Historic Mount Hope, nestled in the Egypt Valley basin of the New River Gorge Region, offers adventurers a glimpse into what early life was like in the coalfields of West Virginia. The town became known as the Phoenix City due to the ferocity of reconstruction efforts undertaken by area townsfolk after the Great Fire of 1910. The wealth generated from the coal production of the New River Company is still visible in the stone structures lining the streets of this quaint little town. Walk through the ‘Heart of Town’ and take time to explore a community rich with heritage and ripe for renewal.
In May 2017, a team of citizens was selected to represent the Mount Hope area to join the Appalachian Gateway Communities Initiative (AGCI) by attending a workshop hosted by The Conservation Fund. The team, comprised of members from local agencies including, The Coal Heritage Authority, Active Southern WV, Fayette County Urban Renewal Authority, Harmony for Hope, Crawford Holdings, and the National Park Service (Mount Hope Revitalization Coalition, MHRC). Mount Hope’s proximity to the New River Gorge National River allowed the Conservation Leadership Network to select it as an Appalachian Gateway Community. Appalachia’s gateway communities—communities that border publicly owned lands such as national and state parks and forests—often struggle to balance the need for economic growth with the desire to protect their natural ecosystems, landscapes, and cultural heritage. In Ringgold Georgia, they had an opportunity to hear from national and regional experts who spoke on ways of achieving sustainable economic development through cultural heritage and natural resource tourism, arts promotion, and preservation and stewardship of community character. Listening to these leaders allowed the team to create an action plan designed to capitalize on Mount Hope’s beautiful historic downtown district.
The “Mount Hope Historic Walking Tour” was designed to highlight the architecture reminiscent of the coal fields from the early 1900s through the 1950s. It was the goal of the team to inject energy throughout the area by developing a progressive scheme of incorporating public art with historical awareness. Through a series of artist announcements and community meetings, the team hired several local artists to feature the distinct qualities of the area within their artwork. A large-scale mural featuring a Phoenix perched above the New River Gorge Bridge welcomes visitors to the past of the area while presenting opportunities for future exploration. Strolling through the Heart of Town visitors can view the commissioned artwork which was strategically installed to create a sense of place within the community. A detailed brochure of the walking tour was designed to direct the flow of guests throughout the historic district.
Featuring sixteen historical points of interest the brochure guides visitors through the town where they have an opportunity to learn about each location by downloading The Clio app to their phone. Through Clio visitors can find detailed descriptions of the building’s history, photos, and first-hand accounts documenting its importance to the past. Creating an attraction for area guests and residents, the Mount Hope Historic Walking Tour will enable visitors to experience a piece of history from the early coalfields of West Virginia. By showcasing the areas unique architecture and through the documentation of each assets historical importance the MHRC hopes to ignite interest for local investment. As a Gateway Community to the New River Gorge National River, the revitalization of this community is a vital component for the overall growth of the region. Tying together histories of the past will enable a new West Virginia to develop a connection for future innovation.