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.

Kmart Store Closings Google Maps Mashup

Kmart Collage
I have spent the evening working on geo-tagging my flickr photos and creating a google map of the Kmart stores that I have visited that have closed since 2016. The grand total is 31. As this Kmart and Sears thing plays out I will continually add to this map and documment the future of Kmart. The map can be seen by clicking  HERE

Everyone have a great week ahead and thanks again for reading.

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

Williamson, West Virginia 25661

US Post Office -- Williamson, West Virginia

This building serves as the United States Post Office for Williamson, West Virginia.  As you can read on the building, it also once served as the home of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia until 1936.  The building was completed in 1928.

First National Bank of Iaeger, West Virginia

Iaeger WV The First National Bank of Iaeger was founded in 1918 in the McDowell County town of Iaeger.Iaeger, WV
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.

Former Post Office — Iaeger, West Virginia

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.
Former Post Office -- Iaeger, WV
The town still has a post office, although it has now moved out onto the main road, US 52 near the Dollar General store.

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//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
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//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js
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

Premier 24878 — McDowell County, West Virginia

Premier is an unincorporated community about 4 miles west of Welch West Virginia in McDowell County.

PremierWVA

The Post Office is located just off US 52 and is still in operation.

PremierWVA1

PremierWVA1

I noticed that this post office operates at a very reduced hour schedule

8-12 Monday – Friday    and just 10am til 12pm on Saturday.

Jolo Grade School — McDowell County, West Virginia

JoloMap

When you drive in to McDowell County from the southwest from the Grundy, Virginia area you ascend the Tug Valley from a top a mountain on state route 83.  As you travel to the bottom of the valley from Paynesville toward Bradshaw and Iaeger, the first “town” you come to is Jolo.

Jolo

Now there isnt a whole lot to see in Jolo, West Virginia.  Its your typical unincorporated small community in a coal mining area.   However, there is a pristine exampe of a vintage New Deal era school construction alive and well up on a hillside from the highway.

Jolo4

There is that fancy art-deco like font that has been found on many other schools from this era in McDowell.

Jolo3

Jolo Grade School was constructed in 1939 by the Public Works Administration.

Jolo2

The school closed sometime in the mid 1990s when students were then consolidated into Bradshaw Elementary less than 5 miles away.  This building now serves as a community center.