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.
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.
Pageton Grade School is located in the unincorporated community of Pageton, West Virginia in southeastern McDowell County. Pageton is located about 15 miles southeast of Welch on WV State route 161 about 7 miles from Gary.
Pageton is a former company centered town once powered by Page Coal & Coke Company. The old company store still remains standing and has a place on the National Register of Historic Places.
Pageton Grade school appears to have closed in the late 1980s or early 1990s. I assume students from Pageton were moved to nearby Anawalt or possibly Gary, seeing as how at the time when this school closed, schools at Gary were still in session.
As you can see the interior of the school has been let go very badly and like many other schools in this area has fallen into a state of decay.
As you can see, the word PAGETON is spelled out on the front entrance in the same font that is used at several other schools that were built in the 1920s and 1930s in McDowell County. I assume this school was built in that same era. It is probably most similar to the school at nearby Jolo which will be covered in my next entry in ths blog.