Wise County

A Community History



Wise County, in the heart of the Cumberland Mountains in the far southwest part of Virginia, was organized on February 16. 1856. The county was named for Henry A. Wise, governor of Virginia from 1856 to 1860. The county was backward in its development and did not get a fair start in the economic race until 1890. Prior to that time it was without railroads and it has no navigable streams. Its surface is rough and poorly adapted to agriculture. Its chief product is coal and there was no way of developing this until the building of the railroads in 1890. Regular transportation over the Norfolk & Western and the Louisville and Nashville was begun early in that year. Tile South Atlantic and Ohio, now the Southern Railway, also completed a line from Bristol to Big Stone Gap in 1890. The coming of these railroads was really the commercial birth of the county. Mines were rapidly opened and in a few years the coal industry was rivaling the old mining fields of other parts of the country.

The story of industry in Wise County is the story of coal and coke. At the tune of the formation of the county-more than one hundred years after the first recorded visit of a white man, but little was known of the vast natural resources hidden by nature within its hills, although the mountains of Southwestern Virginia were known to contain deposits of coal in 1750 when Dr. Thomas Walker and Christopher Gist (1751-52) explored portions of territory now included in the bounds of Wise County. There are 451 square miles of coal-bearing land in the county and approximately 45 square miles of non coal-bearing land. This wealth of mineral resources far surpasses that of any other county in Virginia. From a few thousand tons of coal produced in 1892, the coal industry in the county reached a peak in 1920 of more than six million tons. This encompasses the story of the development of a great natural resource which played an important part in Virginia’s contribution to the winning of the World War.

The site of Norton was known as Prince’s Flat prior to 1891 when the town was named for the Norton family of Louisville, Kentucky. who were largely interested in the, Louisville and Nashville Railroad. Coeburn, another town in Wise County, was named for W. W. Coe, chief engineer of the Norfolk and Western Railway and Judge William E. Burns, stockholders in the new town site. Big Stone Gap took its name from the gap cut by Powells River in Stone Mountain at the town site. Its location is one of the most attractive in the Appalachian Mountains. It has always been the chief residence town of the county.


The white population of the county is predominantly native American, but there were many settlements of foreigners in the pre-war period near several of the larger coal mines. One-sixth of the entire population was employed in the coal mining industry and an equal number was dependent on allied industries for support. Of the remainder of the population the great majority were engaged in farming, fruit growing and stock raising. In 1890 the population was 9,346 ; in 1900, 19,653 ; and in 1910, 34,163.

The demand for coal and coke was h4 throughout 1916 and consumers called for the maximum on all contracts. In the last six months of the year the demand was considerably in excess of the supply. Labor was short at nearly all mines during the entire year and from June to the end of the year the supply of cars was inadequate. Late in 1915 a new coal pier was put in operation at Charleston, S. C., and the demand for bunker coal by ship owners trading between the Gulf ports and South America and Europe added to the ordinary demands upon Wise County for high grade fuel.

About the middle of the year 1916, as a result of increased industrial demands, the price of coal and coke increased materially. Production during the year was 5,228,900 tons of coal, exceeding the production for 1915 by over one million tons.

There was little expressed pro-German feeling in the county. What there was of pacifism among well-meaning citizens soon gave way to the hope that militarism might be obliterated once and for all. Argument concerning preparedness finally became affirmative, and the liberal responses to appeals for war funds later, proved the decided preparedness sentiment of the majority of our citizens.


The churches of Wise County were ready and willing at all times to respond to the call of duty and in many ways rendered valuable service to the community and the nation during the war. The pastors preached in favor of various relief funds, and food conservation, and urged the people to buy Liberty Bonds. The people were exhorted to pray for the success of the Allies.

In Big Stone Gap the Episcopal Church adopted two French orphans, contributed to the Y.M.C.A. drive, and co-operated with the Red Cross and other activities of the community. They had a service flag including a star for their young rector, Jeff Alfriend.

The Southern Methodist Church adopted French orphans, sent a large box of clothes and $105.00 to Armenian and Syrian relief, and co-operated with the Red Cross. Their service flag contained twenty-two stars.

The Christian Church co-operated with the Red Cross.

The pastor of the Presbyterian Church gave almost his entire time to work among the sick and suffering of the community. Especial attention was given to the soldiers’ families in need of distress. This church co-operated with the Red Cross.

The First Baptist Church adopted two French orphans, furnished materials, and made twenty-four infants’ layettes consisting of 768 pieces which were sent to France. They contributed to the Y.M.C.A. drive. The ladies of the church at their weekly meetings made garments for Red Cross organization consisting of petticoats, bags, napkins, dresses, flannel shirts, outing sacksabout 200 pieces. They contributed to the Near East Relief.

The churches at Coeburn were active in all drives, sales, etc. The Coeburn Baptist Church reports that they had fifteen members in the service, none of whom were lost.

The Wise churches were always open to the chairmen of the various committees and many of our own prominent speakers, as well as others from a distance, were heard. four-minute speeches on subjects uppermost in our minds and hearts were made at the services. Most of the churches dedicated service flags upon which, from time to time, gold stars were placed by those with aching hearts. At Christmas time a committee from the churches had charge of packing and mailing packages to the boys overseas.

In Norton the Methodist Church bought a $50 bond, bought and sold War Savings Stamps, supported a French orphan for several years. They had twenty-six stars on their service flag.

