Don’t ever judge a book by its cover, or a city’s significance by the number of people who live there. As it turns out, West Virginia is full of little cities where big things have happened.
Note: I purposely left out some of the cities where the commonly known mining disasters occurred. If I included them all the list would be too long. I did want to mention some of the lesser known ones, though.
1. Eccles, population 362
Eccles is the site of a mining disaster that took the lives of 180 men on April 28, 1914. It’s the second-worst mining disaster in the state’s history.
2. Shinnston, population 2,201
Shinnston is the site of the deadliest tornado in West Virginia history. The storm, on June 23, 1944 killed 66 people in the town and surrounding area. In total, 103 people were killed and 430 were seriously injured.
3. Kenova, population 3,216
A hillside in Kenova was the crash site of a plane carrying the 1970 Marshall University football team. The crash happened as the team was returning from a game on Nov. 14, 1970 on a hillside just short of Tri-State Airport. All 75 people aboard were killed.
4. Matewan, population 499
Matewan was the site of a 1920 shootout between local miners and the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency. The incident is referred to as the Battle of Matewan or the Matewan Massacre. Ten people were killed during the incident, including two miners, the mayor, and seven from the Bald-Felts agency.
5. Benwood, population 1,420
Benwood was around 1,400 people at last count and it was also the site of a huge mining disaster in 1924. The Benwood Mine explosion claimed the lives of 119 coal miners. There were no survivors. It’s the third-worst coal disaster in state history. The blast was reportedly caused by the ignition of methane gas and coal dust and occurred at around 7:05 a.m., about a half hour after the morning shift of miners started work.
6. Mount Hope, population 1,414
Mount Hope, in Fayette County, was the site of a devastating fire that demolished the town in 5 hours. The fire happened March 24, 1910. Among the burned buildings were the town’s high school, a hotel, businesses and many houses. According to news reports from the time, the town had a population of nearly 600 and after the blaze, 500 were left homeless.
7. Monongah, population 1,044
Monongah is the site of the worst mining disaster in American history. On December 6, 1907, an explosion at the mine killed 367 people. Most of the men died instantly.
8. Farmington, population 375
A mine disaster on Nov. 20, 1968 killed 78 miners. The explosion at the mine was so big that it was felt almost 12 miles away in Fairmont. The accident was a catalyst for several laws that were passed to protect miners.
9. Bartley, population 224
Bartley, W.Va. in McDowell County, is the site of one of the deadliest mine disasters in the country’s history. The Pond Creek #1 mine exploded on Jan. 10, 1940 and 91 miners died. The cause of the blast was determined to be a gas pocket that had built up and was ignited by a spark.
10. Belmont, population 903
Belmont is the closest city to Willow Island, W.Va., an unincorporated place that was the site of the Willow Island disaster. In 1978, a cooling tower under construction at a power station collapsed and killed 51 workers, in what is thought to be the biggest construction accident in the country’s history.
11. Ripley, population 3,252
Ripley, in Jackson County, was the site of the last public hanging in the state. In 1897, John Morgan was hanged for murder. About 5,000 people came to the event, which was written about in a national newspaper. The spectacle caused the state legislature to outlaw public executions not long after.
Did I leave any town off the list you thought should be included? Let me know in the comments.