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Welcome to the internet home of the Saint Paul High School Alumni Association Blog



BrandNew Alumni Site

Website versus Blog? That was the question… now the Alumni has both! And both are tools for you and friends of the alumni to use. Both are intended to keep you up to date, in the know and aware of what is going on in and about the community and within the association. We are making every effort to keep our members involved… from reunion news and get-togethers, to meeting agendas and minutes, and community events and topics of interest. So, for the website, go to and take a look. If you have any questions, suggestions, comments (compliments), let us know… enjoy!

Four New Yearbooks Added – And Several More Are Needed!

We’ve just added four new yearbooks to the Photos and Spirit section. The yearbooks are for 1999, 2002, 2003, and 2007.

We are still in need of yearbooks for the following years. If you have one of these yearbooks, or know of anyone who has one, please let us know so we can scan the yearbooks and post the images.



We have added another article from Jerry Couch to the long thread below.  This article – the eleventh is the series, is titled “The Tomas Dean Company”. 

As always, if you wish to reach Jerry, please contact him at

History of St. Paul – 10th Article Posted

Today we have posted the tenth in a series of articles on St. Paul authored by Jerry Couch. This article is titled “Rambling Around St. Paul in the 1920’s”, and is further down on this page.

History of St. Paul – Two More Articles

We continue to update the articles on the history of St. Paul, written by Jerry Couch.  To date there have 9 articles posted:


We would like to thank Jerry for allowing us to post his articles on this website.  Jerry can be contacted at


1923 – 2011

Dear Classmates:

Are you ready for another class reunion?  The St. Paul High School Alumni Association is planning a reunion for all alumni that graduated or attended St. Paul High School from 1923 to 2011.  The huge reunion will be held on Friday, July 22nd and Saturday, July 23rd, 2011. This should be a special reunion for everyone since there are plans to close St. Paul High School through consolidation.  All events for the reunion weekend will be held at the Oxbow Center in St. Paul.  We will start on Friday evening, July 22nd,  with a casual reception, party and entertainment by The Deaf Tones  (Frank Molinary & Billy Hillman) from 7:00 to 11:00 pm.  On Saturday afternoon, July 23rd, we will host a catered picnic from 12 noon to 4:00 pm.  This will be the perfect opportunity to bring your family and friends so we can tell all your secrets you have tried to keep hidden since high school!  There will be an additional charge for your guests (parents, children, grandchildren, etc.) for the picnic only; $5.00 for children 2 to 12 and $10.00 for adults.  On Saturday evening, July 23rd, there will be a reception beginning at 7:00 pm with the party and entertainment by D. J. Benny Mays from 8:00 to 11:00 pm.  A schedule of events is enclosed so you will not miss one minute of this fabulous weekend of fun and reminiscing!

The cost is $40.00 per person for all events or $25.00 for one (1) event.  All the money made from the reunion will go to the continuation of the St. Paul High School Alumni Association Scholarships, which are awarded each year.  In order to have an accurate count for all the festivities, it is necessary that the registration form be completed and returned with your check as soon as possible and no later than July 15, 2011.  If you know classmates that have not been contacted about the reunion, please forward this to them.  Our website,, has more information concerning all events in St. Paul.

This file contains the registration form for the reunion.  Please click on the link, print, complete, and return the form with a check for $40.00 per person for all events, $25.00 for one (1) event, plus $5.00/$10.00 for each guest that plan to attend the picnic, to one of the following classmates before July 15, 2011:

Benny Greer Crowder (’61)
Post Office Box 309
St. Paul, Virginia 24283

Suzy Pate Harrison (’68)
Post Office Box 1094
St. Paul, Virginia 24283

        **Please make checks payable to SPHS Alumni Association**


Suzy Pate Harrison, Chair & Class of 1968
(276) 762-5544 or (276) 762-9376

History of St. Paul

The following articles were written by Jerry Couch, and appeared in the Clinch Valley Times in the spring and summer of 2011. They are being posted here with permission. Jerry can be contacted at Please contact him if you have any information relating to the history of our area.


Francis A Stratton

In 1884, Frank Stratton purchased the Gray Farm from William Fields for $25,000. On September 19, 1889 Stratton filed a town plat in the office of the Clerk of Wise County. This town would ultimately become St. Paul. The plat was known as the “Stratton Map” and the earliest deeds to property sold by Stratton would reference it. In 1890 the land was re-surveyed and an new map was drawn. This map is known as the “Magruder Map.” It encompassed a much larger area and is the map of reference for all St. Paul deeds since that time.

Francis A. “Frank” Stratton was the scion of a wealthy New York family. He had financial interests in numerous coal-related and railroad-related business enterprises. A speculator in coal lands in Wise County, he was also instrumental in the development of Tacoma. Stratton was the son-in-law of General John T. Wilder, prominent in railroad and steel development. Wilder was also one of the original financial backers of the Charleston Cincinnati & Chicago Railroad, better known as the “Three C’s.” Though neither Stratton nor Wilder were natives of the South, they got along well with the local people they encountered here. However, where business was concerned, they could be quite ruthless.

In 1890, the N & W Railroad was under construction, coal was being mined at Virginia City, and the “Three C‘s“ roadbed was complete through St. Paul. The town was a speculator‘s paradise; a plum waiting to be picked. Frank Stratton sold blocks of lots to men such as John L. Dingus, John B. Moon, and developers such as the St. Paul Land Investment Company of Danville, Virginia. As a result, lots were sold and re-sold at inflated prices, but very little construction was taking place. It was not unusual for deeds in developing towns to contain a restrictive clause requiring purchasers to build within a certain time or forfeit their lots. St. Paul’s deeds contained no such clause.