The Presbyterian Church had a service flag holding sixteen stars. The Sunday school sold War Savings Stamps.

The Episcopal Church was closed for some time on account of its rector having entered war service. The membership assumed its full part in Red Cross and other activities.

The Baptist Church had nineteen stars on a, service flag, and contributed to all the war activities.


Much of the war-time propaganda was carried on in this county by a system of skillful advertising through the schools. Lessons on the causes of the war, German Kultur, and German aggression and lust for world power were taught by loyal and devoted teachers. The bright sensitive minds of the children quickly grasped the significance of these lessons, carried them home, and disseminated their knowledge among the older members of the family. The various drives for the sale of Liberty Bonds, the raising of funds for the Red Cross and Young Men’s Christian Association were launched largely through the schools. War Savings societies were organized, thrift and food conservation were systematically taught to the children who in turn taught their parents at home. In one of the schools the children pooled their savings and bought more than two hundred dollars’ worth of Liberty bonds. Individual pupils bought War Savings Stamps or “Baby Bonds” as they were called. They collected magazines and books and sent them to the soldiers in hospitals and the large training camps. Eggs were collected and sent to disabled soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital under the able supervision of Miss Ethel Van Gorder, teacher in Big Stone Gap School; and many cheerful letters were written by tiny hands to be read “somewhere” in France.

In more than one instance the pupils of a school adopted French or Belgian orphans and sent their money for the support of these children. This meant giving up pennies, nickels and dimes which ordinarily would have gone for chewing gum, candy and the movies. It can truly be said that no sacrifice was ever made more cheerfully than that made by the school children during the World War.


A great many of the young men of Wise County volunteered as soon as war was declared and before the draft was set in motion. They were taken into the then existing regiments and many of them made enviable records as soldiers. When the draft became effective it met with ready response from the young men of the county, all of whom seemed eager to get into some branch of the service that would insure them activity at the front. It is not known that any of the youth of this county tried to evade the draft.

There were many hundreds of skilled mining men, dig tiers, machinists, motormen, etc., who were exempted from the draft in order to keep the mines as fully equipped with efficient laborers as practicable. Very few young men, however, were willing to accept this exemption. For this reason, it was very difficult to keep up the necessary supplies of men to properly work the mines. This work was chiefly done by older men who were beyond the draft age and such foreigners of neutral nations as could be secured.

The registration under the selective draft in Wise County was the largest of any county in the State. The number was exceeded only by the several larger cities. The total number registered in the county for active service was 10,333. Of this number 5,600 were registered in the last draft, September 12, 1918, and were too late to be called for active service. Of the 4,733 who were registered during the first two draft calls, 1,307 were accepted at camp, 981 were accepted into general service, 251 were disqualified, and 2,140 were deferred on account of dependency, and for agricultural and industrial services. Of the 1,307 who were accepted at camp, 1.012 were white and 295 colored. In addition to those so inducted there were those who volunteered and were already in service, and those who entered through other draft boards, of whom it is impossible to determine the number.

The members of the Wise County selective board who had charge of this important work of the draft, were R. S. Graham, chairman, who served from July, 1917, to August, 1918, then entered military service as captain and was succeeded by T. V. Brennan; G. D. Kilgore, who served from July, 1917, to Dec. 31, 1917, and was then released for military service and was succeeded by Howard C. Miller; William S. Keister, M. D., who served from July, 1917, to Dec. 31, 1917, was then released for military service and was succeeded by George H. Esser. C. M. Fulton, of Wise, was chief clerk, and the headquarters of the board was at the government postoffice building at Norton. C. R. McCorkle, of Wise, was the government appeal agent.

The legal advisory board of Wise County was composed of R. A. Avres, chairman; R. R. Parker, and O. M. Vicars.

The medical advisory board of seven doctors of the district of Lee, Scott and Wise, embraced: C. B. Bowyer, of Stonega, chairman; J. A. Gilmer, M. D., W. A. Baker, M. D., and D. F. Orr, D. D. S.

Records of the following service men from Wise County are included in the Virginia War History Commission’s Distinguished Service volume:

Corporal Frank Allman, Distinguished Service Cross; Captain James G. Bentley, cited by division commander; Chester Cain, cited by commander in chief; Corporal Grant Kennedy, Distinguished Service Cross; Milan Yeary, recommended for Distinguished Service Cross; Major Rice M. Youell, Distinguished Service Cross, French Croix de Guerre, French Legion of Honor.

Of those who entered the war, forty-two never came back. A grateful county, through its fair association, has erected at the Court house an enduring memorial in marble bearing the following inscription:

“Dedicated by the Wise County Fair Association to the memory of these brave boys who gave their lives in the service of their country in the war with Germany: Lt. Vivian K. Mouser, Lt. Oscar M. Taylor, Sgt. Tate I. Bruce, Sgt. Fred B. Schultz, Sgt. Harry L. White, Corpl. Win. N. Berry, Corpl. Rufus 1T. Durham, Corpl. Walker C. Meade, Corpl. Ralph C. Moneyhun, Ph. Mate Wm. J. Kilgore, Jr., Emmett T. Buchanan, Frank Cain, Thomas B. Church, Riley C. Collier, Moscow Collins, James R. Creech, Worley Creech, Leonard Crouse, John Funk. Samuel Green, Benjamin H. Hall, Arvil E. Johnson, Harris Kennedy, Henry H. Meade, Joseph Mills, Robert F. McReynolds, Charles Neely, Charles B. Powers, Alonzo Proffitt, Wm. W. Richardson, James C. Robinett, Wm. H. Salyers, James R. Smith, Bruce Stanley, Clarence V. Stidham, Edward Stidham, Henry N. Tate, John Wells, J. Oscar Willis, Vilas Wilson, Frederick Grinds (colored), Carlos Warner (colored).


