OAK HILL — The historically Black cemetery at Harlem Heights was recently restored through a Partnership Grant from the National Coal Heritage Area Authority (NCHAA). The 2.5-acre site near Oak Hill contains at least 16 graves from the 1950s and 1960s, including coal miners, factory workers, and veterans from both world wars.
The project began in 2017 when trail developers, scouting for future trails at Wolf Creek Park, discovered a mostly-abandoned cemetery on the property. The Mountain State Trail Alliance (MSTA) received two NCHAA Partnership grants to uncover the history of the cemetery.
Under the first grant, historians Dr. Billy Joe Peyton and Dr. Michael Workman of West Virginia State University were contracted to write a history of the cemetery as part of a larger historical investigation of Wolf Creek Park.
Funds from the second grant were used to install fencing and clean up the cemetery, and volunteers installed a historical exhibit at the cemetery based on research from Dr. Workman and Dr. Peyton.
“Over time, this cemetery appears to have become overgrown and forgotten about,” said Gabe Pena, Fayette County Resource Coordinator. “We are happy to be able to preserve and share this history with our community.”
The Historic Resource Study can be accessed online at http://wolfcreekpark.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Wolf-Creek-Report-final2019-compressed.pdf. Included in the study is a history of the Wolf Creek area, including the Civil War era and the coal boom; a brief history of Harlem Heights and the cemetery; and a list of the graves in the cemetery as well as related historical information on the identified individuals buried there.
The mission of the National Coal Heritage Area Authority is to preserve, protect, promote, and interpret lands, structures, and communities associated with the coal mining heritage of 13 counties in southern West Virginia.
The Mountain State Trail Alliance is a non-profit organization that promotes the health and well-being of the area by building and maintaining a regional trail system, and increasing economic development through tourism. Membership information is available at www.mountainstatetrails.org.