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.
I have a weird fascination with this lake and the way the community was that sat here before its construction. Today I traced the road leading up to where the old elementary school is to the end of the water as far as I could as it sinks into the lake. Much to my surprise I was able to clearly make out what appears to be a bridge pier underneath the water.
You can clearly make out the natural lay of the land while the water is this low. You can also see where the road originally crossed the river. I wish that I could find some good photos of this area before the lake was built. My parents have told me countless times things like “and this is where Creed Smith’s store was” or, “this is where Creed Smith lived” or “….and Mrs Ball lived right over there”. I have a mental image in my head of the area, but I would still love to see it.
So many times we take things that are all around us for granted. No better example of me doing this, is Martins Fork Lake. On a nice clear day, the water is as blue as can be and the sand is white as snow.
This week I was able to take a sneak peak inside of a long abandoned building in the coal fields of Harlan County Kentucy. This building once served as the company store for the Mary Helen Coal Company. Later it served as the Coalgood supply company store and the Coalgood, Kentucky post office. The post office was closed August 31, 2004. The store building and most of the land around this area is now owned by Coalgood Energy Company.
The outside of the building shows the sheer size of this building and the relative closeness of the business to the mining operations. The sign for the post office is still on one of the doors downstairs.
My hope for such a building would be that at some point someone would purchase it with concrete plans that could be of some type of service to the community, whether it be low income apartments, maybe some type of small business, possibly even a call center. There is a lot of room in this building and it is still structurally sound. As it sits now it is nothing but an eye sore to many, but to me its a glimpse into the past and a different way of life in my home town.