For several years prior to the entrance of the United States into the World War, Wise County had maintained a company of the National Guard known as Company “H” of the Second Virginia Regiment. Hon. J. F. Bullitt was the captain and the company had its headquarters at Big Stone Gap. It was at all times efficient, alert and well disciplined. It was ordered on two separate occasions to the Mexcian Border, and in 1916 spent several months there.

When we entered the World War this company was promptly recruited to its full strength. Before it was sent to Camp McClellan for training it was ordered out to guard the railroads at several important points. One of these was the Natural Tunnel on the Southern Railway between Big Stone Gap and Bristol. Other points were along the L. & N. going west and the N. & W. going east, particularly at several tunnels and long and high trestles on the latter road. It was believed that an agent of Germany with some dynamite could, in a few minutes’ time, create such destruction as to block the transportation of coal for several weeks or months. If the Germans had such plans they were frustrated, so far as Wise County was concerned, by the vigilant watchfulness of Company “H” which remained on guard duty at these points for many months.

During the recruiting period the company was stationed at Camp McClellan, Anniston, Alabama, and there it was broken up and its members transferred to other companies and to other regiments. When the company was mustered into Federal service its officers were: Captain (afterwards major) J. F. Bullitt, First Lieutenant D. W. G. Painter, and Second Lieutenant G. G. McFerran.



The county went far over the top in all of the Liberty Loan drives, and the Victory drive. C. S. Carter was the county chairman in these drives, and R. B. Alsover, vice-chairman. M. M. Long was local chairman at St. Paul, J. P. Lay at Coeburn, and H. G. Gilmer at Norton. In all these drives the women gave splendid help and they were organized in each part of the county. At Big Stone Gap Mrs. L. O. Pettit was chairman of the Women’s Club, with Mrs. H. A. W. Skeen as treasurer. At Coeburn Mrs. G. E. Heuser was chairman, with Mrs. G. W. Tompkins, treasurer. At St. Paul Mrs. J. E. Greear was chairman, with Mrs. Guy Pugh, treasurer. At Wise Mrs. T. G. Alderson was chairman, with Mrs. N. F. Hix, treasurer. At Norton Mrs. W. W. Kemp was chairman, with Mrs. T. P. Ford, treasurer.

In the First Liberty Loan, the amount asked of Wise County was quickly oversubscribed several of the communities having made up their proportion the first day. In the Second Liberty Loan Wise County was allotter $391,720. It subscribed $509,150. This loan, like some of the others, was put up to the batiks. The First National Bank of Appalchia, was assessed $86,380. It sold bonds to the amount of $165,000. The First National Bank of Norton was assessed $86,100. It sold $123,600. The National Bank of Norton was assessed $29,540. It sold $100,000. Other banks in the county did their parts proportionately.

In the Third Liberty Loan, the amount allotted to Wise County was $248,954. It subscribed $487,000. In this campaign the Woman’s Liberty Loan committee of the town of Wise secured $112,000.

In the Fourth Liberty Loan, Wise County, with a population of 38,000 and total banking resources of $3,546,000, was assessed $532,000. On October 23, 191_8, the official report of Chairman C. S. Carter showed that the county had raised $904,550.

In the Victory Loan of April, 1919, Wise County was asked for only $393,700. On April 30th the county reported that with Coeburn and St. Paul still to hear from, the amount asked for had been oversubscribed by $80,300. In this campaign Big Stone Gap’s quota was doubled the first day. Norton’s quota was $100,000 and it subscribed $155,000. Appalachia’s quota was $112,000 and it subscribed $205,000.[*]

The county was thoroughly organized and practically one hundred per cent of the citizens devoted their energies to obtaining this splendid result. Nothing was left undone to arouse interest and enthusiasm. Although far removed from the centers of activity and without the inspiration derived from crowded soldier trains or the tramp of mobilized troops or the sound of martial music, Wise County, remote in her mountain section, felt the urge of war and responded with a zeal that was truly commendable.

Numerous patriotic meetings and flag raisings were held in the county. “Bomber” McGinnis, a wounded officer, returning from the front, accompanied by Col. W. M. Myers, of Richmond, spoke throughout the county. A flag raising was held at Big Stone Gap on Sunday, June 3, 1917, and two thousand people were in attendance. Patriotic addresses were made by General R. A. Ayres, Hon. R. T. Irvine and Rev. Roy E. Early. A flag, ten by eighteen feet, was raised while Ray’s concert band of fifteen pieces played. John Fox, Jr., the popular novelist, made addresses at public meetings over the county and gave readings from some of his books. On other occasions Major Bartle from Norton brought a troup of soldiers and gave drills. A special trophy train was sent from Richmond, carrying several cars with speakers and guns, gas masks, trench mortars, and a floating mine, hand grenades, different makes of machine guns, and other relics from the battlefields of France. This train visited all the important points in the county and aroused tremendous enthusiasm. Dances and card parties were given by society to raise money for the various relief organizations. Coin receptacles were placed in all places of business for the same purpose.

