Travel to Shinnston
A strong sense of community and a friendly downtown make up this burgeoning, small town, celebrating its 160th anniversary this year.
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West Virginia is made of small towns. Once vibrant commercial and social hubs for their communities, many have long been struggling to revive their streets. Interstates bypassed them. Industries shut down. Times changed. Today’s towns, often with very little resources, continue to search for their place in the modern world. The history of these communities, like Shinnston, tells the story of our state—of who we are and who we are becoming.
“Shinnston is like every other community. Once people got automobiles and the malls came, they left town,” says Maxine Weser, who’s watched the city change over the decades. Fortunately for Shinnston, many of its residents have a vision. To them, the town is more than an exit off of Interstate 79.
Weser, also the director of the local Bice-Ferguson Memorial Museum, says Shinnston is fortunate to have a progressive city council—going after grants to improve the community. “They’re trying to bring the downtown back.”
These days, residents have high hopes for a new community center in town—a place where residents can socialize like they used to. The center would be a multi-purpose building with office space and room for meetings and special events, according to Kathleen Panek, owner of Gillum House Bed & Breakfast and tourist information center.
Lifetime resident John Rice looks around Shinnston with pride—from the new sidewalks to artisan shops. Not long ago, storefronts were empty, but now they’re full. “Shinnston is like a small Buckhannon. It’s prospering, but we’ve got a ways to go,” he says. Still, the results of hard work are all around him—a new pool, park, bocce courts, and more.
Rice’s family has been in Shinnston for generations, arriving in the early 1900s to work in the gas and oil fields. His grandfather wrote The Shinnston Tornado. The younger Rice met his wife in Shinnston and had opportunities to leave, but never did. Today, one of his brothers and one of his children still live there, too. “For me, this is a four letter word,” Rice says. “It’s home. It’s deeply ingrained in my psyche.”
Former West Virginia University President David Hardesty is also a proud Shinnston native, with family ties to the city that pre-date the Civil War. “Shinnston was a wonderful place to grow up,” Hardesty says. “It was a typical small town. My parent’s house was built for my great-grandparents. I went to the same church as my great-grandparents. Many of my teachers taught my father. The saying ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ was true. We were a close-knit community and everyone was involved.”
Hardesty is a member of the Shinnston High School Hall of Fame, and his roots gave him a sturdy foundation for success. “My teachers were nurturing and provided me with a well-rounded education. They brought me up to succeed.” But his isn’t the only success story to come from Shinnston. John McKay, who coached the University of Southern California football team and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Thomas Mayfield, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen; and author Meredith Sue Willis are just a few others. The Bice-Ferguson museum tells their stories.