Hello all. My name is Dakota Stanley and I am a senior at UVA-Wise. I live in a town just north of Wise and my family has deep roots in the region. Because of that I have a genuine interest in learning more about Wise and the coalfield region, as it is often referred to locally. Wise is the only branch campus of the University of Virginia and it is located in the far southwestern part of the state. The college and its surrounding communities are situated very close to the Kentucky border and share more similarities with West Virginia or the East Kentucky coalfields than the rest of Virginia. Wise is a typical small Appalachian town with much of its history tied to the coal industry. Attempting to research Wise in the World War I time period has presented some major challenges, particularly a lack of easily accessible resources. The college library has an archive on local history that was somewhat limited in size but still certainly a valuable asset. Another interesting issue that has come to our attention has been a relative lack of interest in World War I among local historians, especially when compared to the much more plentiful work done on local soldiers in World War II.
For my part in our present research, I have decided to focus on, in conjunction with Victoria’s research into local organizations, what Wise itself was like in 1914 and how that changed, or didn’t, over the next five years. The prosperity of Wise and other local counties has always been closely tied to the boom-bust cycle that comes with a resource based economy. When lumber or coal production was on the rise, Wise and other local towns saw an increase in population and activity. When the resource markets turned down the area often slowed to a near halt. Stories from the good times and the bad times are very common to anyone who has grown up in Southwest Virginia like I have and I look forward to doing research that could create a more detailed understanding of the area that goes beyond the colloquial stories shared by locals.
One thing that will help Victoria and I in our research will be the ability to expand our scope beyond just the town of Wise itself. Wise is a small town with a very small population and it would be difficult to compile enough just from this one town to create a full picture of the World War I experience. In order to create that fuller picture it will be necessary to expand our research into surrounding areas. There are a number of small towns and counties in Southwest Virginia all bound together by their similar dependence on coal. Each town is unique in its own way, but it is very likely that they all had a very similar experience from 1914 to 1918. I look forward to continuing our research and understanding more about this area that I have called home for my entire life.