A big surprise in Welch.

Posted: June 13, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Did you know that the first municipal parking garage in the United States was in Welch, West Virginia?

Did you know that the Cincinnati Reds have played baseball in Welch?

Did you know that in 1960 Welch ranked number one in coal production in the entire country?

The coal-fueled economy of the first half of the twentieth century made Welch a boom town and pushed the population of McDowell County close to 100,000.  But those days are long gone.  If you know Welch or McDowell County at all, you probably know them for the economic hard times they have endured over the last few decades.

Then again, have you seen downtown Welch lately?  Probably not.  If you’re interested at all in downtown revitalization, you should take a look.  It would be worth the drive.

Last week we looked at the McArts Amphitheater in McDowell County and learned that an elaborate design is not always necessary for a place to be memorable.  Then again, a good design can transform a mundane place into something really special.  Such is the case with the Welch Riverfront Park.

A highlight of the Welch Riverfront Park is the amphitheater, which is not only a venue for performance art, but makes an ideal place for downtown workers to enjoy lunch.

From the opposite side of the Tug Fork River, the different levels of the park are more obvious.

The lower level walkway is a great place for a casual stroll.

The view from above is always a favored vantage point.

Built along the banks of the Tug Fork River, the park calls out for people.  People to sit and watch the cars go by.  People to sit on the upper level promenade and watch the world from above.  People to lounge on the concrete steps of the amphitheater and enjoy a sandwich at lunch or take in an evening concert.  Or maybe stroll along the curved sidewalk just a stone’s throw from the sparkling river.

There are so many opportunities to engage the public.  It’s an obvious place for public gatherings and a good choice for more subtle get-togethers.  It’s the kind of space you might expect to find in Charleston, Huntington, or Morgantown.  In Welch, it’s a total surprise.

I don’t know the mechanics of how Welch put such a project together.  I don’t know how it was funded.  But what I do know is that someone in Welch had that vision thing.  Someone had an idea and dared to think big.  I suspect that Mayor Martha Moore played a major role.  I can imagine all the nattering nabobs she had to endure.  And probably still does.

There is no guarantee of a prosperous future for Welch or McDowell County.  Boom times of years gone by seem unlikely.  But the development of the Riverfront Park is a strong step towards building an economically viable downtown.

The old stone wall on the lower level not only adds interest to the park, but could be a metaphor for the history and strength of Welch's past as a foundation for its future.

  1. Nelle Chilton says:

    Once again, How very interesting and encouraging for those of us who love WV, think small towns in WV could be really attractive places to live, but seldom explore beyond Charleston.What an inviting space.

  2. Phil Evans says:

    Very impressive. What is the status of retail/business in downtown Welch– is it pretty depressed? Towns like this often have great old storefronts available.

    • Joseph Bird says:

      Actually, I’m not sure. Welch is an interesting place. The first buildings you encounter in downtown seem kind of iffy. Not sure about the occupancy rate. Then about halfway down McDowell Street, you’ll find a gleaming Marquee Cinema, not unlike you would find at suburban shopping centers. Downtown always seems busy, but I’ll take a closer look next time I’m there.

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