Monday, September 01, 2008

In W.Va., Unexpected Riches

Here's a fascinating article from washingtonpost.com about a place I've been meaning to visit for years, Bramwell, WV.

Bramwell (pronounced Brammel, not as it's spelled) was Grand Central of the coal operators back in the day. My home town was as well. In fact, the Watson mansion is a lovely, sprawling mansion in the center of town, now the home to two businesses, a rest home and a funeral parlor. With my morbid streak, I've often wondered if there's a two-fer deal if residents contract for services at both businesses.

But back to it. With my love for all things old and Victorian, I'd love to go to Bramwell to see the architecture. Plus, you've got to want to visit the location of the world's longest poker game (according to Ripley's Believe it or Not).

But nothing comes for free. While the operators were imbibing centuries-old Scotch and their wives were bathing in Chanel No. 5, miners and their families were suffering. The riches the article speaks of did not extend to the coal camps. Or the mines. Abhorrent safety conditions in the mines and dreadful sanitation practices in the coal camps (set up by the operators) lead to extreme mortality rates. That's not to mention the massive disasters. Don't worry...you'll hear personal accounts on the Monongah disaster of 1908 (OK, so I wasn't around then, but Grandma was) closer to the anniversary. These conditions were what financed Bramwell and the Watson mansion. There was a lot of money made those days. None went to the ones taking the risks and doing the work.

I just don't know if I can visit Bramwell and marvel at the architecture without seeing blood from my people dripping from the gingerbread.

What say you?

7 comments:

Chris James said...

I feel the same way about the Big Gold Dome (a relic of the robber barron days) in Charleston. Maybe we should ebay it to an up-and-comming southwestern state or some Asian country that just signed a major oil deal.

We could then use the cash to rebuild our schools and infrastructure.

And bribe a really good Thai place into setting up shop throughout the state.

MountainLaurel said...

Excellent point. The dome does make us look like a third-world country...untold riches for the government while many are living in poverty.

Perhaps we could sell to Thailand for cash and to sweeten the deal, we could have a chain of good Thai restaurants?

Ruppie said...

It's interesting that so many WV towns have these huge mansions, relics of the coal and steel baron days. Wheeling's National Road is lined with palacial houses and a tiny village like Sistersville, has these outrageous places that make the run down typical houses look even more like shacks. I guess it's jstu our legacy. It's amazing to me though, that people sill want big coal to come and take all we have. Heck, the barons don't even do us the favor of living among us and dropping a few bucks into our local economies anymore. With mountaiintop removal, they don't even leave the towns!

Sarah said...

My mom lived in Bramwell when she was little. We visited there when I was 13. Steve is also from Bluefield, so we drove there a time or two on our visits. It is a really really nice little town. It is really a neat little gem tucked away in this little corner of Mercer County. It's not too far from Bluefield, soo if you are ever headed south to VA or NC, you should take a few extra minutes and drive through. It's worth it. It is small, so it doesn't tkae long to check it out.

MountainLaurel said...

How far is it from Bluefield, Sarah? That might make a very nice day trip from Charleston.

Sarah said...

It's very close - I think 10 miles at the most. If you go, the fastest route off of I-77 is to get on 460 at Princeton and take the Airport Road to Rt. 52. Follow 52 to Bramwell. It would be a great day trip!

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