Mullens was established in the early part of the twentieth century as a coal boomtown and although it prospered during those times it now has many vacant historic buildings that are in danger of being lost forever. At one time grocery chain giants Kroger, A & P, and Piggly Wiggly had grocery stores in the City. During this same period there were many other businesses that included two movie theaters, a bowling alley, two hotels, a hospital, a lumberyard, a wholesale grocery, two department stores, and a coca cola bottling plant in operation. Additionally, five new car dealerships flourished representing Chrysler, Ford and General Motors. None of these mentioned businesses are functioning today and lost forever are the structures that housed the two theatres, lumber yard and the wholesale grocery.
During mid century the region produced large amounts of coal from both deep mining and surface mining. The need to move coal to market brought the railroad into Mullens and established it as a railroad center and was vital in the growth and existence of Mullens. In 1950 the Virginian Railroad operated both steam and electric locomotive shops, a coal classification yard, and a lucrative local freight business that are no longer in operation due to streamlining of railroad operations. These operations in addition to train crews, supervisory, and other supporting positions provided employment for over five hundred people. Today railroad employment in Mullens has been reduced to a few dozen jobs.
Declining demand for area coal and mechanizing of coal extracting methods has decreased the number of people needed to produce a ton of coal, substantially decreasing the job base. Declining employment in coal mining and related industry in Wyoming County has resulted in a 29% decrease in population since 1980. In addition to the declining coal business area merchants have been unable to compete with neighboring retail centers and it has been necessary for many to close. Facts from the 2000 Census indicate the per capita retail per person spending in Wyoming County is $3918 compared to neighboring Raleigh County’s per person spending of $10460. The medium income is $23,994. The unemployment rate in Wyoming County fluctuates between six and twenty percent. Overall 25% of all people living in Wyoming County live below poverty level and 30% of children live below the poverty level. Eighteen percent of persons living in Wyoming County over 25 have not attained the tenth grade and an additional seventeen percent do not have a high school equivalency. Yet the county has one of the highest graduation rates in the state and produces students well qualified for college.
The Mountaineers began settling Wyoming County in the early part of the nineteenth century and lived off the land. Just after the Civil War industry recognized the value of the vast coal and timber reserves and began taking ownership of the land. Land holding companies still own about eighty percent of the County. After the arrival of the Virginian Railroad in 1906 the timbering industry prospered along with the development of the coalmining industry. Merchants and business people moved into the area to provide the needs of the coalmining and timbering industry. The railroad needed hundreds of employees to drive its trains, maintain its tracks, and care for its locomotives. This divers group of Mountaineers, Timber Cutters, Coalminers, Railroaders, and Merchants produced a unique and sweet culture that is in existence today.
The culture, the heritage, the beautiful mountains and the streams are embedded in those of us that were born and grew up in the coalfields and we take pride in the fact that we are West Virginians. We, the people, have banded together and founded RAIL to take on the challenge of developing an employment base that is not dependant on a single unpredictable industry so our children can live here and perpetuate this unique culture.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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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