Revisiting a Coal Country Town|
January 06, 2014
Some years back, I wrote an article in a series on the ghostly towns and banks of southeastern West Virginia coal country. One of those towns was Anawalt, W.Va., a tiny town in the far southern section of McDowell County. It is only a few miles, as the crow flies, from the Virginia state line. At the time, I included photos of a structure I assumed was the bank. Now, many years later, I have found that I erred, and so to commemorate the recent addition of a lovely large-size Anawalt note to my collection, I have decided to revisit it and nearby Gary, W.Va., to make up for prior errors.
Anawalt is pretty much as far off the beaten path as is possible, even in the very rural and sparsely population section of West Virginia in which it sits. About as far south in McDowell County as one could be, it is just a couple miles from the Virginia state line. Anawalt has a crossroads where County Route 84 from Leckie to the northeast joins County Route 8, going south to Jenkinjones.
It is named in honor of Col. Anawalt, who was then manager of Union Supply Co., a subsidiary of United States Steel Co.. Coal was the main reason for Anawalt’s existence, and the U.S. Coal and Coke Co.’s No. 12 mine at Anawalt was for a long time the town’s chief employer. With the decline of coal mining, Anawalt has faded quickly.
For national currency enthusiasts, Anawalt is remembered as the home of the First National Bank of Anawalt, which received charter 10392 in May 1913. The bank lasted until the Depression era, and was closed by the receiver in 1931. It was not a large bank, with a total circulation of $426,000, but for a town as remote as Anawalt, this was still a significant sum. Just shy of $25,000 was outstanding at the time the bank closed, of which $2,110 was in large-size notes.
Given that just six large and two small notes are reported, this bank remains a rather tough one to find. I was happy to recently add an attractive large-size $20 from Anawalt to my collection, made even more special due to the fact that I had visited the town and wandered its desolate streets.
Anawalt today is just a cluster of homes and vacant lots clinging to life. Total population, according to the 2010 census, was 226. When I visited Anawalt, the only active “industry” was a liquid nitrogen plant—there seemed to be little else in the way of commercial activity.
A photo located online showed Anawalt circa 1967, a town with many buildings clustered in the central part. Virtually all of these buildings are now gone, mostly due to the fact that Anawalt has been regularly ravaged by flooding of the Little Creek that runs through it. Today, on State Route 84, one will see a few crumbling wrecks and a couple old garages; the only substantial building in town (which I previously thought housed the national bank) was in a fact the old town hall and commercial block. The town managed to purchase this building after the most recent flood and has restored it to be the community center.
The First National Bank of Anawalt building, an impressive structure at the time, stood on a hill about Railroad Avenue on Church Street. I found a photo of the bank circa 1930—the bank building is long demolished and even the church visible behind it no longer stands, all victims of flooding and the ravages of time and economic collapse.
Short of some small-scale mining and the liquid nitrogen plant previously mentioned, there is nothing going on in Anawalt today. Heading down Jenkinjones Road one finds a scattering of inhabited homes and some older abandoned stone mercantile structures. Who can say why folks stay in such a forlorn and difficult location, but that is America for you.
Not far and a bit north of Anawalt is Gary. Gary was named after Judge E.H. Gary, chairman of United States Steel Corp. In 1902, the United States Steel Corp. completed one of the largest coal plants in the world at Gary, and soon afterward constructed two branch-line railroads connecting with the Norfolk & Western Railway in the Flat Top - Pocahontas Coal Field. U.S. Steel shut down its Gary Operations in 1986 and poverty and unemployment have plagued the area since. The population was just over 900 in the 2010 census.
Despite falling on hard times, Gary has the appearance of a neat and prosperous little community. Homes were in good condition and yards well attended. The town remains very similar in appearance to the one shown in the vintage postcard view, circa 1925. The Catholic church and old bank building are still the only imposing structures in town along with the old Gary High School, a structure whose large size made it clear how populated the area once was. The school is now abandoned and crumbling. The town itself is divided by the railroad tracks and modern county highway; the businesses in the foreground have been replaced by more modern convenience store and gas station.
The Gary National Bank, charter 8333, opened in 1906 and served the bustling coal community for 25 years until liquidated in 1931. For a small town, this was a fairly large institution, with a total circulation of $882,000 over its lifespan. Just a handful of large notes (and no small) are reported. Some years back I had a Gary note, but this was before I was collecting West Virginia so it is no longer with me. I was able to locate a photo of a Gary note, though considerably lower grade than the one I once had.
After the liquidation of the bank, it was briefly reorganized and rechartered as the Gary National Bank in Gary, and received charter 13505, however, this was not meant to be, and this successor bank went into receivership in October 1931. No notes are known from this issuer whose total issue consisted of just over 1,000 sheets of small-size notes.
The old building is little changed from the 1920s photo, though today it houses the Coal Diggin’ Museum. The museum was closed, but I found an unlocked door in the back. Inside was a host of memorabilia from Gary’s early days, mostly relating to the mining operations, but also to the various high school sports teams that represented the town through the years. Surprisingly, despite the fact that the museum was inside the old bank (and the old vault was still there), there was little about the bank itself, and no National Bank Notes (or even photos of any) were on display.
I have included a photo of the old bank as it appears today. You can easily spot it in the vintage bird’s eye view of the town, at the center of the photo, little changed.
Readers may address questions or comments about this article or National Bank Notes in general to Mark Hotz directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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