In addition to the store and hotel operated by John L. Dingus and his nephew, John M. Hillman, a few stores were subsequently built along Winter Street (later renamed Russell Street). The first of these was probably the Martin V. Bates store which was located behind the present St. Paul Apartments building. Bates purchased the land for his store on February 18, 1890. C. D. Cox of Danville, Virginia purchased land for his store on September 22, 1890. The Cox store was located where the old St. Paul National Bank building now stands. Simon Greenspon purchased land for his store on February 16, 1891. The Greenspon store was located on the site of the present St. Paul Town Hall. All these buildings faced the railroad, as if paying homage to the prosperity it could bring. There were also a few private homes and boardinghouses scattered about the town. Of these early buildings, the Railroad House is the sole survivor in 2011.


In 1887, when this segment of our story begins, St. Paul did not exist. Neither did its Russell County twin, Minneapolis. That summer, former Confederate General Thomas L. Rosser was in Southwest Virginia working as a consulting engineer for the Charleston Cincinnati & Chicago Railroad Company. Rosser’s task was to identify the best route for the Three C’s to cross the Clinch Valley. A tentative route, several miles downstream from St. Paul, had been already been selected, though work there had not yet commenced.

Gen. Thomas Lafayette RosserWhile this was taking place, the Norfolk & Western Railroad Company was building a preliminary rail line through Russell and Wise Counties, eventually to connect with points west. The Gray Farm in Wise County’s southeast corner had been purchased for development by Francis A. “Frank” Stratton. Adding to all this financial consanguinity, Stratton‘s father-in-law, General John T. Wilder, was the primary organizer of the Three C’s Railroad. After a look around, Rosser became convinced the Three C’s should be routed through this peaceful spot by the Clinch River near Bickley Mills. Best of all, the site afforded excellent prospects for “twin cities.” Rosser persuaded his employers to reconsider the previously selected route. The success of this plan depended upon the acquisition of land across the Clinch River from Stratton’s property. George Banner owned that land.

George Banner was a gentleman farmer and master of 904 prime acres. Banner’s home was an impressive two-story frame residence situated on the high bluff overlooking the Clinch River behind present day “Greystone“. In 1887 the Banner house was probably the largest and best-appointed home in the area. It would remain a local landmark until its destruction by fire in the 1970’s. Rosser and his associates were willing to pay well to acquire Banner’s property. It was a classic case of the whole being worth more than the sum of its parts.

Rosser asked around and found someone who would introduce him to George Banner. Because of his military prominence during the final days of the Civil War, Rosser‘s name would have been familiar to local residents. We can imagine the two men sitting in the cool shade of George and Priscilla Banner’s front porch, Rosser enjoying the easy hospitality afforded strangers in those days. A deal was made….

On September 24, 1887 Banner sold his land to Rosser, who was acting in capacity as president of the New South Mining and Improvement Company. The selling price was $90,400. This was an enormous sum for the time and place. The sales agreement itself was a complicated document, to say the least. But in those days of economic expansion, it seemed advantageous to everyone. Wise County’s untapped mineral riches were still attracting hordes of potential investors. Steel had replaced iron as the building material of the industrial age. Wise County’s abundance of coking coal was crucial to the rapidly-expanding steel industry. Fortunes were being made and everyone wanted a piece of the action.

Unfortunately, dark clouds were gathering on the economic horizon. At first these clouds were so small neither Banner nor Rosser could have imagined the shadow they would ultimately cast upon the deal that was struck that day.


In our last installment, we left George Banner and Thomas Rosser congratulating themselves on the deal they had made. Banner had sold his large Russell County farm to Rosser who was acting on behalf of the New South Mining and Improvement Company. New South had been formed for the specific purpose of developing a town to be called “Minneapolis.”

John B. MoonJudge John M. WhiteThomas Staples Martin

Corporate offices of the New South Mining and Improvement Company were located at No. 45, Broadway, New York City. In addition to its president, Thomas Rosser, the company’s other principals included John Barclay Moon, Judge John M. White, Thomas Staples Martin, and Thomas Rosser, Jr. These venture capitalists were all from the Charlottesville, Virginia area. They were wealthy, socially prominent, and well-connected in state and national politics.

Amid much hoopla, the former Banner farm became a beehive of activity. Acreage was surveyed, subdivided into lots, and mapped. Streets were graded, a reservoir for a water system was constructed, and some water mains were laid. Most important of all, a bridge was built across the Clinch River to connect Minneapolis with St. Paul and provide access to the railroads. In 2011, the remains of this historic bridge may still be seen at the entrance of the Matthews Park in St. Paul

Some lots in Minneapolis had already been sold in late 1888 when Thomas Rosser made a shocking discovery. George Banner had been involved in some legal disputes. These disputes had finally made their way through the courts, resulting in judgment liens against Banner’s property. These liens held precedence over subsequent claims, including New South’s title to the property (title insurance was not common at that time). Payment was due and a court-ordered auction of the Banner farm was imminent.

New South had already paid Banner a portion of the $90,400 purchase price and had spent heavily to prepare the property for sale. Now it became necessary for New South to advance money to Banner to pay his debts or risk losing everything. Rosser asked Banner how much cash he needed to settle his debts and was told $15,000 should do it. Rosser himself was heavily in debt and so were his associates. New South wasn‘t generating profits yet. Rosser had trouble raising the money. He finally managed to do so, only to find it still wasn’t enough.

Word had gotten around that New South didn’t have clear title to the property it was selling. The company issued a statement denying this and asserting its integrity. But the damage was done. George Banner’s beautiful home had become New South’s on-site land office. Prospective investors and buyers from around the country had been wined and dined here. Suddenly the office was a very quiet place.


