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“Fortunately, impoverished land can be reclaimed; denuded areas can be reforested; unnecessary stream pollution can be prevented; and in our purified watercourses fish can be made to thrive. … For our posterity and ourselves, we must restore as much as possible of the matchless heritage which we wasted as improvidently as the base Indian who threw away a pearl that was richer than all his tribe.” — West Virginia Governor Matthew Neely during his inaugural speech, January 13, 1941.

Almost 75 years later, the words of Governor Neely ring true today as West Virginia — a transcendently beautiful paradise that is becoming unveiled due to economic necessity — looks to the future for economic growth through tourism, despite the raging COVID-19 virus. Our violent chapters in the state’s industrial and mining story and the tolerated waste of both human and material resources, along with a history of “clan wars” and rugged individualism, highlight a past that just might be our state’s future. However, we must be careful to never throw away that valuable “pearl” referred to by Governor Neely.

Since at least the early 1980s when I was with this newspaper, I have complained about the fact that the Hatfield Cemetery and the dirt road leading to it have not been properly taken care of and that the entire area should be a historical tourist destination. Also, I’m sure there have been previous efforts to improve the final resting place of the most renowned feudal leader known worldwide. His life-sized marble statue at the cemetery has been visited by untold thousands since Anderson “Devil Anse” Hatfield was laid to rest there in 1921. Now, at last, I have some bittersweet, but optimistic, news to relay to those readers who just might care.

Just last week an individual representing a company out of Lexington, Kentucky, was in the Logan County courthouse looking at maps of properties near the Hatfield Cemetery at Sarah Ann. Reportedly, the man said his company had been hired by the West Virginia Department of Transportation to build a parking area suitable for tour buses to park near the cemetery.

Also, a surveyor with a company truck bearing the name Cultural Associations was in the vicinity of the cemetery last Tuesday. One resident of the area said the man told him that he was there to survey a foot trail that was to lead to the cemetery. The man said it might be a longer walk for people, but with a lesser grade, the walk would be easier.

A few years back two great-grandchildren of Devil Anse Hatfield came to Logan to decorate the graves of their family at the Hatfield cemetery, which included three graves of their brothers. Grant and Joe Browning, 83 and 81 years old, respectively, at the time, had been making the trip each Memorial Day for 45 years — Grant from Nashville, Tennessee, and Joe from what was then his North Carolina home. I took the distinguished gentlemen to the Logan County Commission office and introduced them to Commissioners Godby, Akers and Ellis, as well as county administrator Rocky Adkins. I left the men there to explain their feelings concerning their family cemetery.

Speaking with them later, the Brownings, who were raised in Logan but had also lived at Barnabus as children, said they were willing to donate items the two had relating to the infamous Hatfield family, their grandmother being a daughter of Devil Anse. Realizing their advancing age, the two men wanted to donate their relics to Logan County but only if there was a museum or similar place where the materials would be safely well kept.

I have managed to stay in touch with Joe Browning and he has continuously been concerned about the future of the Hatfield Cemetery and its upkeep. Now, I am sad to report that his brother, Grant, is battling Alzheimer’s, while Joe and his wife, Jetta, have moved to Ohio to be with a daughter there with whom to share the rest of their lives.

On a brighter note, I am pleased to relay that Grant has been featured in the Nashville Business Journal as an “iconic real estate legend.” In an article titled “Nashville Legends,” he was noted for creating the city’s first affordable housing development, “fulfilling a necessary desire to help those less fortunate.” Despite that accomplishment, he is best known for the development of the International Plaza near the Nashville airport and for the construction of the United Artists tower on Music Row in America’s “Music City.” A copy of the article was supplied to me by his brother.

The following is an email Joe forwarded to me, which was written to Debrina Williams, director of the Logan County Chamber of Commerce. Browning is expressing his concern because there had been plans announced months earlier that several improvements were going to occur near the cemetery site.

“We did manage to make our annual visit to decorate our family gravesites last Memorial Day. It was somewhat more difficult for us to make the steep climb up the hill this year. We are not as energetic as we would like but with Jetta being 80 and me 86, but thankfully made it ok. Hopefully, God willing, we will be able to manage the trip again in 2020.

