Searching For Shadows: My Love Affair With McDowell County. RIP Welch Magic Mart

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.
Magic Mart -- Welch, WV

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.

Welch, West Virginia

Welch is the county seat of McDowell County, the southern most of the West Virginia counties.
Experimenting With Leaks The city was incorporated in 1893. Welch was made the county seat of McDowell County by the voters in 1892. Until that point the county seat was Perryville which was located on present day West Virginia Route 83 along the Dry Fork. Results of the election were contested so to avoid violence county records were secretly moved from Perryville to Welch at night in two wagons by James A. Strother and Trigg Tabor. Flat Iron Pharmacy -- Welch, West Virginia
Analogue Love

Walmart — Kimball, West Virginia (10/26/05 – 1/28/16)

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.
Walmart -- Kimball, West Virginia
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.
Walmart -- Kimball, West Virginia
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.
Walmart -- Kimball, West Virginia
Walmart -- Kimball, West Virginia//
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.
Walmart -- Kimball, West Virginia
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.
Walmart -- Kimball, West Virginia
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.
Walmart --Kimball, West Virginia//
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.
Walmart --Kimball, West Virginias
Walmart --Kimball, West Virginia
Walmart --Kimball, West Virginia
Walmart --Kimball, West Virginia
Walmart --Kimball, West Virginia
Walmart --Kimball, West Virginia
Walmart --Kimball, West Virginia
Walmart --Kimball, West Virginia
Walmart --Kimball, West Virginia

Superior-Maitland School — McDowell County, West Virginia

The Superior-Maitland School is located a few miles east of Welch on US 52 just before you reach the limits of the town of Kimball.

This school is not abandoned at all. It lies on property still owned by the McDowell County School Board. The county bus garage is on adjacent property to this building and the building is used as a community gym with various exercise equipment available to use.
Superior-Maitland School -- McDowell County, WV
I cant find any information on this school online. Judging by the looks of the building alone I would guess that the school was built in the late 1920s or 1930s.
Superior-Maitland School -- McDowell County, WV
I did find people posting on some message boards that apparently attended school here as recently as the late 1980s. Im assuming that is probably about when this school was closed.
Superior-Maitland School -- McDowell County, WV

McDowell County Little Vocational School


For the past 2 weeks since returning from my trip through McDowell County I have been searching every possible source I could find on the internet trying to identify this school to no avail.


Finally, tonight I broke down and messaged a couple of friends I have made from the area in an attempt to get an ID on the building and hopefully uncover some of its history.


One of the friends finally identified it as it was referred to locally as McDowell County “Little” Vocational School.


Apparently this building was last used as a vocational school for middle school students.


The building is located just outside of the southern reaches of the Welch City limits close to where Little Indian Creek flows on West Virginia State Route 16  just south of the McDowell County Career and Technical School which is still in operation today.


As I have searched the internet high and low in an attempt to identify this building I have uncovered a part of McDowell County history and that has lead me to believe that this was possibly first built and used as the African American Vocational School for McDowell County.


Today the building is in a sad state.  The roof has fallen in in several parts of the building.


And is apparently used for target practice frequently as this was dry and relatively new looking.


If I was guessing, this building has been closed and unused since the late 80s or early 90s.


And apparently this was a classroom.


A lot of the original woodwork has been damaged by water and weather at this point.


and nature has started to take over parts of several classrooms where the roof has caved in.



You have to appreciate this endearing tribute to the American Muscle Car.   For some reason, I feel like Earl Hickey has been in this building at some point.


Its sad that at least these old doors werent saved and refurbished for use else where.


Id say vandals have already stripped the building of any electrical wiring it may have had or anything of any value like that.


and it appears at least in this room a fire has been started at some point.






OHM’s Law is still proudly displayed in one classroom.


As you can see nature has also retaken all of the area in front of the building as the trek up to the front door was over grown and almost over taken by weeds and shrubs.


This was apparently the main hallway down the corridor of classrooms.


and the sign directing you to the office is still hanging in the entryway.






This was the main entrance to the school.  As you can see, this place has been abandoned for quite a while and nature is retaking the area.



Anyone who might have more information on this building and its uses throughout history please contact me or comment on this blog.  This building has really grabbed my attention and I just know there is a great story somewhere in its past just waiting to be told.