In the early 1930s, Union Carbide Corp. hired Rinehart & Dennis to build a three-mile tunnel through Gauley Mountain. It was designed to boost the flow of water from the New River to a hydroelectric plant that served the Alloy Plant at Gauley Bridge.
As the Daily Mail's Zack Harold recounted Friday, the project led to the worst industrial disaster in U.S. history. Thousands of workers were permanently injured and as many as 700 died as a result of inhaling the almost pure silica they mined through on the job.
Because the silica could be used to make alloys, the contractor did not use wet drilling techniques that would have minimized the risk.
The African-American victims then suffered insult upon injury. Initially, some were buried in an old slave ceremony at Summersville Presbyterian Church. Later victims were buried on a farm.
In 1972, the state unceremoniously moved those bodies when it widened U.S. 19. Over the years, that site came to be used as a dump.
About 10 years ago, Charlotte Yeager Neilan and her late husband, Charles, publishers of the Nicholas Chronicle, began trying to find the now-forgotten location.
They learned that Richard Hartman, a West Virginia State University professor, had found the location using state Division of Highways maps.
But when he went there, he saw nothing.