CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Friends of Blair Mountain held a rally Tuesday at the Culture Center and submitted a petition to the State Historical Preservation Office signed by more than 26,000 people supporting preservation of the historic site on the Boone-Logan county border.
Brandon Nida, a West Virginia native and doctoral student in archaeology at the University of California-Berkeley, said, "The largest labor battle in U.S. history took place on Blair Mountain back in 1921. We need to preserve it, develop it and promote the economy."
Joe Stanley, a retired miner born and raised in Mingo County, said, "I am not anti-mining or anti-coal. I am anti-mountaintop-removal mining. The Battle of Blair Mountain helped start the middle class."
Stanley said the SHPO is supposed "to protect historic structures, objects and sites."
The Friends of Blair Mountain also released a proposal Tuesday about how best to preserve the historic site, titled "Blair Mountain Historic Park."
Stanley said, "We don't only want to preserve something. We want to build something. We will have a museum, motels, restaurants, cultural events, shows and guided tours."
Today, Alpha Natural Resources, which bought Massey Energy for $7.1 billion in June, and Arch Coal control mineral rights under Blair Mountain.
Both companies have been making plans to open mountaintop-removal operations that would destroy the historic site.
Harvard Ayers, a retired professor of anthropology and archaeology at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., said he began doing archaeological surveys on Blair Mountain in 2006.
"We spent all summer that year. We identified 14 battle sites along the 10 miles from Mill Creek Gap to Blair Gap. We found more than 1,100 artifacts."
Almost all the artifacts were bullet casings found 2 to 5 inches below the surface.
"The West Virginia Archives and History Commission unanimously approved our proposal," Ayers said, to place Blair Mountain on the National Register of Historic Places.