by Tyler Clendenin
“Let me see if I can remember all my hats,” he says making himself comfortable in the main room of the Historic Matewan House Bed and Breakfast.
David Hatfield and his wife, Ellen, bought the B&B nearly a year ago. It’s not because he wanted to make money, or even that he had the extra funds to put into owning and operating a business, David says. It’s because he couldn’t stand to see another business in the heart of Matewan close its doors for good.
A locomotive engineer by day, David will retire from the Norfolk Southern Railroad in a few years. But until then, he tosses his career into the mix of his hat-juggling act—all for the betterment of his home.
David owns a few corporations in town, all geared toward building Matewan into what he believes it can be.
The Matewan Development Corporation Team’s (MDCT) goal is to bring business owners, community leaders and stakeholders together to purchase all of the buildings in the downtown area to evenly distribute the assets and liabilities of a corporation among those already present in the towns economy.
“If we stop worrying about whose piece of the pie is bigger and start worrying about making the whole pie bigger, that’s what we need to do.” David says. “We’ll all be too busy working to care who’s making more money than who.”
So far, there’s not been much involvement with the MDCT, so David has turned his attention to seeking outside investors for the project.
Meanwhile, the Hatfield McCoy County Supply lives inside the Matewan Depot Replica Museum and Welcome Center. David crafted this endeavor in the wake of The History Channel’s release of Hatfields & McCoys miniseries.
“No one was selling any memorabilia,” he says. “And people were coming from everywhere.”
David also serves as the Town of Matewan’s planner and on the board of governors for the Tug Valley Chamber of Commerce and Williamson-area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
According to David, it’s a question he hears often. And he always has a hard time answering.
“I’m willing to give my time,” he says with a slight questioning infection. “The town is pretty financially strapped.”
But for David, it’s more than just where he lives. It’s his home. He has roots in Matewan. Roots that penetrate into the town’s most notable history.
Sheriff Sid Hatfield is known for his role in the Matewan Massacre that sparked the West Virginia Mine Wars and, ultimately, one of the largest and most violent labor uprisings in Appalachian history. David is his great-great nephew.
“I see the need and I see the similarities with what they did here in May 1920,” David says. “It’s not a gun fight, but it’s the story here: a lot of people in the area feel like they did back then because we feel this is an urgent situation.”
For David, it’s time Matewan fights to stay alive.
“If we don’t get started here...,” he trails off and redirects his thought from the ‘what if.’ “We just need to get some action started.”
It all goes back to the shoot out to describe the fighting souls inside the people of Matewan. The miners and the townspeople in 1920, their backs were against the wall, according to David. They had to stand up and do what was right for the community.
With the coal companies’ power and the way they treated the miners, Matewan took a step back before the Mine Wars. It seems to David that Matewan has taken a step back again, and the need for a remedy is urgent.
“Do you think for one second when Sid and the miners fired on the detectives, didn’t know if they were dying in the next few seconds, thought ‘What’s in it for me?’’ he asks. “No. They just knew what had to be done for the town.”
That’s Matewan’s next step. The town must rally around its two most precious assets—the people and the history.
“Our people are our greatest asset. Without them we have nothing,” he says. “And we need to make our new future through our history. No one else is gonna do it for us.”
David has taken it upon himself to start the movement to better his home.
“I feel compelled to do it. Something has placed it on my heart to do this and I don’t know how else to put it,” he says. “I’m not the hardest worker. I’m not the smartest person around. I’m a motivator.”
His passion is planning projects and seeing results. There’s no other option for Matewan than to band together and make it happen.
“It’s awesome to think of reviving what we could have,” he says brushing a tear from his cheek. “And these things are doable.”