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Clifton Forge

A Community History


Clifton Forge is situated in Alleghany County on the Jackson river, three miles above its confluence with the Cowpasture, at which point the historic James is formed. It numbers 6,500 in population, 20 per cent of which is colored. Its population is overwhelmingly Anglo-Saxon, which fact accounts for its strong pro-English sentiment. But few aliens are resident. These are principally Jews and Greeks, who are also anti-German in sentiment. There was no great influx of people during the war period nor was there any exodus of labor, white or colored, of any consequence. The city’s growth was normal, and this was due to the gradual and substantial development of its industries.

It has never been militaristic in tendency nor has it adhered closely to the policy of peace at any price. It does believe in a reasonable preparedness. Shut in by the mountains and distant from the sea, the thought of war has not concerned it as much as the metropolitan centers along the coast.

The immediate section is so mountainous that it is little adapted to agriculture. In normal times there never was a great variety or quantity of food production. The war, however, created such an unprecedented demand for these products that the native farmer tilled his land more intensively than ever before. Such lands that were available for farming purposes doubled in value; waste lands were reclaimed and cultivated; orchards were planted, while vegetable gardens became numerous. Tracts were divided and subdivided as the unusual migration to the farm continued. “The earth yielded her increase.” and the inflated prices seemed to reward the farmer who hitherto had been somewhat tardy in reaping his own.

Changes in the industrial life of the community were even more radical. What the mountains lack in agricultural advantages they make up in mineral deposits. The city is situated in an extensive iron-mining region. Rich deposits of iron ore lie in close proximity to the city’s limits. This accounts for the presence of so many iron furnaces in the vicinity. The “Long Dale Furnace” is more than 100 years old. Most of these furnaces were idle at the beginning of 1914. The sudden demand created for these products by the European conflict opened them full time. Dense and gigantic volumes of smoke belched forth from the stacks by day-, while at night the horizon was intermittently illumined by the coke ovens near by. This condition naturally created a keen demand for labor. Wages were high. Every man had a chance to work. Prosperity abounded. With the increase in wages came a corresponding increase in rents and the cost of living in general. The people were not long in realizing that they were living in a new and strange industrial world.


The city has eight churches, two of which are colored. Prior to the war evidence of genuine cooperation among these was somewhat lacking. This should not convey the impression that there was open hostility between them, but that a Luke-warcii fellowship was assumed. Denominational lines were drawn rather tight, which was, in part, the reason for delay in mobilization for national service. They had not faced the war situation very long until a spirit of unity imbued the whole church life:. which condition exists today. Denomination and creed were forgotten while they concentrated their efforts on the one great common task. Union services were held; ministers exchanged pulpits; jealousy, discord and division vanished. This spirit of harmony has been of incalculable benefit to the entire community Narrowness, intolerance and sectarianism have found no quarters in the church life since. When factions in politic would arise or rivalries in business affairs become bitter; when industrial strife waxed tempestuous or social cliques would appear bringing misunderstandings, thereby threatening the city’s common welfare, the churches through it all have maintained a kindly, fraternal spirit of peace and harmony, powerful and, far-reaching in its influence over public life. The era of good will now so predominant in all civic questions is due in no small measure to the fact that the churches proved by example that such an equilibrium could be maintained when all concerned v, ere willing to be prompted by unselfish motives.

The war was a shock to the spiritual nerves of a few devotee of peace. They visioned the forces of Christianity routed and they despaired of its ultimate triumph over war. A vast majority Of the membership, however, looked upon the struggle as a necessary conflict between the forces of good and evil and set to work in a serious way to win. Every church had its individual service flag prominently displayed, to which it pointed with peculiar pride. The Stars and Stripes were in evidence patriotic services were frequently held in which duty and justice were lauded. Sewing clubs and knitting circles were formed by the women without regard to church affiliation. Liberty Loan committees, interdenominational in character, were appointed. The churches most assuredly made a large contribution to the city’s part in helping to win the war.


