HOME>SOUTHERN WV>POCAHONTAS COALFIELD>GARY

GARY, WV

Gary, named after U.S. Steel Chairman Judge Elbert Gary, was the crown jewel in U.S. Steel's mining empire (though the people in Lynch, Ky. may disagree). Gary was the central part of the coal camp, and the surrounding towns like Elbert, Ream, Filbert, Thorpe, and Wilcoe were the satellite coal camps around the Gary nucleus. Amazingly this was a company operated town until as late as 1971. Still, U.S. Steel continuted mining here until the mid-1980s.


Feb. 2018 image by author

Former U.S. Coal and Coke Company offices in Gary.


Image courtesy of Alan "Cathead" Johnston

This coal camp portion of Gary, W.Va. is known as Wilcoe.


Nov. 2001 image by author

Coke ovens at Gary were part of the No. 3 Works.


Nov. 2001 image by author

Homes on bosses row show what a major coal camp Gary was.


Nov. 2001 image by author

Another part of the Gary camp with lesser, but still large, company-built houses.


Image courtesy VT ImageBase, housed and operated by Digital Library and Archives, University Libraries; scanning by Digital Imaging, Learning Technologies, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

The prep plant at Gary was once the largest in the world .


Feb. 1991 WV SHPO image

When this photo was taken the Alpheus Prep Plant at Gary had less than a year left. The photographer noted, "This preparation plant is still in use, but only sections are still operated." What she was actually seeing was probably the demolition crew working.


Feb. 1991 WV SHPO image

Another part of the prep plant.


Nov. 2001 image by author

This huge refuse conveyor coming off the mountain is so large that it has cable suspension.


Nov. 2001 image by author

The Gary (Alpheus) prep plant - gone but not forgotten.


Nov. 2001 image by author

Company-built houses for the workers of the Gary No. 1 Works. Note the official's house at the end of the street.


Mar. 2004 image by author

Smaller coal camp houses up the hollow behind Gary.


Mar. 2004 image by author

These are the same style of duplex houses that U.S. Steel was so fond of constructing at it's coal mining towns in Pennsylvania.


Mar. 2004 image by author

This used to be the bank in Gary. The sign now reads "Coaldiggers Museum," but it never seems to be open. "Coaldiggers" was the high school mascot in Gary.


Apr. 2006 image by author

This church was an A.M.E. Zion Church, a primarily African-American denomination, although the crucifix on top shows it was probably once a Byzantine or Orthodox church. It was unclear whether or not the church was still active at the time of this photograph. Update: I read that the top of the steeple shown here was stolen because it was made of copper. Unbelievable.


Apr. 2006 image by author

These former repair shops are located in the heart of Gary, and probably served all of U.S. Coal and Coke's mines that surrounded Gary. They are now owned by the Gary municipal government.


Apr. 2006 image by author

A closer look at one of the cut stone repair shops.


Apr. 2006 image by author

Detail of the rear of one of the shops.


Apr. 2006 image by author

Sign reads, "No persons allowed in carpenter shop with out safety shoes and hat during working hours."


Apr. 2006 image by author

This steel crossover was constructed around 1917 to allow the workers and citizens of Gary to cross over the busy railroad to reach the repair shops, coke ovens, and stores of the coal camp. A Norfolk-Southern employee is standing on the caboose passing under the walkway in this picture.


Image source forgotten

Vintage picture of a Norfolk & Western train winding through Gary.


Jul. 2009 image by author

This sign for "bone pickers" once hung on the wall at Gary but is now on display at the Eastern Coal Archives in Bluefield, WV.


Image courtesy of Tim Gilley

R. Tim sent in this photo and writes, "I am attaching a copy of a photo of the Gary Restaurant which is from a slide I found in my parents photos, etc. This photo was taken sometime the late 1800's or early 1900's. [The restaurant was actually built in 1913 - author.] There is a Gary Restaurant photo at West Virginia Archives made in 1920, when that photo was made the structure had expanded considerably. Enjoyed your web presentation, considering having grown up in Southern West Virginia, SW Virginia, and Letcher Co., Ky. Is really strange going back into these areas and seeing all those sub-surface mining operations closed, and all surface structures removed. I have a wide area photo of that area between Havaco and Gary, where U.S. Steel Coal Co., had its Tipple Cleaning Plant with its long conveyor extending from the bottom over the road way to the top of the mountain. My dad was Fed. Mine Safety Engineer having worked initially in Coalwood/Caretta, WV., then when Consol Coal Co. sold to Carter, we moved to Jenkins, Letcher Co., Ky, in 1934. Ultimately we returned to McDowell Co ... While in Coalwood, Dad was one of the Mine Foremen as was Homer Hickam, Sr., until the later became Mine Supt., when Carter Coal took over. We lived in the second two story house down from Capt. Carter's house where the Hickams moved, on Tipple Row in Coalwood."


