Searching For Shadows: My Love Affair With McDowell County. RIP Welch Magic Mart

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.
Magic Mart -- Welch, WV

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.

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Welch, West Virginia

Welch is the county seat of McDowell County, the southern most of the West Virginia counties.
Experimenting With Leaks The city was incorporated in 1893. Welch was made the county seat of McDowell County by the voters in 1892. Until that point the county seat was Perryville which was located on present day West Virginia Route 83 along the Dry Fork. Results of the election were contested so to avoid violence county records were secretly moved from Perryville to Welch at night in two wagons by James A. Strother and Trigg Tabor. Flat Iron Pharmacy -- Welch, West Virginia
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First National Bank of Iaeger, West Virginia

Iaeger WV The First National Bank of Iaeger was founded in 1918 in the McDowell County town of Iaeger.Iaeger, WV
The First National Bank Of Iaeger in West Virginia printed $287,830 dollars worth of national currency. That is a pretty standard output. However, some types of currency from this bank could still be rare. This national bank opened in 1918 and stopped printing money in 1930, which equals a 13 year printing period. That is actually quite brief in terms of bank existence. During its life, The First National Bank Of Iaeger issued 4 different types and denominations of national currency.

Former Post Office — Iaeger, West Virginia

Along with nearly everything else, and I do mean everything else, even the United States Post Office for Iaeger has left the “downtown” business district of the town.
Former Post Office -- Iaeger, WV
The town still has a post office, although it has now moved out onto the main road, US 52 near the Dollar General store.

War City Hall — McDowell County, West Virginia

War bills itself as West Virginia’s southern-most city. War is located on state highway 16 about 15 miles south of Welch. War was the home of Big Creek High School, Homer Hickam’s alma mater.
War City Hall, War West Virginia
War was incorporated as a city in 1920. The population of War peaked in 1950 at 3,992. According to the 2014 census estimate the town has a population of 793.
War, West Virginia

Newhall — McDowell County, West Virginia

Newhall is the southernmost community in McDowell County and the last community you come to before crossing into Tazewell County and Virginia along state route 16.
Newhall, West Virginia Post Office//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
Newhall is located about 5 miles southeast of the city of War. The Newhall post office was placed on a 2011 list of US Post Office locations slated to close over the coming years.

Montgomery Ward — Iaeger, West Virginia

A true testament to how preserved and dead the downtown area of Iaeger is would be the Montgomery Ward Building in Iaeger.  Iaeger’s downtown district is basically a long rectangle shape with buildings along the outer edge of the three sides.  Most of the businesses here have closed over the past years.  The few that have remained, right down to the post office have moved out onto US 52 on the other side of the river.
Montgomery Ward -- iaeger, WV Old Montgomery Ward -- Iaeger, WV