Williamson and other Tug Valley communities have embraced the Hatfield-McCoy story only recently, according to Richardson.
"When I was a kid here, everyone ran from their history," Richardson said, one reason being that regional hillbilly stereotype "probably started with the feud."
Richardson's interest in promoting the Hatfield-McCoy story and an economic development tool began after a friend got involved in the restoration of the Hatfield Cemetery in Logan County. It was the first of what would become many feud sites now used to tell the feud story to visitors.
Fifteen years ago, he said, "there was nowhere for people to go and nothing for them to see" to learn about the feud. After reading about Missouri's success in developing tourism based on identifying sites involving outlaw Jesse James and his gang, he decided the same approach could be taken here.
"I thought, 'we've got a story just as rich as theirs, but we're hiding from it," he said. "People didn't even want to talk about it. But we have more to offer here than Pigeon Forge [Tenn.] or Branson [Mo.] had to offer before they started building a tourism infrastructure."
Richardson and others developed a series of Hatfield-McCoy sites on both sides of the Tug for visitors to explore, including burial site for Randall McCoy and other members of his clan; the Pawpaw Massacre site just across the river from Matewan, where a group of Hatfields executed three McCoys for killing Devil Anse's brother, and the "Hog Trial" site, where legal proceedings over ownership of a pig, which sparked the feud, were held.
After a few sporadic "boomlets" of interest in the feud, Hatfield-McCoy tourism caught fire after the "Hatfields & McCoys" miniseries aired on The History Channel in the spring of 2012.
"More than 150,000 people came to the area after the miniseries ran, and about the same number came in 2013," Richardson said.
Since the miniseries aired, Richardson helped arrange for a feud-related episode of The History Channel's "American Pickers" to be shot in the area, along with an episode of National Geographic Channel's "Diggers," and a segment on The History Channel's "How States Got Their Shapes" in which Hackney appeared.
Richardson, who made "Feud," an hour-long documentary film on the Hatfields and McCoys several years ago, produced last year's History Channel series "Hatfields & McCoys: White Lightning," which could be renewed for a second season.
"I've taken some heat for that show," he said, "but it keeps people thinking about the feud, and it's created a distilling business here (expected to open later this year) that should be a source of income for years to come."
As a result of all the media exposure to feud, "We've gone from running away from the feud to having people ask us about it and come from all over the world to see where it happened," Richardson said. "For once, we're hot! For the first time in our lives, it's cool to be from Hatfield-McCoy country."
But when your dream starts to come true, Richardson said, "You can't take a nap. We need to keep the feud story in the national consciousness, and find new, creative ways to tell it."
While Mingo County has lost thousands of coal mining jobs since Richardson began promoting Hatfield-McCoy tourism, "heritage tourism is a clean, self-renewable resource," he said. "You can build on it forever because you won't run out of history."
Room rate for the Hatfield McCoy House, located at 1 West 5th Ave. in Williamson, is $79.95 per night. For more information visit www.hatfieldmccoyhouse.com or call 304-235-3174.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.