Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Highlighting Changing Landscape of Rural America Coming to Welch, WV

Welch, WV – The City of Welch will host the Smithsonian Museum on Main Street, “Crossroads: Change in Rural America” at the Jack Caffrey Center in downtown Welch from June 4-July 6th, 2022. Crossroads: Change in Rural America has been made possible in by the City of Welch and the WV West Virginia Humanities Council. The traveling Smithsonian exhibit is organized into six sections, interweaving images and text with video, audio, and other interactive elements. By examining the themes of identity, land, community, persistence, and managing change, it will present perspectives on the lives of over 60 million people that call rural America home. Crossroads offers small towns a chance to look at their own paths with local exhibits and programming and highlight the changes that impacted their destiny over the past century and examine their future.

“Crossroads” explores how rural American communities changed in the 20th century. From sea to shining sea, most of the United States landscape remains rural with only 3.5% of the landmass considered urban. Since 1900, the percentage of Americans living in rural areas dropped from 60% to 17%. The exhibition looks at that remarkable societal change and how rural Americans responded. Americans have relied on rural crossroads for generations. These places where people gather to exchange goods, services, and culture and to engage in political and community discussions are an important part of our cultural fabric. Despite the massive economic and demographic impacts brought on by these changes, America’s small towns continue to creatively focus on new opportunities for growth and development

Mayor Harold McBride explained why Welch was so excited to bringing the event to McDowell County, “Historically coal miners are some of the most persevering people in Appalachia. They work long hours and still have a strong commitment to their families and community.  They are committed to finding solutions to problems rather than abandoning the places where they live. We wanted the chance in Welch, to not only learn from other rural communities and what they are doing to thrive, but also showcase the history of the families that call our area home.  These local stories, coupled with our vibrant history, are a perfect complement to the Crossroads exhibit and hopefully start conversations around dinner tables in our area on what our future looks like.”

“I strongly encourage each of you to visit and bring your families to this Museum on Main Street exhibit during the month of June. It’s not only culturally significant to our local heritage, but we should all be honored to have the Smithsonian exhibiting in the City of Welch, McBride concluded.

In addition to the exhibit, which will mirror the hours of the Jack Caffrey Center each week, the City of Welch is planning several special weekend programs during the month of June.

June 3rd: Sneak peek reception of the exhibit which opens officially to the public on June 4th from 6:00 – 7:30pm.  The public is invited, and Mayor Harold McBride will make welcome remarks at 6:30pm.

June 4th:  The Jack Caffery Center Smithsonian Exhibit Grand Opening from 11am -1pm

June 11th: The Terror of the Tug will be performed on the Courthouse Steps at noon on June 11th during the Coalfields Cookoff.  People interested in riding the Trolley should meet at the parking garage on each hour from 10-4pm

June 18 – Showcase Local Appalachian Arts and Local Musicians from 11-2pm

June 25 – Plans are still being finalized.

July 2 – City of Welch Coaltown Beach Bash is happening downtown from 12pm to 9pm.  The Trolley will be available on the hour from 12pm to 4pm from the parking garage to shuttle people to the Caffrey Center on the hour.

July 5 – Closing celebration of the Museum on Main Street with a presentation on the Future of Welch, WV at 6pm.

Welch was one of six West Virginia towns chosen to host the Smithsonian in 2022 because of its location in the West Virginia Coalfields. “Crossroads: Change in Rural America” will show on a local level how McDowell County drew people from all over the world to work in the coal fields and the vast array of cultures represented throughout the hills and hollows of Southern, WV. Coal companies often grouped people in a “camp” who spoke the same language, thereby maintaining their heritage. 

Designed for small-town museums, libraries and cultural organizations, “Crossroads” will serve as a community meeting place for conversations about how rural America has changed. With the support and guidance of state humanities councils, these towns will develop complementary exhibits, host public programs, and facilitate educational initiatives to raise people’s understanding about their own history, the joys and challenges of living rural, how change has impacted their community, and prompt discussion of goals for the future. The exhibition is part of Museum on Main Street, a unique collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES), state humanities councils across the nation, and local host institutions. To learn more about “Crossroads” and other Museum on Main Street exhibitions, visit SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for more than 65 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science, and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play. For exhibition description and tour schedules, Crossroads: Change in Rural America is part of Museum on Main Street, a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and State Humanities Councils nationwide. Support for Museum on Main Street has been provided by the United States Congress.