For McDowell County, at the southern tip of West Virginia, the failure of First National Bank of Keystone was just another piece of bad news.

The county prospered when the coal mines were booming, but today it is racked by poverty and has lost three-quarters of its peak population. Along Highway 52, the main thoroughfare, homes are boarded up like the Florida coast during hurricane season.

The bank's collapse was a particularly crushing blow for Keystone, a town of 627 carved from the Appalachian Mountains. The bank was the town's largest employer and accounted for 80% of its business tax revenue. Without the bank, the city council voted last week to slash its budget by two-thirds. Already the town manager has been laid off, with further dismissals and service cuts to be announced. The bank's 89 employees are also out a job, and have lost a lucrative stock option plan that for many was their only pension.

In a place where a double-wide trailer is a sign of wealth, the bank's two top executives -- Billie J. Cherry and Terry L. Church -- were considered tycoons.

Ms. Cherry, who is also Keystone's mayor, owns a document storage company, a cafe, and, at the edge of town, a 14-room bed and breakfast. Ms. Church owns Keystone's only hardware store, a gas station, and a construction company.

The two women have enough money to indulge their passions.

Though the town lacks a movie theater, Ms. Cherry built a replica of Shakespeare's Globe theater and has staged a local playwright's work. She recently purchased, at bargain-basement prices, two turn-of-the-century mansions built by coal barons. One was bought from a widowed friend. The other was the site of a bloody triple murder, where bullet holes still pockmark the walls.

Ms. Church is a Harley-Davidson fanatic. According to local tax records, she and her extended family own more than two dozen motorcycles as well as several dozen cars. Local residents said Ms. Church also bought a 300-slip marina in Virginia and has a second home in South Carolina, but she did not respond to numerous attempts to confirm these and other reports. The family lives on a mountaintop overlooking Keystone.

It is unclear whether First National's headquarters building will open its doors again, or become another boarded-up remnant of a more prosperous time.

Said a local police officer glumly, "If that bank disappears, this town will sink with it." -- Louis Whiteman and Scott Barancik

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