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Whipple Company Store stirs up history for Scouts

By Laura Reston
Kenny Kemp
Scouts work to clear the hillside above the Whipple store on Wednesday.
Kenny Kemp Scouts say a prayer before eating their lunch Wednesday at the Whipple store.
Kenny Kemp The Scouts from Ohio take a lunch break after clearing brush and starting to build the fence.

WHIPPLE, W.Va. -- Ian Sweet raked through the undergrowth outside the Whipple Company Store Museum on Wednesday. Breathless and sunburned, he drove a shovel through the rocky ground to clear the hill beside the building.

Sweet -- a Boy Scout from Oberlin, Ohio -- decided to forgo whitewater rafting and skateboarding at the National Scout Jamboree on Wednesday for a firsthand lesson on West Virginia history.

The Whipple Company Store served local coal miners for decades. Today, the wooden structure stands as a living reminder of the days when coal drove Whipple's economy.

On Wednesday, the Boy Scouts helped expand the museum store complex.

Sweet and fellow Scouts worked all morning to build an amphitheater on the grassy knoll outside the museum. They also broke ground on a community garden to teach local children about organic growing practices.

The area currently features a small platform where local students have re-enacted historical events and staged plays about the coal barons and the mine wars.

Local historian Joy Lynn wants to continue those re-enactments on a larger scale.

Lynn breathed life into the crumbling store eight years ago. Since then, she has encouraged countless young people -- including the Scouts who came to Whipple on Wednesday -- to embrace local history.

Lynn has seen children learn best from interactive displays and exhibits.

"If they can touch history," she said, "they can retain history."

The Whipple Company Store Museum embraces that philosophy.

"It's not your typical sanitized museum," Lynn said.

The spacious store used to stock everything from food, clothing and shoes to coffins, but it now houses mining photographs and artifacts -- many donated by Whipple residents.

Cases placed around the central room display the scrip coins and paper ledgers used to quantify store purchases. Antique fire engine parts, shoemaker forms, telephone switchboards and post boxes lie piled around the corners. An old whiskey-still stands on a forgotten cabinet.

Boy Scout Zach Morgan said he never liked history because his elementary school teachers always seemed to make the subject boring. On Wednesday, though, he eagerly recounted facts about the store that Lynn had imparted that morning.

Nick Funkhouser enjoyed learning about the coal mines. He had never fully understood how builders had supported the tunnels through the mines. On Wednesday, he learned about those structures.

He said he hopes to one day become an architect, although he might have to abandon a potential career as a videogame tester, he said.

Learning about the past should help these Scouts prepare for the future, said Assistant Scoutmaster Dann Barczyk.

Reach Laura Reston at laura.reston@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5112.


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