Located in the Scott’s Run community, the Shack Neighborhood House offers a safe and inclusive space for local children and families to learn and play. Scott’s Run experienced rapid industrialization from 1917-1932, followed by a quick decline during the Great Depression. Racked by poverty, a young missionary, Mary Behner, turned an abandoned schoolhouse into a community center and a lasting legacy.
The Shack Neighborhood House is located in the community of Scott’s Run. Part of the Fairmont Coal Field, this area was once rich in coal and experienced rapid industrialization and growth from 1917-1932.
By 1930, thirteen percent of the district’s population were immigrants, and another thirteen percent were African American. The boom experienced in the early 20’s steadily declined as the industry became over-extended and the market crashed. The residents of Scott's Run suffered from unemployment, ethnic and racial prejudice, and limited educational opportunities.
When Mary Behner first opened the doors of her abandoned schoolhouse in November of 1928, nearly two-thirds of the area's residents were living in poverty. Approximately 10,000 people and 22 different nationalities lived clustered on hills and near polluted creeks along the nine miles of Scott’s Run.
Born in Xenia, Ohio, in 1906, Mary Behner was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister. She hoped to become a foreign missionary, but instead accepted a position with the Board of National Missions of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., and began a home mission in West Virginia’s northern coalfields.
Behner was shocked by the poverty she encountered. Not easily daunted, Behner comforted mothers whose babies had died for want of milk, castigated coal operators for ignoring their workers’ needs, and created educational and social outlets for young people.
She first offered Sunday school and recreation classes for local children, but soon expanded into social services as children and families came to her without food or clothing. Behner started a library, charm school, choruses, sewing club, and the first integrated nursery school.
In 1932, one of the coal companies gave her an abandoned company store which she named The Shack. Later, the Shack became a mission sponsored by the the First Presbyterian Church in Morgantown and the church's National Board of Missions. In 1937 Mary Behner left the area to get married but her work and legacy continued (Mary Behner Christopher died in Morgantown in 1988).
A new Shack building was finished in 1938 west of the original site and a third building was built shortly after that is the current building. Today the Shack continues to offer a safe and inclusive space for local children and families to learn and play. The Shack is no longer a Presbyterian affiliated mission, however it continues to operate with the support of the PC(USA) Church, the United Way, and generous donors.