When the local coal industry was booming, McDowell County also had the highest percentage of black residents of any West Virginia county.
Beginning in the 1970s, jobs and living conditions in Gary dropped. By 1980, the best metallurgical coal in the Gary area had already been mined. During those same years, the national production of steam coal, to generate electric power, rose from 320 million tons to 530 million tons.
Mining jobs in McDowell County fell from 5,814 in 1980 to 3,755 in 1982.
For Gary's miners and families, 1982 was particularly bleak.
In March, 550 miners were laid off. By late April, nearly 3,000 of U.S. Steel's 7,000 coal miners across the country had lost their jobs.
Longtime miners who lost their jobs collected $194 a week in unemployment benefits. Young miners who had not worked for very long received only $15 a week.
"Welch, where so many Gary Hollow dollars were spent, was pounded by the closures," Garay wrote. "In mid-April, Welch restaurants closed early because of the dwindling number of customers, clothing stores laid off their own workers ... and car dealers were hitting new lows in sales."
By the end of the year, U.S. Steel had closed all of its mines in McDowell County. Gary Mayor Charles Hodge said the company made no effort to help the town.
"Gary Hollow once had a congregational tradition. It was a place of gatherings, a place of small neighborhoods set within the bigger neighborhood of Gary. But no more," Garay wrote.
"The coal miners of Gary Hollow were for the first time ever totally at the mercy of a complicated set of circumstances over which they had no control."
Gary's unemployment rate nearly hit 90 percent in March 1983 -- higher than any other town in the nation.
In September 1987, the Gary No. 2 Mine reopened, but only after U.S. Steel sold it to a new company called Gary Enterprise. A number of other companies arranged sub-leases to mine what coal remained accessible.
Nationwide, U.S. Steel's employment fell dramatically -- from 171,654 in 1979 to just 53,000 in 1989.
"The abundant, good-paying jobs that had persuaded so many young people to enter the mines in times past simply no longer existed," Garay wrote.
By 1990, just 180 mining jobs remained in Gary Hollow and only 1,250 throughout McDowell County. In July 2003, U.S. Steel announced a deal that sold all of its remaining coal assets to PinnOak Resources.
Gary was founded in 1902. But during the historic town's centennial year, a century later, "there would be no parades, no speeches, no pageants, no celebrations of any sort to mark the occasion of Gary's birth," Garay noted.
"Most Gary Hollow residents probably had no idea that Gary had been around so long."
Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjny...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.