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A History of The Middle
New River Settlements
and Contiguous Territory.

By David E. Johnston (1906).


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Chapter VIII.  1866 - 1905  (Part 4)


Mention has already been made of Mr. George Evans, who was of Welsh extraction or descent, and who came from Wilkesbarre, Pennsylvania.  He was a man of fair education, good sense, and, although often roundly abused, was yet a very clever man, but in the days in which he ruled was a power among the Republicans, and ruled them generally with a rod of iron.  He held as many as four or five offices at one and the same time, and did pretty generally as he pleased touching the control and management of county affairs, civil and political.

After the Board of Supervisors had adjourned its meetings from Concord Church to Princeton, a proposition was made to it by Mr. Evans to sell to the county a small farm which he owned in the valley of East River Mountain as a place on which to keep the paupers of the county.  Mr. Evans was, in his political manipulation, always shrewd enough to control one man on each of the Board of Supervisors and Registration;    this man was always a friend of Mr. Evans'--his middle man or fifth wheel--and by and through whom he was generally able to carry out any measure he desired, or that he knew was to his interest or that of his party.  The Board of Supervisors was generally divided politically, two Democrats and three Republicans, but Mr. Evans could not always rely upon his political friends to save his pet measures, but when necessary, he was sometimes compelled to call on the other side, and with the aid  of   his man carry his point.  Mr. Evans' proposition to sell his farm to the county met with disfavor, not only from the two members who were in the Princeton interest, but especially from the two men who were friends of the Concord interest, the two latter being exceedingly hostile to Mr. Evans on account of his desertion of their interests in the Court House controversy and his espousal of the interest of Princeton;   therefore, when his proposition was submitted to the Board, not only the two men from the Concord section voted against it, but also the two men from the Princeton section, leaving only Mr. Thomas Reed, the friend of Mr. Evans, to vote for his proposition.  No sooner was the measure defeated than Mr. Reed made a motion that the Board adjourn to meet at Concord Church on the next day, and his motion was promptly carried by his own and the votes of the two Concord men, who were highly elated at the prospects of the Board again holding its sessions at Concord Church, which would probably result in taking the records to that place, and that the Courts would again be held there.   Mr. Reed, with the two men that had voted with him, mounted their horses and took the road toward Concord Church, stopping however, over night with Colonel William H. French, by whom they were very highly entertained and cared for, and who was greatly delighted with their action in adjourning the meeting of the Board to the place above named.  The Board met the next morning at Concord Church with the two members from the Princeton section absent.  Mr. Evans' proposition was again submitted and unanimously carried, but before the Board adjourned the two members from the Princeton section arrived, and thereupon Mr. Reed moved that the Board adjourn to meet at Princeton;   the two members from Concord voting in the negative, but Mr. Reed voting with Princeton men, the motion was carried.  This incident is related here to show that this Court House controversy entered into every public and private transaction of whatever character.

The Legislature at its session of 1870 repealed the "Suitors Test Oath,"  and amended the oath of teachers and attorneys, and at the same session proposed an amendment to the Constitution commonly known and designated as the "Flick Amendment,"  which provided that:  "The male citizens of the state shall be entitled to vote at all elections held within the election district in which they respectively reside;  but no person who is a minor, or of unsound mind, or a pauper, or who has been convicted of treason, felony, or bribery in any election, or who has not been a resident of the state for one year, and of the county in which he offers to vote for thirty days next preceding his offer, shall be permitted to vote while such disability continued."  It will be seen that this amendment was intended, and in fact did, recitizenize and reenfranchise those who had been decitizenized and disfranchised by the amendment to the Constitution of May 24, 1866.  The session of 1871 adopted the amendment, and provided by law for its submission to the people, and it was adopted by a large majority, on the fourth Thursday in April, 1871.  This however, did not satisfy the people of West Virginia, for they had determined to remodel the Constitution, or rather, have a new one;  and on the 23rd day of February, 1871, an act was passed to take the sense of the people upon the call of a convention and for organizing the same, and providing for an election on that question to be held throughout the state on the fourth Thursday of August, 1871, and which election resulted in a majority of votes being cast for the call.  The same act provided that in the event of a majority of the vote being cast in favor of the convention, that the Governor should make proclamation accordingly, and on the  fourth Thursday of October, 1871, that delegates to the said convention should be elected.  There were to be elected two delegates from each senatorial district and one from each county and delegate district.  From the Mercer County senatorial district, Honorable Evermont Ward, of Cabell County, and Doctor Isaiah Bee, of Mercer County, were chosen over Honorable Mitchell Cook, of Wyoming County, and Mr.Harvey Scott, of Cabell County;  and from the County  of Mercer, Elder James Calfee, a minister of the Church of the Disciples, was chosen over Colonel William H. French.  The members elected to this convention assembled at Charleston on the third Tuesday of January, 1872, and elected Honorable Samuel Price, of Greenbrier County, President.  The convention sat from the 16th day of January to the 9th day of the following April, and having finished its work, adopted a schedule  submitting the Constitution framed by it to the people to be voted on, on the fourth Thursday of August, 1872, and the same was ratified by the people by a majority of over 4,000.

