Grayson County

A Community History


Location and Prewar Conditions

Grayson County is one of the three counties that lie on the elevated plateau formed by the bifurcation of the Blue Ridge range of mountains. Floyd and Carroll are the other two counties. Grayson borders on North Carolina and is bounded by Smyth, Wythe and Carroll Counties. The western portion is mountainous, but the eastern and central parts lie in a fertile valley, comprising a fine farming section. Mt. Rogers in the western part is the highest peak in the State. New River and its branches drain the county. Grayson people derive their living mostly from the soil. Stock and poultry raising, agriculture, lumbering arid a few factories furnish employment to the people. Galax, Fries and Speedwell are the only railroad towns on the eastern border, and Troutdale is on the railroad in the western part of the county.

Independence is the county seat and is the chief rally ground both in times of war and peace.

At the beginning of the World War the citizens of the county were a peaceful and home-loving people. Each one was busy at his own trade, endeavoring to make a good living for himself and those dependent upon him. Lands were being reclaimed from the forests, the building of roads was progressing. and homes were being beautified. There were ample churches and schoolhouses to fill the needs of the county. These buildings were mostly painted, and they glistened from the hilltops on which they were builded. We were a happy and contented people. There were few very poor and fewer very rich. Most of our people were home owners. Approximately 20,000 people live here, of which number about 2,000 are negroes. There are very few foreigners in the county. Fries is supported by a cotton factory and Galax by agricultural products and three furniture factories. As far as the writer knows none of our citizens at the outbreak of the war boasted a national reputation, and there were few of even State-wide renown. Each citizen, however, took upon himself a task according to his ability and performed it earnestly and courageously.

The press furnished a knowledge of the magnitude of the war being waged overseas, but because of the distance no other interest was shown than that of a spectator. As the war progressed, however, the cruelty and injustice heaped upon neutrals arouse the anger of our citizens, and when the declaration of war was made there was little criticism of our representative officials at Washington.

Grayson County is inhabited almost entirely by native born Americans. There are only five or six persons in the county that were born in Germany and they are naturalized. There are no colleges in the county, but the public and high schools flourished in the period between 1914 and 1917. The churches paid little heed to the war raging in Europe other than to listen attentively to what mention the various ministers made of it in their sermons and prayers. The people generally pursued the even tenor of their way, little dreaming that the war would have any personal interest for them.

Industrial conditions were normal in the pre-war period, and all who wanted jobs had them. There were no organized bodies of labor in the county. The Washington Cotton Mill at Fries employed a number of operatives, and the furniture factory, chair factory and acid plants at Galax gave employment to many people, but wages were good and the workmen contented.

When it became evident that the United States would be drawn into the conflict a great wave of patriotism swept the county. All political, religious and other differences were obliterated at once. With very few exceptions the county was a unit in supporting the government in any move it saw fit to make.

Pre-war times in Grayson are now a pleasant memory. Never again will the quiet, peaceful conditions obtaining in all parts of the county at that time return. Just as the survivors of the Civil War longed for the “good old days,” will those who remember the days before the World War hark back to them with an appreciation that was lacking when peace and plenty were accepted as a matter of course.

Churches in War Time

The churches in Grayson County, as in other communities, took no part, as such, in war-time activities. The ministers explained the various war measures to their congregations, urged loyalty and co-operation in all the “drives,” offered prayers for the men in service, and threw the weight of their influence on the side of the government. The church members, as individuals, took their full share in all war work. It has been impossible for the writer to secure information regarding those in service from the various congregations in the county except in one or two instances. The following men were in service from Grables Chapel: Ferd G. Cox, James Dowell, Claud S. Cox, Isom Lonnie Rutherford, Harden Neal Cox, French Graham, Dixie Graham. The following service men were members of the congregation at Cox’s Chapel (Methodist): Lenine Cox, C. D. Cox, Harvie Osborne, Fred C. Osborne, McF. Phipps, Price Willey, Robert Dixon, Alex. Brown. The members of this congregation were active in subscribing to Liberty Bonds and War Savings Stamps. Practically every member of both the church and Sunday school was a member of the Red Cross.