The southern states were economically devastated at the end of the Civil War. Then came “the industrial age” and pockets of prosperity began to develop throughout the south. Railroads were the key to this new prosperity. In the 1880’s, it seemed as though railroads were being built everywhere.

Steel magnate General John T. Wilder received a charter for the “Three C’s” (Charleston Cincinnati & Chicago) railroad on September 30, 1886. The initial estimated cost of the railroad was $21,000,000. Wilder secured major financial backing from Baring Brothers, one of the world’s largest investment banks located in London, England. There were many other investors as well, including individuals, corporations, banks, and municipalities. These investors would later wish they had never heard of the Three C’s.

By 1892, the cost of the unfinished Three C’s had exceeded estimates and construction was behind schedule. Nervous investors began to unload their Three C’s stock for whatever price it would bring. Liabilities of the Three C’s far exceeded its assets. Operating cash dried up and the company found itself bankrupt. Baring Brothers lost millions. Many of the Three C’s smaller investors were ruined.

Much of the Three C’s roadbed was complete, including the portion from Johnson City to Dante which passed through St. Paul. Unfortunately, no one knew if or when the railroad would ever be finished. Despite the millions of dollars poured into its construction, the Three C’s assets brought only $550,000 at a court-ordered sale on July 17, 1893. It was a dark day, indeed.

Nationally, the assets of many banks were shrinking due to excessive investment in overvalued railroad stocks and bonds. Next came an ominous series of bank failures. The banking crisis grew worse, then combined with a currency crisis in 1893. The result was a full-blown financial panic. Runs on banks followed as frightened depositors rushed to withdraw their money. The dominoes were falling.

The Panic of 1893 and the collapse of Three C’s were serious setbacks for St. Paul. Land speculators who had purchased town lots on credit now defaulted on their notes and walked away from what they assumed was a total financial loss. Others held on and hoped for better times. Construction slowed almost to a standstill.

Across the Clinch River from St. Paul, the once-promising town of Minneapolis was dying. New South Mining & Improvement put on a brave face and reorganized as the Minneapolis Improvement Company. But in the end it did no good. Two lawsuits, Banner vs. Rosser and Dingus et al vs. Minneapolis Improvement Co. et al would deliver Minneapolis’ death blow. Much legal wrangling and several years would pass before these suits were ultimately decided by the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia. Disputed land titles, forfeitures, and court-ordered sales followed in their wake. George Banner’s former home, used by New South Mining & Improvement as a land office, would be sold and become a residence once more. The smell of fine cigars, good whiskey, and the talk of deals and big money would vanish from its rooms forever. Most of Minneapolis would subsequently be blocked and sold as farmland.

The bubble of prosperity had burst. The Panic of 1893 and its aftermath created the worst economic crisis the United States had experienced up to that time. It has since been exceeded only by the Great Depression of the 1930‘s. However, for the farmers, shopkeepers, loggers, railroad workers, and miners of the St. Paul area, life in the 1890’s was actually better thanks to the completed Norfolk & Western Railroad.


George Lafayette CarterGeorge Lafayette Carter was an enigmatic man. Intelligent, effective, single-minded in business, he was also a reserved individual. For example, he would walk to his office via back streets to avoid meeting people and having to speak or shake hands with them. He also disliked being photographed which is why few photos of him exist today. However, he loved making money and in the early 1900’s he became Southwest Virginia’s “man of the hour.” The companies he founded would influence St. Paul for many years to come.

Carter formed a syndicate and purchased the assets of the defunct “Three C’s” railroad from its interim owners in 1902. Next, Carter set out to methodically accomplish what others could not. This man had no trouble seeing the big picture and viewed it through a wide angle lens. For years Carter had been buying up coal lands in Southwest Virginia, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Now he planned to connect up these interests with a railroad. Under Carter’s leadership, several segments of rail service were acquired then merged to become the new Carolina Clinchfield and Ohio Railroad. In late December of 1909, rail service on the CC&O from Dante through St. Paul to Spartanburg, South Carolina became a reality. St. Paul responded like Sleeping Beauty to the prince’s kiss.

Once again the sounds of hammers and saws could be heard as new stores and homes were built in St. Paul. The town’s population grew rapidly. In 1909, the St. Paul National Bank was built on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Russell Street. Walter Dickenson of Dickenson Duff & Handy was president of this bank. On the corner of Fourth Avenue and Broad Street the Blue Sulphur Hotel was built by Agostino Branca, a hard-working Italian immigrant. In a town comprised of small frame structures, these impressive masonry buildings stood out like a $20 gold piece in a piggy bank. They were tangible expressions of confidence in the town’s future. Even after 100 years of daily use, these buildings are still beautiful and still useful.

Each day hundreds of rail passengers and thousands of tons of freight passed through St. Paul. Some of these rail passengers stopped over at the Blue Sulphur Hotel or the more modest (and cheaper) Fairmont Hotel on Broad Street. The town was a crossroads for points east, west, north, and south. For example, if you were traveling from Lexington, Kentucky to Washington, D. C., you would pass through St. Paul. Local rail passenger service became St. Paul’s equivalent of streetcar and trolley systems found in large cities. It was much easier to get to where you were going by train.

Looking back in 2011 it is difficult to fully appreciate the impact of these railroads on the people of St. Paul. Trains now delivered daily newspapers to the town. You could send or receive a telegram at the depot. The U. S. Mail was delivered by rail to St. Paul twice each day. If you needed medial care beyond what was available locally, the train could take you to it. Each day trains bought exposure to different cultures and customs. St. Paul’s former isolation was firmly relegated to the past.


