Nationally-Recognized, Quality Local Journalism..

Click here to stay informed and subscribe to the Mountain State’s Trusted News Source.

Click #isupportlocal for more information on supporting our local journalists.

Learn more about HD Media

Those who do learn history may sometimes be fortunate enough to repeat it.

Yes, I’m standing the common saying — those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it — on its head.

What I’m advocating is that one brilliant chapter of history actually could guide our state’s economic future. The example I cite is Arthurdale: a small, unincorporated Preston County town whose history is maintained by the nonprofit Arthurdale Heritage in a museum complex and other facilities, as well as through projects and events it hosts. And also by the scores of descendants of the original homesteaders who still live there today.

In March 1933, following his inauguration, faced with the extreme poverty, joblessness and hopelessness of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration launched numerous initiatives to counter the despair in our cities and counties across the nation.

One such initiative ensued soon after Eleanor Roosevelt visited Scotts Run in Monongalia County in August 1933. The slums she saw there, where miners who had been out of work for years and their families lived, appalled her.

But rather than return to Washington D.C. and wring her hands, she resolved to do something about it.

Of course, the rest is history, but the kind that got started within two weeks of her visit to Scotts Run, as plans for Arthurdale got underway in Washington.

Today, our state does not face the crushing, widespread poverty and unemployment of the 1930s, but it does face an almost similar sense of hopelessness or malaise that holds West Virginia fast in its grip.

Look no further than most health indicators: the opioid epidemic, the sagging coal industry, a stagnant manufacturing base, low per capita income, low rates of higher learning, seriously flawed infrastructure, population decline and so on.

Much like the premise of the Smithsonian exhibit "Crossroads: Change in Rural America," on display now at Arthurdale through Jan. 21, our state is at a crossroads of its own and of a different kind today.

Stories you might like

At the center of that crossroads is our state’s economy, which shapes everything from our quality of life to tax revenues and from capital investments to social services and beyond.

No, Arthurdale is not going to change which direction we go in, but it symbolizes one of the key cogs, that of tourism, in the transition to a new economy in West Virginia that, so far, continues to be undetermined and underestimated.

The Justice administration has done more for this sector of the economy than perhaps any other, starting with the reorganization of the state’s Division of Tourism and a host of initiatives from its start in 2017. Only recently, it proposed and the Legislature approved spending some $42 million in state budget surplus funds to upgrade and expand state parks.

But much more could and should be done. For instance, offer grants or tax credits to tourism-based nonprofits private businesses, respectively, to advertise in and out of state.

Facilitating public-private partnerships to fund repairs and upgrades of everything from sidewalks to plumbing at sites could also boost the state and local economies.

True, tourism is not going to generate the kind of high-end jobs, income and tax revenues — at first — that extraction industries have in the past. But those extraction industries are more often floundering these days, or altogether sinking, like an aging ship.

Tourism, combined with light manufacturing — including manufacture of solar panels, food products, etc.; new kinds of crops, including hemp and bamboo; and investing in extraction of rare earth metals from acid mine drainage — and other efforts that better entrepreneurial minds than mine can develop -- speak of a new state economy.

What Arthurdale accomplished nearly a century ago — this idea of moving forward with a new, sustainable and enlightened community and local economy — is more relevant today than ever.

The current economy was put in place for a different kind of West Virginia, one that relied on a mining and heavy manufacturing model that bears little resemblance to the service, information and tourism economy of our present and our future.

These changes won’t be simple or occur overnight. But to continue muddling along as our population declines and ages, as does our economy, without a new direction that emphasizes tourism will only allow the doomed chapters of history to repeat themselves.

Randy Vealey, of Morgantown, is a volunteer at Arthurdale Heritage and a retired journalist.

Recommended for you