Coalwood in McDowell County, home to Homer Hickam, Jr. (Wikipedia CC 3.0)

Coalwood in McDowell County, home to Homer Hickam, Jr. (Wikipedia CC 3.0)

How much do you know about this county on West Virginia’s southern border with Virginia? Here are 31 things we bet you didn’t know about the free state of McDowell.

1. McDowell County is the southernmost county in West Virginia.

2. It was formed in 1858 by the Virginia Legislature and named for former Virginia Governor and Congressman James McDowell.

3. At its peak in the 1950’s, 100,000 people lived in the county.

4. Today, a little over 22,000 people live in McDowell County.

5. The county is home to War, the state’s southernmost city.

6. War is the only city in America named “War.”

A train rolling through McDowell County (Wikipedia)

A train rolling through McDowell County (Wikipedia)

7. It’s named after War Creek, which was named War Creek because of once frequent battles with Native Americans near the stream.

8. Col. William G. W. Iaeger, for whom the town of Iaeger is named, fought in the Mexican-American War.

9. Col. Iaeger is actually buried in Pennsylvania.

10. Welch is named after Isaiah A. Welch, a former captain in the Confederate Army.

11. Aside from minor guerilla warfare, the Civil War largely passed by McDowell County.

12. Citizens voted in 1892 to make Welch the county seat. The election was so continuous that county records had to be moved from the old seat of Perryville at night to the new seat to avoid violence.

The McDowell County Courthouse. (Wikipedia/Coal town guy CC 3.0)

The McDowell County Courthouse. (Wikipedia/Coal town guy CC 3.0)

13. The McDowell County Courthouse was designed by prolific Courthouse-architect Frank Pierce Milburn, who also helped design the South Carolina State House.

14. It was on the steps of the Courthouse that Matewan Police Chief Sid Hatfield was assassinated in 1921 by mine company thugs.

15. Also in 1921, the Mayor of Welch, J. H. Witt, shot and killed a sheriff’s deputy who was investigating the mayor at the request of City Council.

16. Witt was eventually acquitted of murder and left the town later that year.

17. John F. Kennedy campaigned for the presidency here in 1960 and promised to help the county’s poor if elected.

18. Staying true to that promise, Kennedy’s first executive order was to establish the food stamp program. The program’s first recipients lived in McDowell County.

19. This is what a Saturday afternoon looked like in Welch in 1946:

Welch, McDowell County in the 1940's (National Archives)

Welch, McDowell County in the 1940’s (National Archives)

20. The county is home to the country’s longest-running Veterans Day Parade.

More: 17 Photos of Welch’s Veterans Day Parade, The Oldest in the World

21. The first white settlers to the county arrived in 1802. They settled along the Dry Fork.

22. The county’s coal was largely untouched in the 19th century, but that changed when the Norfolk & Western Railway arrived in 1892.

23. The influx of coal miners made the county one of the state’s most diverse. By the middle of the 20th century, one quarter of the county’s population was black.

24. In fact, the nation’s first African American state legislator came from McDowell County. Minnie Buckingham Harper was appointed in 1928 to serve the remainder of her deceased husband’s term in the House of Delegates.

25. The county’s most famous native is arguably Homer Hickam, Jr., a former NASA engineer and author of the memoir “Rocket Boys.”

26. The movie based on Hickam’s memoir, “October Sky,” was set in McDowell County but actually filmed in Eastern Tennessee.

27. According to Hickam, the movie was renamed because marketing research found women over the age of 30 wouldn’t go see a movie title “Rocket Boys.”

28. Welch was also home to the nation’s first municipally-owned parking garage. It opened in 1941.

via Wikipedia/Magnolia677 CC 3.0

via Wikipedia/Magnolia677 CC 3.0

29. The Town of Gary is named after Elbert Henry Gary, one of the founders of U.S. Steel.

30. By the 1980’s the mayor of the town would deride that company for failing to help the town.

31. The life expectancy for men in McDowell County is 63.9 years compared to the national average of 76.3.

32. The median income for a household in Bradshaw is $12,083. Fifty-four percent of the population of the town lives under the poverty line.

More: 17 Photos of Welch’s Veterans Day Parade, The Oldest in the World

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