In the War Savings Stamps campaign, $800,000 was allotted to Wise County and it subscribed over $1,000,000. Henry G. Gilmer was chairman of this campaign. In connection with it a club known as “The Limit Club” was formed with R. B. Alsover as chairman, the purpose of the club being to secure individual subscription of $1,000 each. Three hundred and ninety-one members of the club subscribes’ $391,000. This was mentioned in the public press at the time as one of the largest “Limit Clubs” in the country and perhaps the largest in the South. The campaign among the school children of the county for. the sale of Thrift Stamps resulted in the sale of $53,000 worth.

Although the county was young and there were few wealthy citizens in it, the men and women subscribed and paid for four and one-half million dollars’ worth of war securities. So far as is known, there were no slackers. The Boy Scouts at one of their posts took $2,400 worth of Liberty Bonds.


The Virginia Coal Operators’ Association was organized at Norton on August 2, 1917. Fourteen of the principal mining companies of this and adjoining counties were represented among the charter members. Mr. Otis Mouser was elected president, R. I. Cawthorne, vice-president, and H. W. Gilliam actin-, secretary. The directors of the association were Otis Mouser, Lee Long, Douglas Patterson, J. C. Creveling, D. Terpstra, R. I. Cawthorne and A. W. Wagner. On December 15, 1917 , Mr. G. D. Kilgore was made secretary of the association and by appointment of the United States Fuel Administrator, became district representative in charge of production and distribution of all coal and coke produced in Southwest Virginia. The task was a monumental one, but it was splendidly accomplished. The association later joined the National Coal Association, and C. E. Bockus, president of the Clinchfield Coal Corporation; was elected to the directorate of the National Association.

The Wise County operators heartily co-operated with the government in every way during the war, accepting the prices fixed by the government on coal and coke and stretching every nerve to increase production. In this way the railroads and factories were able to increase their output of war material. To offset the labor shortage occasioned by a great number of the young men entering military service, the association attempted to secure the services of Mexicans, Portugese and Spanish, in addition to negroes from the Southern States. Mr. G. D. Kilgore, secretary– treasurer of the association, was appointed by Hon. II. A. Garfield, United States Fuel Administrator, as production manager for Virginia and he rendered exceptionally fruitful services in speeding up the production of coal and coke from this field.

The iron furnace at Big Stone Gap belonging to the Intermont Coal & Iron Corporation, of which R. T. Irvine was president and Dr. J. W. Kelly, secretary-treasurer, likewise produced to capacity during the war. It manufactured a high grade of iron which was sold largely in Ohio and Michigan and other States which were engaged in manufacturing war supplies.

The Union Tanning Company had two plants at Dig Stone Gap, one a tannery, the other a tannic extract plant, which operated to the limit during the war period, though seriously handicapped by labor shortage. The Clinch River Tannery Company, located at St. Paul on the Clinch River, likewise turned out its maximum output during the war. There were a few smaller plants in the county, all of which did everything in their power to increase production.

The three trunk line railroad systems of the county, the Norfolk & Western, the Louisville & Nashville and the Southern, also a local railroad, the Interstate, realized the importance of uninterrupted transportation and they all whipped up their schedules and increased the efficiency of their services in every possible way.

Mines in Wise County operated about ninety-five per cent full time with almost no loss because of car shortage. Assuming 304 working days in the year the record of an average of 295 days worked by the mines shows conclusively that the coal industry in Wise County was quickly organized and efficiently operated upon a war basis. The draft took hundreds of the younger men from the mines, but these men were replaced by older men drawn from the nonproductive mountain farms, and from the non-essential industries in near-by States.

A h4 demand, taxing the coal industry to the utmost, prevailed throughout the year 1918. In the first half of the year both car and labor shortage contributed to the lack of full-time operation. In the last quarter of the year, the epidemic of influenza caused a considerable cessation of operation and hundreds of miners’ homes were invaded by this malady, resulting in a great number of deaths of mine workers and members of their families.

In spite of the labor shortage, the coal mines were operated overtime, some of them running night shifts. The science of coal mining was greatly advanced so that, since the war, with not more than three-fourths of the mines running that were operated before the war, more coal is mined than before. During the war it required the straining of every energy to produce and ship twelve million tons per week. At this time, with from one-fourth to one-third of the mines inactive, it is difficult to limit production to twelve million tons. This refers only to regularly established mines and not to so-called ,vagon-mines, of which, during the war, there were a large number. These are mines that are not laid out and mined in a scientific and systematic way. but almost any farmer can take a pick and shovel and go into a hillside on a coal seam and fill his wagon with coal and load into a flat car at the nearest railroad switch. While this is an unscientific and wasteful -way of operating, yet in a tune Of stress like the war period a large amount of coal could be, and was, mined in this way. A gentleman who drove during the last year of the war through the county from St. Paul to Big Stone Gap, along the turnpike, counted in sight of the road, 36 wagon-mines in operation. There were doubtless several times that many not in sight of the road.

Wise County has, fit for active work, something over 4.000 coke ovens, all of the bee hive type. During the war these ovens were run to capacity. They burned all the dine, night and day, and Sunday too. The coals of Wise County are exceptionally pure and make a very fine quality of coke, and in spite of the handicap of maximum freight rates, the coke made by these ovens during the war was shipped to all parts of the United States and a great deal to Canada.