Following the construction of the new Carolina Clinchfield & Ohio Railroad through St. Paul, the community grew rapidly. This growth resulted in the need for municipal services such as street maintenance, sidewalks, water service, police and fire protection, etc. Municipal taxes would have to be levied to finance these services. On April 12, 1911 the village of St. Paul was officially chartered by the Commonwealth of Virginia as The Town of St. Paul, Virginia. To view this event within the context of world events, let’s travel back in time to take a look at what’s happening in the larger world of 1911:

  • The first air mail flight takes place on February 18th.
  • The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City catches fire on March 25th. One hundred and forty-five workers die, many of whom jumped to their deaths rather than perish by fire.
  • The first Indianapolis 500 automobile race is held on May 26th.
  • The liner RMS Titanic is launched on May 31st.
  • King George V is crowned King of England, ending the Edwardian Era.
  • The first transcontinental airplane flight from New York to Pasadena takes place on September 17th.
  • Chevrolet officially enters the automobile market on November 3rd.
  • William Howard Taft is President of the United States
  • Unemployment stands at 6.7%
  • First-class postage stamps cost 2 cents
  • The population of the United States grows to 93,863,000

St. Paul Postcard - Dickenson McNeer BuildingLocally, St. Paul’s streets are unpaved – they are dusty in hot weather and a sea of mud in wet weather. A small stream runs down Fourth Avenue during heavy rains, creating a swampy sinkhole at the vacant corner of Fourth Avenue and Russell Street. Hogs, cows, and chickens forage peacefully about the town. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, people dress in their best and go walking – promenading St. Paul’s boardwalks and sidestepping fulsome piles of horse manure in the streets. Footpaths crisscross the town. The Clinchfield Restaurant and the Candy Kitchen are popular destinations for townspeople and visitors. All the men carry guns (and most of the women, too). A ton of coal can be purchased at the mine for about 45 cents and children as young as 12 years work alongside grown men to produce this coal. Children also labor at local businesses. To meet the needs of its growing congregation, The St. Paul Methodist Episcopal Church has constructed a beautiful new building on the corner of Wise Street and Fifth Avenue. The town’s original public school has been replaced with a larger, two-story structure. And….a young attorney named Macon Melville Long has hung out his shingle to practice law in St. Paul.

St. Paul’s first town officers were William P. Porter, Mayor and W. J. Bailey, Clerk. Town Councilmen were J. D. McReynolds, J. J. Coxe, Dr. J. N. Greear, A. Handy, C. C. Bolton, and J. M. Hillman. Some of these men would serve the town for many years. The Town of St. Paul was off to a fine start.


During the decade of the ‘teens, dramatic world events would cast a long shadow over St. Paul – in particular, World War I and the great flu epidemic of 1918. During the war, some of St. Paul’s young men would bear arms and experience “life beyond the hills” for the first time. During the flu epidemic, one of every four people perished (worldwide). Dr. James Noah Greear risked his own life to render medical assistance to the sick and comfort the dying in St. Paul. Every local resident who escaped the flu epidemic was left to mourn the loss of friends and family members

Fourth Ave. Then and Now.jpg

On Broad Street, Agostino Branca had gone broke trying to operate his Blue Sulphur Hotel. From court records we learn Branca paid approximately $40,000 to build and outfit the hotel. This substantial outlay left Branca undercapitalized from the start. His overhead was high and failure was probably inevitable. His major creditor, Dickenson Duff & Handy, purchased the hotel at a court-ordered sale on March 7, 1914. Agostino Branca, much wiser, packed up his family and moved to Pennsylvania, leaving St. Paul and the hotel business for good and ever.

Another local event during the ’teens would have considerable impact on St. Paul’s future: Beginning in 1916, the St. Paul Land Company began marketing a narrow strip of property consisting of 18 building lots located between the CC&O railroad tracks and the state highway. A row of commercial buildings would spring up on this site during the next five years. This dynamic area would eventually be known to all as the “Western Front.” Because the street in front of these lots is actually an easement, it has never had a formal name. In retrospect, it obviously didn’t need one.

Some of the initial purchasers of Western Front property were Walter Dickenson, George Lemon, Jim Antonette, Pete Xenos, George and Nancy Black, Nick Mamos, George Efant, James and Jennie Larese, W. C. Taylor, W. E. Compton, Lydia Hawkins, and Almeta Ray. Several of these entrepreneurs were born in Italy or Greece. Their language and culture added bright threads of color to the fabric of St. Paul. Building lots on the Front fetched premium prices thanks to their excellent location – railroad frontage at the intersection of two main streets. Contrary to legend, businesses of all types were located here. These properties would change hands many times during years to come.

In 1916 a large factory was built beside the Clinch River in west St. Paul where the Riverside Shopping Center is located today. This factory produced a tannic acid extract used in the manufacture of shoe leather. At its peak, the Clinch River Extract Company was the largest employer in Wise County, excluding the coal mines. People came from all over the region to work at this facility. Some of these workers and their families lived in company houses on the extract plant property. Others lived in newly-developed South St. Paul across the Clinch River in Russell County.

St. Paul was a model of a socially and economically diverse community during the ‘teens. The town’s economy drew strength from coal, railroads, wholesale and retail merchandising, commercial manufacturing, and the manufacture and sale of lumber. Regardless of ethic origin or economic status, everyone got along. The friendships and bonds formed among St. Paul families during the town’s early days endure to the present – in many cases unto the fifth and sixth generations.


This story of the Clinch River Extract Company begins on February 21, 1916. That’s when its parent corporation, the Ashland Leather Company, paid $2,100.00 to the St. Paul Land Company for a 22.37 acre tract of land known as “west end bottom.” As a condition of sale, Ashland Leather agreed to immediately begin construction of an extract plant on the site and to use this property exclusively for manufacturing purposes for a period of ten years. Obviously this sale provided “other good and valuable considerations” to the St. Paul Land Company. More jobs in St. Paul would stimulate the local economy, making it possible to sell more lots for higher prices. And the St. Paul Land Company had plenty of good building lots to sell.

