Clendenin: Building the trail back through entrepreneurship

The Cannel Coal chimney is believed to have been built around 1850.

My hometown of Clendenin has a rich history that deserves to be heard. In the late 1840s, a new type of coal was discovered that when heated at the precise temperature produces a flammable liquid that burns bright. An entrepreneur named Matthew Sutton built a chimney near Clendenin on Falling Rock Creek to heat the locally mined “candle coal”, shortened to cannel coal, to produce an outside lamp oil marketed as kerosene that was distributed throughout the northeast United States. The candle oil boom sizzled as quickly as it started, lasting until just before the Civil War when petroleum was discovered in Pennsylvania.

In 1920, Union Carbide & Carbon Corporation must have known this history and the unique chemical properties of cannel coal and nearby natural gas deposits, some seventy years later, when they chose Clendenin as the site of the world’s first petrochemical plant. As the local historical marker reads, “from this nucleus grew the nation’s giant petrochemical industry, employer of thousands.” Many are surprised when they learn that kerosene, antifreeze (ethelyne glycol) and the most common plastic in use today (polyethylene) were all invented and first manufactured in Clendenin. It’s unfortunate that most now associate Clendenin with the devastating 2016 flood.

The Cardinal Room is renovated room on the second floor of the former Farmers & Citizens State Bank

New investments building on the town’s history

My wife Nikki and I purchased the former Farmers & Citizens State Bank building from Chase in March of 2018. Our first project was to remodel the upstairs offices into overnight rooms with full bathrooms, four of which are open and available today on Airbnb. We preserved as much as we could, including the hardwood floors that we believe were fabricated using local timber. Four more rooms are still under construction and should be available within the next year. We’re going to need the extra space, considering these four rooms were 70% occupied on average throughout the summer of 2021. We’re expecting higher occupancy rates this summer, especially with a brewery opening soon below.

Matt’s wife, and business partner Nikki, & their Head Brewer Tom Dawson work on an early batch in the new Clendenin Brewery Co.

Which brings us to phase two of our project: Clendenin Brewing Company. The brewery will produce craft beer for sale in our local taproom and for wholesale distribution to local retail establishments, primarily in the greater Charleston market. Initially, the brewery will focus exclusively on producing high-quality craft beer, but we also intend to add a small kitchen. Clendenin Brewing Co. expects to open by July 1st of this year. We were helped in this endeavor by the Faster WV program of Advantage Valley that allowed us to obtain a start-up loan.

The relationship between the town of Clendenin and our brewery will be symbiotic. Our craft brewery will accelerate the growth of recreational outdoor activities in the town while the growth of the town will increase our direct-to-market taproom sales. Clendenin is becoming a tourism destination, with folks coming to town to kayak, hike, bike, horseback ride and other outdoor activities. All recreational towns need a brewery, and all breweries need fun things to do outside the taproom.

Tourism is helping diversify their economy

Kayaking spawned the town’s recreational successes. The Elk River, which splits the town of Clendenin, is quickly becoming a kayaking destination for those that prefer a gentle float. Yak House Rentals provides full-service kayak experiences, which includes the kayak and all safety gear, transportation for you and your kayak to and from the river, and restroom facilities to shower and change before and after your trip. The West Virginia Department of Natural Resources has built two new river access points within the last two years, one at the lower end of town and one at the upper end. Kayaking is a popular activity from Memorial Day to beyond Labor Day.

The Elk River Trail opens this summer in Clendenin. This section of the rail trail starts at the upper end of town and runs 3.2 miles to Queen Shoals. Another 2-mile section will be paved by this Fall and run through the center of town. Ultimately, the trail will connect with existing trail in Clay and Braxton counties to form the longest trail in West Virginia. Surrounded by hardwood forests along a winding river, the flat trail is cherished by hikers, bikers and horseback riders. The town of Clendenin will be the southernmost trailhead and the closest location for those coming from the Kanawha Valley.

A cantilevered stage over the Elk River will replace this currently empty space at the center of town.

More attractions are coming

Mayor Kay Summers and the entire Town Council are spearheading further changes in Clendenin. The town is building a stage overlooking the Elk River, just outside the brewery, where music events will be held on summer weekends. In addition, the Town Council passed an ordinance permitting all-terrain vehicles on town streets with the proper permits, allowing side-by-sides that ride the scenic Falling Rock Creek and Morris Creek trails to continue into town for dinner and overnight stays. In addition, the town sponsors a Homecoming Festival held in June and Chili’N on the Elk, a chili cookoff and WV craft beer festival held in October.

These are but a few of the great things happening in Clendenin. We’re delighted to have invested in our hometown and excited about its future. We invite you to join in our fun.


Editor’s Note:  This is the first in a series of Small Business Highlights from entrepreneurs in West Virginia.  It is our hope to highlight the work of successful entrepreneurs from all parts of the state with this once monthly blog about their trials, successes, and the work that is going on to build a diversified West Virginia economy.

About the Author

Matt Holbert is a Clendenin native. He and his wife Nichole own Bricks & Barrels restaurant, Axes & Ales axe-throwing entertainment venue, and Uncork & Create sip and paint experience in Charleston. In addition, the couple own Take Me Home B&B and Clendenin Brewing Co. in Clendenin.

Matt graduated in 1996 from West Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and in 1998 with a master’s degree in Telecommunications from George Washington University. He has led the design and build of computer networks for the US Navy, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and Madison Square Garden.