The schools played no little part in the city’s war-time activities. While there vas some feeling manifested towards the opposing nations in war, yet it did not develop into exceeding hatred. The German language was not taught in the curiculum. Instead of enlarging upon the present greatness of Germany as a nation, emphasis was shifted to her past greatness and the primary reasons for such. It was no part of the school authorities to engender hatred in the hearts of the children, but to enlist their united effort in the task of speedy victory. The schools throughout it all manifested a fine spirit of patriotism. National anthems were frequently and regularly sung, accompanied by flag drills and patriotic addresses. Classes were drilled more in the rudiments of American history and the elementary principles which gave the nation birth were emphasized as never before. The meaning and the value of liberty were stressed with the idea of impressing each student with the thought of the pricelessness of this heritage. Such training was given with the ultimate purpose of making future citizens, loyal to and appreciative of, their country. To be mindful ever of those who fought and died to give it birth and to treasure highly the rich legacies it has handed down from its very beginning to the generation of today. This teaching has not been in vain.

The schools did not limit their work to patriotic demonstrations and to elementary training in national history. They made a liberal contribution in a material way. The children were urged to participate in garden contests, in which prizes were offered for the greatest variety and quantity of production. Canning clubs and thrift clubs were organized. So many hours were given each week to these clubs. Pupils helped to collect books and magazines for the soldiers. There were knitting and sewing clubs in behalf of the Belgian orphans. More of the older pupils were enrolled in these. Considerable time was given to collect clothing and other necessities of life for the Armenians and destitute people of Europe.

The work of the schools was not interrupted or interfered with except at one or two intervals when there was a scarcity of teachers. Public-spirited citizens volunteered their services as teachers until such conditions were changed. By means of this co-operation the schools were able to run on schedule to complete their curricula according to the regulations of the State Board of Education.

Two causes brought about this shortage of teachers. The first was due to the high wages paid by the government and other public and private concerns. Teachers resigned in favor of some other kind of work that carried with it more lucrative reward. Competent instructors became difficult to secure. A second reason was due to the fact that many teachers volunteered for war work. Some entered the army, among whom were the superintendent and principal. Others went as nurses or for Y.M.C.A. and Y. W. C. A. work. Some of the older students entered service in one way or another. Some few volunteered for farm work. Altogether it was a testing time for the schools; they were weighed in the balance and not found wanting. They weathered the storm of difficulty and became stronger institutions by the heroic unselfish service rendered in the trying times through which they passed, proving that education is the anchor of the community as it is the hope of the nation.


The National Guard was organized with an initial enrollment of sixty-eight. The officers were: Captain, Swinton Roadcap ; first lieutenant, Ralph Harris; second lieutenant, Fred Harris. Under the competent leadership of these officers this organization has maintained its reputation for service to the present date. The personnel of the men is equal to the best of the city’s young manhood.

A recruiting office was maintained in the city for a definite period of time. Government posters and newspaper advertisements were the chief methods used in recruiting men for both navy and army. The question was also kept before the public at all patriotic meetings. About 100 were enlisted through this office for the various departments of service. A number of young –omen volunteered as nurses; three physicians enlisted for oversea service; a few did Y.M.C.A. work: one minister, John. Paul Tyler, pastor of the Methodist Church, served as chaplain. He was cited for his excellent service in the battle of St. Mihiel France.

W hen the draft law was made known the public became more serious than ever before. It felt the law to be wise and just, and refrained from hostile criticism. The legal profession assumed the responsibility for the registration, which required seven days to complete. Public-spirited citizens. including the ministers, volunteered their assistance. Prior to the registration days a mass meeting was held in the opera house for the purpose of acquainting all with this law. Circuit Judge G. K. Anderson and Prosecuting Attorney T. J. Wilson, among other local speakers, urged upon all of draft age the necessity of registering promptly in order to escape the penalty for failure to comply with the act. So far as is known no one failed to register for duty. There were in all about 475, including twenty-five women, volunteers who answered their country’s call for definite service.

