CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The population decline of Fayette County has been gradual over the past half century with most people unaware of its dreadful impact.
Fayette County has produced two governors, two state Senate presidents, a majority leader of the House of Delegates and a chairman of the House of Delegates Judiciary Committee. In the recent past, we have produced none of these leaders. We have only three delegate seats.
In 1953, the population of this county was 82,443 as reported in the 1950 census. In 1980 it was just under 60,000. In 2011, our estimated population had fallen to 45,629. This is a decline of 36,814 in 62 years. We still decline, losing 340 people in the last two years.
Some 40 years ago, we had approximately 14,000 students in our schools, down from more than 20,000. In the school term 2009-10, our school enrollment was 6,759.
In 2009, our seven high schools graduated only 435 students.
What happens when you have lost half of your population? You lose the good half. You lose the employed persons. You lose your youth and your future leaders. You lose the educated citizens because they have the ability to move to another area and find a job. You are left with the elderly, the sick and disabled. They do not bear children, who are our future.
The Upper Kanawha Valley has been especially hurt by the decline. You can drive from Smithers along U.S. 60 to Gauley Bridge to find a Go-Mart, two car repair garages, two taverns and two gift shops. After 9 p.m. there is little traffic. Gauley Bridge has lost three major businesses in the past year.
Fayette County's personal income per capita is $23,930, and 23.9 percent of people live in poverty. The state per capita income is $28,206, and 17.1 percent live in poverty.
Montgomery High School graduated 106 students in 1940. It had an auditorium, stage, gymnasium, a dormitory, a cafeteria, a band room and outstanding architecture. Its gymnasium was outfitted for gymnastics with a high bar and parallel bars. It had student organizations such as gym club, Latin club, French Club, Hi-Y Club, National Honor Society, Senior Girl Reserves, Sophomore Girl Reserves, Science Club, Glee Club, a 57-piece band, Thespian Society and others. It had the first high school yearbook published in the county. Its weekly newspaper "The Siren" was awarded numerous prizes.
Montgomery was replaced by Valley High which has no auditorium, no actual stage, an inadequate gymnasium and above all, only one window. Its multipurpose room is small with confining low ceilings. Multipurpose means no purpose. There are about 300 students.
Montgomery High School was not built by the Fayette County Board of Education. It was built by the Kanawha District, which was south of the Kanawha River. It had its own Board of Education. Most citizens are unaware that our state had a district system until the Depression.
A school should have a large variety of courses. It cannot have that unless the school population is larger and varied.