|Wise Looks Back at Own
History in Centennial Year
From the Bristol Herald Courier
There is as much Centennial talk in this county seat town these days as there is in Bristol.
Wise County is also celebrating its 100th anniversary, and Wise is the home of the Centennial General Chairman, L. F. Addington. Addington is also the author of “The History of Wise County,” which was published this year and will become a standard textbook in the county schools.
As it prepares to join with the rest of the county in celebrating a Centennial year, Wise can look back on a busy period of expansion in the past few years.
Big Events of 1956
Among big events during 1956 so far have been the opening of the UMW Memorial Hospital here and efforts to expand Clinch Valley College, an extension of the University of Virginia.
Designed to render a maximum of attention to the patient at a minimum cost to the Miners Welfare Fund which finances it, the new UMW hospital has 38 beds for the care of medical and surgical cases. In addition there are 20 beds for new mothers, 23 bassinets and incubators, one operating room and one delivery room.
A separate apartment building, connected to the hospital by a covered walkway, provides 39 apartments which are rented to staff members.
Clinch Valley College is one of the newest and most needed additions to the area’s education and culture. It was set up in 1954 as a two-year college and an extension of the state university. The Virginia Assembly was asked this year to appropriate $500,000 for the construction of a combination administration-classroom-library building at the college site here.
A frontier town, where government, education and religion first invaded the Indian wilderness remains today as the focal point in the county’s affairs.
Wise has never been an industrial town. It is a trading center for wealthy coal, timber and farming region. Naturally, the county’s legal affairs also spur activity in the town.
One of its important projects is the Wise County Technical School. It was constructed and equipped in 1941-42 as a project of the National Youth Administration. When the NYA was disbanded in 1943, county leaders went to work to keep the school. Through the efforts of Wise County School Superintendent J. J. Kelly, Jr. and Dr. B. H. Van Oot of the State Board of Education, the school is now operated jointly by the county school board and the State Department of Education.
In 1945, the Treasury Department allowed the School Board to take possession of the buildings and equipment to be used in conjunction with the regular high school program.
Wise has been a center of learning since the first school was established here in 1856. In 1954, the J. J. Kelly High School was completed at a cost of more than $1,000,000.
Business in Wise, aside from that transacted in the court house, derives largely from coal, fruit, farming and tourist trade.
Coal operations in this immediate area are chiefly in the strip-mining field. As a result, it is a truck-transportation center.
In and around Wise are numerous orchards which grow thousands of bushels of apples annually. The sale of an average crop will bring into Wise approximately $250,000. Other agricultural interests are small farms and timber operations.
The town’s leading hostelry is a point of historic interest, and a natural attraction for tourists. The Colonial Hotel, built in 1900, has become famous for its countless art treasures carefully displayed throughout the structure. Here visitors may choose the Lincoln Room, furnished with the bed often used by Abraham Lincoln, or the Russian Room, furnished with authentic furniture of the Royal Palace suite of the Czarina, wife of Nicholas II. Other guest quarters are decorated in similar significance.
Growth in Wise has been slow, but steady. Among recent municipal developments is a 307,000 gallon water tank. Late in 1953, an extension of the corporate limits increased the land area to 2.97 square miles and its population to 2,250. Originally, the town was laid out on a plot of one square mile.
A future civil project in Wise is a proposal to construct a community park, swimming pool and playground near the new J. J. Kelly High School.
Once in Russell
Wise was first known as Big Glades and records of 1850 show it as a part of Russell County. In 1856, it became a part of Wise County and the name of Big Glades was changed to Wise Courthouse. It did not shorten its name to Wise until May 16, 1893.
A new courthouse was completed in 1858 and shortly afterward, a little Baptist Church which had played an important part in the town’s early founding, burned to the ground. The court ordered that the congregation be allowed to use the courthouse for public worship.
This is no longer permitted, for Wise now has many fine churches to make little mountain town’s social, cultural, educational and religious life as complete as that of any of America’s larger cities.
Coeburn Goes Into 60th Year With Vigor of Young Town; Still Seeks New Growth
Although marking its 60th year in 1956, Coeburn still considers itself young, as towns go. And, with the vigor of youth, the small Wise County settlement has high hopes of eventually attracting new industry to supplement its coal-supported economy.
The town’s birth dates back to 1896 when the village – then known as Guest’s Station – took the name Coeburn after W. W. Coe, a railroad official, and Judge W. E. Burns.
Through the history of the town is woven the story of many colorful and persevering mountain characters. The best-known of these is John Litz, one of the pioneer citizens who came here from Tazewell County and settled in the late 90’s. He became a legendary figure to the town’s growth and development. He served in every executive office the town had to offer at one time or another, and extended his career to the Virginia Assembly in the early 1900’s.
Home Is Landmark
The old Litz home, on a bluff overlooking the town, is still one of Coeburn’s landmarks. It is now the residence of a daughter, Mrs. D. C. Baker.
Railroad and coal-mining gave Coeburn its original impetus. And the livelihood of most of the residents is still much the same – coal. But, over the years, the coal industry, has undergone many changes.
Where once as many as 2,000 men went into the earth to dig for the “black gold,” today huge machines rumble under the earth, producing as much tonnage as was mined in the peak years. This has reduced the manpower needs, but strip-mining operations and expanded interests in agriculture have absorbed some of the workers.
Major Mine Operations
Eight miles north of Coeburn is the Lick Fork mine, one of the largest mining operations in the world. Clinchfield Coal Corporation, with headquarters at Dante, operates the Lick Fork mine, which features both shaft and strip mining. Huge trucks, carrying as much as 40 tons each trip whisk the dirt away. Giant shovels scoop up the coal and load it for the world’s markets.
