wyco Community Church for re-sealing.

Charleston Gazette Article Student volunteers renovating historic Wyco church April 17, 2010 By Rick Steelhammer

Wyco Church Window Renovations

WYCO, W.Va. -- Built on a bluff overlooking Allen Creek in 1917 by coal baron W.P. Tams and abandoned 80 years later after the mines around Wyco Coal Camp C played out, Wyco Community Church has seen better days.

Its roof in need of major repairs, its interior damaged by leaking water and its frame propped up by cribbing, the weather-beaten Gothic revival church was placed on the West Virginia Preservation Alliance's Most Endangered Properties List in 2009.

But things are looking up for the historic Wyoming County church.

This year, 140 college students, faculty and alumni from across the East and Midwest have donated nearly 4,000 hours toward restoring the structure, which was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places.

On Friday, 25 students, alumni and faculty members from Cornell University began a three-day work project, re-glazing the church's windows, stripping old paint from its exterior, applying primer and paint to its walls, and making temporary repairs to the roof. Several AmeriCorps volunteers joined the group.

"Eventually, it will be fully restored, but we couldn't do it without volunteers," said Dewey Houck, director of the Rural Appalachian Improvement League (RAIL), a nonprofit group based in Mullens, which assumed ownership of the church in 2004.

"In a couple of months, we'll bring a contractor in to fix the roof, so we won't have to worry about any more water damage," said Houck. "But more than half the work is being done by volunteers like these."

RAIL hopes to launch the restored church on a new career as a coal camp museum, a community center for Wyco, and a place for meditation and reflection.

"It's only a mile off W.Va. 16 and the Coal Heritage Trail, and would be a good place for people to stop and learn a little about coal camp culture," said Houck, who spent part of his childhood in Wyco and attended the historic church.

In addition to museum exhibits, Houck envisions the restored church being used as a repository and listening area for the oral histories of area coal camp residents, as well as a place in which to hold meetings and host weddings.

Cornell University's Historic Preservation Planning master's degree program hosts an annual fieldwork project somewhere within a 500-mile drive of the Ithaca, N.Y., campus.

When contacting organizations within the region to identify potential work sites, Cornell's Don Johnson came in contact with Lynn Stasick, preservation historian and field representative for the West Virginia Preservation Alliance, who told him about the effort being made to restore Wyco Community Church.

"Without Lynn Stasick, we wouldn't have connected with Dewey Houck and Wyco," said Johnson. "Of all the projects we considered, we thought this was the best fit for us. For one thing, it's small enough that the work we do can make a real difference. And since it sits on top of a mountain in an area that has some blight, restoring the church could be a real symbol of change -- a catalyst for bigger things."

Previous field projects undertaken by the Cornell group took place in Manassas, Va., at a Battle of Bull Run site, and at Ellis Island National Monument in New York Harbor. Before departing for West Virginia, the Cornell group took part in a workshop on window restoration and re-glazing, and Johnson helped write a grant to fund future restoration work at the church.

Houck said the Cornell group is the fifth college to send volunteers to Wyoming and Raleigh counties to work on RAIL historic preservation projects this spring. Other students have come from Columbia University, Michigan Tech, Southern Illinois University and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

In addition to work at Wyco Community Church, the students have cleared brush from the African-American church at Tams -- the only building still standing in a community that once had 1,500 residents -- and done restoration work in Stotesbury at the old Mark Twain High School, alma mater of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

At Wyco, the abbreviated namesake of Wyoming Coal Company, Maj. W. P. Tams, built similar but separate churches for black and white miners. The church built for African-American miners is still in use as Mount Grove Baptist Church.

Tams, who helped pioneer development of the Winding Gulf coalfield early in the 20th Century, was considered by many to be the last of the old-time West Virginia coal barons when he died in 1977 at the age of 94.

Although Wyco's company store, pool room, schools and boardwalk sidewalks are gone, the former superintendent's house at Wyco Camp C, now a private home, can be seen across Allens Creek from Wyco Community Church.

"I went to this church when I was young," said Houck, a retired railroader who now lives in Roanoke, Va. "Back in the ''40s, I lived across the creek from here. You had to cross a footbridge and walk up a path to get here. There wasn't a road to the church back then." "When they raised the windows in the church on Sunday, you could hear every word that was said all through the camp," said Judy Riffe, who moved to Wyco as a newlywed in 1963 with her miner husband, Burnard.

"This was the center of the community," she said. "I was saved in this church. I really appreciate what these students are doing. Those of us who still live here want to see it restored."

The Riffes and neighbor Linda Ingam provided the students with a lunch of homemade beans, fried potatoes, cornbread, coleslaw and red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing.

"We heard that a lot of you are vegetarians," said Judy Riffe, "so we left out the meat." "I'm a vegetarian, and it's very good," said grad student Srini Vasudevan, as he tucked into a bowl of brown beans.

"It sure is beautiful down here," said urban planning major Marc Dominianni, as he took a break from window repair. "I've driven through West Virginia once on I-64, but I never really stopped. When I heard about the possibility of coming down here to work on this church, I was glad to have the chance to see what it's like to spend some time here. Everybody's been really friendly and welcoming."

In addition to repairing and resealing windows and doing prep work for painting, the Cornell group took measurements of the church for detailed schematics and photo-documented the building for its structural integrity and general condition.

"If they fix the roof and keep the water out, the building's in pretty good shape," said Stephanie Smith, in her second year of graduate school at Cornell. "With enough support from the community and enough funding, restoration is definitely do-able."

"Having students come in to work on a project like this really helps a community," said Stasick, not only because a lot of work get done for little cost.

"People in the community see that other people care, and that they believe their heritage matters," he said.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.

By Rick Steelhammer The Charleston Gazette

The Register-Herald, Beckley, WV, March 9, 2010 Spring Break Cleaning


New Salem Baptist Church in Tams, WV

STOTESBURY — Greg Fairbank, a junior at Illinois State University, cleans up the entryway at the New Salem Baptist Church in Tams, which was built in 1925. College students from five universities are participating in an alternative spring break program to help clean up and restore various locations in Raleigh and Wyoming counties. The initiative is coordinated by the Rural Appalachian Improvement League.


NCCC Team at Mullens Outdoor Theater

Pictured above is the fifth AmeriCorps NCCC team to come to Mullens. We have been fortunate in getting these teams and they come for six to ten weeks to do worthwhile projects such as the Mullens Outdoor Theater that was constructed totally by volunteers and an NCCC team. The former Mullens grade school provides a place for volunteers and NCCC to stay.


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Volunteers are a vital part of RAIL's success. We are SEEKING VOLUNTEERS! Please contact us if you want to make a difference and join our remarkable work teams.

In September 2010 RAIL volunteers began initiating a plan to invigorate Community and Economic development in the southern coalfields of West Virginia. In the past ten years RAIL has studied the needs of families in Appalachia as well as available resources and other accessible opportunities that can help their community become sustainable. Gaining a better understanding of what is needed has culminated in the Coal Heritage Trail of New Commerce Action Plan. Those implementing this plan, an organization at the grass roots, well understand their work cannot be successful without the help of volunteers and generous resources providers. Anyone interested in participating in this bold undertaking of helping families living in the Appalachian coalfields improve their economic and social conditions may contact mullensproject@aol.com for more information. RAIL gets its name from Rural Appalachian Improvement League, Inc. and can best be described as Volunteers coming together as an organization to find ways to best benefit their community

March 18, 2011

Alternative Spring Break
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