Back in the Spring of 2008 I had saw a news story on WCYB about the relocation of the entire town of Grundy, Virginia. I hopped in my Celica and decided I had to see that project. Somehow I ended up driving and driving and driving and ended up in Welch, West Virginia. I fell in love, I guess its one of my quirks. I truly love the off-beat places and McDowell County is at the top of that list. Over the past 10 years I have explored, at last count 12 abandoned schools, most of which have been demolished. I was amazed. There was abandoned greatness everywhere. So much history was right there ready for me to discover. I fell in love with Welch and McDowell County that day and that love affair is still going strong. I remember in 2008 Welch, which is the county seat had a Big Lots store and a Magic Mart store. A few miles away there was a Walmart Super Center. In the 1950’s McDowell County had over 100,000 residents. Today, it sits at 18,546.
Over the last 10 years I have made at least 8 visits exploring and documenting.
I’ve even made a few friends from the area. Is it because I see commonalities between McDowell County and my own home town? Granted Harlan County hasnt seen the decline that McDowell has, we have still had our stumbles. A lot of my documentation has been sad happenings. From the old Iaeger High School demolition (which I still use to this day photos from as my cover photo on Facebook) To the fire at Big Creek High School, the closing of the Walmart store in Kimball, to the reworked riverfront in downtown Welch. Today another sad chapter has come to pass for the town and county. The town’s Magic Mart closed it’s doors for the last time.
Since my first visit in 2008 all of the mass merchandise discount stores (Big Lots, Walmart and now Magic Mart) have all closed their doors in McDowell County. There are parts of the county that are at least 40-50 miles away from their nearest get everything store I feel such sadness for this county and its people. At the same time I feel a weird sense of being grateful in that I found McDowell County and I have been able to document this area and its rich history.