I received some regeneration on last month’s article on Matoaka, W. Va., so I assumed I might continue this month within West Virginia. We are still within the grip of COVID-19 (hard to believe) and it’s just like the situation and every one the related shut-downs, closures and precautions are going to be with us for a few months more until an efficient vaccine is developed. So this month we’ll continue our visit to the southern West Virginia coal region and therefore the towns of Kimball and Welch.
Kimball may be a village in McDowell County incorporated in 1911. it had been named for Frederick J. Kimball, President of the Norfolk and Western Railway which built its line through the mountains of southwestern Virginia into the previously untapped Flat Top-Pochahontas Coalfield within the 1880s.
Kimball was home to at least one of West Virginia’s most thinly capitalized national banks, the primary commercial bank of Kimball, charter #11502, which was organized in 1919 and liquidated in August of 1930. Over that 11-year period, the bank issued a minuscule $142,000 in circulation, with slightly below $10,000 outstanding at the close. By 1935, just $220 in large size notes was outstanding. Accordingly, notes from this bank are just plain rare. Amazingly, an uncut sheet of huge notes is reported, but apart from that, just one large and a few small notes are known.
When the primary commercial bank was liquidated in 1930, it had been immediately succeeded by the Kimball commercial bank, charter #13484, which assumed circulation. This later bank-issued slightly below $130,000 in small size $5 notes only, of which nine are currently reported. I used to be ready to obtain a photograph of 1 of those notes to accompany this text.
While on just one occasion Kimball was a busy coal town, with through-rail service, today Kimball may be a very sleepy hamlet with a population under 400 souls. it’s found at the purpose where US Route 52 makes a full horseshoe turn because it meanders down towards Welch, the county courthouse. I rolled into Kimball along Main Street (US 52) and immediately saw it had been a hodgepodge of old buildings and houses seemingly scattered willy-nilly amongst patches of vacant lots — lots which once held other buildings long ago demolished.
I moved along slowly, scanning all sides of the road for any substantial bank. Approaching the horseshoe curve, I used to be greeted by quite an anomaly — an enormous columned stone structure with the engraved words “WORLD WAR MEMORIAL” across its pediment. it had been truly a monumental building, such a lot the more impressive due to its odd location in such a “down on its luck” town.
It clothed to be the primary building ever erected within us to honor the service of black soldiers during the primary war. The structure, an artistic style building, was designed by Welch architect Hassel T. Hicks and dedicated on Feb. 11, 1928. Its construction was partially funded by McDowell County. During the coal years, the population of McDowell County was nearly 35 percent black and nearly 1,500 black men of the county had volunteered for service during war I. the finished building housed a 100-seat meeting room, trophy room, kitchen, recreation center, and a library, and was employed by local citizens of all races. it had been also home to the Kimball American Legion post, which was itself the primary black Legion post. The building was abandoned within the 1970s and gutted by fire in 1991. It underwent a complete restoration in 2000 and now is a civic center.
I chanced to glance across the road and spied a curious ruined building with a powerful tunnel next to and behind it. As I examined the building more closely, I noticed a rusted burglar alarm box near the highest. It seemed like a bank! I headed across the road to see it out. it had been boarded up, but the side of the building was bashed in, and a cursory look inside revealed two ruined vaults. it had been the old First commercial bank building! The vault area was crammed with vintage trash (and probably snakes) so I didn’t attempt to get in. Some nice photographic studies are included here.
From Kimball, one head down the winding road into the valley that houses Welch, the seat of McDowell County. Given the “off the beaten path” nature of the world and therefore the ramshackle condition of the towns we skilled, Welch may be a very pleasant surprise. Since it sits during a little valley, the road into it follows a serpentine route down the hillside, giving visitors a stunning birdseye view of the place. Welch was incorporated in 1894 and the name after Isaiah. Welch, a former captain within the Confederate Army who came to the region as a surveyor and helped establish the plan for the start of a replacement town at the confluence of the Tug and Elkhorn rivers. On just one occasion, McDowell County was the most important coal-producing county within the nation, and Welch was at its heart. But adversity hit the region within the 1960s, and therefore the population has decreased steadily to around 3,000 today.
During the heydays, Welch was home to 2 substantial national banks. the primary commercial bank of Welch, charter #9048, opened in March of 1908. it had been an outsized bank, with a complete issue of $1.36 million. When it had been liquidated in 1930, slightly below $75,000 was still outstanding. Though the Kelly census shows 11 large and five small reported, the massive issue of this bank makes these numbers somewhat dubious, in my opinion.
Welch’s second bank was the McDowell County commercial bank, charter #9071, which opened at almost an equivalent time because the First commercial bank. This was the larger of Welch’s banks, issuing a complete of $2.1 million from 1908-1932. it had been closed by the receiver in October of the latter year, to be succeeded by the McDowell County commercial bank in Welch, charter #13512. The successor bank went on to issue an extra $1 million in small size notes from 1930-1935. Small notes from Charter #9071 are quite scarce, with just four reported; notes from Charter #13512 are rather common, with over 30 reported so far.
Due to its location between two rivers, Welch is fairly compact for an outsized town. On just one occasion, the population soared to close to 20,000, and photos from the 1930s and 1940s show a packed downtown shopping area. The town is dominated by the McDowell county seat, a Romanesque Revival stone structure erected in 1893. The steps to the courthouse are infamously related to several high-profile murders. On Texas Independence Day, 1921, the Welch Council head met to debate the impeachment of Mayor J. H. Whitt. Whitt show at the meeting and disrupted the proceedings. The Welch council then asked the McDowell County Sheriff’s Department to research Whitt. Later that very same day, Mayor Whitt shot and killed McDowell County deputy William Johnson Tabor who was investigating the matter. Mayor Whitt was arrest and charged with murder but won acquittal at his trial. On Aug. 1, 1921, detectives from the Baldwin-Felts Agency shot Sid Hatfield as he approached the building to face trial for a shooting incident. He had just returned from Washington, D.C. where he had been scheduled to testify ahead of the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Education. a well-known leader and union organizer, he had participated in the May 19, 1920, “Matewan Massacre,” during which seven companies guards, the mayor of Matewan and two union men were killed. Matewan had a big role within the famous Hatfield-McCoy feud.
The old McDowell County commercial bank building, a perfectly graceful period structure, still stands in its original location on Wyoming Street across from the courthouse. it’s a gorgeous building and is currently the Welch office of MCNB Bank. I even have included a vintage photo postcard view of the bank circa 1925, and a newer view (from a rather different vantage) that I took from the steps of the courthouse.
The First commercial bank was originally housed directly across the road from the McDowell County commercial bank building and may be seen within the photo. The bank moved into larger offices within the late 1930s on McDowell Street, two blocks south of its previous location. The building still retains its original columned entrance with the words FIRST commercial bank above but appears to be in use as apartments, with many vacancies.
Although Welch has settled into a way more sedate life than it once enjoyed, it had been a really pleasant town during a lovely setting. Over the past decade, Welch (and other towns within the vicinity) has suffered considerable damage thanks to the flooding of the Tug and Elkhorn Rivers.