Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

June 6, 2013

First impressions contributed to a negative gut reaction 25 years ago


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — I first heard of Bluefield more than 25 years ago when I was driving to a job interview in Georgia. That job didn’t pan out, so I kept looking. A couple of months later, Tom Colley, who was the executive editor of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, called and invited me down for an interview.

My first view of Bluefield was from the back of a Greyhound bus. Somebody had slashed my car’s coolant hose — to this day, I think the perpetrator mistook my car for one belonging to a neighbor — so I had to scramble and find alternate transportation. The bus went down Bland Street, and I was impressed right away. I saw rows of nice homes on well-kept yards. I got off at the old bus stop in South Bluefield and asked where I might find the Daily Telegraph. A clerk gave me directions and I started walking with no idea how far I would have to go.

My route took me through downtown Bluefield. What was my first impression? Well, I thought about turning around and getting back on that bus. I found streets full of vacant and not very appealing storefronts. Then I found the old Telegraph building and really started having second thoughts about that job. Did I really want to live here?

Finally, I found Bluefield Avenue and arrived at the Daily Telegraph’s new building. I was impressed, and Tom decided he would “take a chance on me.” He was surprised when I told him how far I had walked and gave me a ride back to the bus station. I scrambled and found an apartment on College Avenue; it wasn’t much, but I managed.

I gradually learned more about the region’s history and learned what a thriving place Bluefield and the surrounding communities used to be. I drove to assignments and saw dilapidated houses and businesses. I also saw a lot of things I liked, and often saw the good and the bad standing side by side.

Those sort of sights are still easy to find today, but when I set those first impressions I had years ago with the sights I see today, I know there has been some improvements. Downtown Bluefield is much cleaner and has more businesses and more activity. The same can be said for places like Mercer Street in Princeton. Yes, there is still a lot to do, but people are realizing change is possible. People are looking at places like Lewisburg and realizing the same sort of transformation is possible in their own communities.

One change is coming to the region on four small wheels. ATV riders are coming to the new Pocahontas Trail in Mercer County, and there are plans for the Spearhead Trail in neighboring Tazewell County. More people are coming to the region and getting first impressions of it. For instance, I know we are hearing about the town of Bramwell being busy on Saturdays thanks to ATV riders from out of state.

Places like nearby Bluewell are also seeing more traffic thanks to ATV visitors, and this could spread to communities like Matoaka and Pocahontas, Va. Thousands of people are coming to our region, which means thousands of people are getting a first impression.

The job now is to make sure their first impression isn’t like my first impression. I stayed and gave the area a chance because I needed a job. The ATV tourists coming here now are free to make a choice. If they don’t like what they see, if they are not pleased with that first impression, they will take their four wheelers and their money somewhere else.

Fortunately, there are efforts underway to make the region look better. In Bluefield, volunteers with a beautification program have put flowers in the downtown and keep trash picked up. In Bluewell, more flowers are being put up and volunteers work to keep their community clean and appealing. Similar efforts can be found throughout the two Virginias.

All of these efforts are good, but the volunteers could use more help. One of the best ways to make a contribution is to keep your own property looking good. This means keeping grass mowed, keeping junk out of sight and doing some painting once in a while.

In Princeton, a recycling program helps residents get rid of old mobile homes, old cars and other junk. Private property, when you consider all together, amounts to a much larger area than all the region’s downtowns and business districts combined.

When you drive along the highways and secondary roads, most of the property you see is private property. You see plenty of presentable homes and businesses, but there are still a lot of vacant, collapsing and even burned-out structures. Princeton and Bluefield both are addressing this problem by conducting demolition programs to eliminate dilapidated structures.

I think if I came to Mercer County for the first time today, my first impression would be better than the negative gut reaction I had 25 years ago. I would be more inclined to stay, job or no job, and give the region a chance.

Greg Jordan is the Daily Telegraph’s senior reporter. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com