Draft Law and Virginia Organizations

Before the Draft Act was passed many of the young men of the county volunteered. The majority of them, however, waited for the draft, but it is impossible to believe that they went into service because of this compelling law. They viewed the Draft Act as a true and logical means used by the government to call the men as they were needed and place them where they could be most effective.

The county Draft Board was quickly formed and became an active machine to register and select the men for the various assigned quotas. Practically every eligible man registered. The work was done by the Draft Board quietly and thoroughly. Many of the single men waived all exemption claims and let it be known that they were ready at the first call. Members of the bar and those who were qualified to serve on the draft and exemption boards offered their services free of charge. Practically every man called to report for service did so at each call, and the board had full quotas to send to camp.

Entertainment was provided at the courthouse for the men who were to entrain the following day. There were few cases of despondency. The men showed grim determination to do their bit whatever it might he. The ladies were always on hand with kit bags containing the small necessities for comfort in camp.

There were a few instances of disloyalty where fathers, some of them well-to-do, tried strenuously to keep their sons out of the service, and a few men of draft age made false representations to the board. We shall not name these men, as they are well known in the county, where they will not soon be allowed to forget that they were slackers. It is known that some of the would-be slackers are descendants of traitors in the Civil War. As has been said, however, the vast majority of the men of military age in Grayson County entered the service willingly and served throughout the period with honor.

The Volunteers

A Virginia Volunteer unit was organized at Galax. Gordon C. Felts was captain and Prince Burnett, lieutenant. A few of the boys who joined this company lived out in the country as far as nine miles from the meeting place. and came to drill regularly, sometimes walking both ways. The company was disbanded early because so many of its members were drafted into the army or volunteered in the navy. The history and roster of this company-the Blue Ridge Guard-have been published in Source Volume IV., Virginia War History Commission publications.

Men of Distinguished Service

Grayson County’s Distinguished Service list is as follows:

Claude S. Anderson-Cited by commander-in-chief; cited by division commander; commended by Secretary of Navy; French Croix de Guerre.

Walter L. Dowdy-Named in Third Division citations.

Colonel Samuel R. Gleaves-Distinguished Service Medal; French Croix de Guerre; French Legion of Honor.

Robert H. Hall-British Military Medal.

Major Kyle C. Hash (deceased)-Cited by division commander twice; silver star citation; cited in General Orders 88; French Croix de Guerre.

Lieutenant George Garland Rhudy-British Military Cross.

Economic and Social Conditions

Liberty Loans and War Savings Stamps

Senator James M. Parsons, of Independence, headed the Liberty Loan committees of the county. He gave liberally himself and used his time freely in an effort to put each loan “over the top.” He was assisted by the Hon. J. M. Padget, J. M. Bourne, and many others. There was speakng at every church and schoolhouse in the county. There were no figures kept for the first Liberty Loan, but the results of the four subsequent campaigns are shown below:

Loan Maximum Apportionment Amount Subscribed
Second Loan $129,200 $36,300
Third Loan $100,000 $88,500
Fourth Loan $400,000 $122,650
Victory Loan $150,900 $78,400
Total $780,100 $325,850

It has been estimated that about $40,000 was subscribed in the First Loan. This would bring the total subscription to Liberty Bonds up to $365,850. Grayson is wholly an agricultural county, and this fact probably accounts for the failure to meet the figures shown in official allotments. Farmers have but little ready money, and they were uneducated regarding the value of government bonds.

School children and those who did not feel able to invest in Liberty Bonds bought War Savings Stamps and Thrift Stamps. The exact amount resulting from the sale of these stamps in the county is not known, but it is estimated at $112,000. A few men bought a thousand dollars worth of War Savings Stamps and carried them to maturity.

In this connection special mention should be made of Mrs. Lida Crabill, of Galax. She was the head of the Red Cross in both Carroll and Grayson Counties, and was editor of the Galax Post Herald. In addition to these duties, she gave invaluable help in each of the Liberty Loan campaigns, giving both her time and the columns of her paper most generously.

Disloyalty to the government in the matter of buying bonds was rarely found. Once in a great while some man or woman, through ignorance or political prejudice, would try to hamper some war-time measure. One old man refused to buy bonds and advised all his friends to refrain from doing so, saying that the United States was sure to be defeated and -they would certainly lose their money. One woman declared that she would much rather own an old Confederate bank note than to possess a War Savings Stamp. However, ninety-eight per cent of the people of Grayson, regardless of political party or religious affiliation, were loyal to the government in prosecuting the war by giving of their time, their money or their lives without complaint.

