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.
Before I get started on this blog entry which will cover the old War Junior High School / War High School and its adjacent gymnasium and its ultimate demise I need to explain why this school and building is so important to me. Back in 2008 when I first stumbled upon McDowell County almost by mistake I was taken aback by the amount of abandoned buildings and the amount of history that was disappearing from the communities in the county. I didnt visit the city of War until the spring of 2009. On that visit, I went inside of my first abandoned school as a photographer / photo journalist. That school is discussed below. I hope you all enjoy and if anyone is reading this with more information on this building please comment or message me.
During my first trip through McDowell County in the spring of 2008 I got side tracked and didn’t make it to the city of War or Coalwood for that matter. When I got home I started studying maps and realized I missed a good part of the coal mining history along the State Route 16 corridor including War, Coalwood and Caretta.
I knew I had to go back and that following year I did. Driving through War I saw many interesting sights.
The old war motel, the old War Jail….and then on the western side of town along the banks of the banks of the tug fork river I noticed a magnificent sprawling abandoned school complex of two buildings.
I later identified that building as War Junior High School.
Up to this point I was very inexperienced in exploring abandoned buildings and still developing my photography skills so these pictures from 2009 aren’t my best.
Im still not entirely sure as to when war Junior High School closed but my instincts tell me probably sometime around 2002-2005…..possibly it was one of the schools damaged beyond repair in the floods that devastated the entire county in 2002.
At the time of this trip I was still coming to grips with the reality that I was an adrenaline junkie and I had a thirst to explore abandoned buildings. I was still not that adventurous and only made it inside the former gymnasium .
and only snapped one picture at that.
Flash forward to the summer of 2013. I took an entire day out of my vacation and while on my way to the northeast I side tripped through McDowell County. My first stop was War Junior High School.
I had become fascinated with this area by then and had developed a knack for doing a little light trespassing and adventure photography.
On this visit, which would be the last time I would see the magnificent buildings standing as they were, I made it inside the main hallway, several classrooms and even upstairs to more classrooms. I also revisited the gymnasium.
On this trip I was amazed at how much vandalizm and natural aging and deterioration had occurred at both buildings. The doors were wide open on the main building and the gym and vandals had taken advantage of that set up.
Notice the difference in this picture and the almost same shot that I had taken in 2009. The building had fallen on hard times and I knew its days were numbered.
Sadly when I was preparing for my excursion to McDowell County earlier this month a friend whom I have made who is a native of War informed me that the school had been demolished and nothing remained of the building. I still had to see it myself
Sadly, he was correct and I cant help but feel sad when I look at the vacant lot where the three story school and gymnasium once stood so proudly.
Upon returning home and doing a little research to write this article I realized that there is very little in the way of information available about this school or building online. One interesting fact that I did lear is that this building was not originally a Junior High School
This school was originally opened as War High School in 1923 by the Big Creek District Board of Education. In the early 1930s the Big Creek Board of Education noted the need for a consolidated central high school, thus Big Creek High School, from “October Sky” fame was opened in 1932 and War High School became known as War Junior High School
Today the City of War and the surrounding communities are served by a new ultra modern sprawling one story school known as Southside K-8 School. I know progress is good, and the new school offers a ton of opportunities for students, but I hope at least through my writings and photos something of War Junior High School will be preserved.
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.
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.
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.
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.