“We were pleased to note that the cemetery had been cleaned off reasonably well, but none of the past, proposed improvements have been implemented. I noted in a recent Logan Banner article that the Planning Commission (County Commission) has allocated fonds for a grant to the Chapmanville Arts Council to support budding actors to promote tourism.

“I’m sure that the Chapmanville arts organization is deserving of the Commissioners’ support, but I fail to understand why the Commission has for many years failed to fund any money for the Hatfield Cemetery, which I believe would generate more tourist interest and dollars. I also note that the five-year contract between the Planning Commission by Judy and Gant Gannon has expired. Is there to be a renewal or extension request to the Gannons?”

The contract referred to by Joe is a five-year lease agreement the County Commission entered into October of 2014 in which the Commission agreed to the “maintenance, upkeep and repair” to the Hatfield Cemetery, which according to the lease’s wording, included “regular maintenance and landscaping to the leased property.” It is not clear whether or not the agreement included the upkeep of the road to the 2.99-acre cemetery, which was left to the descendants of Joe Hatfield, a son of Devil Anse and a former Logan County sheriff from 1928 thru 1932. The lease expired last year and was not renewed. It should be noted that the agreement was compiled by the Boone County law firm of Shaffer and Shaffer.

Earlier this year, Joe emailed that Debrina Williams had responded to him last year and advised that the commission “would try and get the Gannons to renew the contract and that requests for grant funding for cemetery improvements had been filed for a walking bridge and better access up the hill, etc.”

In an email dated May 12, Joe lamented “I don’t believe that Jetta and I will be able to make our cemetery trip this year, although we will regret not being able to. The restrictions due to COVID 19 pandemic has caused a roadblock for us.”

Attempts to inquire with either the county commission or the Chamber of Commerce were made last week, but due to the current virus spread, no one was available for comment. What is known is that there has been no formal announcement as to any improvements to or around the historic cemetery that so many trail riders and others visit regularly. Just over a week ago nearly 20 trail riders from Indianapolis, Ind., were parked along the highway near the cemetery; all, of course, going to see the Hatfields.

It is known that the county commission has purchased adjacent property to the cemetery from a resident living near the cemetery. And it is also known that attempts were made to purchase the former homeplace of the Hatfield family, which is just above the cemetery. The asking price for that property was deemed — correctly, I might add — as entirely too high.

Joe Browning said due to the virus he probably would never see his brother, Grant, again but added that he hoped to live long enough to see improvements occur to his family cemetery. To my kind friend I will simply say, “Joe, it has been since 1921 when your great-grandfather was laid to rest there, so I do think it’s past time that we make that entire area what it IS — SPECIAL.”

Perhaps we will hear more about what may transpire concerning the cemetery. When I do, I will let readers know.

On an even more positive side, I must say that I never expected to live long enough to see the road completed from Man to Logan. So, I suppose anything is possible — especially in an election year.

Robert Avon, who is the executive director of the Hatfields and McCoys Foundation, which was founded about a year ago by Judy Hatfield, great-great-granddaughter of Devil Anse, recently told me that the Florida-based foundation has the intention of making the cemetery and surrounding property a tourist destination.

“Judy is all about preserving the cemetery and we’ve talked about buying property there and donating it to the county,” Avon explained. “There are plans to do something there.”

Avon, who spent several months in Logan County last year at the request of Judy Hatfield, seemed very optimistic that the Hatfield’s and McCoys Foundation, along with the Logan County Commission, the Logan County Chamber of Commerce, as well as state officials, could together re-make history by working to secure a tourist destination that all West Virginians could be proud of.

“We’ve talked about a museum and building landings for tour buses, as well as toilet facilities and other things,” Avon said. “Judy has already done much to help people in both West Virginia and Kentucky.”

Last year, the third-generation granddaughter, who owns homes in Palm Springs, Florida, and Tucson, Arizona, raised funds for Appalachia by conducting a Hatfield-McCoy Foundation Shindig in Florida, where monies were made by selling Hatfield cookbooks, clothing, homemade soaps and other items during a festive event that included hillbilly country music, all of which can be viewed at the foundation’s website. The event marked the presenting by Hatfield of the first Annual Peace Award, which was given to Attorney General Dave Aronberg of Palm Beach County.

Although Avon said, “We are close to getting something done,” he also notes that plans have stalled because of the reluctance of one property owner not willing to sell the real estate that is needed for the project. “We have offered him more than the appraised value,” Avon explained. “And we hope to put something together.”