When the conflict was over and the final roll was called back home there were four voices silent. These were Reyburn and Rolland Williams, brothers; Robert L. Mowyer, and Victoria Good. The three young men fell while in action in France; the young woman died while serving as a nurse in the Brooklyn Naval Hospital.



The Liberty Loans were pushed zealously under the aggressive leadership of the committee headed by Mayor A. B. Davies. All of the city’s quotas were included in those of Alleghany County with the exception of the Victory Loan. This quota was $329,200. The amount subscribed was $314,000. The number who subscribed was 1,037. The maximum apportionment for the county, exclusive of the first loan, was $2,318,000. The amount raised was $2,226,000. The total number of subscribers was 11,599.

When the figures of the first apportionment were made known some held their breath in astonishment. They thought the task impossible. They were not accustomed to thinking in so large terms. But the public soon girded itself for the task and it was greatly surprised at its own efforts. The second loan seemed excessive, but the public was more accustomed to thinking in big terms and it was better schooled to act accordingly. It now understood that it would require vast amounts of money and heroic effort to win the war, and that service abroad must be matched by millions at home. With less hesitation the committee undertook the raising of the third loan. The fourth loan prepared the people to expect most anything in the way of the amount and the frequency- of loans before the war was terminated. It was good news when the people learned the armistice had been signed. When the Victory Loan was announced they gave hilariously, prompted by a feeling of joy and gratitude.

The means of raising the five loans were by personal work and advertising. Billboard arid newspaper advertising was resorted to extensively. A house-to-house canvass was made. This, perhaps, was the most effective method used. Certain men were designated to see certain men. The question was put to them from a patriotic viewpoint. There were some who were inclined to dodge the issue, but not without protest on the part of others more patriotic. The excuse for not subscribing ryas, “I am borrowing money from the banks no-vv, and I am paying more interest than I will receive.” It was nearly always the case that they were either buying property or making some other investment in a selfish way. They apparently forgot that the peaceful possession of the property they were investing in was absolutely guaranteed by the government they repudiated by refusing to subscribe to help it in winning the war. These were few in number, for along with the financial canvass went an educational campaign in which men were schooled along the line of honor and duty. They were saved front their selfishness and greed. They were made more generous, less self-centered.

In addition to the Liberty Loans the War Saving Stamps canvass was made. This quota for the city was $100,000. The actual amount raised was $84,500. F. W. King was in charge of this particular work. The postoffice, schools, banks, stores and other agencies took an active part in this phase of tear work. The school children were urged to buy Thrift stamps and War Savings stamps. They were taught the lesson of thrift, along with that of patriotism. It was an inspiring thing to watch the interest of the children grow in this worthy movement.


The agricultural problem was never very acute. The local food committee and the Council of Defense stressed the necessity of food conservation. Practically every vacant lot in the city was cultivated intensively to help solve what might otherwise have been a food shortage. People abundantly able to buy food at most any price co-operated by tilling gardens and vacant lots, thus not only helping to solve the problem but setting a good example for others less patriotic along such lines. Prizes were offered by different organizations to encourage greater production of supplies. -Not only did the public cooperate in producing more food, but in conserving it also. Economy was especially practiced when a sugar famine was threatened. Hotels, restaurants and other public eating places placarded their places of business urging conservation at home that the might have more for our boys and the Allied armies who were looking to America for food. It was gratifying to all patriotic citizens to note how scrupulously the average person honored this request. It was a time when the “fragments were gathered up,” for in them was life.

This campaign was of inestimable value, for it taught the people to economize that they might have more for others. In some instances suspicion was aroused and rumors afloat that some might be hoarding sugar and flour, but not one was actually discovered doing so, and there is no record of the willful disregard of the request for conservation either in the careless use of food or wanton hoarding of it for pecuniary profit. Had there been a tendency on the part of any to do this, public sentiment was so pronounced that it would have been uncomfortable for them to reside in the community. There was no price regulation other than that which the government considered a fair and legitimate profit.


