An Obscured Mountainside School

Tucked away under the dense canopy of McDowell County, West Virginia, lies the forgotten Prunty Trade School.

Tucked away under the dense canopy of McDowell County, West Virginia, lies the forgotten Prunty Trade School. Established in 1950, this institution was a beacon of hope, albeit a dim one, for African American students aspiring to acquire practical skills in a world that often kept such opportunities beyond their reach. The school was dedicated to teaching trades such as electrical and mechanical skills, but its resources were meager at best. Students were limited to courses in welding, drafting, masonry, and auto body repair, forced to make do with antiquated tools that were scarcely enough to go around the entire class. This was in stark contrast to the facilities provided at the McDowell County Vocational School for white students, which boasted eleven different workshop areas equipped with the latest technology.

Admission to the Prunty Trade School was not straightforward. Prospective students were required to endure a nine-week summer session, during which they were rotated through various departments. This process was designed to gauge each student’s aptitude and determine their most promising skill set. Remarkably, those who emerged from the program often secured well-paying positions in the industry, with an acceptance rate exceeding 90%.

However, the legacy of the Prunty Trade School was to be short-lived. In the mid-1960s, a new integrated facility was constructed further down the hollow, signaling the beginning of the end for the original site. Despite this, the old school continued to serve a purpose for vocational training until the 1990s, a testament to its enduring spirit in the face of adversity and neglect.

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It’s kind of surreal that the school is just buried amidst the trees like that. Aside from private residences, I’ve never seen a building completely obscured by trees but maybe that’s because they do a good job of staying out of sight. West Virginia is incredibly beautiful at times but also incredibly weird.

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