The building on the far left used to be a bank, longtime St. Charles resident Rhonda Webb said. Next to that was a candy store, then the sewing factory where she used to work. The shorter brick building at the end used to be a hardware store and now houses the St. Charles Community Center. Photo by Megan Schnabel

A bill that would terminate the Lee County town of St. Charles made it through a state Senate subcommittee Monday morning.

SB 589 was introduced by Sen. Todd Pillion, R-Washington County, at the request of the Lee County government. It cleared the charters subcommittee of the Senate Local Government Committee with little discussion. Rep. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County, introduced an identical bill in the House of Delegates, where it was awaits action.

St. Charles, which was created in 1914, saw its peak in the 1950s, when it had more than 500 residents and was a bustling commercial hub in the middle of a coal-rich region.  But as coal mining has dwindled, so has the town. According to the 2020 census, it now has just 73 residents, down 43% from 10 years ago. The only businesses within the town limits are a health center and a black lung clinic. No one has run for town office or voted in the last two elections; in 2016, the most recent year that elections were held, none of the winning candidates was sworn into office.

The county, however, is still required to hold — and pay for — elections for the town, which prompted it to seek help from the General Assembly after years of watching St. Charles decline. Under normal circumstances, the town council would petition the Lee County Circuit Court — by whose order the town was created — to disband St. Charles. But there’s, so such council, and the county doesn’t have standing to take the matter to the court.

Megan Schnabel

Megan Schnabel is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach her at megan@cardinalnews.org.