The Abandoned Elkhorn High School in Switchback, West Virginia

August 4, 2012 Travis Dewitz

The Elkhorn High School is located near Switchback, West Virginia. It is right off of Highway 52 and is a large three-story brick structure. It is badly damaged and the roof has collapsed making it impossible to explore much of the school. It was very eerie being side this school as it looked like everyone just up and vanished leaving behind many belongings. I was very shocked to find out that this school was closed in 1953 as it appeared to have been closed only a few years.

I found some of the history of this school from

In 1922, local citizens passed a bond issue for the construction of a separate Elkhorn District High School at Switchback. Although the building program was launched in early spring, the school was not finished in time for the opening of school September 18, 1922. Students met in crowded quarters at Elkhorn Grade School. After the Christmas Holidays, January 8, 1923,
168 students enrolled in the new Elkhorn District High School (EDHS).

At its opening, EDHS was well equipped in all departments including the library, music and home economics departments, manual training, chemistry and in sports, baseball and  football.
The following year, the campus was landscaped by Elkhorn students from funds donated by James Elwood Jones.

Under the direction of Principal L. B Graybeal, the first EHS commencement was held Friday, June 8, 1923. Seven students were graduated, five girls and two boys.

In 1924, EDHS saw the construction of  its gymnasium, tennis courts  and indoor swimming pool.  A teachers club and boarding house were also on the grounds. It is believed that Elkhorn had the first and maybe only such board-club house for their teachers.

Although Elkhorn High School was a small school,  its students won many honors in competitions,  often winning first place.

At the end of the 1953 school year, Elkhorn High School was closed and was co-joined with Northfork High School, again becoming Northfork-Elkhorn High School.

I also found many photos of the area including an aerial photo of this school. See more historic photos here.


I would love for you to see more of my photo series from West Virginia below.

Prince, WV Art Deco Amtrak Station

New River Gorge

Abandoned Coalwood High School

Coal in McDowell County – Part 1

Coal in McDowell County – Part 2

Coal in McDowell County – Part 3

Coal in McDowell County – Part 4

Arson Destroyed Coal Company Store

Through the creative lens of Travis Dewitz; he demonstrates time and time again how much splendor can be extracted from the interplay of the industrial world around us. In the most unusual and unexpected places Dewitz showcases images that embody the forgotten beauty of railways, factory floors, the rolling smoke of steel mills, and the cities that are built around them. He brings a certain magic as he invokes the very souls of these once-glorious industrial areas; his captures overflow with inspirational energy. Click here to view his personal series.

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Travis Dewitz

My name is Travis Dewitz and I am from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. My specialty is commercial photography with a love for expressive portraits. My work is Conceptual, Emotive, Editorial, Surreal and Eclectic. I am passionate about fashioning new worlds through photographs as I extend my visions beyond the realm of the camera. I have incredible vision, which you can see in all of my photos.

Comments (29)

  1. Vicki Su

    This school was a junior high school after the consolidation of Elkhorn and Northfork High Schools. I went to 7th grade here.

  2. Betty Cunningham

    I graduated from EHS in 1951 – so many wonderful memories. We do have an Alumni Association and just had our 32nd annual reunion……….classmates attended from all over the country. We had the best teachers and so many activities!

  3. Hilda Lemon Harper

    I, too, went to this school, transferred with the student body to Northfork High School which became Northfork-Elkhorn High, and graduated there. Looking at the textbooks scattered on the floor in one picture, I would say there must have been classes in that building long after we left. I have taught school for a number of years in another state and remember those texts as an adoption long after 1960. Therefore…..I would think this building was used after that date.

  4. Shirley Mae Ofsa

    There were classes after Elkhorn High combined with Northfork in 1953. It became Elkhorn-Northfork Jr. High and then Switchback Grade School. I graduated here in 1950. It is such a shame the Board left it to fall in like this. It was a beautiful building at one time.

    • Alice

      Yes, this is awful. The Board should have done more to preserve the closed school buildings throughout the county.. it leaves an awful impression for the Board, the County and the wonderful people of said County.

  5. Carol Fletcher

    I lived across HiWay 52 and went to school there until we were transferred to Northfork(Northfork-Elkhorn High). My younger sister finished Jr High (Elkhorn-Northfork) there around 1965/1966.

  6. Carol Fletcher

    I lived across HiWay 52 and went to school there until we were transferred to Northfork(Northfork-Elkhorn High). My younger sister finished Jr High (Elkhorn-Northfork) there around 1965/1966.

  7. Bob McMullen

    Absolutely amazing photography. In the fall I visited Nuttallburg. Excellent site. I wanted to visit Coalwood and Welch, but the sheer level of poverty evident in the photos is disturbing. And there does not seem to be any solution, certainly coal mining will not save the economy.

