Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

December 15, 2013

Bramwell Home Tours still going strong after 30 years

BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BRAMWELL — It all started with a suggestion from a Marshall University graduate student. Now, 30 years later, the Bramwell Winter Home Tours still attract hundreds of visitors to the quaint hamlet in a horseshoe bend of the Bluestone River on the southern border of the Flat Top coalfields.

“We had several calls from Charleston earlier in the day asking if we planned to cancel the tours this year,” Betty Goins, a 30-year veteran tour guide and native of Bramwell said. “We have never canceled because of the weather. The idea of holding a home tour as a fundraiser that Beth Hager came up with when she was working on her theses still lives today.

“There’s a spirit around Bramwell that is unique,” Goins said. “Sometimes, those of us who grew up in Bramwell don’t see it until someone else points it out, then we keep it going. These tours have been going strong for 30 years. It all goes back to Beth Hager’s theses.

“The remarkable thing is that the people who live in these homes today respect the legacy of the previous owners and also enjoy sharing their homes with visitors,” Goins said. “We have more than 50 volunteers working tonight. People get together to share their love for Bramwell.

“A new family from Vermont just moved into the Pack House this year, and they’ve been so excited getting ready for the tour,” Goins said. “The tours change every year.”

Robert Davis grew up in Bland County, Va., but moved to Bramwell 12 years ago to live in a home built in 1903 by one-time State Senator Edward S. Baker, R-Mercer who served one term each in the House of Delegates (1905-’07) and the senate (1907-’09). Davis and his family served as hosts while Marty Chaffins performed Christmas music on the flute.

“We usually start decorating at the first of October, but we got a late start this year and didn’t get started until Nov. 1, this year,” Davis said. “It’s good to share our joy of Christmas with all of the people taking the tour. We have 26 Christmas trees decorated for everyone to enjoy.”

Brian Umbarger, his wife, Julie, and their children, Miranda, Gracie and Charleston were taking the tour for the first time and seemed to enjoy every moment.

“We’re from Atkins, Va., but Julie’s granddad is from this part of the country,” Brian Umbarger said. “We were up here 3 or 4 weeks ago, saw a pamphlet about the tours and thought this might be something we would all enjoy and we decided to come. It’s been very interesting.”

Sammy and Larry Lamanca lived in the apartment above the Corner Shop in Bramwell during the early 1950s when their father was working there as a pharmacist. Sammy and his wife, Shirl and Larry and his wife, Kathy, now live in Roanoke, Va., and decided to take in the tours this year.

“We left here in 1953,” Sammy Lamanca said. “We have known about the tours, but we never came back. I’m impressed.”

The Lamancas bought their tickets from Joe Vinciguerra and Jackie Shahan — bringing the number of visitors this year up to 220, according to Vinciguerra.

“With this weather and we’re at 220, we’re happy, happy, happy,” Shahan said.

“When you get over 200, you’re doing good,” Vinciguerra said. The tours are now hosted by the Bramwell Theatre Corp. The funds raised in the tours help the Theater group stage “Smoke on the Mountain” each summer, as well as bring in some nationally known musical acts.

Christy Bailey, executive director of the Coal Heritage Highway Authority, was standing outside the Hewitt House — now the home of Harold and Rhonda Brown — while Bramwell Mayor Louise Stoker assisted Steven Anderson and Heather as they filmed Brown and guests enjoyng the home.

“We’re working on a video presentation that we’ll show to bus tour operators at the Travel South Marketplace in February,” Bailey said. “The Bramwell Home Tours will only be a part of our presentation, but an important part. We need to emphasize everything that we have in our area.

“Like I always tell people, when you go to the beach with a group of people, everyone doesn’t just want to spend all of their time sitting on the beach,” Bailey said. “We need to develop many things that will bring tourists to our area. Heritage tourism works well with the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System and other things we promote.”

– Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com