At the August election, 1872, Captain William L. Bridges, a Democrat, was elected to the House of Delegates from Mercer County, over Jno. H. Peck;  and a full set of Democratic county officers were also elected, but Mr. George Evans, a candidate for re-election for Clerk of the Courts received but thirty votes;  and this was his last appearance in the arena of politics in Mercer County.  Honorable Evermont Ward was elected Circuit Judge, over C. W. Smith, Ira J. McGinnis, Henry L. Gillespie, and I. S. Samuel;  David E. Johnston was elected prosecuting attorney, over R. C. McClaugherty,    J. Speed Thompson, and Alonzo Gooch;  R. B. Foley was elected Clerk of the Circuit Court, over E. H. Peck and J. C. Straley;  Benjamine G. McNutt was elected Clerk of the County Court, over John H. Robinson.

The people who had espoused the cause of Princeton in the Court House controversy were anxious to remove, as far as possible, the chagrin and disappointment of the people who had striven to have the County site located at Concord Church;  they induced Captain Bridges to introduce and have passed a bill establishing a branch of the State Normal School at Concord  Church (Now Athens), and which is today a most flourishing institution of learning, and of which Captain James H. French was the principal for nearly twenty years.

The political shackles that had been forged by the extreme Republicans--radicals--and placed upon the ex-Confederates and tightly held for more than five years, and had been snapped asunder and cast away, and the Confederate people with the Union Democrats took charge of the ship of state and guided her course safely for more than a quarter of a century, and only lost control when the state became flooded with criminal Negroes.  For a full twenty-five years or more the conservative Democratic people governed the state, during which time there was made more rapid material development than in any other period of her existence, before or since. (Note: George W. Anderson began, about 1876, the publication of the Princeton Journal, the first newspaper published in Mercer County.)  The whole policy of the state, and her wise laws and administration thereof during the years referred to, were dictated and controlled largely by the old Confederate soldiers.  It was through this influence that the Constitution of 1872 was framed and adopted, and into which was incorporated the provision that no person on either side of the war should be held, civilly or criminally, liable for acts done according to the usages of civilized warfare.

In the year of 1750, Doctor Thomas Walker and his party, on his return from his second visit to the Cumberland Gap and Kentucky section of country, passed by the site of what is now the city of Pocahontas, Virginia, discovering the outcrop of the great coal beds of the Flat Top region;  consisting of some thirteen measures of coal, one of which is known as the Pocahontas or N. 3, and which is over ten feet thick.  The next we hear about this coal field is in the report of Prof. Rogers, State Geologist of Virginia, who visited this section between the years of 1836 and 1840, and made an extensive examination and a report of this coal formation;  however, this report seems to have excited no particular attention.  General Gabriel C. Wharton of Montgomery County, Virginia, who commanded during the late civil war a body of Confederate troops and marched at their head across the Flat Top Mountain, observed this coal formation, and was impressed with its commercial value.  He having been elected, in 1871, to the Legislature of Virginia from the County of Montgomery, obtained on the 7th of March, 1872, a charter for the incorporation of "The New River Railroad,  Mining and Manufacturing Company,"  with John B. Radford, John T. Cowan, James Cloyd, James A. Walker, William T. Yancey, William Mahone, Charles W. Stratham, Joseph H. Chumley, A. H. Flanagan, Philip W. Strother, John C. Snidow, Joseph H. Hoge, William Eggleston, G. C. Wharton, William Adair, James A. Harvey, A. A. Chapman, Robert W. Hughes, A. N. Johnston, Elbert Fowler, David E. Johnston, John A. Douglass, William H. French, R. B. McNutt, James M. Bailey and A. Gooch, as incorporaters.  This charter was a very liberal one and gave to the company upon its organization the right and power to construct, maintain and operate a railroad from New River Depot in Pulaski County, Virginia, on the line of the Atlantic, Mississippi, and Ohio Railroad, to such a point as might be agreed upon at or near the head of Camp Creek in the County of Mercer and State of West Virginia, with ample provision for the building of branch roads in Mercer and other counties;  the capital stock not to exceed $2,000,000.00.  The first meeting of the incorporaters was held at Pearisburg, and Dr. John B. Radford was elected President and Elbert Fowler Secretary.   Various committees were appointed, among them Captain Richard B. Roane, who was authorized and directed to visit the coal fields and to secure grants and subscriptions in lands or money.  In part at least, through Captain Roane, Colonel Thomas Graham, of Philadelphia, became interested in the scheme, and finally with some of his friends succeeded in getting control of a majority of the stock of said company, and immediately went to work to secure all the coal land in what is now known as the Pocahontas region, and to push the building of the railroad into that field.

