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posted by Andrea Griffith-Girtz in Travel

Best Historical Tours

January 11, 2012

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Some of the bloodiest and most important moments in the American labor movement happened in the coalfields of southern West Virginia. But most who live beyond its rugged mountains, and even many who live in them, don't know the stories.

Doug Estepp is trying to change that, one busload of tourists at a time.

Estepp grew up in a coal mining family in Mingo County but never heard much about the early 20th century "mine wars" as a child.
The term covers many events in the long, violent struggle to unionize: a deadly gunfight on the streets of Matewan; the largest armed insurrection since the Civil War in the woods above Blair; the firing of machine guns from an armor-plated train on striking miners and their families in the Holly Grove tent colony.

Estepp set out this past summer to tell the tales. With no experience in the tour-bus industry, he took 80 people on two inaugural trips to prove that a region perhaps best known for mine disasters could become West Virginia's next big destination.

Estepp, a full-time employee of the U.S. Treasury in Martinsburg, made enough money to break even, and he's expanding in 2012 with six trips, including departures from Beckley, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Hampton Roads, Va., and Washington, D.C.
His tour stops show everything from the squalor of company-run camps to coal barons' mansions in Bramwell.

He's also taking his customers' advice and expanding the trips to four days, allowing more time to visit with active and retired miners and the people who re-enact the Matewan Massacre.

Eleanore Hofstetter of Baltimore took one of Estepp's first tours with a friend. "We very much enjoyed it," she said. "It was tremendously educational; we didn't know anything about the coal country wars." She even loved the accommodations in state park lodges: "They're almost like luxury resorts."

If his second year proves successful, Estepp may add even more stops to the Mine War Tour, including the courthouse in Welch where Matewan Police Chief Sid Hatfield was assassinated the year after the gunfight.

He's already got a few reservations.

-VICKI SMITH, Associated Press
___
If You Go...

COAL COUNTRY TOURS: http://coalcountrytours.com or 540-233-0543. Four-day trips are $599 per person, double occupancy, all-inclusive (motorcoach, lodging, meals etc.) Departures for 2012 are May 17-20 from Columbus, Ohio; May 24-27 from Washington D.C.; June 7-10 from Pittsburgh; Sept. 13-16 from Hampton Roads, Va.; and Oct. 4-7 from Baltimore. Participants can also meet any of the tours in Beckley, W.Va.

MERCER COUNTY CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU: http://www.visitmercercounty.com/ or 800-221-3206.

What's the best historical tour you've been on?

(AP Photo/Klair Gaton)

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