Considering the fact that W ise County has 451 square miles of coal-bearing land and only 45 square miles of non-coal-bearing land, its accomplishments agriculturally were not in keeping with its industrial achievements during the World War. To a large extent the women and children helped in raising food products of all kinds and every available acre of land in the county was apparently used for producing food of some kind. Corn, wheat, potatoes, beans and other similar food products were produced as far as was possible. Nearly every back yard became a Garden, and if any of these products were limited by the government as to price, the producers cheerfully accepted such prices and aided in every possible way. Every railroad in the county invited citizens along its line. to come inside its right of way and ploy up and cultivate all the land. This was largely done, even up to the edge of the cross ties.

The agricultural agent, D. D. Sizer, assisted in the campaign for food conservation and food production. He was especially active in organizing corn clubs among the boys and canning clubs among the girls. He also encouraged the raisin; of poultry.

Miss Conway Howard was county home economics agent, and she assisted in stimulating production and conservation among the women of the county.

The Federation of Women’s Clubs. Mrs. G. F. Heuser, president, aided in food conservation. Mrs. Heuser acted as team manager for the card pledge campaign and it was chiefly due to her ability and the h4 organization back o? her that Wise County led the State in this campaign. The federation procured the services of Miss Hallie Hughes, of the State Agricultural Department, who spent some time in the county, giving demonstrations in canning. This organization held an open-air demonstration in the ball park at Big Stone Gap, which was attended with interest.

The Community League had a committee on food production and conservation, and tinder its auspices Miss Conway Howard gave war kitchen demonstrations in the making of Victory bread, pastries and biscuits, also talks on sugar saving, meat saving and canning. The demonstration was held in the domestic science rooms of the high school building.

When the government requested the people to limit their use of sugar, bread stuffs and other foods, no one in the county, so far as is known, refused or evaded such request. The people generally, even those who remained and worked in the mines, went, to a great extent, “meatless” and “sugarless,” and corn bread became literally the “staff of life.” Practically every head of a family in the county signed a pledge to conserve food and to observe strictly the rules and requests of the government in this matter. Mrs. Otis Mouser was chairman of the food pledge card campaign and Mrs. Guido Heuser team manager. The Richmond Times-Dispatch stated that “Wise County leads Virginia counties with the largest registration of pledge cards, registration being over 6,000.”


An almost undiluted patriotism marked the war activities of Wise County from first to last. The realization that this county was in a position to contribute to the successful outcome of the war stirred in the community a unanimity of patriotic fervor that resulted in concerted and never-flagging action. ‘ John Poole, chairman of the War Fund drive, wired from Washington to T. V. Brennan, local chairman of the Second War Fund drive of the Red Cross, as follows: “Your work to Wise County wonderful. Words fail to express our admiration of the patriotism and liberality of your citizens as shown by subscriptions to the American Red Cross.”

While there was a polyglot population in Wise County’s industrial towns, racial conditions were not such as to cause apprehension during the tense days of the war. III tile mining towns the population was probably one-tenth alien, that element consisting largely of Italians, Hungarians and Polish. The negro population was about the same as in any other industrial community, although it was increased somewhat by the migration of negro laborers from the South daring the period when the demand for coal was greatest. In the commercial towns the alien population was practically negligible, the usual Italian restaurant keepers and fruit vendors comprising the foreign element, most of whom were naturalized citizens. Those communities having almost no alien citizens anticipated that Wise County, with her mixed peoples, would encounter racial difficulties when the various war campaigns were in inaugurated, but the record shows that all calls for money and men and for personal service were met by all classes and all nationalities with almost equal enthusiasm.


In June. 1917, petitions for the formation of three separate chapters in Wise County, one at Big Stone Gap, one at Norton, covering Norton and Wise, and the third at Coeburn were forwarded to Washington. The authorities hesitated to put three chapters in one county, and referred the matter for action to Col. W. M. Anderson; of Richmond, who was State Chairman of the Red Cross. In July he held a conference in Richmond with several leaders of the proposed chapters in Wise County, with the result that charters were given for all three chapters.

Big Stone Gap Chapter.-Under the supervision of Mr. Jas. M. Hodge, who provided all the material at first, several of the Big Stone Gap women, aided by Mrs. Erskine Ramsey, Mrs. J. K. Taggart, Sr.. and several others, had been doing war relief work since the fall of 1916. By this means a nucleus of trained and skilled workers had been) formed before we entered the world war, and it therefore became easy to assemble an efficient group of workers and broaden and enlarge the work as soon as the Red Cross chapter was formed. The area of this chapter embraced not only the western part of Wise County. but also the eastern part of Lee County, which lay adjacent.

The first officers elected for this chapter were R. E. Taggart, chairman; Mrs. E. E. Goodloe, vice-chairman, L. T. Winston, treasurer; Mrs. J. B. Ayres, secretary: Mrs. H. E. Fox, chairman of production, Miss M. C. Fox, supervisor of knitting. Branches of the chapter were fronted at Appalachia, East Stone Gap and Cadet, also at ten mining towns: Stonega, Roda, Osaka Arno, Andover, Imboden, Exeter mines, Exeter Lumber mill, Inman and Linden.

