West Virginia Coal Country – McDowell County – Part 3

July 23, 2012 Travis Dewitz

The other stretch between Landgraff and Welch is also only 10 miles. Driving from east to west you will drive through Vivian, Kimball, Carswell, Big Four, Superior, and Maitland before arriving to Welch. Most of these towns are very small to non-existent besides Kimball but would still need to drive to Welch for most of your needs. Welch is a very neat town that is kinda divided by a mountain. The book Glass Castle also took place in Welch.

A couple of places of interest from the photos below include The Elkhorn Inn and the Elkhorn Tunnel.

From Wikipedia

Landgraff is one of many historical coal camps in the famed Pocahontas coalfield. The town is named after Constance Landgraff Andrews, the wife of a coal company executive. The Empire Coal Company Store, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was located in Landgraff but has since burned down. The Landgraff Post Office closed in 1951, and the town lost its zip code. The population of Landgraff in the 1960s was approx. 700. The Empire Coal and Coke Company Miner’s Clubhouse, built-in 1922 of brick to replace a wooden structure that had burned down, is on the West Virginia “Coal Heritage Trail” (America’s Byways). It was flooded in the 2001 and 2002 floods that devastated southern West Virginia, was restored in 2002, and opened as the “Elkhorn Inn and Theatre”, a historic inn (named for Elkhorn Creek that runs behind the Inn) that is the state’s only “Coal Heritage Trail” property offering lodging and dining. The Inn houses a small museum with mine scrip (company-printed coinage used to pay miners until the 1960s), books, documents, coal core samples, photos, artwork, and other memorabilia on the area’s history of railroading and coal mining. The famed “Pocahontas” line of the Norfolk Southern Railroad (formerly Norfolk Western) runs along Route 52 past the Inn. The Landgraff Mine coal tipple was located a short distance from the Inn. Coal trains continue to rumble through the heart of the area on Norfolk Southern Railway’s (former Norfolk and Western Railway) Pocahontas Division. Area attractions which draw tourists from across the USA and overseas include “railfanning” (train photography), fly-fishing for 24″-32″ record-breaking trout on Elkhorn Creek, ATVing, golf, hiking, and historic sites connected to the Mine Wars, books such as Homer Hickam’s “Rocket Boys” , and movies, including “October Sky”.

Kimball is a town in McDowell County, West Virginia, United States. The population was 411 at the 2000 census.
Kimball was incorporated in 1911 and named for Frederick J. Kimball, who was a president of the Norfolk and Western Railway. Kimball was the site of the first war memorial building erected in memory of the African-American veterans of World War.

Maitland was once the site of a large coal mine, which closed in the mid 1900’s. Maitland was almost demolished in 2001 and 2002 when horrific flood levels of the Elkorn River destroyed more than half of the community. In recent years, more than six houses have been torn down; with some more on the way. In 2009 Maitland received funding to improve their sewer, by adding new pipe lines. Before the change the waste flowed in the Elkorn River.

Welch was incorporated in 1893 and named after Isaiah A. Welch, a former captain in the Confederate Army who came to the region as a surveyor, and helped establish the plan for the beginning of a new town at the confluence of the Tug and Elkhorn rivers. Welch was made the county seat of McDowell County in an election by county citizens in 1892 [1] even before Welch was incorporated as a city. The previous county seat was in Perryville (nowEnglish) near present day Coalwood. 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.

The first recipients of modern era food stamps were the Chloe and Alderson Muncy family of Paynesville, McDowell County. Their household included fifteen persons. On May 29, 1961, in the City of Welch, as a crowd of reporters witnessed the proceedings, Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman delivered $95 of federal food stamps to Mr. and Mrs. Muncy. This was the first issuance of federal food stamps under the Kennedy Administration, and it was the beginning of a rapidly expanding program of federal assistance that would be legislated in the “War on Poverty.”

In the 1960s and 1970s, McDowell County coal continued to be a major source of fuel for the steel and electric power generation industries. As United States steel production declined, however, McDowell County suffered further losses. In 1986, the closure of the US Steel mines in nearby Gary, led to an immediate loss of more than 1,200 jobs. In the following year alone, personal income in McDowell County decreased dramatically by two-thirds. Real estate values also plummeted. Miners were forced to abandon their homes in search for new beginnings in other regions of the country. In recent years, Welch has attracted the construction of new state and federal prisons which are creating some sources of economic renewal. The city has begun restoration of its historic downtown area.