  8. Dori Smith

    my father edsel ford tabor graduated in this school in 1940/41? if anyone has any photos pls email them to me please….ty.

  9. Dori Smith


  10. Kayla Fuller

    Travis these are amazing pictures! I randomly found the pics of this school when I was browsing things about West Virginia on Pinterest. I actually went to this school in the early 90’s when it was Switchback Elementary School like Jamey said. I pass it everytime I travel back to west Virginia to visit family and I’ve always wanted to pull over and walk around. Thank you so much for those pictures!!

  11. Doug

    Travis, nice shots, I don’t know for sure what year it closed, but I would guess at the end of the school year in 2004. There was writing on some of the chalkboards a few years ago that clearly was not graffiti, it was written by a teacher, the typical kind of things that would be written by a teacher at year’s end (awards, finals, etc..)
    Also, I asked an old guy who lived nearby how long it had been closed, and he said 6 or 7 years, he wasn’t sure. This was in 2011, which makes sense. happened upon this place completely by accident, very cool

  12. Fred M. Powers

    I am a retired coal miner (Keystone # 1 ) and school teacher having taught 25 years in McDowell & Mercer Counties (20 in McDowell). I transferred to Switchback Elem. in Feb 2000 from Northfork Middle School. This school was closed in June 2004 & the students transferred to Kimball Elem. I loved working there. Mrs. Brenda Owens (one year) & John Nofsinger (three years) were my principals there. I currently do coal mining storytelling in miner’s garb & black face for various audiences. Just want to tell the miner’s story.

  13. Amy Gentry

    This school was used as an elementary school long after that. I started kindergarten there in 1990 and went thru 1997 before going to Northfork Middle School.

  14. i have lived and worked here all my life and since 2012this is the worst times i have seen since ive been working the last 27 years would love to see coal come back as it was 10 years ago because a lot of people have lost their jobs and more and more of us are are going to have to find other jobs i would love to stay and finish my carear here as a coal miner -plant operator but the future here is gone may god bless us all that has lost our jobs and we do good

  15. Thomas Lassak

    I grew up in Welch, WV. From 1950 – 1970, later moved back from 1976 until 1987. I was working in the funeral business and after U S Steel and all the other large coal mines decided to close in 82 and 83. I knew it was time to leave so I stayed until 87 and things had really began to become depressing. My father taught school at Elkhorn High School unti it closed then went to Welch High School. People had ask me how come I did not own a funeral home but I was not financially able and I would have been trapped in a very depressing area. I really appreciate all the photos and I have not been back since 2000 when my father died. I retired after 47 years in the funeral business, I had set my benchmark of 50 years so my 47 was my 50. I live in Murfreesboro, TN., to be near family. Thanks again for taking the photos and if you would go back now you would find it more depressing

  16. Erin

    It was Switchback Elementary School. My dad was a teacher there in the late 80s early 90s.

  17. jacqueline cunningham

    I went school hear started in sec grade loved the teachers an staff good memories so any of my classmates from 1990-1997 luv ya

  18. Ruth

    I actually went to school here until 1995. It was called switchback elementary after it was the high school.

  19. Dave Kosche

    I’m on sort of a silly quest. I’m trying to locate Imogene (Midgi) Hatfield (maiden name). She and another gal, Carol Belcher, and an adult couple spent the summer of 1953 or 1954 in Snohomish, WA working crops. She and I became good friends and I lost contact with her many years ago. I have a school photo of her labeled Northfork Elkhorn High 1955 – 1956. Carol was a year older then Imogene and Carol and I were shirt tail relatives as my mom’s maiden name was Belcher and her family moved out here( Washington State) from Bluefield, WV about 1912. If anyone can help me out I would certainly appreciate it.


  20. Lorraine Berryman

    Looking for news clips of my brother Jesse Carter he played football at Elkhorn graduated I think it was 1948. If anyone have any please send me copies Thanks

  21. I’m a 1960 graduate of Elkhorn High School priop to integration, an all black school. This school closed much, much later than 1953. My oldest sister graduated there in class of 1956.
    There were no green chalkboards until sometimes in the 60’s. My first teaching position in VA. in 1964 in a new school is where I first encountered the green chalkboards that I observed in your photos. I’m fairly certain WV being so far behind the curve in everything got them much,much later.
    Another fact, I have a younger sister Who graduated from Elkhorn High School (all black) in 1963, Which means Elkhorn High was NOT CLOSED IN 1953 and the changes must have occured some time after 1963. I don’t know who wrote the history of this school, but some of the dates of the changes are erroneous and not factual..
    Loved seeing the photographs.

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