An active organization was quickly formed and work began. Messrs. Whitridge and Fox offered the exposition hall (now the Kiwanis Club building) to the chanter, and its meetings were held there daily. Donations of money and material poured in, and there was never any lack of funds to push the work. The following represents work accomplished during the first eleven months: 1,067 pillow cases, 323 sheets, 147 dish towels, 91 hot water bag covers, 45 pairs bed socks, 7,104 4×4″ sponges, 234 triangular bandages, 35 doz. 4″ bandages, 50 doz. 2″ bandages, 194 doz. 4×4″ compresses, 34 doz. 3″ bandages, 6? z doz. 3″ crinoline bandages, 8 1/2 doz. 3″ outing bandages, 3 doz. 4″ outing bandages, 6 doz. fourtailed bandages. 52 pairs operating socks, 54 pajamas, 285 bed shirts, 36 operating gowns, 73 comfortables, 633 napkins, 168 tray covers, 6 bed spreads, 56 nightingales.

From the knitting department came the following scattered reports taken from newspaper clippings: February 6, 1918. First shipment to Camp Lee for Wise County boys: :100 sweaters, 40 mufflers, 57 pairs wristlets, 30 pairs socks. Second shipment: 50 sweaters, 36 pairs socks, 20 mufflers, 12 helmets, 12 pairs -,vristlets. September 25, 1918: 120 pairs socks, 20 sweaters. (Shipment for Italian Commission). September 28, 60 sweaters shipped to Washington.

From December 4, 1917, to April 3, 1918, there were sent in through the Red Cross: 342 sweaters, 83 mufflers, 355 pairs socks, 110 pairs wristlets, and 59 helmets. January 22, 1919, quota of infant layettes assigned, 768 pieces, furnished and shipped.

In 1918 the following officers were elected: Gen. R. A. Ayres, chairman; Miss M. C. Fox, vice-chairman: Mrs. J. B. Ayres, secretary-, Geo. L. Taylor, treasurer; Miss Mary Ramsey, chairman of production: Mrs. C. C. Long, supervisor of knitting; Jas. M. Hodge, chairman of home service section. Production was continued unabated up to Armistice, and at diminished intensity thereafter with the object of utilizing the materials on hand. In July, 1918, home service work was started with Mr. Hodge in charge, with his office in the U. S. Marshall’s room of the Government Court House. By the end of 1918, Mr. Hodge had 141 cases on file, for relief in the home service work.

The nursing service of the chapter became important in the epidemic of influenza, which began in October, 1918. A special office was opened for the work, in charge of Miss Jane Morgan, a registered nurse. An automobile was bought by the chapter for her use, and in the epidemic which followed she was taxed to the utmost and worked with untiring zeal.

A drive for funds was held in June, 1918, and the chapter raised $21,213.65, of which it retained $5,299.04 and remitted the remainder to the general fund at Washington. Chapter production ceased early in 1919, with a record of articles knitted 2,573 ; garments made, 2,520 ; surgical dressings prepared, 22,722. In addition to this, 4,700 rounds of clothing were collected and shipped in the drive for Belgian relief. Home service cases reached their peak in January, 1919. Up to May first of that year, cases on file were 225 soldiers, cases not filed 22. Christmas packages forwarded (1918) 200. Families served, not included in the above, 100. Total, 547.

Public health nursing was voted a regular department of the chapter in March, 1919, and as the influenza epidemic decreased, Miss Morgan’s work was broadened to cover other classes of nursing service and school inspection and sanitation with regular visits to each of the ten chapters twice a month. Miss Morgan’s house-to-house visits averaged more than 100 each month, besides visits to schools, examining several hundred school children and doing a large amount of bedside nursing. Half of Miss Morgan’s salary was paid by the Stonega Coke & Coal Co., which was the largest operating company in the district, but her work was still controlled by the Red Cross, and an office kept for her in the government building. In May, 1919, a history committee was appointed with Miss M. C. Fox, chairman; Mrs. C. C. Cochran, Mrs. R. ‘I’. Irvine and Jas. M. Hodge. In December, 1919, under the leadership of Rev. J. PI. Smith as roll-call chairman, the canvass of the chapter resulted in obtaining a membership of 2,398, and receipts of $2,442.81.

After the first of 1920 the activities of the chapter slackened and were confined chiefly to the home service work which was continued under the care and direction of Mr. Hodge, chairman of this section, and much work has been constantly done by him in aiding the soldiers who were in the service and the families of those who failed to return, in all matters pertaining to discharges, insurance, back pay, and many other problems that followed in the aftermath of the war.

The formal petition of this chapter was filed with the proper department at Washington, on July 21, 1917, and official notice of the granting of the charter was issued on August 17, 1917. The officers named in the original charter were: Robert Fleming, chairman; Judge F. M. Fulton, vice-chairman; John Roberts, secretary, and H. G. Gilmer, treasurer. The executive committee was composed of the foregoing and A. L. P. Corder, H. A. Cavendish, D. Terpstra, W. P. Beverly, Thurston Banner, C. H. Creveling, and Lee McChesney. These officers continued with the exception that in January, 1919, T. V. Brennan succeeded Robert Fleming as chairman of the chapter. The other officers remained the same. At the outset, the active membership was 348. This was increased by January 1, 1918, to 1,473, and after the Armistice in January, 1919, the membership was 811, of which 197 belonged to the Wise branch and 714 to the Norton branch.

The chapter was not organized in time to participate in the First Red Cross drive, but on the Second drive it raised $9,700, although the quota asked of it was only $3,000. Of the amount raised $7,225 was sent to the National Headquarters while $2,475 was kept in the local treasury. In addition to the foregoing amount the chapter, later on, raised $3,700.92, bringing the total raised in all to $13,395.02. The Wise branch secured the sum of $1,071.76 at the time of the Second drive. The remainder was raised by the Norton branch. Of the stun retained by the chapter, $3,088.63 was spent for supplies for the Red Cross work room, and the remainder in home service relief work.