Although an industrial city, Clifton Forge had no special war-time industries. Large shops of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, employing more than 2,000 men in normal times, are located here. The number of employees increased during the war because of the enlarged business of the road. ` Each department took on an extra force of workmen. There, were three shifts working eight hours each. Wages, especially for skilled labor, were almost doubled. There was but little labor trouble and few labor agitators. A very few wished to take advantage of the war emergency to contend for shorter hours and more pay, but they were so much in the minority that they had but little influence, and the strike ‘.they seemed to want to bring about did not mature. Genuine ;:love for country and home will pilot men and industry through many an emergency, be it ever so acute. These employees, being mountain people for the most part, and with few of foreign blood within their ranks, are not the kind who tolerate rebellion and sedition. NO more patriotic blood can be found than that which courses through the veins of the native mountaineers. They are genuinely Anglo-Saxon in sentiment with a strong belief in the destiny of their nation. For them Old Glory floats above wages and patriotism rises above greed.

Owing to the heavy demand of the shops and other nearby industries, common or day labor became exceedingly scarce. Work done was often inferior and only that which was absolutely necessary was undertaken.


The effect of the war on social conditions was very noticeable. Scarcity of labor, high wages, the universal cry of democracy, conspired towards the creation of an atmosphere of independence of thought and conduct. There was an evidence of a lack of self-restraint. Society was more or less restless. Democracy in government and industry was expressed in a form of socialism. Men hitherto conservative e in their views embraced this idea as a panacea for every ill. It appeared to be the guerdon-the dividend paid humanity for its colossal sacrifices in war. Many expected the war to right all wrongs; to adjust matters large and small. In fact, it seemed the millennium was at hand.

The feeling ran high for government ownership and control of public utilities. There is no question that the war broke open the social dam and let through a flood of ideas, right and wrong, which have never been checked and perhaps never will be. A change of attitude towards the control of industries; the emancipation of woman in business and politics; changes of age-long social questions and standards; the insatiable desire for luxuries and extravagant living were some of the immediate effects.


The Clifton Forge Chapter of the American Red Cross was organized June 15, 1917. It had auxiliaries at Millboro, Longdale and Iron Gate, all of which rendered most efficient service throughout the war period. The War Fund Campaign Committee began its work June 18, 1917. During the year it secured $2,405.85, which was only 50 per cent of tile amount apportioned. The membership of the chapter reached 1,012 for the year. The November roll call returned a membership of 1,492.

The local order of the Elks gave a Red Cross benefit fro”, which the chapter realized the sum of $800. Mrs. B. F, Donovan also gave a benefit from which the chapter realized the sum of $77.

In November a canteen committee was appointed. This committee met all incoming trains and fed and ministered, ill other ways to several thousand soldiers. A mass meeting was held March 7, 1918, at which a public subscription was taken. This resulted in a regular income to the chapter of $450 per month.

The Home Service Section rendered the usual financial relief to civilian families and all possible service to soldiers and sailors in the way of supplying information to families concerning the boys in the army and navy. The committee produced the following supplies: 520 towels, 80 sheets, 180 napkins, 180 handkerchiefs, 770 hospital shirts, 180 bed socks, 457 refugee garments, 42 layettes, 997 pairs of socks, 399 sweaters, 50 mufflers, 30,085 sponges, 11,737 compresses, 200 gauze strips, 640 gauze rolls, 1,224 absorbent pads, 4,200 other pads, 11,975 gauze wipes, 39 wristlets, 250 heel rugs, split irrigation pads, paper pads and other useful articles in quantity were produced. All soldiers who were recruited in Clifton Forge were supplied with one wool sweater and two pairs of socks. This local chapter survived the war and is still rendering a most excellent service in the community. Its motto seems to have been. “I am among you as one that serveth.”


