West Virginia Coal Country – McDowell County – Part 2

July 22, 2012 Travis Dewitz

I explored the portion of McDowell County between Bluefield and Williamson along the Norfolk Southern’s mainline. Neither of these town are actually in McDowell County but are just on the outskirts on either end. The first town within the county along the eastern portion of my route is Maybeury with Mohawk being the last town within the counties western edge. Highway 52, also known as the Coal Heritage Trail, parallels the mainline from Bluefield to Welch. Welch is roughly the halfway point along the route in McDowell county and also the largest city between both ends. The railroad mainline is where all the coal from feeder lines feed into the system to be transported  east or west which also carries much other railroad through traffic between the east coast west to Chicago. This line was also part of the Heartland Corridor project which improved the line to handle intermodal traffic. Some of the coal mines are right on this corridor but most are located further away which requires the feeder lines also known as branchlines. This route goes directly through the Appalachian Mountain Range which is comprised of many steep and narrow valleys.

Most of my time was spent along the route between Maybeury and Welch. I was staying at the Elkhorn Inn which is located in Landgraff which is about halfway between Maybeury and Welch. From the Inn heading east are the towns of Eckman, Keystone, Northfork, Kyle, Powhatan, Upland, Elkhorn, Ennis, Switchback, and Maybeury. This is only a ten mile stretch of highway that has 11 towns on it, many of which have small post offices still in operation. Most of the these town are only a couple of blocks wide as the steep mountain sides restricts any further growth. Many of my photos illustrate how this forces many homes to be built quite a ways up the valley sides.

From Wikipedia

Keystone is a town in McDowell County, West Virginia, United States. The population was 282 at the 2010 census. Keystone is one of several incorporated towns in West Virginia with an African-American majority, with 72 percent of the residents being black.
Keystone was founded in 1892 by the Keystone Coal & Coke Company. Keystone was then incorporated in 1909 by the Circuit Court of McDowell County. Its name is derived from the name of a coal and coke company operating at that point. The town was formerly known as Cassville.

Northfork is a town in McDowell County, West Virginia, USA, located on US Route 52 between Welch and Bluefield.
The population was 519 at the 2000 census. Northfork was incorporated in 1901, so named because of its location on the north fork of the Elkhorn Creek at its junction with the south fork. It was consolidated with the town of Clark on March 26, 1948.

Maybeury is an unincorporated census-designated place in McDowell County, West Virginia, United States, located on US Route 52 between Northfork and Bramwell. As of the 2010 census, its population was 234. In 1890, it was the largest town in McDowell County with a population of 875. This was due to the coal mining start-ups in the town. Maybeury was the 5th largest town/city south of the State Capital, Charleston, and listed as the 31st largest town/city in the entire state.

John F. Kennedy stopped in Maybeury at the Esso station during his presidential primary campaign in 1960. During a speech in Canton, Ohio on September 27, 1960, he stated “McDowell County mines more coal than it ever has in its history, probably more coal than any county in the United States and yet there are more people getting surplus food packages in McDowell County than any county in the United States. The reason is that machines are doing the jobs of men, and we have not been able to find jobs for those men.”

Continue to part 3 of 4

Abandoned Railroad Crossing in Coopers, WV

The Bridges of Coopers, West Virgina

Old Fire Truck at the Pocahontas Fire Station

Downtown Pocahontas, Virginia

Church in Pocahontas

The Cricket in Pocahontas

Keystone, West Virginia

Overlooking Keystone

Abandoned House Above Keystone

Mountain Top Removal Above Keystone

Coal Through Northfork, West Virginia

NS Helper Set in Elkhorn, WV

Coal Camp Homes in Kyle, WV

Norfolk Southern in Northfork, WV

Abandoned Chevrolet Dealership in Northfork, West Virginia

Nice Brick Homes Outside of Northfork

Abandoned Building and Railroad Tunnel in Kimball, WV

Coal Hoppers Going Under Welch, West Virginia

Coal Snakes Through the Appalachian Mountains

Coal Hoppers in Capels, WV

NS Through the Woods of Appalachia

Houses Just Off the Road in Wilcoe, West Virginia


Continue to part 3 of 4

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 3

Coal in McDowell County – Part 4

Arson Destroyed Coal Company Store

Abandoned Switchback High School


More of my Railroad Imagery can be seen here.

Photo series of Coal in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming.

