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WELCH, W.Va. — Each year at midnight on Dec. 31 in New York City’s Times Square, a large ball of crystal panels and LED lights is lowered to bring in the new year.

In the coalfields of southern West Virginia, it’s a piece of coal.

At least in the city of Welch, that is. The downtown area in the seat of McDowell County, West Virginia’s southernmost county, was the site of a New Year’s Eve celebration that lasted around four hours, featuring food vendors, music, fire pits, a talent show and more.

The event was held at the Martha H. Moore Riverfront Park, which sits along McDowell Street and the Tug Fork River in the city’s historic downtown district. People who attended were treated to a variety of foods like barbecue, nachos, hot dogs and sweets from vendors Kris Blankenship with the Welch Market and Kimberly Kennedy with Tasty Catering from Bluefield, Virginia.

Bill Hornick of the Mr. Bill’s Sound & Light Mobile DJ Company was the DJ and master of ceremonies for the event, providing the sound and music for a dancing crowd and talent show contestants alike. As the evening went on, several individuals signed up and took to the stage for a chance to win the $100 cash prize in the talent show.

About 20 seconds before midnight, a chunk of coal with “2021” painted on it — attached to an electric line company truck — was gradually lowered in front of the lighted Christmas tree at the park. Just like in Times Square, Hornick counted down the seconds with the crowd as the coal slowly dropped.

Right after the clock hit midnight, fireworks were set off near the river, officially welcoming the new year in Welch.

2021 marked the second time Welch has brought in the new year with the “Coal Drop” event. The idea was the brainchild of the man who operated the truck that lowered the coal — Welch Mayor Harold McBride.

McBride, who became the city’s mayor in September 2019 after the death of Reba Honaker in May of that year, devised the event as a way to pay homage to the area’s rich history with the coal industry, said Jason Grubb, business development specialist for the city of Welch.

“When Harold McBride Sr. became mayor late last summer, he walked in the door with a desire to create local events for residents and tourists alike,” Grubb said. “2020 was the inaugural Coal Drop. Mayor McBride was set on honoring the most influential industry in our history, while recognizing new beginnings.”

As with most events held during the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, precautions such as social distancing and mask wearing were encouraged at the event, which Grubb said was taken into consideration during planning. Throughout the evening, Hornick reminded attendees to practice precautionary measures, saying, “We want you around to see another Coal Drop event in 2022.”

“With the pandemic upon us, (McBride) was closely monitoring all resources to make sure we were able to continue this new tradition in a safe and responsible manner,” Grubb said. “We have instituted a plethora of new events, but the Coal Drop was all Mayor McBride. Last year was a phenomenal success, and we feel this year built on our new tradition. Mr. Bill (Bill Hornick) is a local legend and has made these events exciting with the musical contests and background music. The food vendors are always amazing, and folks came from all around to enjoy the night in the city of Welch.”