Continue to part 4 of 4


A Train Exits a Tunnel Behind Their House in Roderfield, WV

Iaeger, West Virginia

NS Top Gons in Iaeger, WV

The State of West Virginia

RC Cola Advertisement in Iaeger

Closed Chevrolet Dealership in Iaeger, WV

Save Coal Jobs – TECO Coal Loading Facility near Hurley, Virginia

Loading Coal into Hoppers at TECO

School Bus Route in Keystone, WV

Early Morning Rush Hour in Keystone

Abandoned Business in Keystone

 Norfolk Western Power Sub-Station

NW Position Signals

Telephoto Down the Elkhorn Tunnel

NS Train Approaching Elkhorn Tunnel

The View of Maybeury

The Elkhorn Inn

Ball Field in Vivian, WV

Brothers in Kimball

Loading Coal in Superior, West Virginia

Shaving in His Chevy With a Load of Coal

Coalwood, West Virginia

Gary, West Virginia

Old Grave Stone Portrait

Looking Over Welch, WV


Continue to part 4 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 2

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 (15)

  1. Wanda Bignotti Simons

    I so thoroughly enjoyed this site and will share it with my family. Thank you so much!

  2. Nick Martin

    nice book, I been there a during the years my Mom and and many of my family Aunts Uncles Grand parents were all from caples and welch bluefield nad around the area.

  3. Rebecca Rose

    I really enjoy all the photos. I was born and raised in McDowell County and graduated from Iaeger High School in 1991. I now reside in SC because of all the poverty there. The people there are hard working people and deserve better, I don’t understand why the Goverment has forgotten them. Maybe one day if the opportunities come back to McDowell Co, I will too. I miss the peaceful life, the wonderful people and the great churches that McDowell Co has.

  4. Rodney Evans

    Enjoyed the stroll down memory lane. Grew up in Superior. Thanks,
    Still miss there.

  5. Donna L. Justice

    I agree with my brother, nice stroll down memory lane. Think about ‘home’ a lot now days!

  6. clarence stockton jr

    my father is from this area, i remember seeing some of these locations when i was 5,im 46 now

  7. Mandy

    I have to say that I am astonished (though beautiful) at the photos you have taken from this area. You clearly did not research these towns and simply went through to quickly snap whatever broken down, abandoned buildings, cars, etc. that you could find. Not only did you completely miss the lifestyle of those individuals that call these places home, you also missed the kind faces that would give you the shirt off the backs as well as share their last bite of food with you. They consider everyone they meet a friend. They are far from what you call “poor” these individuals have so much more than money. They have love and family which greatly goes beyond the need to live a lavish lifestyle. I am proud to say that I was taken in by one of these families (now my inlaws!) in a time of need and called Mcdowell County home for over 6 years. My husband grew up in Maybeury, wv. and you did not capture even half of what beauty resides there. That powerhouse you took photos of? U could not even begin to capture the beauty of it! I lived less than 1 mile from that and could look out my bedroom window to see it every single day. If you took the time to look, you could have seen so many beautiful pieces of the local heritage including the original home of the Mr. Jones (now a restored bed and breakfast!) which was the owner of the mines that ran on that very hill in Maybeury, Wv. The mines used to run right below the Jones home for many many years. There are still rock walls and many traces of the mines remaining including mine shafts! The houses you captured were the homes for all the mine workers. I was lucky enough to call one home for 6 years! This is a link to the home in which Mr. Jones lived in… https://www.facebook.com/pages/Me-and-Mr-Jones-Estate-Bed-Breakfast/119848068099028. You completely missed the old historical courthouse in Welch, Wv. as well!!The next time you choose to come back to WV- please ask a local to show you around so that you can capture the true beauty of this area! I’m sure the locals wouldnt mind to help you out at all!! Best Wishes!

  8. Mandy, this photo series is about the demise of the coal industry which build McDowell County. With the collapse of the mining industry along with many other things, this is a lot of what is left. This post isn’t about the people that still call here home. Feel free to check out project page that show West Virginia in a bit of a lighter light. I think you will enjoy the photo of the powerhouse in that set as well.


    Without living here, I will never be able to capture this area as you, a resident, would know it and feel it.

  9. Keri Clemons Coleman

    My great grand parents, Thomas and Cleo Dunigan lived in maybeury, wv…..visited there every summer while i was growing up.

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