Known as the Heart of the Billion Dollar Coal Fields, Williamson was once considered a prosperous coal town. As the county seat of Mingo County, the streets of town were filled with retail specialty shops, grocers, theaters, nightlife, restaurants, and anything a resident would need.
Parking in town was an issue because there wasn’t enough to accommodate everyone coming to shop or do business! Talk to those who enjoy reminiscing about the boom town area and they will tell you about the streets being so thick with people it was difficult to walk down 2nd Avenue. However, as with anything time passes, and things change. Over the years the coal mining industry suffered a downward trend and in turn coal towns like Williamson suffered. The question became, what now? How does a post coal town look toward the future? How do they continue to exist as a vibrant town for residents to enjoy and visitors to love?
A common thread among locals of the Tug Valley area is they must honor and acknowledge their rich history in the mining community. For so long mining provided all the needs for the families in Williamson. Mining equaled dinner on the table, little league fields for children, vacations to Myrtle Beach, and a nice place to call home. It supported local shops and mining related businesses. Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce President, Leigh Ann Ray, is quick to point out what part will play in Williamson’s ability to move forward.
“We’re going to be moving forward on the basis that has been laid by the coal mining industry. With their post mine land use plans for turning their surface mining operations into usable property such as Twisted Gun Golf Course, the new airport, Mingo Central High School, an upcoming drag racing strip, and other property ready for development. The coal companies have set us up to diversify through the coal industry,” says Ray.
That same sentiment is echoed in the thoughts of the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority Director, Leasha Johnson. Johnson added, “We must remember our coal heritage. It’s still important that we continue to tell our stories about our coal livelihoods, about the economic wealth that it’s provided to our entire state, and about the role WV coal has played in powering our nation and two world wars.”
Johnson agrees with Ray on the role coal mining plays in continued diversification adding,
“The MCRA will forever tell the story of all of the coal companies that have worked with us to build sites which will contribute to our continued economic recovery."
One component of continued diversification in our area is the appreciation and support of small businesses. As more small business owners and entrepreneurs invest in towns such as Williamson, the growth potential rises steadily.
According to Johnson, small businesses are the lifeline of rural communities like Williamson and they lead to the long-term health and sustainability of the Tug Valley communities.
The challenge for Williamson and surrounding towns is finding their position as a post coal town. The area is not without valuable resources. One asset is the Hatfield and McCoy Trail system which runs through several of the towns. The trail system has an incredible economic impact in our communities through the tourism industry. As tourism continues to grow and expand the small business sector will grow to serve the needs of both the community and the visitors coming to enjoy our area.