Sherman Cahal, the guy who runs abandonedonline.net has really been a huge inspiration to me in my exploration and honestly I have spent hours upon hours studying his work and his explorations. The man truly has opened me up to a whole new side of who I am and helped me discovered a big passion I never even knew i had.
His entry from 2013 covering the remains of Gary District High School in McDowell, West Virginia is one such piece that inspired me. Not just the photographs, but the story. The building and entire community is really such an icon of the history and way of life in central Appalachia.
As you drive up to Gary District Grade and High School you notice the attention to detail the original architects paid to this building and it’s design.
Located on what I would call a back street in what is now a back neighborhood, the only close neighbor is a church next door leaving the building vulnerable to vandals.
Much of the history of Gary District Grade and High School is what I learned from Sherman’s blog so I must give credit where credit is due, so much of what you read in the coming paragraphs is information I learned from him and I am simply passing on.
The first Gary District High School, which was the high school for black children was constructed in 1913 ina wooden framed building. In 1925 that building burned and this new brick building was constructed at a cost of $36,000. The new 2 story brick building had 10 classrooms a gymnasium and a Library. At the time there were 437 black children enrolled at the school and that population was climbing rapidly. In 1927/28 a new elementary / grade school was constructed adjacent to the high school as seen in the photo below.
By September 1938 enrollment had increased to 650 students.
In 1954 Gary District Schools had an enrollment of 716.
In the fall of 1954 the waves of de-segregation began to make their way to the hills of McDowell County and southern West Virginia. At the beginning of the school year Gary District students were given the option to remain at Gary District or transfer to a neighboring school such as Gary High School. Most students remained at Gary District Graded and High School. In September of 1965 due to falling enrollment all of the high school students at Gary District High was transferred to Gary High School and Gary District High ceased to exist.
The High School was then converted into an elementary school which would remain in operation until 1981 when the entire complex was closed.
And although I cant find factual data or a reference to it being used after the early 1980s I do have proof that there were computers in the building after 1991 because there are several ,monitors manufactured in 1991 in one of the classrooms.
At one time in history Gary, West Virginia was the largest coal camp in the world according to some (Others would argue that Lynch, Kentucky was the largest) Both of which were owned by US Steel. At its peak Gary was home to nearly 15,000 residents.
Today Gary is home to around 900 residents.