Visitors from all 50 of the United States have inspected and marveled at Williamson's Coal House during the past 77 years, but the uniqueness of the structure has not eclipsed the work of its occupant, the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Chamber of Commerce officers and members have kept hope burning in the hearts of area residents for decades as they fought for better roads to serve the Tug Valley area and environs. The chamber has led or supported efforts toward flood control, increased employment and industry and explored other ideas to open up this scenic area to the outside world.
With two women officers, President June Blevins and Vice President Tranquilla Whitt, leading the local Chamber of Commerce in this new millenium, the organization is forging ahead to better the area and the quality of life.
Cecil Hatfield, who served as executive director at the Coal House for many years, is treasurer of the chamber.
Natalie Young has been executive director at the Coal House since May 2009 when Hatfield left the position and reported that work is in progress on a new web site for the Coal House.
The Coal House also serves as the Williamson Visitor Center.
Visitors find the exterior of the Coal House a unique tribute to the rich economic resource that supports the Southern West Virginia region and the state as a whole. Inside the structure are even more surprises, including a large array of collectors' items, and many things which are for sale. Young said visitors were invited to browse and to ask questions.
The Coal House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. Among the collections of items were a 76-year-old program containing details of an annual banquet and installation of officers of what was then the Williamson Chamber of Commerce. The name was later changed to Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce so as to be more inclusive of the area.
Nancy (Perry) Smith, widow of Attorney W. Graham Smith who was an active member of the Chamber, Kiwanis and other community groups, gave the program to the Chamber for its memoirs.
The April 13, 1934, program identified the toastmaster as O.W. Evans, who was an official for the Norfolk and Western Railways' Fuel Department. It was Evans who conceived the idea of the Coal House with the purpose of honoring the valuable coal that has played an important role in the history of coal and this area.
Others listed on the banquet program were L.E. Armentrout, Bob Hastings, Miss Margaret Lovelace, and Fred L. Fox. Chamber officers in 1934 were President T.A.Galyean, Vice President B.J. Maynard and E.D. Strohecker.
Evans hired Welch Architect H.T. Hicks, who accomplished building of the house of coal by May 1933. The structure is made up of 65 tons of bituminous coal from the area's Winifrede seam. The walls have a thickness of two feet, a feature which has aided in protection of the Coal House from severe weather, flooding and other elements. Since its construction, the Coal House has withstood the ravages of floods in 1937, 1957, 1977 and 1984. During the last two episodes, flood waters reached the top of the Coal House's arched entrance.
The interior of the Coal House featured walnut paneling, wall-to-wall carpeting, fluorescent lighting and central heating and air-conditioning.
The Coal House underwent weatherproofing and repairs on a regular basis to maintain a polished look for area citizens and visitors from far and near.
Young was quoted that "In today's energy-conscious world, the coal industry remains a vital component of our global economy. The Coal House symbolizes not only West Virginia's heritage but it further testifies to the diligence of miners everywhere. The Coal House represents our past and, equally important, West Virginia's future."
A part of the Coal House scene at the corner of Second Avenue and Court Street is the statue of a native American, Chief Logan of the Mingo Tribe of Indians. A low water fountain surrounds the statue, and the scene also includes a sign proclaiming the Coal House as part of the National Registry of Historic Places; flowers in bloom. and several displays of glass-enclosed legends and a reprinted speech by Chief Logan.