Beckley, WV Named to Smithsonian Magazine's List of 20 Best Small Towns in U.S.

By David M. Kinchen
Beckley, WV Named to Smithsonian Magazine's List of 20 Best  Small Towns in U.S.

Beckley has joined a prestigious list of 20 Best Small Towns in America, according to an article by Susan Spano and Aviva Shen in the May 2012 Smithsonian magazine.

The county seat of Raleigh County, home to Tamarack and the Exhibition Coal Mine, Beckley ranks 19th, just above Oxford, MS, hometown of William Faulkner and the University of Mississippi.

Lewisburg, WV, about 40 miles to the east of Beckley, was named to a list of America's "coolest" small towns (link to my story from last August:

Susan Plummer in the April 19, 2012 edition of The Register-Herald (where I worked from 1993 to 2000) said:

"The best small towns were chosen among locations with populations of less than 25,000, particularly those in the southern United States, and those that have a good opportunity for visitors to see theater, art, music, dance and museums.

Beckley, WV Named to Smithsonian Magazine's List of 20 Best  Small Towns in U.S.

"Beckley was noted for both the Exhibition Coal Mine and Tamarack, a location lauded for hosting artisan demostrations, lectures, music and theater events.

"Theatre West Virginia and the Appalachian Festival were also mentioned by name in the article.

"Beckley Mayor Emmett Pugh commented, 'I think the people who live here, we know how good the city is. And when I say city, I mean the urban area of the city. ... there are a lot of positive things here.

“When you start throwing in the skiing in the winter, Glade Springs Resort, and of course, whitewater rafting and rock climbing in the summer months, and now with the Boy Scouts initiative, this area is finally starting to get noticed and it was entirely appropriate that we were named in that, and I think it’s great.

“I think we are on the cusp of even more development and it goes to show that our area has really stepped up in the last couple of years.

Rep. Nick Rahall said he is pleased so many people across the country “will learn that the beauty and splendor of southern West Virginia is only surpassed by the warm and welcoming nature of the citizens in each and every one of our cities and towns."


Beckley is the hometown of Rahall, D-WV-3.



Great Barrington, Mass. and Taos, N.M., ranked No. 1 and No. 2 on the list.

Great Barrington, long a favorite summer and fall getaway destination for vacationers, has a population of just 6,800 but boasts the sophistication of a larger city, with great food, arts, and plenty of hipsters. It's also surrounded by natural beauty, with lakes, woods and the nearby Berkshire Mountains.

The magazine says the charm of Taos centers around tourists and other outdoor enthusiasts packing the plaza of the old adobe town, along with its many galleries and museums steeped in a deep Hispanic and Native American past. The small mountain hamlet is located in northern New Mexico.

Editors enlisted geographic information systems company Esri to search its data base to help in the selection. To be considered, towns must have fewer than 25,000 people and are ranked based on culture.

Also on the list are Red Bank, N.J.; Mill Valley, Calif.; Gig Harbor, Wash.; Durango, Colo.; Butler, Pa.; Marfa, Texas; Naples, Fla.; Staunton, Va.; Brattleboro, Vt.; Princeton, N.J.; Brunswick, Maine; Siloam Springs, Ark.; Menomonie, Wis.; Key West, Fla.; Laguna Beach, Calif.; Ashland, Ore.; Beckley, W.Va., and Oxford, Miss.

Here's what co-author Aviva Shen had to say about Beckley, originally referred to as Beckley City, and later corrected:

19. Beckley, WV

Life in Beckley, like much of the Appalachian area, has always revolved around the coal industry. Take a tour of the coal seams under the city at the Exhibition Coal Mine, renovated in 2008 to give visitors a look into the life of a coal miner and the history of the region. There’s plenty of activity aboveground, too, most of it happening at Tamarack, West Virginia’s enormous arts center off the Beckley exit on the West Virginia Turnpike. Tamarack doubles as market and arts center: local artisans give demos and sell their textiles, jewelry and pottery, and the Tamarack theater hosts live music, theater, dance and lectures. Summer brings a full cultural schedule: Theater West Virginia can be found performing most nights at Beckley’s outdoor theater, and the Appalachian Festival takes over the town for three days of distinctly Appalachian arts, crafts, music and food.