The Ashland Leather Company’s main plant was located at Ashland, Kentucky with corporate offices at 180 North Franklin Street, Chicago, Illinois. Theodore J. Shaut was the company’s president, treasurer, and general manager. Shaut had operated a tannery in Ashland since 1897. Following a major fire, this tannery was replaced in 1911 by a larger, more technologically advanced facility. The reason for this sudden growth was an infusion of operating capital from Swift & Company, which had become Ashland Leather’s principal stockholder with a 90% controlling interest.

Ashland Leather’s primary product was shoe leather. Soon there would be a huge demand for boots and shoes to outfit the United States Army following U.S. entry into the “European War” on April 6, 1917. From behind their corporate veil, Swift & Co. and other members of the “Beef Trust” were well-positioned to reap economic benefits from this development. As a result, they would be called upon by Congress and the courts to explain their actions – but that’s another story.

Tannic acid, also known as tannin, is a necessary component of leather manufacturing. It is an organic acid found in various plants and trees; especially chestnut oak and hemlock, where it is concentrated in the bark. Ashland Leather needed large quantities of tannic acid for its manufacturing process so the company set about obtaining its own source of supply. St. Paul was probably chosen as the site for Ashland Leather’s extract plant for a number of reasons; access to the CC&O railroad, reliable water & fuel supplies, a steady labor market, and plenty of raw material from the extensive timbering and logging operations in the region. Industrial waste could be casually disposed of in the Clinch River – something that caused little or no concern in those days.

Tanning Plant TractRetaining the presidency of the new company for himself, Theodore Shaut placed his son, Guy E. Shaut, in charge of the Clinch River Extract Company facility as general manager. Guy Shaut was a chemical engineer by profession and a member of the American Leather Chemists‘ Association. Nepotism aside, he was well-qualified for this position. Two company-owned houses were built on Buchanan Street; one for Guy Shaut and one for the company’s chief accountant. These houses are better known to long-term St. Paul residents as “the Richmond house” and “the Gillenwater house.”

Construction of the Clinch River Extract Company’s physical plant was a major undertaking. Nothing like it had ever been seen in St. Paul. From their farm on the other side of the Clinch River, the Couch family watched in fascination as workers built the new plant’s tall smokestack. This smokestack would remain a St. Paul landmark until it was torn down on August 13, 1981. During those years, it appeared in the background of countless family snapshots. Future generations will probably look at those faded old photos and wonder “What on earth was that?”


In addition to the jobs provided by the Clinch River Extract Company during the ‘teens, the plant brought another important benefit to St. Paul – electricity. A dynamo powered by a 25 horsepower engine generated electricity for the plant’s internal use and also for the town. This was done through a subsidiary, the St. Paul Light & Power Company. At last St. Paul residents could put away kerosene lamps and candles and forego the hiss and heat of gas lighting (though only until midnight). At the flick of a switch people had light. It was wonderful.

Ashland Leather Ad

Electricity in 1917 was different from what we’re accustomed to in 2011. Failures were frequent and prolonged. Clear, low-wattage light bulbs were used and rooms were more softly lit. Though electrically-operated appliances were listed in Sears catalogs of the ‘teens, few people in St. Paul had them. Labor remained cheap and even townspeople of average means could hire someone to help with cooking, laundry, and other household tasks. And then it happened….someone bought that first electric washing machine. And someone bought that first electric iron. Soon, in addition to providing electricity in the evenings, the extract plant was providing power during the day on Mondays and Tuesdays so St. Paul customers could to do their laundry.

Electricity generated at the extract plant also made its way to Virginia City and other areas, as evidenced by St. Paul Light & Power’s electric-pole right-of-way agreements with nearby property owners. Lights were coming on in the hills, figuratively and literally, and nothing would be the same. The demand for electricity grew so rapidly the extract plant’s generation capabilities were soon exceeded. Around 1920, Old Dominion Power Company began supplying St. Paul‘s electrical needs. It is interesting to note that John L. Kemmerer, president of Old Dominion Power Company, was also president of the St. Paul Land Company, Inc. John Kemmerer‘s father was Mahlon Kemmerer, a Pennsylvania coal baron with vast holdings in Wise County.

After World War I, the demand for shoe leather returned to pre-war levels. Facing prosecution for violations of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, the meat packing giants (including Swift & Co., corporate parent of the extract plant) agreed to voluntary concessions to end their monopoly in 1921. The companies divested themselves of certain subsidiary operations. A general shake-up followed. Competition increased and consumer prices came down. Responding to these events, the Clinch River Extract Company began operating on a reduced scale and then, in the late 1920’s, the plant shut down. On July 23, 1929 the plant and its contents were was sold to the Chilhowee Company, Inc., a Delaware-based corporation with extract plants in Tennessee and North Carolina. The two company houses on Buchanan street were included in the sale. Like the Clinch River Extract Company, the Chilhowee Company also had strong ties to Swift & Co. It’s possible this “sale” was equivalent to a modern-day “corporate downsizing” to consolidate operations and reduce excess production capacity.

In the 1930’s, the Chilhowee Company removed the equipment from the extract plant and closed it for good. The property was subsequently sold to Clinchfield Lumber. The two company houses on Buchanan Street were sold; one to Henry Clay and the other to Fred Greear. Portions of the plant were sold for salvage, including the adjacent houses that had been built for workers. The property was rented out for farming purposes. In 1944, the extract plant property was sold to Ben Johnson of Bristol, Tennessee. Johnson subdivided the property and began selling building lots. A thriving new section of St. Paul quickly grew up on the site. This new area was colloquially known as “Riverside Drive,” or by its older name, “Sagertown.” In 2011 this community no longer exists. It is a fond memory cherished by middle-aged adults who spent their childhood years there.


