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Local Business Helps To Restore Powhatan UMWA Monument

Members of the United Mine Workers of America stand in front of the newly restored monument that pays tribute to the 66 men who perished in the 1944 Powhatan Mine fire. Pictured, from left, are Justin Gallagher, of Randall L. Gallagher Memorials; Greg Richardson, recording secretary of Local Union 5497 UMWA; Rick Altman, vice president of International District 31 UMWA; Jerry Binni retired secretary/treasurer of District 6 UMWA; Zach Stevie, resident of Local Union 1636 UMWA; Mike Knight, president of Local Union 1473 UMWA; Bryan Rankin, safety committee of Local Union 1478 UMWA; and Ryan Sparks, vice president of Local Union 1638.

POWHATAN POINT – A local business donated its services to help restore the Powhatan United Mine Workers of America memorial.

The more than 10-foot granite stone monument in Powhatan Cemetery is dedicated in memory of 66 men who died in the 1944 Powhatan Mine fire.

Randall L. Gallagher Memorials Inc. of St. Clairsville helped to restore the memorial, free of charge. Employees Justin Gallagher and Randall Purtiman spent Friday morning cleaning and power washing the memorial. Gallagher said the monument was covered in dirt, grime and moss.

This is not the first time the company has aided in a memorial restoration. Last month, it donated its services to help with the Dough Boy monument restoration at Wheeling Park.

“We do a lot for certain organizations. We try to help out the different communities,” Gallagher said.

Prior to Friday’s cleaning, the monument had not been cleaned in more than 20 years.

Jerry Binni, retired secretary/treasurer of District 6 UMWA, said the monument was erected in the early 1950s by Local Union 5497 UMWA. The last time it was cleaned was on the 50th anniversary of the fire that claimed those 66 lives, he said. Binni said July 5 marked the 76th anniversary of the fatal fire.

“On July 5, 1944, the fire started … These men ended up not being able to make it out. They barricaded themselves in and after a couple of days of fighting the fire, they were unable to put out the fire. The decision was then made to seal the mine and cut the air. While the men were barricaded in down there, most of them were overcome by smoke and carbon dioxide and eventually died,” he said.

It took nearly two years for all of the men’s bodies to be recovered, Binni said.

Notes and letters the men had written to their loved ones were found.

Members from various local unions of the UMWA gathered to admire the monument after its deep cleaning.

“We really appreciate Gallagher Monuments cleaning this. After all, this is just a year after the 75th anniversary of the fire,” Binni said.

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