West Virginia was one of the worst states to be hit be the Great Depression from 1929 to 1941. National unemployment peaked in 1933 at almost 25 percent.

The unemployment rate in West Virginia exceeded 80 percent in some counties.

And if you think that would make life hard in the Mountain State, you’d be very right. A near total collapse of the mining industry during the first years of the Great Depression was the primary culprit of most  West Virginian’s sufferings.  It’s important to remember that this wasn’t that long ago—and the photos below are of the lives and realaties of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents.

Most of these photos come from a series commissioned by the Farm Security Administration Project, all of which are viewable at the Library of Congress website. There are over 2,600 images in the collection from West Virginia.

1. An unemployed miner built his own house in Osage, Mon County, in 1938. “It’ll be purtier when I paint it,” he told the photographer.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

2. When workers tried to organize at this mine in Twin Branch, McDowell County, Ford shut down the mine and boarded up an entire town.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

3. An ominous sign in a Williamson, Mingo County, cornfield in 1935:

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

4. Here’s lunch hour at the Carbon Carbide Company in South Charleston in 1938.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

5. Farmers threshing in the Tygart Valley in Taylor County, 1936.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

6. Here’s Kempton, a crowded “coal company town” in Grant County, 1939.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

7. A sign at the entrance of the Kempton Mine written in English, German, Hungarian, Italian, Lithuanian, Czech, and Polish.

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Library of Congress

8. Children “playing” in Kempton, Grant County, 1939.

20160614_depression_kempton_children_playing

Library of Congress

9. A man in front of a grocery store in Elkins in 1939. If this man were 65 years old when this was taken, it would mean he was born when famous Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant was still President.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

10. The photographer described this only as a “religious parade” in Romney, 1939.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

11. Children of a miner at Scott’s Run in Mon County, 1935.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

12. Miners take a break in Williamson, Mingo County, in 1935.

20160614_depression_williamson_miners

Library of Congress

13. What Charleston looked like in 1938. You can see the Union Carbon Carbide Company in the background.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

14. Carrying water to an abandoned mining community in Marine, McDowell County, 1938.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

15. A coal train rumbles through Davy, McDowell County, in 1938.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

16. A miner on a donkey in McDowell County. When this photo was taken in 1938, this was still a fairly common mode of transportation.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

17. A woman gathers coal in Scott’s Run, Mon County, in the winter of 1937.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

18. Here unemployed miners gather in Scott’s Run, Mon County, that same year.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

19. A miner’s wife and child sit on the porch of their Mohegan, McDowell County, home in 1938.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

20. Miners turn in their lamps after their shift in Capels, McDowell County in 1938.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

21. Shanties built by the union to hold striking miners in Scott’s Run, Mon County, when they were kicked out of company houses. A burning slag pie is on the right.

Library of Congress

Library of Congress

MORE: 18 Photos That Show Life in West Virginia Coal Camps in the 40’s

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