Many coalfield residents, as well visitors from other areas of Virginia, joined the staff of the Southwest Virginia Museum Historical State Park and regional historian Dr. LarryFleenor for a Coal Camp Tour on April 16. Dr. Fleenor has uncovered the hidden history of Southwest Virginia, making it readily available to the public through his numerous books, lectures, and these tours offered by the park There was a long waiting list for the tour; needless to say these historical tours are always a hit at the Southwest Virginia Museum Historical State Park!
The tour began at Poplar Hill in Derby, as well as the coal camp town of Keokee. Participants were able to view a piece of geology where theearth's tectonic plate movement made therocks vertical instead of horizontal in their layers.
The tour also stopped in downtown Appalachia where participants could view a building that is ina Ripley's BelieveItor Not bookdue to eachfloor of the building being on a ground level. Also, while in downtown Appalachia, participants viewed historical images housed in the Appalachia Cultural Arts Center.The tour stopped atthe Imboden Community Church. Dr. Fleenor told the history of the church and why it was built. Afterwards, participants walked around the church and enjoyed refreshments provided by a couple of parishioners.
Later the tour stopped in Keokee for participants to go inside the old Commissary in Keokee, Virginia that is on the National Register of Historical Landmarks. The tour also stopped in Derby where the tour members could view another historical church as well as marvel at the houses still remaining from the days of the coal camp. Many of the houses inDerby have a special tile that wasn’t usedon the outside of buildings anywhere else in the coal camps. In Dunbar, the tour members viewed an old coal mine bathhouse.
In between each tour stop, Dr. Fleenor told stories of the people in the coal camps. He provided great historical accounts and made the participants well informed on each camp’s settlement and creation, traditions, culture, and people.
Participants enjoyed a day of sunshine and relaxation while learning what few have discovered about the area other than Dr. Fleenor. The tour was both insightful and enjoyable.