- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—SCARBRO — Travelers and tourists to the area will soon have better access to maps, obituaries, articles and photographs associated with coal mining communities of Fayette and Raleigh counties at the Whipple Company Store and Appalachian Heritage Museum in Scarbro.

Owners’ son Victor Mender said those who visit and tour the store often share memories of coal camps and are descended from area coal miners. Many are able to locate photos of their relatives at the store.

Because of constant interest in genealogical research, the owners have converted the old company butcher shop within the store into a room for genealogical research.

“We’ve had so many people over the years come in and sit on stairs trying to hold maps and find photos of their relatives, we wanted to turn this room into a place where they can roll out maps and see really see where the coal mine was in relation to their great-grandfather’s coal camp house,” Mender explained. “It’s really neat to see people research their family history and see them point out their great-grandfather and grandfather in pictures.

The store may see as many as 40 visitors a day. Half of those visitors come from nearby urban areas like Charleston or Huntington and have roots in the southern coalfields.

Once itemized and complete, the research hub will be like none other. A great deal of family history is available online through websites, but this will be a unique opportunity to search for family history as it connects specifically with coal mines and coal camp communities.

At Whipple, the photographic archive is based on the George Bragg Collection of Rufus E. ”Red” Ribble’s panoramic pictures.

Ribble photographed coal miners and coal towns from 1919 until the 1950s. His panoramic images, many of which are large groups of miners or townspeople, are about 8 inches high and up to 4 feet long.

Photographer and historian Bragg has made prints for the Whipple Company Store from the originals. As visitors research their genealogy, store owners and curators are beginning to collect IDs on these important photographs.

Most photographs depict Raleigh and Fayette county communities, but photos were also taken in Kanawha County.

In addition to maps and photos, the genealogy room will house boxes and boxes of old newspapers once they are cataloged and inventoried. Many of this papers have obituaries and offer insight into the life and times of the company store. Volunteers are needed to assist with this process.

Mender said AmeriCorps volunteers have spent about three weeks cleaning, painting and repurposing furniture for the research room.

The black and white paint used inside the room has historical significance, Mender explained. The colors were often used together in coal communities to represent unity between white and African American miners.

In addition to getting the genealogical room prepared for the archives, AmeriCorps volunteers also moved a 150-year-old, 950-pound Gurney Refrigerator from the old Mahoney Grocery Store to be used to house archives.

Ultimately Mender said the family would like to see a digitized database to increase efficiency of research.

Although many who have passed by the store over the years remember seeing it closed, Mender said the facility is now open six days a week for guided tours and shopping at the museum gift shop.

The Whipple Company Store and Appalachian Heritage Museum is open May 1 to Nov. 1 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday and Wednesday through Saturday. Sunday hours are noon to 5 p.m.

— E-mail: [email protected]

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