Is Tourism the Key to Turning Matewan Around?


This is part of our continuing series on how the towns of Grafton and Matewan are turning themselves around through a special collaborative project between West Virginia Public Broadcasting, West Virginia Focus magazine and the West Virginia Community Development Hub. 

The small town full of history is hoping that a key to turning things around, is finding a way to increase tourism in the area. Known for its connections to the Hatfield-McCoy feud, some residents think the way to change things is to provide attractions for outsiders to come in and visit the area. Among the ideas is to better capitalize on the Hatfield-McCoy trail used by ATV riders throughout the southern part of the state. David Hatfield is a resident of the town whose heritage runs deep.

“Matewan is long overdue for this and this town is near and dear to my heart, Sid Hatfield was my great great uncle, he was involved in the mine wars of the 1920’s, somehow I feel compelled and obligated to be here and try to help out,” David Hatfield said.

But it’s just not just the use of ATV’s, Hatfield and others would like to see shops and artisan centers develop in the town along with the idea that with the creation of an amphitheater the area could turn into a destination for West Virginia residents to come see plays. Hatfield tells a story of a visit to Pigeon Forge in Tennessee as why his small town could turn into an attractive tourism spot.

“The first time in 1987 or ’88 when I went down there to Pigeon Forge to go out to Dollywood it was a road similar to 119 or even 1056 over the on the Kentucky side and it was three hours from downtown Pigeon Forge to Dollywood in bumper to bumper traffic going in and two and half hours coming back out, so that being said now there is a 4-lane highway being expanded to 6-lanes,” David Hatfield said.

It’s those ideas of similar areas that have become attractions that people like Hatfield are looking to as an example of how things could be with the right changes. According to Hatfield the keys to turning things around are three-fold: teamwork, investment and a lot of hard work.

Hatfield and the rest of the group of active Matewan citizens are developing 20 different plans to turn Matewan around. Ideas range from becoming a theatrical hub, to walking and biking areas and renovations of historic sites. They’ll use grants from the Benedum Foundation that could see an influx of $75,000 into the community by the end of the project. Ellen Hatfield said there is unrealized potential in the area.

“Because it see it as having a lot of potential and it’s got a lot of character and history behind it and I can see it really becoming a good tourism place,” Ellen Hatfield said.

Kelly Webb is excited about the continued progress.

“Now it’s time for people to take action, they said they want to do these projects well it’s time to do them,” Webb said. “As long as we can get other people involved and hopefully everyone will group together and break down and work the projects, that’s what needs to be done if we’re going to turn the town around.”

David Hatfield said in the end it’s going to come down to whether people work together like they should to make this effort different than ones in the past.

“I think what we’ve had in the past is everyone is trying to go their own way on projects and without a cohesive effort and a comprehensive plan things seem to fail on their own and I believe if we can pull things together we won’t have that problem this time,” David Hatfield said.