Old Clinchco Post Office — Dickenson County, Virginia

Back at the height of the coal boom in the early part of the 20th century Clinchco had approximately 3500 miners in the town alone.

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This is the only coal company building still remaining in Clinchco and at one time or another housed a bank, barber shop, company offices, printing press, school rooms, mortuary, and post office.

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Today, Clincho is a shell of its former self.  The school has closed but the post office remains in operation at a different location.

Seco, Kentucky 41849

Seco is an unincorporated community in northern Letcher County between Flemming-Neon and Whitesburg located off US 119 along the north fork of the Kentucky River.

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The Seco post office was established on October 2, 1915.

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The town of Seco is named after Southeast Coal Company which had a large operation here from 1915 to 1957.   Southeast Coal Company also had a large operation in nearby Millstone.  The company store for Southeast Coal was restored and turned into a winery in the mid 90s.

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Several of the old camp houses in Seco still stand and are used as residence by the people of Seco.

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Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church — Gary, West Virginia

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As you turn the curve and enter the town of Gary West Virginia from State Route 103 you will notice that the great majority of the “town” that remains is across a bridge on the other side of the Tug Fork River opposite of the main highway.  The most prominent and arguably the most beautiful of these buildings is the Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church building which sits proudly on a hill in a mostly residential neighborhood.

What is interesting to me and will probably be interesting to many people from my immediate area is that Gary was a sister city to Lynch Kentucky in the fact that it was a company town, a very large company town built by US Steel.  Many say that Lynch was the largest coal town in the world at one time.  That point is often argued that Gary had it beat.

Due to the fact that many immigrants and migrants came to the area to work for US Steel in the coal mines there and eventually settled there is a diverse population.  I read that in the 1915 there were an equal number of white and blacks living in the city of Gary.  Where else in central appalachia could you find that?  Naturally this diverse population lead to a diverse offering of churches.  At one time Gary was home to more than 20 churches, 10 company stores, independent retailers, restaurants, tennis courts and even a bowling alley.

Slowly over time US Steel sold off the town and in 1971 US Steel oversaw Gary being incorporated into a town.     In 1982 after US Steel completely pulled out of the town of Gary and shuttered their operations the unemployment rate in the town of Gary rose to 90%.

As of the 2010 census Gary has a population of 983 and the population is still quite diverse for the area with 70% white and 27% black.  The schools here have closed as have most businesses including many churches.  But Our lady of Victory is still going strong…..107 years later.

Caretta, West Virginia

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Continuing with my focus on McDowell County In this entry I will cover the community of Caretta.  In the film “October Sky”  Caretta is frequently mentioned as it is the main community between Coalwood and War on state route 16.  In its time Caretta was a major coal camp in McDowell County.  The Post Office opened in 1905, followed by a school in 1907.  In 1922 the operations at Caretta were sold to Consolidated Coal Company and the first mine shaft was constructed in 1924.  At least 200 houses were constructed at Caretta along with a 22 room boarding house.  The Caretta school seen in pictures below was constructed in 1925, at the time it was only for white children.   In 1947 the company and town was sold to a group of industrialists from Youngstown, Ohio that would become the Olga Coal Company.

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Pictured above is the Carter Coal Company Store, also known as Consolidation Coal Company Store. It was built about 1912, and is a one-story brick commercial building on a stone foundation. It has a gable roof. The building was originally “T”-shaped, but wood frame additions built in 1922, spread the plan to an “L.” . It ceased operating as a post office in August 2005.  Caretta’s zip code was 24982.

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Next door to the Company Store is the Caretta United Methodist Church.

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and across the street is the old Caretta school. Caretta Elementary closed in 1985.  Students were sent to Coalwood, only to have Coalwood close in 1986.  The school is now home to a local community group known as Big Creek People in Action.

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Northfork High School –McDowell County, West Virginia

As you drive into Northfork, West Virginia along US 52 between Welch and Bluefield in eastern McDowell County you will notice a very prominent sign proclaiming it has the Basketball Capital of the United States.

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And for Good Reason….13 state championships over the course of less than 25 years.  That is very impressive and no doubt legendary in the hills of West Virginia.  So what became of Northfork High School, the home of the Demons?

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Over the past 60 years McDowell County has lost nearly 80% of its population dropping from nearly 99,000 people in 1950 to 20,448 in 2014.  In 1985 in a move to save money in a  tight budget the McDowell County Board of Education voted to consolidate Northfork High school with Mt View High School 13 Miles away in Welch.

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However, this did not happen without a fight.  The residents of Northfork even went so far as to hire a lawyer to fight this school closing.  The fight went all the way to the state Supreme Court which eventually sided with the school board, and the home of the blue demons was converted to a middle school and renamed Northfork Middle School.

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t served as the middle school from 1985 until 2002, when the second of two floods within 10 months exposed asbestos and damaged the building.   Northfork Middle School was then closed and their students were dispersed to area schools.

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There are currently plans and contracts in place to begin demolition on the old school.  As it stands today it is in very poor condition and is a safety, health and fire hazard to the community.

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The ceiling has fallen in in most of the building.

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and in many areas so has the floor.

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According to online sources much of the contents of this school and the structure itself were damaged beyond repair during floods in 2002.  Flooding was so severe that year in McDowell County that school officials had to cut the school year short due to so many structures being damaged.

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There is currently an initiative in McDowell County going on to demolish dilapidated and abandoned structures in the county to improve the appearance of the area.

IMG_0118 The old Northfork High School is near the top of the list and is scheduled to be demolished soon.

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This is looking from the main wing of the building toward the gymnasium.

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Trees and weeds have nearly taken over the entrance to the gym at this point.

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Ive noticed that in McDowell County this was their “go to” font to have the name of the building engraved in….Jolo and Gary schools were both engraved in the same font.

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World War Memorial — Kimball, West Virginia

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Driving east on US 52 as you leave Welch and drive towards Bluefield you stumble across several small towns and communities.  Each of these communities are unique and different.  None of the towns feature a building as grand as the World War Memorial in Kimball.   The building sticks out like a sore thumb seeing as how Kimball is all of two or three businesses and several rows of houses but yet it still looks as if it belongs up on that hillside in Kimball right next to US 52.

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Also known as the Kimball War Memorial Building, stands on a hill in Kimball. Designed in 1927 by architect Hassal T Hicks from nearby Welch,  the memorial was dedicated February 11, 1928 to African-American veterans of World War I. It was the first such memorial to African Americans in the United States.

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As the coal industry which fueled the area’s economy began to wane in the 1950s and 60s, the memorial received less and less money and maintenance, becoming increasingly derelict.  The War Memorial was abandoned and an arsonist set fire to the building in 1991, leaving only the exterior walls.

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The memorial building was listed while still a ruin on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.   Finally spearheaded by local activists funding was found and the memorial was restored.  Today the building is restored to its former glory and is open for business.

Gary District High School — Gary, West Virginia

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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By September 1938 enrollment had increased to 650 students.

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In 1954 Gary District Schools had an enrollment of 716.

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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.   Gary7 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.

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The High School was then converted into an elementary school which would remain in operation until 1981 when the entire complex was closed.

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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.

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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.

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Today Gary is home to around 900 residents.