Coal mines, at one time, were the heart and soul of West Virginia. The National Coal Heritage Area, a federally designated heritage area, and the Coal Heritage Trail, a National Scenic Byway, have a mission to preserve, interpret and promote the coal heritage resources in Southern West Virginia.
The National Coal Heritage Area (NCHA) covers hundreds of square miles in southern West Virginia including 13 counties: Boone, Cabell, Fayette, Lincoln, Logan, McDowell, Mercer, Mingo, Raleigh, Summers, Wayne, and Wyoming and Cabin Creek and Paint Creek in Kanawha County. Meanwhile, the Coal Heritage Highway Authority (CHHA) manages the development of the Coal Heritage Trail, which covers nearly 200 miles.
“We at the CHHA manage the Nick J. Rahall Interpretive Center (Bramwell Train Depot) in Bramwell, WV,” said Executive Director Christy Bailey. “The replica depot features a museum, gift shop, and art gallery; special events including concerts and receptions are held throughout the year. Last year, we launched the “Gallery at the Depot” to feature the work of local artists.”
Last year, 4,000 people visited the Coal Museum in Madison and over 5,000 people visited the Bramwell Interpretive Center. The Beckley Exhibition Mine, which is one of the most visited sites, had over 43,000 visitors last year. CHHA is working to restore the Houston Company Store in Kimball (McDowell County) and the Pattson Ford Building, the future site of the Coal Heritage Discovery Center in Mount Hope (Fayette County).
CHHA has ordered numerous types of exhibit bases and frames from Pannier over the past seven years. They have also taken advantage of Pannier’s ability to design and fabricate custom exhibit bases. Together CHHA and Pannier modified an Upright exhibit base and added an aluminum skyline cut out along with an arch to the top of the frame.
“The skyline is a representation of the structures that could be found in a typical coal camp—coal camps were the town created to provide housing for miners at a particular mine and their families,” said Bailey. “We wanted to add a unique element to our signs that fit in with the region. We also added the corrugated tin pieces, which was a common material found throughout the coalfields, to our site marker signs.”
With the help of various graphic designers CHHA has interpretive signs and maps located throughout the NCHA in Ashland, Bluefield, Bramwell, Coalwood, Pax, Mossy, Mount Hope, Sophia, Twin Falls, and the Whipple Company Store in Scarbro. Additional signs will be installed in Ansted, War, Welch, Hinton, and Marsh Fork. The Fiberglass Embedded panels contain information about life in the coalfields. The information on the panels is specific to the location and talks about people, places, railroads, coal companies, coal towns, unionization, conflicts, landmarks and events.
“We have gone to Pannier for several interpretive projects throughout the heritage area and along the Coal Heritage Trail,” said Bailey. “The interpretive signs we have purchased from Pannier are of the highest quality and some have been installed for over six years with no problems or fading. Robin is always helpful and is particularly good at working with some of our small partner organizations who may need a lot of technical assistance in developing their signage.”