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Charles Town jail dedicated to honor '20s coal miners

They 'were fighting for the same rights as those at Gettysburg'

They 'were fighting for the same rights as those at Gettysburg'

September 21, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - Six years after the fight began to save the Jefferson County Jail, those who worked to prevent its demolition finally celebrated victory Saturday on the jailhouse steps.

"Frankly, we thought it would be easy," said Carol Gallant, president of a citizens group that worked to save the jail. "But in the year 2008, as I stand here, I can say an old jail is not an easy sell."

The Jailhouse Rededication Committee held a ceremony Saturday as part of the dedication of the renovated jail, which now houses government office operations.

More than 75 people attended the ceremony, which was part of Heritage Day in downtown Charles Town.

Many of the people who attended wore red bandannas that read "Support West Virginia Miners. Be a redneck," a reference to the former jail's place in history as the site where miners were held during the treason trials of the 1920s.

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The trials stemmed from miner unrest over brutality and the miners' attempt to unionize, according to historical accounts.

Little was known about the matter when David Corbin began researching it for his book, "Life, Work and Rebellion in the Coal Fields."

Corbin, who spoke during Saturday's ceremony, called the rededication of the jail an "extremely important symbolic moment" in which Jefferson County elected officials worked to save artifacts and preserve an important part of West Virginia's history.

"(The mine wars) were not hillbilly feuds," Corbin said. "They were fighting for the same rights as those at Gettysburg, Lexington and Normandy fought for."

The Jefferson County Commission at one time considered demolishing the former jail, but a group of concerned citizens called Jefferson County Preservation Alliance to Save Our Heritage (JCPASH) worked to save the building.

After five court hearings, the Jefferson County Commission agreed to fund a historic review that found the building was solid and should be saved. The commission decided to spend more than $2 million to save the jail.

Gallant said the jail's demolition, which she said was to make space for a parking lot, would have destroyed the character of downtown Charles Town.

"Heritage is more important than satisfying someone who drives for five minutes and can't find a parking spot," Gallant said. "You can combine your heritage with your growth."

Among the attendees at the ceremony was William C. Blizzard Jr., who was 5 when his father, labor leader Bill Blizzard, was found innocent during the miner trials at the Jefferson County Courthouse.

William Jr., now 90, did not speak during the ceremony, though he was acknowledged by several speakers, including former West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw.

With a red bandanna hanging from the pocket of his suit jacket, McGraw said it was "an honor" to participate in Saturday's dedication.

"Let this building stand forever as a representation of the people who love democracy," McGraw said.

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