Image courtesy of Tim Gilley

Another picture from Mr. Gilley, which he describes: "I am sending attached photo taken in 1948, when the top of Wilcoe/Havaco Mountain was being readied for the conveyor belt extending from the prep plant to carry the waste to the impounding area. My brother, being a retired federal mine safety engineer, had this photo."


Mar. 2017 image by author

This rail yard still exists at the edge of Gary. I don't know if it is staffed anymore, but I would guess no. The concrete silo was a water tank for steam railroads (thanks to Gerald for identifying this).


Mar. 2017 image by author

Crumbling old bunk house at the Gary rail yard. This is where rail crews could sleep between shifts.


Mar. 2017 image by author

Well, I don't ususally take pictures of sewers. U.S. Steel built this sewage treatment plant at the Wilcoe section of Gary around 1960. This was the first sewage treatment plant in McDowell County. U.S. Steel / U.S. Coal & Coke provided everything for these residents. Before that nearly all of the sewage was straight-piped from the homes into the nearest creek or river. With almost 100,000 people in McDowell County in the 1950s, those must have been some disgusting smelling waters. Now the plant appears to be unused, and the news reports that 67% of McDowell County residents don't discharge to any sewage treatement plant.


Mar. 2017 image by author

The mine maps provided by the state on their Coal Bed Mapping website are hard to read, so I don't know for certain what this building was. An old USGS topo map identifies an air shaft near this spot, so maybe this housed a fan motor.


Mar. 2017 image by author

Not sure what this Gary/Wilcoe industrial-looking building was.


Mar. 2017 image by author

Also near Wilcoe is this burned-out abandoned building. From the 1930s until the 1960s it was the Kailing Grocery Store. This was a mom-and-pop store independent of U.S. Coal & Coke. As a matter of fact, even the parcel of land it sits on was privately owned. So the coal companies didn't own every square inch of land in this area, but probably owned most of it. Also, nearby was Scott's Department Store. (Thanks to Gerald for the information.)


Feb. 2018 image by author

In 1955 U.S. Coal & Coke built the homes seen here for management. There were ten homes, I think, and the name of the development was Tallman Village. 1955 was a very late date for a coal company to be building houses for employees, and it would be the last time that the company would do it in W.Va.


Apr. 2020 image by author

The remains of a mine portal behind the old Gary High School reads, "First No. 4 Mine." This was probably the first mine at Gary that went into the Pocahontas No. 4 coal seam.


Apr. 2020 image by author

I know that this photo of the former Gary High School lacks personality. But this structure is hard to photograph due to being crammed in a tight valley bottom. Gary High School closed in 1978 when it merged with Welch and Northfork High schools into Mount View High School.


Apr. 2020 image by author

Art Deco sign on the gymnasium.


Apr. 2020 image by author

Detail of the masonry work on the former Gary High School.


Apr. 2020 image by author

This abandoned building was once Gary District High School. It was different from Gary High School in that it was a high school for black people during the Jim Crow era. In 1965-66 these students were integrated with white students at Gary High School. Then this building became an elementary school until it closed in 1975. 45 years after that I photographed it in ruins.


Apr. 2020 image by author

It's a shame to see the former Gary District High School fall into ruin. Look at the Arabic design on this doorway.


Apr. 2020 image by author

Neighborhood near the old Gary High School.


Apr. 2020 image by author

As per standard coal town layout you can see a coal company manager's house sitting on the hill overlooking the town. Once there were several managers' homes up there. This is the only one left.


Apr. 2020 image by author

Again we see the manager's house on the hill with the worker's company housing in the bottom along the railroad track.


Apr. 2020 image by author

These garages were built by U.S. Coal and Coke near the management homes referred to above. Nice stone work, and the ivy will eventually weaken and destroy it.


Apr. 2020 image by author

Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church now only has "chapel" status with an intermittent Mass schedule.


Apr. 2020 image by author

A nice old steel truss bridge, with a steel girder rail bridge in the background.


A July 1932 Bluefield Daily Telegraph article titled "Lad Trapped in Slate Dump Dies" stated, "Charles Bristol, 14, colored, of Wilcoe, was smothered to death Saturday morning at Wilcoe when he was caught in a cave-in of a slate dump on which he was playing. The boy had dug a deep cave in the slate dump and crawled back into it when it caved in on him. About a ton of slate was found on the body when it was discovered an hour later ..."


Sources:

"Gary Hollow" by Alex Schust.

www.gdhsaa-national.org/schoolhistory


SOUTHERN WEST VIRGINIA COALFIELDS


APPALACHIAN COALFIELDS HOME