Food and Fuel Conservation

Food production was increased to the limit, and all citizens of the county did their utmost in the way of conserving food and co-operating with the Food Administration. Meatless and heatless days were strictly observed. There were few exemptions for agricultural reasons, and a great many women and girls worked in the fields to save the crops.

General Conditions

There were few manufacturing enterprises in the county, and these had no contracts with the government. Grayson, as an inland county, had no commerce, and the war had little effect on the transportation, labor, trade or lines of communication.

The Red Cross

The Blue Ridge Chapter of the American Red Cross, having jurisdiction over Carroll and Grayson counties, was organized June 4, 1917, and officially recognized June 30, 1917.

The first chairman of the Blue Ridge Chapter was J. Frank Vass, who was then mayor of Galax and one of its leading men. The vice-chairman was Mrs. J. W. Nortenstine, and the secretary was Mrs. Lida R. Crabill. C. A. Collier, cashier of the First National Bank of Galax, was treasurer. A. C. Painter, director of the First National Bank, was chairman of the executive committee, and J. P. Carico, vice-president of the same bank, was chairman of the finance committee. E. F. Perkins was chairman of home service. There were changes in the officers of the chapter from time to time.

The first entertainment given by the Red Cross was staged at the fair grounds in Galax, July 4, 1917, when $1,000 was cleared. This sum was sent to Washington to be added to the State contribution in the first Red Cross drive. A permanent entertainment committee was appointed and recitals, minstrel shows, moving pictures, lectures, etc., were popular methods used for raising funds. The county auxiliaries held box suppers, debates, concerts, etc., in the schoolhouses and churches.

Mr. H. Prince Burnett was appointed publicity chairman. He was editor of the Galax Post-Herald, and the columns of his paper were given to the Red Cross in its propaganda campaigns and as an advertising medium without charge.

The First National Bank furnished a workroom and office on the first floor of the bank building and a stock room on the second floor. Materials were ordered in large quantities and distributed among the working branches by parcel post. The greater part of the sewing and knitting was done in the homes. Deliveries were made and work given out every Wednesday. Packing and shipping, under the supervision of Mrs. Edwin Dodd and Miss Bertha Nuckols, was done whenever sufficient quantities of finished garments were ready for shipment. No surgical dressings were attempted on advice of headquarters.

The chapter had a membership of five hundred when the second Red Cross drive was launched. The quota assigned for the drive was $1,000, and the subscriptions amounted to double this sum. The auxiliaries always subscribed their quotas and often oversubscribed them. Auction sales for the disposal of produce were held. A gallon of the first strawberries of the season was sold eight times. A large Red Cross with a clock face outlined in black kept the public posted on the progress of the drive. The hands went around the face of the clock twice. A sugar barrel was nailed to the flag staff on the principal corner in Galax; a slit in the top permitted donations to drop into a box inside the barrel. Every large store had a mite box for collecting small change to add to the fund.

The first supplies were sent to headquarters November 12, 1917. By April 15, 1919, the following articles had been shipped by the chapter: 57 helmets, 39 mufflers, 633 pairs of socks, 418 sweaters, 55 pairs of wristlets, 132 pairs pajamas, 160 substitute handkerchiefs, 219 pillow cases, 81 sheets, 112 bed socks, 1,167 wash cloths, 218 property bags, 274 bed shirts, 31 comfort kits, 7 suits of men’s underwear, 350 towels, 51 fracture pillows, 1,762 surgeon’s wipes, 256 refugee garments and bay quilts, 1,000 pounds second-hand clothing for Belgian relief, five bushels of nut shells and three pounds of tin foil. To Camp Lee were sent two full cot equipments, 100 quarts jellies, jam and preserves and two large boxes of gun wipes. The Juniors sent one large box of scrap books.