One of the startling features of Coeburn is the contrast between its residential population and, its school population. The census lists the town’s inhabitants as numbering 784, but the school enrollment is more than 1,200. This is due to the influx of students from the heavily-populated rural areas surrounding the town.
New High School
Enrollment next year is expected to be much more, since Coeburn has a new $500,000 high school and space for more students.
Twice in its history, Coeburn’s trading center has suffered serious setbacks because of disastrous fires. One of these occurred in the early 20’s, the other in the late 30’s. Each time the business section was gutted, but each time it was rebuilt. As a result, the town’s businesses have a modern, clean-cut appearance, showing none of the horse-and-buggy days designs and street patterns which went up in
Wise County Centennial Pageant Slated to Open Monday Night
From the Bristol Herald Courier, July 22, 1956
Wise County’s Centennial pageant, “Heart of the Highlands,” will open in the Municipal Stadium here Monday at 8:15 p.m. The pageant will continue each night through Saturday, July 28.
The huge cast of more than 300 persons is made up from citizens of several towns of the county. The production has been under the direction of Harry S. Dorrington, a pageant director of many years of experience throughout the United States and Canada.
The pageant will be produced from a huge ramp or stage 250 feet long – large enough to present the many scenes complete with wagons, horses, cattle and other props necessary to dramatize the event. The theme of the play if based largely on facts gathered by Luther Addington in his book, “The History of Wise County.”
The pageant will open with “Wise County on Parade” in which national and international celebrities will welcome Miss Ruth Mullins, of Wise, who was selected Centennial Queen at a crowning ceremony Friday night in Coeburn.
Appearing with Queen Ruth will be her court which includes Miss Lona Wharton of Wise; Miss Betty Jo Cox of Norton; Miss Sonja Crowell of Wise; Miss Delores Baker of Pound; Miss Doris Carder of Coeburn; Miss Judy Bond of Appalachia; Miss Amelia Deen of St. Paul, and Miss Patricia Counts of Coeburn.
After the opening episode, “The Wise County Story,” symbolizing the first explorers seeking a new territory will begin to tell the history of the county.
“The Mound Builders” will depict a civilization antedating the Indians. Next will be “The Red Man” which will include the Cherokees, who took up residence between 1571 and 1685.
Christopher Gist was the first explorer to enter what is today Wise County. His story and exploits will be related.
Chief Benge, a half-breed Cherokee Indian, who led raiding parties against the early settlers appears next. The episode will include the attack on Fort Blackmore in 1777, the capture of two white girls, and the killing of Benge by Lt. Vincent Hobbs.
“Early Settlers” followed by “Readin’, “Ritin” and “Rithmetic” will depict early steps in the settlement of the county.
“Birth of the County” and the three names it has borne – first Dunn, later Roane and finally Wise – comes next.
The Period of the War Between the States followed within five years the founding of the country. The first muster of men was made at Gladeville, now Wise, June 3, 1861 when 101 men were formed under Captain Logan H. N. Salyer. This, too, will be dramatized.
“Coal and Its Development” described the push by Northern industrialists, to develop coal and iron ore in this region.
“Remember the Sabbath” was one of the beliefs in democracy and freedom of opportunity which the settlers brought with them. They placed their beliefs in God and freedom of worship was first in their lives. This phase of early history will not be overlooked.
“The Trains Came” depicts the coming of the first trains into Norton and Big Stone Gap in 1891.
“Bikes, Bustles and Mustaches” came not only to Wise County but to the entire nation. This episode will show many of the early means of transportation and dress of the era.
From the earliest days, several men played important parts in the course of Wise County’s history. “Book of Fame” describes the exploits of Morgan T. Lipps, General Rufus A. Ayers, George L. Carter, Professor C. Y. Chapman, and John Fox, Jr.
“The First World War,” when the United States took up the torch for democracy will be described in the pageant.
“The Roaring Twenties,” which followed the days of the first World War brought the flapper and Charleston fads and a definite change in the trend of dress. Wise County was caught in the trend.
“The Second World War” which started following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, presents another milestone in the county’s history.
“The Atomic Age” will be pictured as the “beginning or the end.”
The last and final episode of the pageant will be “The Great Wheel of Progress” with Wise County as the hub and each spoke carved from one of the county’s past achievements, flanked by the young manhood and womanhood of the village.
Monday will be known as Appalachia Day with W. F. Jones as master of ceremonies; Tuesday is Big Stone Gap Day with J. L. Camblos as master of ceremonies, Miss Edith Cherry will be in charge of the costume parade.
Wednesday will honor Coeburn. John O. Youell, Brush Master, will be in charge of the Brothers of the Brush shaving contest. An “Old Time House Raising,” at Camp Bethel, near Wise will be featured Wednesday as a part of the Wise Day. This part of the program will be held at 3 p.m.
Thursday afternoon, a barbecue will be held at the Country Club for railroad executives and invited guests. The evening will honor Pound with Orby Cantrell as master of ceremonies. A. L. Horton will introduce the railroad guests.
Friday will be known as the Norton-Wise Miners Day with Kenneth Asbury as master of ceremonies. J. L. Gilley will be in charge of a special mine demonstration. The afternoon will be the Norton Garden Club Centennial Flower Show at the First Church of God.
Saturday, the final day of the pageant, will be County-Governor’s and St. Paul Day. J. A. Gardner will act as master of ceremonies and Bill Bowman will introduce the Judge of the Court, Board of Supervisors, State Delegates and Senators, Congressman and The Governor.
Governor Thomas B. Stanley will speak at the courthouse at 3 p.m.
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