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Mystery Walls on Armstrong Mountain

Charleston Gazette
March 12, 1970


Walls Tumbled Before Strippers, City Man Vows

Strip mining definitely destroyed West Virginia’s most famous archeological ruin, another Charlestonian vowed Wednesday.

John L. Gilbert of 1132 Hickory Rd., formerly of Armstrong Creek, Fayette County, said the Hawks Nest Mining Co. is “ridiculous” in its claim that is hasn’t harmed the Armstrong Mountain “mystery walls.”

The “walls” – a 10 mile-long ridge of piled-up stones that enclosed the top of the mountain – baffled archeologists ever since the 1800s. Scientists said they couldn’t have been used for fortifications or for a livestock fence or as the perimeter of a prehistoric settlement, but they might have been a sun worship site for a 1,000 year old village in the Kanawha Valley floor at the base of the mountain.

Last week, two West Virginia Tech Instructors led newsmen up the mountain near Montrgomery and said they believed the stoneworks have been destroyed by a strip mine.

Then Gorden Billheimer, vice president of Hawks Nest Mining Co. of Montgomery, wrote an indignant statement claiming his firm hadn’t damaged the prehistoric ruins.

A Charleston archeology enthusiast, William S. Bevins Jr. of 2810 Hart St., contradicted the coal official. He said he took color slides of the first stages of the destruction by the strip mine, and the mine has expanded since then to increase the obliteration.

Bevins provided the Gazette with black-and-white prints of his slides, and said he would gladly show his slide evidence to the West Virginia Archeological Society or the state Antiquities Commission or other concerned groups.

Wednesday, the second Charlestonian, Gilbert, wrote to the Gazette to protest against the coal firm’s denial that it has harmed the ruins.

“I lived on Armstrong Creek at Kimberly all my life until last year…” he said. “As a child, I used to lead expeditions of teachers, professors, archeologists and hikers up to the mystery walls.

“The walls definitely have been obliterated…The rebuttal statement of this mining official is one of the weakest and most ridiculous statements that I have ever read. People of Armstrong Creek need only to look up at the stripped mountains of the mystery wall area and realize that the walls are no longer there.

“This strip mining official may fool many Gazette readers who don’t have any knowledge of the mystery wall area, but he won’t and cannot fool the Armstrong Creek residents. Indeed, the strip mining operations have obliterated the old walls. . . All that remains is a vast wasteland…

“The Coal company rebuttal stated, ‘Only an expert could possibly recognize that walls ever existed. They couldn’t possibly be restored, and if they were, they would be insignificant.’

“Armstrong Creek residents laugh at this absurdity. For years they and their children have visited the walls either on hikes or during hunting trips. It certainly didn’t require any expert knowledge of the area to locate the walls. I was only nine years old when I and other kids hiked up the mountain to see the mystery walls.

“The walls could have been easily restored if our pathetic state government had taken interest. Our state government preferred the income from the strip mining operations instead of the expense of preserving ancient history…

“I think the strip mining officials are underestimating the intelligence and pride of Armstrong Creek residents. Every resident finds it hard to forgive the stripping company for what it has done to their homes and mountains. The once deep mountain hollows are now filled with strip mining debris. Armstrong Creek was once full of minnows and other wild life but now it is full of rocks, mud, and brackish water. Powellton residents must now finance a costly new water system because stripping operations permanently damaged their present water supply in Gum Hollow.

“Residents living along the road up Armstrong Creek used to take pride in how clean and neat they kept their homes. Now it is a losing battle to keep their homes clean because of the dust and dirt accumulated on the road due to coal truck travel. This road itself is atrocious. It is now full of chug holes and various small hollows full of stripping debris have washed out onto the road.

“At several places along the road garages for coal trucks have sprouted. They are an eyesore because of the assortment of junked truck bodies, scrap metal, etc., that are stored practically on the road. I think that if Armstrong Creek people could pass the final verdict, the coal strippers and their supporting facilities would be outlawed.

“In my opinion, the strip mining companies are not primarily to blame for the destruction of historical relics and beautiful country side. Our state government knew the risks involved when it issued the mining permit but it seems these state officials are typical West Virginia politicians. They listen only to money regardless of any risk. No, we cannot blame the strip mining company. This honor belongs to our fine state government which is the laughing stock of America.”


Native Americans