Welfare and relief work became a necessity. While wages were high and the people had full-time employment, yet the excessive price of everything made living hard for some. Those accustomed to large incomes had been swept into the orgy of spending somewhat recklessly, and when they faced the problem of reduced wages and sometimes no wages at all, through the loss of jobs, their embarrassment waxed keen.

Churches, Sunday schools, Bible classes, railroad brotherhoods, lodges, the Woman’s Club, the Red Cross and other organizations were committed in some measure to the task of providing charity. Fortunately the railroad maintained its full complement of employees, which greatly relieved the conditions. When the country’s condition is sound and healthy there is little need for the balsam of charity. Relief committees and charity boards vanish simultaneously with the appearance of legitimately thriving business.


The home-coming of the soldiers was a time long to be remembered. The news of the armistice was heralded and received with great joy. It came into every mountain hamlet and home as a burst of morning light, thrilling every heart with joy and gratitude. It was a day- of much celebration. Educated and uneducated, rich and poor, employer and employee, white and black, Jew and Gentile, Democrat and Republican, Protestant and Catholic, saint and sinner, people from every walk of life came together with one accord to rejoice at the thought of the return of the boys to country, community, home-to life and to peace.

Armistice Day is what the soldier thinks of peace. This is peculiarly his day and no doubt has become a permanent institution in the nation. The average soldier believed that the armistice not only marked the close of the World War, but the close of all wars as well. He felt that his sacrifice helped to bring about the era of everlasting peace, the realization of that age-long dream of “Peace on earth and good will to men.”

When the men were mustered out of service and large war industries shut down, releasing great numbers of workmen, labor soon became plentiful. Before it was necessary to seek labor; now labor was seeking work. In fact, conditions changed so rapidly and so radically that a local employment bureau was established. While it gave preference to the returned soldier seeking work, yet it helped all who applied for assistance. This bureau located a large number of men and helped to quell a growing spirit of unrest on the part of those who had been seeking work for some time without results. The soldier’s grievance was just, for he had been at the front fighting his country’s battles, making property and life more secure, and it was right that upon his return he should not stiffer the humiliation of seeking work and finding none. Whenever possible the returned soldier was given his old position.

The American Legion Post was organized in the city with an initial enrollment of 65. It was named “Williams Post” in honor of the Williams brothers who were killed in action in France. It fosters all public enterprises of a worthy- nature, encourages patriotism; it is interested in the enactment of good legislation, local, State and national. In sentiment it was about equally divided on the question of the soldier’s bonus, but it has been a unit in its effort to see justice meted out to the wounded and disabled soldier. The individuals or this organization rendered an important contribution for the maintenance of the altar of liberty, hence the reason it stand guard as a vigilant sentinel at freedom’s post. Anarchy or bolshevism has nothing in common with the Legion. The soldiers felt that vocational education, sponsored by the government, was both just and profitable. At first many seemed enthusiastic over the idea, but for some reason only a very few took advantage of the offer.

Soon after peace was established matters began to adjust themselves and people gradually returned to a more normal way of living. They discovered the war did not right everything, but that it left other battles to be fought, other victories to be won. With but few exceptions the restless current has been harnessed to the old channel and the community moves on in the even tenor of its way, whether better or worse for the scars of war future generations can best judge.

The first impulse that moved the public, after the boys had returned triumphant from war, was to erect a suitable monument in some prominent place in their behalf. Enthusiasm for this project ran high. Committees were appointed under the auspices of the Daughters of the Confederacy. Several thousand dollars were subscribed. When it came time to decide on the particular kind of memorial to be erected there was a variety of opinion. Some thought one thing suitable and proper and some thought another thing better. The result was that no action has been taken. The funds raised are on deposit, the interest of which is being added to the principle yearly, and it is hoped that in the near future the memorial will be agreed upon and established to perpetuate the memory of the soldiers from Clifton Forge.