My wife and I do a good deal of traveling around the great state of West Virginia. It started some years back when we were undecided about a vacation destination. Like most Logan Countians, Myrtle Beach seemed almost like a requirement each year when I was younger. Nags Head, Virginia Beach, Tennessee, Busch Gardens, King’s Island, all have been the general vacation routine for Logan County.
However, one year we suddenly realized we had not really visited our own state. There are some wonderful places to visit throughout the state — from historic museums, State parks, and Civil War battle grounds to festivals, concerts and rib fests scattered across the mountain region. Scenic attractions abound, particularly this time of year. West Virginia truly is a blessed state in many ways.
Recently, on a freak of the moment decision, we ended up on a lonely Sunday road near Wilsondale, a very small community in Wayne County. When rounding a curve near Lenore in Mingo County while on the way, a man standing in the middle of the roadway was waving his hands, obviously trying to slow drivers. I did so, and then saw why I needed to. There was a “good old fashioned baptizing” going on in the nearby creek. Baptism, of course, still goes on in many churches, but it is rare anymore to see it happen in a “real” creek. Some local creeks are just too nasty, I suppose. It has been my experience across the state that no matter where you travel, you will always find two things — a church and usually a nearby Dollar Store. With that in mind allow me to present the following information:
Logan and Mingo counties are “brother and sister” counties. Logan was formed in 1824, while Mingo was created from Logan in 1895. Basically, the residents are about the same stereotypes of people one would expect to find in the coal fields — gun loving, God fearing souls, who, along with cockroaches, would probably somehow figure out a way to survive even a nuclear war. It’s the Appalachian way, I would think.
For those who travel U.S. 119 south to Mingo, you’ve probably noticed a place to the right of the highway located about a mile or so before you get to the only gasoline station between Holden and Williamson; there, people can be seen, usually with plastic water jugs, gathering water from a plastic line that runs from atop the hillside. Out of curiosity, I recently stopped, mainly because I could see a marker there, but could not make out what was inscribed on it. I have passed by numerous times before without stopping, but always wanted to. I have wondered, “Is there people who do this to obtain adequate drinking water or is there another reason”?
There is a garbage can at the site chained to a state road sign, obviously not placed there by the department of highways because the penalty noted on the sign is out dated and the sign directly faces the highway and not oncoming traffic like it should. On the marker located just to the right of the water line is inscribed: “POOL OF BETHESDA PLEASE DON’T POLLUTE WHAT GOD HAS GIVEN.” It was apparent to me, this place must be important to somebody. The sign and marker’s message have been adhered to as the area is neatly kept. I found it interesting, since in the Gospel of John the Bethesda pool was one of the sites of Jesus’ miracles.
According to scripture, there was a man who had been an invalid for 38 years who probably had been brought there by friends or family in hopes of being healed as the Jewish community of the time thought the pool to have healing powers. In John 5 verse 6 Jesus asked: “Do you want to be healed?” In Verse 7 the hopeless man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.’’
In Verse 8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” At once, the man was up and walking, according to Verse 8. The scripture goes on to explain that the man did not know who Jesus was at the time and after being healed on the Sabbath told Jews of the miracle. The Jewish believed the Sabbath to be too holy even for healing and in Verse 16 the Bible reads, “and this is why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.” There is much more in the text in which Jesus addresses the Jews during a confrontation about the healing.
I write this story for various reasons. Mingo County is in a healing process of varying proportions, politically and economically. Not only can I see the weariness on the faces of so many people when I visit the area, but like its neighbors in Logan, there is an uneasiness that surrounds the coal industry and the people whose livelihoods depend upon it. An outsider cannot understand the perplexity many West Virginians face. How can a country which once depended on West Virginia coal miners to produce the coal that made this country as great as it is, now seem not to care as to the state’s economic future? Without West Virginia coal miners producing the coal necessary to win two World Wars, the whole nation might today be speaking a different language or made to worship a different God not of their choosing. Many miners have perished over the years and many others lost limbs and suffered various coal related illnesses. Are their blackened faces only to be forgotten? Many a widow in years long past has raised her children in the toughest of times.
Coal was so important to then President Woodrow Wilson that during World War I, West Virginia coal miners were exempted from having to serve in the military. Wilson said their mightiness in coal mining was essential to the outcome of winning the war.
“Scarcity of coal is the most serious danger which confronts us,” Wilson was quoted as saying. The President also declared that the miners were “the essential labor for the support of the government and the liberties of free men everywhere.”
Iron and steel were necessities of which only coal could produce. Ships, airplanes, along with other weaponry, had to be produced. Still, despite the presidential exemption, over 50,000 coal miners enlisted anyway; many of them would never see the hills of West Virginia again. As a state which has produced more soldiers per capita than any other in the nation, should its people not deserve better than what has been proposed?
One should not argue as to damages mining has done over the years. There have been environmental damages, including pollution to some streams, creeks and rivers. However, on the “scales of life”, it appears the good far outweighs the bad.
I spoke with Brett Vance of the Mingo County Health Department and was surprised to find out that 119 South’s version of the Pool of Bethesda is not safe drinking water. Vance said the water had been tested in the past and the results came back “very bad.” The good news, according to Vance, was that public water was available virtually throughout Mingo County.
So, why are so many people gathering this water, and who placed the marker? I spoke with several residents of the area and each knew of the water, but little else about the site. Vance said he also knew that some people from Logan and Boone counties got water there. He added that in the past the health department had placed warnings up at the site and even took the plastic hose away.
Debbie Donahoe, Mingo county Magistrate Pam Newsome’s assistant, lives in Boone county and drives to Mingo on her way to the courthouse there to work. She recently went through hard times in Boone county without good water because of the Kanawha County water fiasco.
“There are people just about every morning getting water there,” she noted.
Perhaps someone will contact The Williamson Daily News or The Logan Banner’s editorial departments with additional information about the site.
In the meantime, maybe we should all just be thankful for what we have and continue to believe in miracles.