This post card view of St. Paul from the early 1920’s serves as the background for this week’s story. So come on, let’s tag along with a fictional traveling salesman who has just arrived in St. Paul by train:

St. Paul, 1925

It’s hotter than seven hells already and to make matters worse, the train hit some cows on the tracks just outside Bluefield. We’re here in St. Paul at last, but my new $10 suit is wrinkled and my face, collar and cuffs are grimy with soot from the train‘s engine. I need to get a room and wash up before I make sales calls this afternoon.

After collecting my grips, I walk across the railroad tracks to a row of buildings facing the depot. I see a barber shop and decide to have a haircut and a shave. Inside the shop, the piano player is belting out “Ain‘t We Got Fun” while the waiting customers discuss a newspaper article about President Warren Harding. One of the men says he dislikes Harding for supporting the Volstead Act. The other men agree. Prohibition must be a sore subject in this town. While I wait my turn I notice men entering and leaving the back room of the building. Whatever is in there must be good because everyone looks happy when they walk out.

After I’ve had my shave and haircut, I visit the back room, too. I leave feeling unusually refreshed. Stepping out into the sunshine I hear a commotion and observe a group of men gathered around something. I walk over to investigate and see two dogs fighting in the street. Some of the men are betting on which dog will win. The brown dog is getting the worst of it so he runs away. Then a fight breaks out between two of the onlookers and the rest start betting on which man will whip the other. One of the men is blind in one eye and the side of his face is blue-black, like a tattoo. Another has an empty shirt-sleeve pinned up at one side. In the barber shop I saw a man with all the fingers missing on his left hand. These men must be coal miners. A red-faced woman runs out of one of the buildings and starts yelling at the men. It‘s time to move on.

A large brick store building down the street looks clean and respectable so I go inside. I’m greeted by James and Ginny Larese, a nice Italian couple. Their English isn’t perfect but we have no trouble understanding each other. After enjoying a hot dog and a Coca-Cola, I ask about a room. The Lareses tell me they’re full up, but they recommend the Fairmont Hotel on Broad Street. Mrs. Larese informs me that some of the smaller rooming houses in town have bedbugs – the bane of the traveling man. I thank them and walk back across the tracks. To my left I take note of Dickenson-McNeer, a wholesale firm I’ll call on this afternoon. The company I represent has done business with them for several years. They used to be called Dickenson Duff & Handy. I’ll also be making a stop at the Coeburn Grocery Company, a wholesale distributor located at the west end of Russell Street.

At the Candy Kitchen I see two pretty, well-dressed young girls…and their mother. I must have been staring because the mother gives me a mean look. I tip my hat and keep going. There’s a large brick building under construction between Dickenson-McNeer and Coeburn Grocery. There has also been some grading on the vacant lot at the corner of Russell Street and Fourth Avenue. That’s good – more business to call on and maybe more money in my pocket. This part of Virginia sure is growing. Why, just ten years ago there was hardly anything here!

My grip and sample case are getting heavy by the time I reach the Fairmont Hotel. It’s nice enough – plain but clean. The price is right and they serve meals, too. Places like this always have good eats because you‘re sitting down with the proprietor at his own table. Most of the hotel’s guests are boarders who have jobs here in town. I’m in luck today because they only had one vacant room left.

I could have stayed at the Blue Sulphur Hotel. You can get a room with a bath over there, but it costs more. The Blue Sulphur changed hands a couple of years ago – a man named Baker bought it. He’s from Dungannon and used to run a store there called Baker and Green. My boss told me all this before I left Cincinnati.

After unpacking my grip and a quick wash-up, I head back down the street to call on Mr. Walter Dickenson at Dickenson-McNeer. It’s hotter than ever and the flies are buzzing. Few people are on the streets now. I feel good because I’m sure I’ll be writing a big order today. You know, this is a nice town – it’s got something special about it. Several new buildings have gone up recently, including a moving-picture house and a new school. Why, I’ll wager a man could put up a nice little store right here….


On October 25, 1913 a young man named Agage Zenlideen arrived in New York City aboard the ship Vucknocon. Later, Agage would adopt a more American-sounding name, Thomas Deen. That’s the name he would be known by to everyone in St. Paul, the town that became his permanent home.

On his application for U. S. citizenship, Thomas Deen listed his date of birth as December 3, 1893. However, his tombstone in the St. Paul Cemetery lists his birth year as 1896. Thomas’ place of birth was El Mahtarah, Syria, which was under French control at that time. Due to treaties and redefinition of borders, this area is now a part of Lebanon.

Because Syria and Lebanon are located on the old China trade route, these countries have been centers of commerce in the Middle East for centuries. With a heritage like this, perhaps it was only natural that Thomas Deen would become a merchant. As store owners, Thomas and his family would provide St. Paul shoppers with a level of selection and service not previously available in the town.

