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Valley Head, West Virginia

Valley Head may be known today for its fire hall and library, but once upon a time the head of the Tygart Valley was a hub of employment and wild times and tales.

George Coussoule, a lifelong resident of Valley Head, said in the hey-dey of Bethlehem Coal Company, there were three taverns, two movie theaters, six general stores, a garage, and a restaurant in the town. It was a booming town. On Saturday nights you could pick which fight you wanted to see. In it’s prime, Valley Head was a self-sufficient hub of entertainment. Dances were held almost every week and most of the residents who lived there rarely traveled to Elkins.

However, as was the case with many West Virginia mining towns, once the coal was gone so was the town. In 1959, the coal company packed up and about one-third of the town went with it. But, one thing Valley Head did not lose when the coal companies pulled out was its rich history. Wrought with tales of conspiracy and murder as well as fame and fortune, Valley Head’s past cannot be denied.

Another lifelong resident, George Swecker, said he fears the past will be lost in time as the old timers who remember much of Valley Head’s cultural heritage die without leaving any written legacy. Like most communities in Randolph County, research about Valley Head can be challenging because the only history is hearsay passed from one generation to the next. Swecker noted many history buffs in the area have collected a lot data about Valley Head’s past, but as they die, their work is left to their children and grandchildren who seldom make it available for the public to learn about. However, Swecker and Coussoule were witnesses to much of Valley Head’s more recent history. From traditional serenades to community bonfires complete with roasted ears of corn and potatoes, they said there was much to do in the days before television sets were common fixtures in every home.

“When someone would get married we would gather outside their house and sing,” Swecker said with a chuckle. “We would make such a ruckus until they came out and gave us all a treat. Newton Woods was the best one because he owned a store and brought a bunch of candy for everyone. He even said, ‘You guys aren’t loud enough.'” Besides hassling newlyweds, Valley Head residents would gather to sing hymns. Swecker, one of four boys and three girls, said his father and brothers played the musical instruments and would go to each house and provide entertainment to the home owners.

Besides listening to music in his younger days, Swecker would sit on his porch swing and hear tales of murder and mayhem from his uncle. For instance, there was F.E. Bing, Valley Head’s first postmaster, who was reportedly poisoned in 1896 with moonshine. Bing was buried for many years in the Valley Head Cemetery until his descendants came and moved his remains to Arlington, Virginia. Swecker also told tales about how Valley Head was established by the Wilson Lumber Company in the town which had been known as Spangler. Wilson Lumber came in the early 1930s and when the timbering industry slacked off they quickly packed up and left town. It wasn’t long after that before mining came in and really got the valley hopping.

At one time there were many men employed at Bethlehem Steel, a bus ran from Elkins to the mines to shuttle the employees. A preacher named Old Man Brady ran the bus and later Swecker’s brother bought it and made a camper out of it. According to Coussoule, the mine bus from Elkins to Valley Head was not the only bus in the region. He said the Reynolds bus ran from the Valley Head region to Lewisburg and then down to Bluefield along U.S. 219. This bus, if in commission today, would be a great asset to the county and region.

Valley Head is among the forgotten part of Randolph County. Although mining was a major part of what Valley Head was known for years ago, timber was the first industry in the small town. Farming also was prevalent in Valley Head and some of the most beautiful farms in Randolph County are still thriving. Today, Valley Head is home to many scenic landscapes, historical homes and buildings. The small community is also the home of Wilma Lee Cooper, a famous country, gospel, and bluegrass musician, who recorded several top-ten country hits and performed on the Grand Ole Opry for 20 years.

Article Credit, 2015: Leah Dietz, Staff Writer for The Intermountain 

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