Provided the property can be purchased for a reasonable amount, plans there could be for the building of a replica of the Hatfield home place and a walking trail from there to the cemetery. “Evan Jenkins is 100 percent behind us, and I believe Jim Justice will do something to help us, too,” Avon said.

The property in question is a six-acre parcel, approximately two acres of which appear level, that were part of a 200-acre tract that Devil Anse and his wife, Levisa, gave to their youngest son, Tennis, in 1911. Here’s the interesting story behind that transaction.

Following the killing of the Hatfield’s sons, Elias and Troy in 1911 in Fayette County, West Virginia, where they operated a saloon and were in the liquor-selling business, it is likely that the then elderly Hatfields, who were devastated from losing the first of their eleven children (both of whom are buried at the historical cemetery at Sarah Ann), desired that sons Joe, Tennis and Willis — all of whom had been in Fayette County learning the liquor trade and saloon operations — to be closer to home. Devil Anse and Levisa deeded each of the three sons 200 acres the same year that their murdered sons were buried. Tennis’ property also included the home place, while Joe’s 200 acres surrounded the cemetery.

Ironically, the county clerk at the time of the transactions, and whose name is signed to each document, was Don Chafin.

All of the Hatfields were at one time close to famous Logan Sheriff Don Chafin, who they were actually related to. After Tennis and Chafin got into the illegal liquor business at what was called the “Blue Goose” dance hall at Barnabus near the mouth of Cow Creek, Tennis wound up in prison and later testified against Chafin, who — after months of appeals and even a request for a presidential pardon—was ushered off to an Atlanta prison. In his absence, the Hatfields took over the political dominance of the county as Tennis was elected sheriff in 1924 and his brother, Joe, followed him as sheriff in 1928. Due to illegal activities, which included gambling machines and just about every other illegal money aspect one can imagine for the time period, Tennis sought the office again in 1932. His narrow defeat spelled the political ending of both Hatfield brothers.

Tennis suffered through a humiliating divorce with his second wife, Sadie, and, following the repeal of Prohibition, operated at least two saloons, including one in Mingo County. “Liquor and womanizing is what got Grandpa, at least that’s what Daddy always said,” explained a grandson, Stephen Hatfield.

Both the Blue Goose Saloon and the Hatfield home place burned while Tennis owned them, and while he actually lived at the home place, which was insured for $10,000. A diamond ring purchased by Tennis and valued at $5,000 supposedly was lost in the fire. Later, in testimony during a trial in which he was being sued for the $5,000, Tennis was reported in The Logan Banner as saying, “I guess I got on a drunk and lost it.”

Perhaps it was political debt, gambling debts, bad investments, alcohol, women, or all of that, but the fact remains that Tennis Hatfield, who reportedly was married three times, and fathered at least nine children, was forced by a decree of Logan Circuit Court in 1935, following a lawsuit by W.E. Duncan Plumbing Company of Mingo County, to allow the enforcement of liens against Hatfield’s properties. In April 1937, a special commissioner, who had been appointed by the Court, sold most of the 200 acres to H.H. Farley for $3,400 in order to pay off Hatfield’s debt. Of the 200 acres given to him by his parents, there were five small pieces of property that Tennis had previously deeded to other members of the Hatfield family. The property included .53 of an acre deeded to a sister, Betty Caldwell, in 1927; 400 square feet to Emanuel W. Hatfield, a brother, in 1923; .64 of an acre to Mary Howes, a sister in 1927; a .64-acre parcel to Nancy Vance, a sister in 1927; and 4.60 acres, which had been conveyed to the Logan County Court in 1926.

Hatfield also lost in the sale a 25-acre tract near the home place that he had purchased in 1925 from his sister, Rosa Browning (who he resided with in Logan when he died in 1953 from a brain hemorrhage), and a one-eighth-acre parcel that in 1918 had been deeded by his parents to the county for a school. However, they received the property back in 1920 when no school was built and then deeded it to their son, Tennis.

Records in the Logan County assessor’s office show the six-acre tract of property that is needed for the plan — that has been labeled as the “Devil Anse Hatfield Expansion Project” — to be appraised at about $6,000. The 2016 taxes for the vacant property were just $34.86 for the year. The Hatfield-McCoy Trail is located less than a mile from the property. The town of Man lies over the mountains from the once valued farm of Devil Anse Hatfield.

