Paul McCallister quoted Churchill when the Board of the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce met with the Mingo County Commission to discuss plans for the Coal House, which underwent severe damage in a recent fire. The structure is a landmark, the only one of its kind, and houses both Chamber and the Williamson Williamson Convention and Visitors Bureau. It is owned by the Mingo County Commission.
The interior of the building, as well as its contents, was a complete loss in the fire. As of the meeting Wednesday, insurance adjusters had yet to inspect the damage. Any repairs or reconstruction are on hold until that process was completed. But the Chamber Board, as well as the MCC, feels the fire has left them with an opportunity to consider the Coal House what it means to the community.
“We need to rethink the use of the building,” McCallister said. “What it is suited for, how it can tell the story of our area, our history.”
He went on to suggest the Coal House be used as a visitor’s center to help attract tourism to the area. McCallister also suggested having more than one architectural firm look at the building and provide different ideas as to the best use of the space. Commissioner Greg “Hootie” Smith said he thought the Coal House could showcase local history and still function as a Chamber of Commerce.
“I think it could be designed to be more user friendly,” Smith said. “I personally think the Chamber and Mingo County go hand-in-hand. The Chamber could keep an office in the Coal House, to take the Chamber out takes away from it, in my opinion.” Cecil Hatfield, former Director of the Chamber as well as current Treasurer, agreed.
“The [Norfolk and Western] railroad built the Coal House in 1938, and it has housed the Chamber since that time,” Hatfield said. “That was what it was built to be, I don’t think we should destroy that.”
MCC President John Mark Hubbard agreed having more than one architect offer plans for a new and improved interior of the building. All three Commissioners pledged the MCC would support reconstruction efforts in any way possible.
“We will do whatever it takes to make sure the Coal House meets people’s expectations,” Hubbard said. “We are meeting with the Division of Culture and History to make sure we maintain our status on the National Register of Historic Places.”
The Chamber also discussed acquiring a location for a temporary office as a base of operations while repairs are made to to Coal House.
Both the MCC and the Chamber Board said repairs to the Coal House are a priority for the county.
“It is our focal point,” McCallister said. “We want it to invite people to learn more about Mingo County.”