The home service section was organized early in the history of the chapter with Mrs. Mary S. Martin, executive secretary Mrs. T. P. Ford, chairman of the investigating committee ; Mrs. J. B. Fleming, executive committee; Mrs. T. M. Cherry, relief committee, and Mrs. R. H. Bruce, chairman publicity committee. This branch of the service gave financial aid to many soldiers and their families, and was a source of great aid and comfort in many ways otherwise. The department of publicity was first in charge of Mrs. H. G. Miller, and later Mrs. R. H. Bruce. A persistent campaign of publicity increased the output from the workrooms and aroused an increased interest in the Red Cross activities. A column was published each week in all the local newspapers giving information regarding the work of the chapter. Local conditions influenced the character of the work in the sewing rooms and the other activities of the members. The department of supplies was efficiently conducted by Mrs. C. R. Pepper, who served from the chapter organization until the Armistice; and after that, by her successor, Mrs. J. M. Allen. The knitting department was under the direction of Mrs. E. W. Miller. Eight hundred and seventy– four knitted garments were shipped from this section. The output from the sewing rooms under the charge of Mrs. Robt. Fleming as superintendent of women’s work reflected credit on the chapter. The number of garments made in this department was 3,817. Of this total, 942 were made by the Wise branch, and the remainder 2.965 by the Norton branch. This list includes 298 sheets, 674 pillow cases, 468 towels, 946 hospital bed shirts, 482 pajamas, 71 convalescent robes, and 14 hospital pillows. In addition, until August, 1918, this chapter presented to each boy from Wise County, as he left for training camp, a comfort bag made and filled by the women workers of the chapter, the approximate number being 1,347, and filled at an expense of $3,367.50.


This chapter was chartered at the same time as the other two chapters, August 17, 1917. Branches were formed at St. Paul, Toms Creek and Cranes Neck. N. T. Shumate was chairman of the chapter. A workroom was maintained at Coeburn, of which Mrs. V. E. Littlewood was chairman, followed later by Mrs. j. D. Clay, Jr. Mrs. G. W. Tompkins was chairman of the surgical dressings department. There were branch workrooms in all the branches. Drives for membership and funds were held as elsewhere. The membership was 700. Total receipts, $2,406.03. There were sixty active members in the work department, with the following output in the sewing and knitting departments, respectively : 900 hospital shirts, 55 pajama suits, 250 comfort kits-75 filled, 90 girls’ aprons, 75 hospital comfort bags, 100 fracture pillows, 175 sweaters, 130 pairs socks, 35 helmets, 10 hot water bag covers, 100 bed socks, 50 foot warmers, 100 tray clothes, 8,330 gauze wipes, 2,036 muslin bandages, 1,000 shot bags, 25 pairs wristlets, 30 mufflers, and 20 wash cloths.

The work of this chapter was greatly assisted during the war by the local physicians who aided the chapter in its relief work in every way possible. Dr. G. W. Tompkins enrolled in the volunteer medical corp, and the other physicians who were commissioned were: Dr. V. R. Culbertson and Dr. I. E. Wolfe, at Coeburn, and Dr. C. C. Carr, at Toms Creels. In addition to Red Cross work, these physicians assisted in examining the drafted men whenever summoned for this work.



A chapter of the Navy League was formed at Big Stone Gap in July, 1918, of which Mrs. E. J. Prescott was president, Mrs. E. E. Goodloe, vice-president; Mrs. J. B. Ayres, secretary, and Mrs. D. B. Pearson, treasurer. Miss Minnie C. Fox was chairman of ways and means and Mrs. Pearson, chairman of the knitting committee. This organization did effective work until its dismemberment, owing to disagreement in Washington. Among the articles furnished were 200 sweaters, 91 helmets, 64 pairs of wristlets and 17 pairs of socks. Boxes were sent to Wise County soldiers at Anniston and Camp Lee. Several boxes of sweaters, scarves, helmets, socks and wristlets were sent to the Navy League headquarters in Washington, and each soldier who left the county was supplied with these articles.

All the county and local women’s organizations bent all their energies and resources to the task of furthering the “drives” and “campaigns.” The Wise County Federation of Women’s Clubs put the first public health nurse, Miss Jane Morgan, in the county, and was responsible for her salary until she was taken over by the Red Cross. It was also through this organization’s efforts that the board of supervisors secured the services of an all-time health officer in the person of Dr. Keister who filled this position until his services were needed in the field. Wise County claims that it Nvas the first county in the State to have a public health officer, the second to have a county school nurse, and the second to have a federation of women’s clubs. The work of this federation in the matter of food conservation has already been noted in the economic section.

The Norton Civic Betterment Club bought a one hundred dollar Liberty Bond, and the Community League of Big Stone Gap contributed $100 a year to the salary of the county nurse until she was taken over by the Red Cross. It fostered the “Community Sings” which were held every Sunday at noon in the High School auditorium and later in the open air at the ball park. The part the league took in food conservation has been told in the economic section of this sketch. Mrs. E. J. Prescott of the league was appointed to raise funds to care for the ten fatherless children of France allotted to Big Stone Gap. Support of one of the orphans was assumed by each of the following organizations: The Floyd Guild of the Episcopal Church, the Ladies’ Aid Society of the Baptist Church, the Women’s Missionary Society of the Methodist Church, the Navy League, the Camp Fire Girls the teachers of the high school, the pupils in the school, and the three remaining children were supported by interested officers of the league. The league also made a donation to the Armenian hospital through the State Federation.

