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.
The First National Bank of Iaeger was founded in 1918 in the McDowell County town of Iaeger.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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 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.
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.
In 2002 the Kmart store in Kimball, West Virginia just outside of Welch shut its doors. The county leaders began aggressively recruiting Walmart in hopes that they would build a store on the property.
Finally in the summer of 2005 construction began on the property. Over 1,200 applicants applied for positions at the new store and on Wednesday, October 26, 2005 at 8am the doors to the new McDowell County Walmart Supercenter opened for business.
The store was 99,700 square feet and featured a pharmacy, a bakery-deli. The store featured 8 full check outs and 6 express check out lanes.
What struck me as odd about this store was even though it was labeled as a supercenter it never featured a photo lab nor was it ever 24 hours. When the store first opened the store hours were 6am-11pm. Unlike most other supercenter stores, this store also only featured one entrance/exit.
Flash forward to January 15, 2016. Walmart announced that they would close over 150 stores in the United States. Most of these store closures were from a test format of express stores that they opened mainly in the south. However, there were about 10 supercenters on the list to be closed and the Kimball store was one of the ones on the list.
I made it up to this Walmart on the last day of business January 28th. At that time all merchandise, with a couple of exceptions was 75% off. There was a large section of the store that was already bare and crews were taking the store apart as you shopped.
As I walked into the store I walked in beside a worker. She began talking to me and I couldnt help but feel sorry for her and the workers there. You could tell that she was just flabbergasted that the town was losing their Walmart. I know its the trendy thing to hate Walmart, but in small towns like this, Walmart is their shopping center. Walmart is their grocery store, their clothing store, their pharmacy, their home improvement store etc.