Welch, the trading center for surrounding coal fields, is the seat of government for McDowell County. The town was settled in 1885 by John Henry Hunt. He sold it for $40 to I.A. Welch, for whom the town is named, and J.H. Bramwell and J.H. Juring. They platted the town in 1893 and it was incorporated in 1894.
Furs and ginseng were the chief products of the area, until the Norfolk and Western Railroad was built in 1891, which opened up the coal fields. Until 1880 there were no bridges across the streams and rivers, making transportation very difficult.
During the Civil War, to protect the county records the county seat was moved to an area called Tug River, then to Perryville, now called English. After the war a bitter fight ensued, but the county seat was eventually brought back to Welch. A new courthouse was built in 1895.
James McDowell, who served as Governor of Virginia from 1843 until 1846, is honored by the naming of McDowell County, which was formed in 1858. The county consists of some 538 square miles of land area in e southwestern part of the state.