The project of buying War Savings Stamps by selling junk, old papers, rubber and iron, etc., to dealers was also undertaken. During the influenza epidemic the league supplied food and nourishment to those in distress and daily distributed gallons of soup and other cooked foods to the most needy, the expense of which, beyond private donations, was met by the Town Council.

The women conducted sewing circles in the various towns of the county. Among those kvho took part in all the campaigns were Mrs. N. F. Hix, of Wise; Mrs. R. E. Taggart, and Mrs. R. T. Irvine, of Big Stone Gap. One group of women in Big Stone Gap raised and sent through the treasurer, Mrs. H. A. W. Skeen, $530.82, between June and December, 1918, for .Armenian Relief. Similar work was done by the women from all parts of the county.

The two chapters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in the county furnished knitted garments for the battleship Virginia and the Norton chapter bought a fifty-dollar Liberty Bond.


No special report has been made of the Y.M.C.A. work. Successful drives were made in behalf of this organization and large sums were contributed. Hon. John W. Chalkley offered his services to the Y.M.C.A. and he was sent to France where lie served for six months in a relief station.

Prominent in the Liberty Loan drives were John Fox, Jr., Major J. F. Bullitt, Henry Gilmer, Bob Graham, Rev. S. D. Bartle, R. B. Alsover, Douglas Terpstra, W. S. Dodd and W. G. Werth.

All of the organizations were greatly assisted in their efforts by the newspapers which published editorials in support of all war measures.

The colored population of the county took their full share of war work. A number of colored men entered the service and one of these, Carlos Warner, was killed in the battle of Argonne. An organization of colored women at Big Stone Gap, composed of Mrs. Emma Morrison, Mrs. Birdie Harris and Mrs. Henry Martin and their associates, rendered good service by knitting for the soldiers and by making other useful articles for them.


After the Armistice a reception was given for the returned soldiers and new residents by the Community League and the Young Men’s Business Club of Big Stone Gap. The affair was held at the Monte Vista Hotel and was largely attended and most heartily enjoyed. Impromptu patriotic talks were a feature of the occasion.

On February 22, 1919, a patriotic gathering, which filled the Amuzu Theatre, to overflowing, was held by the Community, League in co-operation with the American Legion. The object of the meeting was to present to the families of deceased soldiers honorary certificates given by the French government. The program consisted of a pageant, music, and speeches by Hon. R. T. Irvine and Maj. William A. Stuart. Automobiles were sent to transport all Gold Star families to the meeting, and they came from mountain sides and fastnesses far and near. It was an inspiring occasion.

When the war strain was over, Wise County, like other counties, relaxed socially and commercially,. But the impetus that had been given by the war to energies of all kinds continued in large measure until the aftermath had all been properly worked out. The lessons of patriotism, loyalty and co-operation had been drilled in, and will affect the people, in not only this generation, but for successive generations. People learned the lesson that almost superhuman things can be put through by co-operation coupled with enthusiasm. Many things that seemed impossible before have since appeared not only possible but easy.

The same spirit has operated in commercial and business matters. Manufacturers and miners have learned and applied not only greater thoroughness, but also new and better methods, so that the losses of the war have their compensation.

The soldiers who survived came home and resumed their peacetime employment, and proved the old saying that “Peace hath her victory, no less renowned than war.” They joined cheerfully in the movement to organize the American Legion, and are still keeping up this work actively. Major Wm. A. Stuart, a Wise County soldier, was made the first State chairman of the American Legion from Virginia. Two posts were formed in the county, one at Appalachia, covering Big Stone Gap, Appalachia and the coal fields of the western end of the count v, and the other at Norton, covering the towns and coal fields in the eastern end of the county.

The post at Appalachia is called the “Henry N. Tate Post,” in honor of the soldier of that name who was killed in battle in France. A. M. Greenfield was the first commander, and P. J. Groseclose, the first Adjutant. Dr. W. B. Peters succeeded later as commander. The post was organized Sept. 19, 1919. Among the organizers was Major Win. A. Stuart, who, as above stated, was the first Virginia State Commander of the Legion. The Norton Post was organized in September, 1921, and in honor of a soldier killed in battle was named the “Clarence V. Stidham Post.” The first commander was Major Rice M. Youell, and the first Adjutant was Bruce Crawford.

Wise County did not rush to the housetops after the war to shout her achievements. Her people, largely of sturdy, heroic stuff applied themselves to the business of readjustment. Thirty of her young men did not return, but little has been said about the part they played. Their record is enviable, nevertheless, and one which their children and their childrens’ children will read with a warm thrill of pride.

NOTE:-The author is indebted for assistance in the preparation of this article to Mr. C. B. Neel, Norton, Secretary of the Coal Operators Association; Mr. J. M. Bodge, Big Stone Gap, Chairman of Home Service Work of the Red cross; Mr. Bruce Crawford, Norton, Editor of Crawford’s Weekly, and to Professor H. L. Sulfridge, Principal of the Big Stone Gap High School.


*These figures differ to some extent from those contained in the Federal Reserve Bank report which gives a total for the four loans of $2,472,950.