In 1875 experimental lines were run from New River Depot down the New River to Hinton on the Chesapeake & Ohio road.  Shortly thereafter Colonel Graham succeeded in securing the Virginia State convicts and placed them on the line and commenced the construction of a narrow gauge railroad.  In the year of 1881, Mr. F. J. Kimball, President of Norfolk & Western Railroad Company, met with Major Jed Hotchkiss, of Staunton, Virginia, and in a conversation insisted that his road must have coal.    Major Hotchkiss pointed out to Mr. Kimball the Flat Top Field and its accessibility to his road and the wonderful value of the coal, which led Mr. Kimball to join Hotchkiss in a visit to the section.  The coal and mineral leases and contracts taken by Captain Roane, together with those subsequently taken by John Graham, Jr., and Dr. James O'Keiffee were in the names of  J. D. Sergeant and others, or rather for their benefit.

Some time prior to February, 1881, the mortgage on the Atlantic, Mississippi & Ohio Railroad had been foreclosed, and the road purchased by a Philadelphia syndicate, who changed the name to Norfolk & Western Railroad Company, which very shortly thereafter became the owner of the New River Railroad, Mining and Manufacturing Company's charter, and on the 3rd day of August, 1881, the Norfolk & Western Railroad Company commenced the construction of its New River Branch.  In the meantime a charter had been obtained from the state of West Virginia incorporating the New River Railroad in west Virginia, and also a charter for the East River Railroad, in West Virginia.

On the 9th day of May, 1882, the New River Railroad Company of Virginia, the New River Railroad Company of West Virginia, and the East River Railroad Company were merged and consolidated.  The work on this line of road was rapidly pushed, so that on the 21st day of May, 1883, the same was completed to Pocahontas, Virginia, the terminal point, and the first shipments of coal were made in the June following.  The Messrs. Graham, Sergeant and others, in the meantime, had secured by option and purchase and had gotten together some 50,000 acres of valuable coal properties in the Pocahontas field.

For ten years or more prior to 1882, Messrs. H. W. Straley,  C. D. Straley, John A. Douglass, James D. Johnston, and this writer, had been securing coal properties along the north side of the Bluestone River in the Flat Top region, and from the Virginia and West Virginia state line eastward, had gotten control of some 20,000 acres.  In the year of 1881, these lands of Straley and others were, through Echols, Bell and Catlett, of Staunton, Virginia, and Honorable Frank Hereford, of Union, optioned to Samuel Coit of Hartford, Connecticut;  which options were finally taken by George M. Bartholomew and Samuel Coit, the land was surveyed, paid for and conveyed to said Bartholomew and David E. Johnston, trustees, and subsequently sold to E. W. Clark, of Philadelphia, and his associates, for $105,000.00.The name given to the company by the parties who held these lands prior to the sale to Mr. Clark, was first, Bluestone-Flat Top Coal Company, and afterwards Flat top Coal Company, but subsequently Mr. Clark and his associates organized several joint stock companies, dividing up these lands and conveying portions thereof to each of said companies. among the companies organized, were Bluestone Coal Company,    Crane Creek Coal Company,  Indian Ridge Coal Company,  Widemouth Coal Company,  Flat top Coal Company,  and Rich Creek Coal Company.  While these companies were being organized, Mr. Clark and his associates, together with some other persons, organized the Trans-Flat Top Land Association, for the purpose of acquiring coal lands north and west of the Flat Top Mountain, which association acquired a large territory of lands in the Counties of McDowell, Wyoming, Raleigh, Boone and Logan, including the Maitland survey, called 500,000 acres, the Dillon survey of 50,000 acres, and a large number of small tracts within these surveys held under junior grants.    The holdings of the several joint stock companies above named, together with those of the Trans-Flat Top Association, aggregated 232,483 acres.  On the first day of April, 1887, the Flat Top Coal Land Trust, which afterwards changed its name to Flat top Coal Land Association, was organized by Edward W. Clark, Sidney F. Tyler, Everett Gray, Robert B. Minturn, Henderson M. Bell, Edward Denniston and Mahlon Sands, the objects and purposes of which were the purchase and acquisition of mineral and other lands and interests in real estate in the states of Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina, and for the development, improvement and sale of the same, and the leasing thereof for the purpose of  cutting and the carrying away of the timber, of coal mining for coal and coking purpose of mining iron ore, and the manufacturing of iron, or for any other purposes.  The capital of the association was to consist of  $40,000.00, with the right to increase the same to $10,000,000.00 and the stock to be divided into two classes, preferred and common shares, of equal amounts.  These articles of association constituted E. W. Clark, S. F. Tyler, and H. M. Bell trustees, to whom was conveyed all to the aforesaid lands.