Travis Dewitz Powerlines Portrait Thumb PhotographThrough 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 (9)

  1. Daune McCulloch

    Thank you for taking me back many years. I was born in McDowell County in Welch WV. My father worked the mines at Capels until they closed down. He got out of Army in 1945 and got on there pretty soon after that. He worked until 1960 when they closed.

  2. Sabrina Owens Harmon

    Awesome of you to bring some light on McDowell County my parents is from there and still live there now.they moved us to w va when i was 9 to Iaeger and i call it home i love the summers in w va had a lot of good times and i miss it and all my family

  3. Rita Owens Gorman

    My dad was from Northfork and my mom from Keystone. They move to FL in 1951 when the railroad started laying off and my dad could get work in FL. We always spent our vacations going back to visit our relatives summer and winter. Thank you for posting the pictures. It’s as if time has stood still.

  4. Yvette Smith Bagley

    My grandparents lived in Wilcoe. I used to get excited when we would come through Havaco, just before we reached our final destination. I still remember the houses of Havaco, which Is the neighborhood pictured in the photo captioned “Houses Just Off the Road in Wilcoe, West Virginia”.

  5. Yvette Smith Bagley

    My grandparents lived in Wilcoe. I used to get excited when we would come through Havaco, just before we reached our final destination. I still remember the houses of Havaco, which Is the neighborhood pictured in the photo captioned “Houses Just Off the Road in Wilcoe, West Virginia”.

  6. Tim Pickett

    I grew up outside of Northfork in a small coal town called Algoma. My mother was Postmaster there from 1960 until the Post Office closed in the 80’s. The abandoned Chevy dealer was originally Carroll Chevrolet Oldmobile Cadillac and later Ron Holcombe Chevrolet Oldsmobile Cadillac which closed in the mid 80’s. I worked there in the 70’s.

  7. Lana Martin

    Thank you for these pictures of McDowell County, I was born in Jenkinjones, WV, and have alot of wonderful memories of that area. My grandfather, William Tabor worked in the coal mines, until an accident that crippled him forced him to retire. It was a beautiful place when I was a little girl, cherished trips to my grandparents home each summer, after moving to Maryland. Some lovely people there and I went back a few years ago and it was heartbreaking!!

  8. Diane Hancock

    I was born in Powhatan, Wva not a lot of memories but I sure loved reading others post. My mom was born in Caples. Looks beautiful. I love Wva

  9. Cordelia Lewis-Burks

    I grew up in Mc Dowell County, we lived in Welch and I attended Welch Dunbar grade school and Junior High until the ninth grade. My mother died when I was 11 yeas]rs of age . After 2 years my father remarried and we moved to Roderfield,W.Va.After graduation from Ninth grade we we all bussed to Kimbal, High School where we then graduated from 12th grade. . As an African American our schools were segreated. Most of us went on to college ,Bluefield State Colledge , in Bluefield W.VA. or West Virginia State Colledge in Institute W.Va. Other of my classmates attend Black Colledge all over the Country.
    Schools in West Virginia were intergrated in 1966. Some of Our Schoolmates who attended Kimball High Scholl started an Alumini Association in 1966, The Kimbal High School Alumni Association. We have chapters across the Country which are very active and for 47 years we have held a 3 day High School Reunion in diferent cities where we have a chapter.
    This year the reunion was held in Mempis TN. Last yers in Columbus ,Ohio. Our High School Reunions are dedicated to those African American. Teachers who taught us and where failure was not an option
    The largest attendance at our Reunion was approximatley 1400. attndance is some what smaller now as we grow older.We return to West Virginian every five years for our Reunion which is held in Charleston, W.Va. There is not a hotel large enough or us in Mc Dowell County. I do remember the Carter Hotel in downtown Welch which is no longer there. The fifht year will be 2020. and I look forward to it.
    I am a coal miners daughter who grew up in McDowell County.
    I now live in Indianapolis, IN. and serve as Vice Chair of the Indiana Democratic Party, a Memner of the Democratic National Committee and was the first Super Delegate for President Barack OBama.I serve as a member of many Community d State and National Boards.
    MC Dowell County ,Welch, W,Va. was a thriving place to live ans was know as the richest County in the United States because of Coal.It was know as the Little New.York.
    I do enjoy the memories thuogh your pictures. And take delight in sharing them with those I grew up with. Thank you for sharing

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