The home service section of the Blue Ridge Chapter was organized in the month of July, 1918, by Mrs. M. A. Doran, Potomac Division headquarters, Washington, D. C. Previous to this time much relief work had been conducted by Attorney S. F. Landreth, of Galax. As stated previously, E. F. Perkins was chairman of this section. Mr. H. P. Burnett served as legal advisor and Dr. H. A. Dalton was medical advisor. There were five branches of the chapter in home ser- vice work and six auxiliaries. The branches were at Independence, Fries, Troutdale, Elk Creek and Fox. The auxiliaries were at Bridle Creek, Summerfield, Volney, Baywood, Grant and Spring Valley. A great deal of the work of this section was accomplished by the executive Secretary through correspondence. When a personal investigation was necessary a worker was detailed to visit the case and report conditions. More than 500 cases were handled during the war period. Instances of financial need were few in number, only about $350 being appropriated for relief work.

The Blue Ridge Chapter, through its branches and auxiliaries in Grayson County, endeavored to supply every soldier with a filled comfort kit when he left for camp. About 520 Christmas boxes were sent to soldiers and sailors in 1918. The employees of a firm in Galax contributed a liberal amount each month to the chapter treasury for the purchase of wool and occasional personal donations were received from individual citizens of Galax.

Practically all citizens of Grayson regardless of religious affiliations or political differences, were earnest supporters of the Red Cross in all its activities during the war period. By means of entertainments, carnivals, membership drives and personal solicitation the membership of the chapter had been built up by January 15, 1919, to about 2,500 enthusiastic members, with every branch and auxiliary in good financial condition. As a war-time measure the Red Cross in Grayson County was a great success, and it is well organized for peace-time work.

War Work and Relief Organizations

While most of the organized work in the county was conducted through the Red Cross, many of her citizens gave liberally to the Y.M.C.A., the Salvation Army and all other worthy organizations laboring for the welfare of the soldiers.

Post-war Conditions

By January 1, 1919, the soldiers began to return to the county. There were few public home-coming celebrations, as the boys drifted back one or two at a time. Several of our boys who had been wounded, gassed or shell-shocked were held in hospitals. Many of these cases were restored to health, received honorable discharge, and are back at their old jobs today. A few, however, are yet receiving treatment in the government hospitals and are mere relics of their former selves, constituting a sad reminder of the ravages of war.

During the war prices were high and farmers had more ready money than they had ever known. When the war ended, farm products were the first to come down in price. Extravagant habits had been formed and it was hard to readjust the manner of living to fit prevailing conditions. The farmer found that the crops he had produced by the aid of expensive labor and costly fertilizer would bring only a fraction of the cost of production, while the commodities he was forced to buy held to war-time prices. Live stock bought at war-time prices had to be sold for from fifty to seventy-five per cent of their original cost after having been fed and grazed for a year or more. In the latter part of 1920 it looked as though all farmers would go bankrupt.

In the fall of 1921 there was no cash market for farm crops, except for beans, and live stock were selling at fifty per cent lower than they had sold the previous year. Money was scarce and people were hard put to it to meet their accounts.

Most of the soldiers from Grayson County were farmers, and upon their return they took up their former enterprises in the county managed to keep running with their full quota of hands at a greatly reduced scale of wages. There were no strikes or labor troubles in the county. Every one seemed to realize that they were passing through a period of readjustment and deflation as an aftermath of the war, and all seemed anxious to meet conditions bravely and courageously. The wave of crime that swept man parts of the country had little effect in Grayson County. he eighteenth amendment is held responsible for an increase in arrests for drunkenness and resultant lawlessness, but no other increase in crime was noted.

The returned soldier fitted into his old niche and his presence caused no excess of labor and made necessary no readjustment of industrial conditions. About a dozen of the ex-service men of the county have taken vocational training because of injuries received in the war, making it impossible for them to return to their former occupations.

There was no shortage of houses when the soldiers returned, but rents were many times higher than before the war, and these have declined in price but little. Real estate doubled and tripled in price during the war, and while it does not now sell so readily as heretofore, when it does sell it brings the war-time price.

The only perceptible social effect of the war is the elimination of all social barriers. However snobbish a soldier may have been before the war, a few months in camp or trenches lessened his ideas of self-importance and increased his respect for the other fellow.

A home-coming day was celebrated at Independence just after the return of the soldiers. The old Confederates met the World War veterans, dinner was served, and speeches were made by young and old. It was a joyous occasion, Inarred only by the knowledge that some of those in our midst were desolate because of loved ones who slept in the soil of France.