Mr. Samuel A. Crozer of Upland, Pennsylvania, entered early into this coal field on the Elkhorn Creek, and purchased a body of several thousand acres, which he immediately proceeded to open up and develop.  The major part of his holdings lie largely on and along the Ohio extension of the Norfolk & Western Railroad.  These lands held by Clark, Tyler and Bell have been recently sold and conveyed to The Pocahontas Coal & Coke Company.

It has already been stated that the first coal shipped from this field was in June, 1883, and, as shown by the statistics, the whole output of coal for the first year, 1883, was 55,522 tons, and of coke 23,762 tons.  A large number of collieries have been opened and are in operation in Mercer County, and there are a number of others opening up in the Widemouth Valley.  The following are among the collieries in the County of Mercer, viz:

Mill Creek Coal & Coke Co.
Booth-Bowen Coal & Coke Co.
Goodwill Coal & Coke Co.
Coaldale Coal & Coke Co.
Caswell Creek Coal & Coke Co.
Buckeye Coal & Coke Co.
Louisville Coal & Coke Co.
Klondike Coal & Coke Co.

The total output from these coal mines for the year of 1904 was 1,274,070 tons of coal, and of coke 190,132 tons.

These coal operations are carried on in the northeast portion of Tazewell County, Virginia, the northwest portion of Mercer, and largely over the southern portion of McDowell County.

When the railroad entered this region in May, 1883, there were no cities, towns or villages.  There are now in this field and in the immediate vicinity, the city of Bluefield, in Mercer County, with a population of nearly 11,000;  the city of Pocahontas, in Tazewell County, with a population of about 5,000, and the town of Graham, Coopers, Bramwell, Ada and Oakvale.  From the wildest, most rugged and romantic country to be found in the mountains of Virginia, or West Virginia, this has become the most rushing and thriving business center, with a population of perhaps 50,000, whereas, before the coming of the railroad and the developments referred to, the population was comparatively small.  Many little thriving villages and towns have sprung up in different portions of the county, mostly, however, along the lines of railroad, and in the mining district.  Athens, formerly Concord Church, a few years ago but a very small village, is now quite a thriving town;  and Princeton, the county town, is now putting on city airs on account of the prospective building of the Deepwater Railroad.

The people of the county are generally prosperous farmers, and have within the past few years greatly improved their farms, erected a better class of dwelling houses, and there has been a general advance and improvement along the whole line.  The city of Bluefield has  had a marvelous growth.  In 1888 it was a mere flag station on the farm of John B. Higginbotham;  incorporated as a town in December, 1889, with Judge Joseph M. Sanders as its first Mayor.  The city has four banks, viz:    First National,  Flat Top National,  Commercial,  and State Bank, with an aggregate capital of over $250,000.00, with a line of deposits of over $1,000,000.00;  four hotels;  four wholesale grocery houses, water works, electric light plant, electric railway line.  It has two Methodist churches (white), two Methodist churches (colored), two Baptist churches (white) and two colored Baptist churches, one Church of the Disciples, one Lutheran, one Presbyterian and one Catholic.    It also has a large high school building, costing about $20,000.00, accommodating nearly 800 school children;  a large Institute for the colored people, which was built on state account, and is supported by state appropriations;  and also a large opera house.

The city is built on the watershed between the head branch of East River and the waters of the Bluestone, in the extreme southwestern portion of Mercer County, and is about 2557 feet above tide, in a high and healthful location, and bids fair in a few years to have a population of more than double what it has at present.  Mercer County has, including the railroad yard at Bluefield, about 195.03 miles of trackage in the county, of which 74.3 miles are within the city of Bluefield.

The taxable values in the county for the year of 1880 were $676,009.00 and  in the year of 1905,  $4,103,563.00.



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