Today, a traffic study is a must before opening a business of any kind. Thomas Deen needed no such study – he knew exactly what he wanted and where to put it. He chose lot #13 on the Western Front, facing the Fifth Avenue railroad crossing. There was a already a small, one-story frame building on this site which had been built by Lydia Hawkins as a store. Lydia subsequently sold the property to J. E. Dishman and he in turn sold it to Thomas Deen on July 22, 1921. The selling price was $1750.00 – a substantial sum. Next, Thomas demolished the existing store and had an impressive four-story brick building erected on the site. On February 24, 1925 Thomas sold Ray Ervine a half-interest in his new business for $8,190.00, an indication of the success he had achieved in a very short time. But that wasn‘t all…

Deen Building - About 1928

On September 11, 1928, Thomas Deen and nephew, Harry Deen, purchased the adjacent building owned by W. E. and Dora Compton. The Deens paid $3,600.00 for the property and proceeded to renovate the building for use as a 5 and 10 cent store – probably St. Paul’s first. Then, on October 20, 1928, Thomas purchased the adjacent building owned by W. C. and Julia Taylor. This small building had been a meat market and the selling price was $1800.00. Now the Thomas Deen Company owned a 75-foot frontage of prime commercial real estate. The accompanying photograph shows the store as it appeared at that time. This was no little jot ’em down general store like so many in the area. It was the St. Paul equivalent of department stores found in metropolitan areas. From this photo, generously shared by the Deen family, we can see tangible proof of what hard work and a calculated risk could accomplish in St. Paul in the 1920’s.

Now greatly changed, the old Thomas Deen Company building is the sole survivor of St. Paul’s once-thriving Western Front. The building’s top floor was taken down years ago and the main sales floor is now used for storage. The interior of the building is like a time capsule: Faded, hand-painted murals still grace the walls and the outlines of long-gone shelves reveal the way merchandise was once displayed. The ornate stamped-tin ceiling is still impressive. It is easy to imagine St. Paul shoppers examining clothing and other merchandise, assisted by Thomas, Harry, or Adele Deen.

Wise board adjourns for lack of quorum, again

The following article was posted by Debra McCown on 5/05/2011 on the website. The original can be found here.

Wise board adjourns for lack of quorum, again

By Debra Mccown
Published: May 05, 2011
ST. PAUL, Va. — It was another non-official meeting Wednesday for the Wise County School Board – the second in a row adjourned for lack of a quorum.

The eight-member board is split down the middle over plans to consolidate the county’s six high schools. The school system is moving forward with a plan to close three smaller high schools and consolidate the students into the three largest.

The pro-consolidation board members – Ted Thompson, Nolan Kilgore, Mike Mullins and Phillip Bates – held a brief meeting Monday, for which the anti-consolidation board members did not show.

The anti-consolidation members – Mark Hutchinson, Jess Powers, Rocky Cantrell and Betty Cornett – scheduled their own meeting Wednesday, for which the pro-consolidation board members did not show.

A regular school board meeting is scheduled for Monday, while Frank Kilgore, a St. Paul lawyer who represents the anti-consolidation four in a lawsuit against Thompson and school system Superintendent Jeff Perry, announced Wednesday that his group would be calling another meeting for Tuesday.

Kilgore said his clients will not attend a school board meeting unless the other four board members agree in advance to take specific items off the agenda, particularly the transfer of teachers and administrators from the smaller schools to the larger ones as part of the consolidation process.

Now that a lawsuit has been filed, he said, that issue – as well as the legality of using a county-wide tiebreaker to vote when the school board deadlocks – should be decided by a judge.

Another lawsuit, against the entire school board, has been filed on the consolidation issue by a community group opposed to the plan, with three other likely lawsuits in the works by various parties.

Kilgore said if his clients attended a meeting with the other board members they could invoke the tiebreaker, overruling the other four board members’ objection to the school system moving forward with high school consolidation.

“I don’t know how long this is going to go on,” Kilgore said of the poorly attended meetings.

Consolidation opponents have said they hope to delay the process for another year – enough time to let November’s election intervene, after the re-districting process has redrawn the school board election district lines.

Perry said he’ll attend scheduled meetings when notice is given – but it’s up to individual board members to decide whether they’ll attend.

Perry, who often has touted the monetary savings and expanded curriculum he says will be gained from consolidation, said school system staff will continue with the consolidation process, following the school board’s direction given in a 5-3 vote earlier this year.
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Lawsuits filed over school consolidation in Wise County

The following article was posted by Debra McCown on 5/03/2011 on the website. The original can be found here.

Lawsuits filed over school consolidation in Wise County

Published: May 03, 2011


WISE, Va. – The number of filed or likely lawsuits over school consolidation in Wise County is up to five.

A group opposed to consolidation, called Citizens for Equal and Accessible Student Education or CEASE, filed the first lawsuit Thursday. Their lawsuit claims that the Wise County School Board, in its decision to consolidate six high schools into three, acted “improperly, arbitrarily and capriciously.”

On the same day Kyle Fletcher, mayor of the town of St. Paul, said the town would likely file its own lawsuit to stop the school system from closing St. Paul High School.

On Monday, St. Paul attorney Frank Kilgore announced the filing of his lawsuit on behalf of the four anti-consolidation school board members on procedural issues.

Kilgore promised another lawsuit if school system employees “attempt to proceed with alleged plans to strip the three smaller high schools of essential operational hardware and infrastructure that would render them useless in the event the next school board majority votes to undo the CRAM plan in January.”

After Monday night’s budget public hearing, which was cancelled when only the four pro-consolidation board members – Ted Thompson, Nolan Kilgore, Mike Mullins and Phillip Bates – showed up, Superintendent Jeff Perry said there were indications of another suit, directed at the absent members.

He said various people in the community have asked for information on how to proceed with a recall of any school board members who habitually skip meetings.

Meanwhile, Perry said he’s proceeding with the plan to close the county’s three smaller high schools – Appalachia, Pound and St. Paul – and consolidate them into Powell Valley, J.J. Kelly and Coeburn respectively.

The so-called “cram plan,” follows the failure of several proposed plans to consolidate into new buildings, and months of fever-pitched debate in a longstanding controversy.

Both the school board and the Wise County Board of Supervisors, which controls allocation of local school funding, are split down the middle on the issue of consolidation, though the school board has a countywide tie-breaker.

