By Derek Tyson, The Welch News Editor
KIMBALL, WV – The Houston Coal Company Store has stood like a castle at the mouth of Carswell Hollow for decades, being home to many operations before the 2001 flood. But plans underway now seek to change that.
In recent years, the McArts organization worked to acquire funding for exterior renovation of the Company Store, but the inside remains in need of renovation.
“Our plan is to start with the left wing of the building,” explained Molina Roberts, Director of the McDowell County Economic Development Authority (EDA). “The Convention and Visitors Bureau Office will be in the front, while the second room is planned to have museum displays.”
The $160,000 in funding received came from three organizations: Coalfield Development Corporation, National Coal Heritage Authority and the EDA.
“Right now we have a contractor looking at this and we want to get as much as we can within our budget,” said Alvin Cline of McArts. “The goal is to get something in here that will pay some of the utility bills.”
Cline touted the strengths of the building’s location between Route 52 and the Indian Ridge Trailhead of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System.
“The big thing with this building is you have good access and good parking,” said Cline. “It just has so much potential.”
Many involved in the project had their eyes on the building for years, dreaming of the possibilities.
“I would ride by the building on the way to school every day,” said Jonathan Cox of Coal Camp Creations and McArts. “I was really into stonework as a kid, castles, things like that. I thought this looked like a castle from the road. I thought maybe a king lived there. I never thought I’d get hands on experience with this place.”
Until the 2001 flood, each residence McArts member Mike Brown called home was in sight of the Company Store, serving as a backdrop for many memories.
“When I came home during the flood of 2001, I couldn’t get into Norwood. I had to park down here at the store,” said Brown. “I stayed over here on this wall until 1 a.m. I couldn’t go towards Kimball because all the water pouring out of Carswell. Flood water was coming in one side and out the other of the Company Store.”
Brown took a look around the Company Store before grinning.
“After watching the Kimball Memorial Building being rebuilt, there’s hope for anything,” said Brown. “Once it burned, I said nothing will ever amount here, it will be torn down, finished. But when a group of people with a real vision came together, working to acquire funds and grants, they rebuilt it. There is hope for anything.”
After the floods, the front lawn was used for a Flood Survivors event to honor the community for banding together and stick out the hard times, symbolizing the resilience to go on despite the hardships.
McArts President Jean Battlo sees that front lawn being put to use again, celebrating new life with a classic event: an ice cream social.
“I was here at the last one they held and I’d love to open with an ice cream social,” said Battlo. “It will be the serendipity of McDowell County.”
Battlo’s vision for the Company Store involves a historical museum with rotating displays while also serving as a haven for artists.
“We want to do on a broader scale what McArts already does,” said Battlo. “We want to put in a stage for all kinds of performances, music, theater.”
Local artwork will also be on display, which Battlo hopes to dedicate to late McDowell County artist George Jarvis.
“We’re currently seeking out more of his art to display here,” said Battlo.
Contractors and architects are currently reviewing the project, with a hopeful start date of Spring next year on the first wing of the building. Meanwhile, McArts members let their imaginations run wild with the possibilities.
“A lot of people have been involved in the plans for this building over the years, now it’s our turn,” said Jonathan Cox.