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Brushing the Thick Dust Off WV Old Coalfield Towns

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 By Deborah Smith/Jamie Folsom, Contact
March 6, 2007

Finding treasure among the ashes is the goal of a new project that compares the economic situation of West Virginia's old coalfield towns 60 years ago to modern-day life. Brian O'Donnell is a researcher with Wheeling Jesuit University's Appalachian Research Institute, who helped create the new photo exhibit. Images of people and scenes just after World War II are displayed next to present-day photos, showing some things have changed -- but others have not.

While there is plenty of research documenting the poverty and depopulation in Logan and McDowell Counties, O'Donnell says the photos paint a picture of hope for a better future. He points to the area's growing artistic community, and an award-winning program against domestic violence in the coalfield counties.

"Despite the really 'not good' statistics -- health problems, and the list goes on, and on -- there's so much creativity there. There are very practical problems in central Appalachia, but maybe the biggest one has to do with morale."

O'Donnell feels health issues, drug abuse, and economic depression that have dogged the area can be overcome, but only if locals help make it happen. The photo display is showing in Mingo, and will then travel to other coalfield locations.

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