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Inn offers Hatfield-McCoy experience

WILLIAMSON, W.Va. -- When family patriarchs William "Devil Anse" Hatfield and Randall McCoy visited this Tug Fork River town in the years after the smoke cleared from their decades-long feud, a three-story house could be seen on a gentle slope overlooking the community.

"The house was built in 1896, during the lifetimes of both men," said Bill Richardson, a WVU Extension Service associate professor who has been promoting Hatfield-McCoy heritage tourism in Mingo County for the past 15 years. "It's the oldest standing house in Williamson and Mingo County, and it's one of only a few buildings that could be seen from the river" at the start of the 20th century, he said. " Devil Anse and Randall McCoy must have noticed it."

Richards and partner Wendy Hackney are using the building, now known as the Hatfield-McCoy House, to take notice of the Hatfield-McCoy legacy and interpret it for their guests.

The historic house offers guests an immersive experience in the Hatfield-McCoy story, as well as a comfortable place to spend the night. Five rooms are decorated and furnished in a manner that reflects the personalities of five key feud characters: Roseanna Hatfield, Johnse McCoy, McCoy operative "Bad" Frank Phillips, William Anderson "Devil Anse" Hatfield, and Randall McCoy and members of his immediate family.

Antiques and implements from the period, newspaper clippings, photos, firearms and copies of wedding licenses and birth certificates are among items used to interpret the lives of the feud characters.

"Our goal is to help people enhance their Hatfield-McCoy experiences while visiting the area," said Hackney, who formerly operated the building as a bed and breakfast.

"We want our guests to walk in the shoes of these bigger-than-life feud characters," said Richardson. "We're trying to get people coming to this area to visit feud sites to stay here and immerse themselves in Hatfield-McCoy history, rather than driving to a chain motel somewhere out of town."

Hackney and Richardson consider the Roseanna Hatfield Room their favorite.

"Roseanna died with a broken heart at the age of 29," Richardson said. She was shunned by her family for having a romantic relationship with Johnse Hatfield that produced an out-of-wedlock baby, and was later jilted by Johnse, who ended up marrying one of Roseanna's cousins.

A mannequin in the room is clad in a wedding gown from the feud era, representing the marriage Roseanna never had. A diary containing thoughts and feelings she may have experienced, based on interpretations of her life story by Hackney and Richardson, is open and available for guests to pore through.

While each room is decorated in 19th century themes, each also has more up-to-date amenities, including private bathrooms, flat screen televisions, and wireless Internet access. A continental breakfast is available to guests.

Hackney previously operated the home as a bed and breakfast called the Linkous House, named for Mary Elizabeth Linkous, the granddaughter of the home's builder and first occupant, J. M. Smith.

"Mrs. Linkous was born in this house, and lived here for 100 years," said Hackney, who operated the B&B for 10 years. For the past three months, she, Richardson, and her father, John Hackney, have been upgrading the building and converting it to the Hatfield-McCoy theme.

"Bill and I have enjoyed going out and finding things related to the Hatfield-McCoy story," Hackney said.

She and Richardson are both lifelong residents of the area with ties to both feuding families.

Hackney is a third-generation granddaughter of both Uriah McCoy and "Preacher" Anderson Hatfield. "I consider myself bi-feudal," she said.

Richardson said he is distantly related to the Hatfields. "It's a really tenuous connection, though," he said.

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 rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.

 


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