Big Creek High School, constructed in 1931 2 and opened in 1932,3 was located in War, West Virginia. Big Creek was constructed on the site of John’s Branch Coal Company, which had closed five years prior.6 Upon construction, the high schools at Berwind, War and Coalwood became junior high schools.
Big Creek gained some national attention in the 1999 movie “October Sky” and was referred to as “the historic home of the Rocket Boys of McDowell County.”3 On May 28, 2010, the last graduating class at Big Creek marched during what was an emotional ceremony at the school.1 Only 41 Big Creek Owls received diplomas, which ceremoniously marked the end for the 78-year-old school.2 Students at War now attend the new River View High School south of the city.3
The closure of the school was long coming, with the discussions dating to 2001.4 The school closure was part of a larger project between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the McDowell County Board of Education and the West Virginia Board of Education as a way to consolidate schools, correct serious flooding issues and construct modern structures. The consolidation plans were anything but simple.
In 2000, McDowell County proposed a school closure and consolidation plan, which included the closing of Big Creek High School and Iaeger High School, and the construction of a new high school at Bradshaw.5 The plan was flat out rejected by many, including those in War where Big Creek was located at. A prolonged fight over consolidation ensued, and angry crowds mobbed meetings of the county school board. But in a controversial 3-2 vote, the county Board of Education voted to reject millions of dollars in state and federal flood-proofing funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which were earmarked for the construction of four new schools out of the flood plain. Public opinion began to change due to the rejection of $40 million in funding, and the consolidation was only back on the table after former Governor Bob Wise and the state Legislature became involved. Finally, in the summer of 2008, construction began on the new River View High.
The city of War expressed interest in preserving the historic Big Creek High School, for use as a museum and as a source of business growth.3 But due to deterioration of the structure that began in 2005, the decision was made to tear down rather than to preserve, with the land being used as a playground and park for the new Southside K-8 school that resides immediately in front of Big Creek.