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Organizers hoping to rekindle interest in miners memorial wall

January 20th, 2007 10:48 pm by STEPHEN IGO



Kenneth Henry, builder of the Miners Memorial Wall, is shown with Memorial Wall Committee members Kyle Strong Jr., Brownie Polly Jr., Mark Munsey and Butch Fritz. Stephen Igo photo.


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APPALACHIA - A century after the Wise County town of Appalachia popped up around a railroad crossing built to serve a burgeoning coal industry, a memorial wall for underground coal miners could theoretically be built to practically surround the entire town.


"When you think of all the mines operating around here over all those years, we figure there must have been at least 100,000 miners, or better, who worked in these mines at one time or another," said Mark Munsey, a retired teacher who lives in Kingsport. He is also a native of Appalachia, taught many years at Powell Valley and Appalachia high schools before wrapping up his teaching career in Kingsport schools, and is a member of the town's Memorial Wall Committee.


Kyle Strong Jr., who worked 37 years in some of those mines, also serves on the committee. He was a third-generation miner, having followed his grandfather and father into the pits. Like other committee members, Strong finds it difficult to fathom the lack of individualized bricks purchased by miners or their surviving families to honor their contributions to the area, as well as their sacrifices.


The wall - or walls, since there are two existing structures in a connecting wing, mostly blank, with two more planned, or at least that still hover in the hopes of the committee - is located at the Louis Henegar Miners Memorial Park tucked into a corner of Appalachia off Callahan Avenue. The tiny but well-constructed park was dedicated by the town in 2001 with the memorial wall planned as the central feature.


The committee laments the slow response since around 1998, when plans for the park took off, by miners and their families to purchase bricks for the wall.


"It's been a real poor response for the eight or nine years we've been at it," said committee member Butch Fritz, who worked 10 years in the mines before he was injured.


Miners who worked in underground operations in the area, or their surviving families who wish to have their loved ones remembered as a part of local history, can purchase bricks for $40.


The name of the miner and where he or she worked, and when - or pretty much whatever the family wishes within limits - is engraved on a brick and placed into the wall, identical to the more popular and successful wall dedicated to military veterans located just down the street.


Fritz took the first order for a brick in February 1999. Since then, he has sold 340 bricks, or just enough to fill one side of one wing and get a start filling the other side. Not exactly a response the committee was hoping to see from a community and region proud of their coal mining and railroading heritage.


In a committee statement Munsey penned for this article, he said the purpose of the park is to "honor underground coal miners for the sacrifices and contributions they have made in building a great nation. We also wish to inspire young people with stories of sacrifice, productivity and heroism. The Derby Mine explosion of 1934 was probably the darkest day of the coal mining industry in this area. Seventeen men were killed. There wasn't any way to list the 17 who died, or the 77 who were saved, but the committee remembers them."


People should be proud of their heritage, said Munsey of the committee's effort to rekindle interest in the memorial wall.


"We think a lot of people just don't know about (the wall project), and we're hoping this might help get the word back out."


Applications are available at Appalachia Town Hall.


Orders can also be made by calling Munsey at (423)335-6969, Fritz at (276)565-1822, Emory Davidison at (276)565-0034 or Strong at (276)565-0294.


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