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Southwest Virginia history museum opens in St. Paul

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ST. PAUL, Va. - If you are still finalizing your plans for a long holiday weekend, there is a new place to visit in southwest Virginia. A museum highlighting the region's history is now open in St. Paul. Southwest Virginia has a rich history from music to mining. "A lot of times, there is negative connotations about the Appalachian mountains, but there's another side of the story," museum owner Frank Kilgore said. Nestled in the mountains between three counties, St. Paul, Va. is not the first place you might spot on a map. However, at one time, this region had one of the most diverse populations in the country bringing in miners in from all over the world. Kilgore showed us examples of scrip in the museum. This is what the coal mining companies used to pay miners.

"These cutaway marks in each one of them had tens of thousands of miners who were from Eastern Europe and other foreign countries that couldn't speak English when they got here. They could look at the cutout and see which company scrip that was," Kilgore said. To make sure those stories aren't forgotten, Kilgore is trying to preserve them in a museum.

"I think just to appreciate the colorful, rich history we have here in southwest Virginia." Kilgore's childhood friend and the museum's curator, Jackie Marshall, is known as the "time travel engineer." "It was like a different world," Marshall said. He takes people through the exhibits, which many people in this region might recognize. "This picture here reminds me so much of my dad," Marshall said, acknowledging a young kid working in the mines. Marshall said his dad started carrying water for miners when he was five years old. St. Paul Mayor Kyle Fletcher said he brings people over to the museum as often as he can.

"So this is all true. It's people who have a few more years on them like Leroy Hilton and others, this is just like yesterday," he said. More than 2,000 pieces are on display. Many of the items come from a museum in Clinchco and from Kilgore's personal collection. Don't try to ask anyone around the museum which item is their favorite.

"That'd be just like picking out your favorite child, which one you like best," Marshall said. You can find the museum in downtown St. Paul right behind Kilgore's law office. Admission is free. It is open on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.

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