McDowell County History & Links
Known as "The Nation's Coal Bin", McDowell County, WV has an illustrious history in both coal mining and railroading. The photos below showcase some of that history. Also below is a video we made of a PhotoWalk we took throuogh nearby Bramwell, in Mercer County, home to the "Coal Baron Mansions"
For more history photos, click on this link to go to the Area History section of our Photo Gallery.
Louis Armstrong played in the infamous "Cinder Bottom" area in Keystone (which was going strong through the mid-1970s), and Cab Calloway played at the WWI Memorial Building for Black Soldiers in Kimball! O Winston Link took many of his famed photographs in McDowell County, and Elkhorn Inn guest, Builder Levy's iconic photographs of miners were taken in McDowell County, as well. The area is also reknowned for the tradgey of the "Mine Wars", the only time in US history when American soldiers opened fire on US civilians. Sid Hatfield was shot on the Welch courthouse steps, and a reenactment takes place on August 4th; the play "Terror of the Tug" is performed in the summer in Welch, as well. The famed "Pocahontas" railroad which goes past the Elkhorn Inn and is now a Norfolk-Southern freight train, was originally Norfolk & Western, and had a fine dining car up through the early 1970s. Other nearby areas of note to visit include Coalwood, the location of Homer Hickam's trilogy "Rocket Boys", "The Coalwood Way", and "Sky Of Stone, and the movie "October Sky"; Bramwell, famed for its opulent "Coal Baron Mansions", as well Oktoberfest and its restored train station museum; Matewan, of the movie "Matewan" and the Mine Wars; Roderfield, where the television program "Coal" was filmed; the Pocahontas, VA Exhibition Coal Mine; Princeton, which has a restored train station & museum, Bluefield, which has the Regional Coal Archives and NS "Pocahontas" Headquarters, Welch, War, and Jolo.
Though coal is still king in McDowell County, with the largest coal processing plant in the state, technology resulted in a dramatic drop in personnel needs for coal mining. McDowell County's industrial hey-day lasted through the early 1970s. When US Steel pulled out of the area in the 1970s, 100,000 people left McDowell County to find jobs elsewhere, resulting in the largest, fastest population drop in US history. The area experienced catastrophic flooding 8 months apart in 2001 & 2002, resulting in entire towns being destroyed and the tragic deaths of eight people; by 2002 the population of the county had dropped to 18,000. Dan and Elisse came to the area in 2002 following the flood, and saw the natural beauty of the area, and the potential for tourism to help the area rebound economically. They bought the Inn building, the last historic building in Landgraff that survived the floods, and saved it from demolition, restored it, and opened their new home as the Elkhorn Inn in May 2003 to help kick-start the post-flood tourism economy of McDowell County by providing lodging and fine dining. Since they opened the Inn, tourism has brought many thousands of people to McDowell County from across the USA and overseas, property values have risen, Wal-Mart and other businesses have made McDowell County their home, and the population has grown to 23,000.
- West Virginia Roots Geneology Resources
- West Virginia Archives and History
- West Virginia History on the Internet WV Dept of Culture and History
- West Virginia Archives and History- McDowell County
- West Virginia Historical Society
- Frograil: Norfolk-Southern Pocahontas Division
- Frograil: Railfan Sites in West Virginia
- Norfolk Southern Police Dept. Railroad History
- History of West Virginia Mineral Industries
- West Virginia Gen Web Roots
- West Viginia Coal Mine History 1883-1925