The tie-breaker was chosen just days before a special election to fill a board vacancy, a special election that turned the board’s 5-3 pro-consolidation majority into a 4-4 split.

Some people in the county’s three smaller towns oppose consolidation because they fear the loss of their high schools will be the death knell for their communities, which emptied out decades ago with the loss of many coal industry jobs.

Those who favor high school consolidation say after decades of drastic enrollment declines it’s the only way the county can afford to properly educate its children and direct needed resources to elementary and middle school classrooms.

Both sides have expressed concern about the rundown state of the county’s six high school buildings, none of which has seen substantial maintenance in more than a decade.

“The only direction I have is the consolidation of schools, and so we are moving forward with the consolidation of schools,” Perry said. “I can only do what the board has told me to do, and so … so we are proceeding with that one direction.”

Perry said a failure to pass a budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year would have real consequences for employees who would not be paid and students who, unable to enroll in summer school classes to pick up a missing credit or two, would not graduate on time.

Even before Monday’s no-show, a memo from Frank Kilgore said his clients – Betty Cornett, Rocky Cantrell, Mark Hutchinson and Jess Powers – propose delaying the consolidation plan for another year, until the voters have their say in November.

They have also called a special meeting of the school board for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the St. Paul Town Hall, to include several routine agenda items plus public comment and a board response.

At Monday’s attempted special meeting, Vice-Chairman Nolan Kilgore said he doesn’t know yet whether he’ll be at Wednesday’s meeting, explaining that he didn’t see anything on the agenda that would qualify it for a special called meeting.

“I don’t know about Wednesday yet,” he said. “Wednesday has its own unique problems.”

Perry said Monday’s meeting was scheduled for that day because everyone could attend – and Wednesday’s meeting was set knowing that not all board members can be present.

He said Monday’s no-shows are an effort to disrupt the school board to avoid voting on certain issues. He also said the board has a regular meeting scheduled Monday, but to have another public hearing on the budget, the entire board would have to agree on a date – and wait at least 10 days.

Then, Perry said, the school board’s budget request would go before the county Board of Supervisors, which also has a 4-4 split on consolidation.

The lawsuits also create a set of unique problems, not least of which is the fact that School Board Attorney Scott Mullins sees a conflict of interest in representing the board when its members are involved in lawsuits against one another.

He represents the board as an institution, he said, and must advise them as a whole on issues other than consolidation. And after representing the board for years, he said, he’s likely to be called as a witness in court.

That leaves a divided board that might not be able to get a quorum for a meeting also, at least for now, without an attorney in the pending litigation.

With so many lawsuits being filed over so many specific issues, Perry said, it’s likely consolidation will wind up in the courts in one way or another.

(276) 791-0701

Lawsuit filed over Wise school consolidation

The following article was posted by Debra McCown on 4/30/2011 on the website.  The original can be found here.

Lawsuit filed over Wise school consolidation

By Debra Mccown
Published: April 30, 2011

Opponents of school consolidation in Wise County have turned to the courts in their effort to stop the county school system from consolidating the county’s six high schools into three existing buildings.

The group Citizens for Equal and Accessible Student Education, or CEASE, filed the lawsuit late Thursday in Wise County Circuit Court. Also among the plaintiffs are several Wise County residents.

The lawsuit – accusing the Wise County School Board of abusing its authority – names all eight members of the board and school Superintendent Jeff Perry as defendants and asks the court to review the consolidation decision.

The school system’s so-called “cram plan” would combine the high school in Appalachia with the one in Big Stone Gap, St. Paul with Coeburn, and Pound with Wise. Perry said the plan is moving forward.

The school system’s website advertises the impending consolidation with a cheery graphic and the words, “Help name our new consolidated high schools,” with a link to an online survey.

Approved on a 5-3 vote earlier this year, the plan follows years of debate on the merits of consolidation and renovation, and the failure of several other options for consolidating into new high schools on one or several sites. Recently, the debate turned particularly bitter as a divided school board and a divided Wise County Board of Supervisors, which holds the purse strings for any major capital improvement projects, remained at odds over the issue. There also is a growing sense of urgency from both sides to do something as the county’s school-age population continues to shrink and school buildings fall further into disrepair.

According to the CEASE lawsuit, “The plaintiffs are aggrieved by the School Board’s decision and seek this court’s review of that decision and a declaratory judgment that the School Board has exceeded its authority and acted improperly, arbitrarily and capriciously and abused its discretion, and further seek an injunction to stop the Wise County School Board from implementing the ‘cram’ plan.”

Among the suit’s complaints: Consolidating into aging 1950s-era buildings would lead to unpleasant, unsafe conditions and negatively impact the communities where the smaller schools are located.

Perry said the board acted appropriately so that it could operate schools more efficiently and expand the curriculum.

“We are confident that we acted within our authority and scope of powers, and we are confident that the courts will validate that assumption,” Perry said. “In the meantime, we’re moving forward with the consolidation of the three schools into the three larger schools, and we are seeing many positive comments, remarks and actions.”

He said the lawsuit is not unexpected; opponents of consolidation have vowed to be “obstructionary” to the end. But the school board is working out the logistics and other details so that the schools will be consolidated in time for the start of the new school year in August.

St. Paul Mayor Kyle Fletcher said his town might also file a lawsuit, specifically to stop St. Paul High School from being closed. He said the 34-year-old school, by far the county’s newest high school, has been recognized for academic excellence and actually brings more money to the county than it costs to operate.

Perry said St. Paul is one of the most inefficient to operate and certainly does not turn a profit. He also said defending the anti-consolidation lawsuits will consume valuable time, resources and money that otherwise could be used for education.
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