“I believe the property is sentimental to the owner,” Robert Avon said.

As Logan Countians, we certainly understand that. After all, it is very sentimental to us, too. And we appreciate all efforts that are being exerted in this historical undertaking, which — provided it happens — would in a sense return the property to its original Hatfield owners for a great cause.

BITS and PIECES

With the end of December just around the corner, retirement seems to be awaiting several people in various positions, including Logan Circuit Clerk Vicki Kolota and her longtime friend and fellow office employee Helen Midkiff. Together, the duo have a combined experience in that office of 56 years

Also ending years of fine service with the PRIDE organization of Logan County is Caron Burgess and Deena Toth. The two had already chosen to leave before Reggie Jones, executive director of the organization, announced he was leaving for a similar position in Charleston.

All of these people will be sorely missed at their respective positions, as experience is difficult to replace

Standing outside the courthouse doors Thursday, as I started home, there suddenly was a political gathering of the minds, so to speak. Getting together by accident were (at one point or another) myself, Magistrate Leonard Codispoti, Magistrate-elect Joseph Mendez, commission employee Chris Trent, school board member Jeremy Farley and Family Court Judge Chris Workman. After Codispoti and Mendez vacated, the rest of us enjoyed some good old down-to-earth political joking.

The more I ran my mouth, the more I realized, hey, these guys (along with Mendez and incoming Circuit Judge Josh Butcher) are the new “young guns” of the county. When you add Circuit Clerk-elect Mark McGrew to this mix, I have to quote some old guy I identify with (singer Bob Dylan) when I say, “The times, they are a changin’.”

Though not a courthouse employee, one also has to recognize Richard Ojeda as he prepares to be sworn into his Senate seat next month.

I remember what seems like just the other day when the late Bill Abraham came into the Logan County assessor’s office at lunch one day when I was the only one there at the time. Bill, who was a friend, told me that it was time (in his words) “to turn the reins over to the young guns.”

At the time, he was speaking of Art Kirkendoll, Alvis Porter, Paul Hardesty, Rich Grimmett, Oval Adams, Glen Adkins, Earl Ray Tomblin, Danny Godby, Leonard Codispoti, and a few others — myself not included, as I was not then an elected official — stepping aside (so to speak) were Abraham, Woodrow Lowe, Jack Ferrell, Vernon Dingess, Tom Godby, Ralph Grimmett and others.

Like I said earlier, “the times, they are a changin’” — and so must we.

Speaking of changes, the former home of the State Police barracks at Canton Lane in Logan will be auctioned off December 20. Some may recall the headquarters being located at Stollings prior to the Canton Lane location. Several counties are losing their state police protection due to a lack of state funding, causing public safety issues due to long response times from other locations in emergency situations. Trust me, Logan County has nothing to worry about in regard to any closing here

Another thing we do not have to concern ourselves with here is tornadoes and hurricanes, although if conditions were right, I suppose wildfires here would resemble those of Tennessee, and that would not be good.

Hills, mountains and trees and plentiful water help define our great state Since rain forests produce about 40 percent of the world’s oxygen, I can’t help but wonder just what percentage West Virginia contributes to the world supply.

I welcome comments in regard to my writings, but when someone I highly respect, like retired WVOW personality Bob Weisner, pays me a compliment, it helps to fuel the fire to continue writing, realizing that there are some people who actually read.

DID YOU KNOW that Logan County Commissioner and former Logan basketball coach Willie Akers was actually more recruited by colleges and universities than former NBA great Jerry West? Of course, they later played on the same team at WVU and remain good friends today.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “A man should have a child, plant a tree, and write a book.” — Chinese proverb.

FINAL NOTE: I found this in the vent lines of the Charleston Gazette-Mail and thought I would pass it along so people can have something to talk about while waiting for a haircut at the barber shops and hair salons. The unnamed writer wrote: Melania Trump is not only an immigrant, she also is the only First Lady to appear nude in several publications, the only one in the last 60 years to not have a college degree and the only one to be costing the taxpayers a million dollars a day because she refuses to move into the White House. (Just remember folks, the barber does possess a straight razor.)

Dwight Williamson serves as magistrate in Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.