· Irish · Native American · Slovenian ·
The Mountain Lakes is the central-most cluster of counties (Lewis, Upshur, Gilmer, Braxton, Clay, Webster, and Nicholas), and historically perhaps the most isolated region in the state. This area proportionally has the smallest population. The larger communities in the area include Weston (Lewis County), Buckhannon (Upshur County), Glenville (Gilmer County) and Summersville (Nicholas County). Nicholas and Clay counties have been important coal counties and were home at one time to several ethnically diverse coal towns. Towns like Widen, Clay County, had incredibly diverse communities during their heyday as coal towns. There have also been major lumbering operations in the region. Throughout the Mountain Lakes, English, Irish, and German ancestry are common. To a lesser extent, Scots-Irish, Italian, Dutch, Scottish, and French roots are also present. Historically, Scots-Irish and German farm culture had a major impact in the area. These older ancestral roots were major influences in the early history of the state, however there are currently few distinct regional ethnic communities in the counties in the Mountain Lakes region. Lewis County was an important rural home for West Virginia Catholics, mostly of Irish and German ancestry, and there are prominent reminders of those communities in the area. Most activities to be found in this area reflect the general population, and many activities have an Appalachian emphasis, although there are a few that also have an ethnic flavor, including the Irish Spring Festival.
In the Mountain Lakes, approximately 19% of the population has Irish ancestry, although there is currently no active community or common meeting place for descendants of earlier communities. Many Irish settled in West Virginia in the middle of the nineteenth century following the great potato famine in Ireland. Some arrived from their homeland as recently as the turn of the century and came to central West Virginia for employment in the coal mines and railroads. The area is home to many people of Irish descent, including the O'Dell and McCartney families. At one time, there were rural Irish colonies in Lewis and Braxton counties, and many of the larger towns in this region had distinct Irish communities. In Summersville, for example, there used to be an Irish neighborhood called Irish Corner. Saint Patrick's Catholic Church in Weston represented a predominantly Irish community at one time. To our knowledge, these communities no longer exist, although with further research it may be possible to locate older members of the community still living in the area.
A good representation of Irish heritage in the area can be found in the town of Ireland, Lewis County. Each March, Ireland is the location of the Irish Spring Festival, an event with a distinct Irish flavor hosted by the general community. The event celebrates St. Patrick's Day, the first day of spring, and the legend surrounding a local Irishman named Andrew "Old Ireland" Wilson. Wilson lived to be 114 years old, and his long life was attributed to living in the region. The town of Ireland is named in his honor. The Irish Spring Festival features several events that are Irish cultural activities including Road Bowling (a traditional Irish sport recently imported to West Virginia), and a traditional harp concert. The festival often includes speakers and presentations on Irish topics. Other activities, which reflect the local community more so than an Irish tradition, include square dancing, a gospel sing, a covered dish dinner, cooking contests, and a parade. The festival always ends on the first day of spring with a walk up to the local "Blarney Rock" on a hill above Ireland.
Irish Spring Festival
1438 McChord Run Road
Walkersville, WV 26447
Slovenes are a Slavic ethnic group from the republic of Slovenia, formerly a constituent republic of Yugoslavia. Many originally came to the Richwood area between 1900 and 1930 for work in lumber and coal camps, establishing a community which was once thriving. Heritage and tradition was preserved in the community at the family level, and also through several activities that brought the community together, including the Slovenian National Benefit Society Lodge, church activities associated with the Holy Family Catholic Church, and gatherings at the local restaurant owned by the Prelaz family.
Currently there are a few older families in the area, but no ethnic community activities. Many of the local immigrant families still attend the Holy Family Catholic Church, but the church now reflects the general population rather than a predominantly ethnic one. The small ethnic community recently included a Slovenian float in the Richwood Homecoming Celebration, as a demonstration of the pride in their heritage.
Rosie Prelaz Mondreas
71 Ave. B
Richwood, WV 26261
Donnie Urbas Cox
34 Spruce St.
Richwood, WV 26261
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