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World War Memorial

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1927–1928, Hassel T. Hicks. North side of U.S. 52 at southeast end of Kimball
  • World War Memorial

In 1920 McDowell County honored all its armed forces with a memorial building in Welch. Several years later McDowell's black citizens petitioned the county for their own memorial. In 1927 the county appropriated $25,000, appointed Hicks as architect, and awarded the construction contract to the Bluefield firm of Boone and Eason.

Dedicated in February 1928, the memorial was, as far as is known, the nation's first to be dedicated exclusively to African Americans. The two-story neoclassical building is constructed of yellow brick on a cut stone foundation. The main facade is fronted with an attached terra-cotta portico of the Tuscan order, with four monumental columns supporting a frieze and parapet. The frieze is decorated with laurel wreaths, the traditional symbol of honor. The words “World War Memorial” were inscribed on the now-vanished parapet. Inside were an auditorium, library, trophy room, lounge, and kitchen.

For years this “liberty building” served as a living memorial, housing an African American community center and an American Legion Post. With the loss of area population in the 1970s, it ceased to be used, and in 1986 the county commissioners decided to sell it at auction. The proposal to sell a public memorial to private buyers received adverse publicity, and the project, along with the building, was abandoned. A disastrous fire in 1991 left it a ruined shell, although enough of the walls and monumental columns remain to affirm its architectural and historical significance. In a sense, its ruined condition makes it appear a more appropriate war memorial, at least architecturally, than when it was in its prime, though there are plans to restore it.

Writing Credits

Author: 
S. Allen Chambers Jr.

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