By Etta Green



The following are a few of the Lee Countians who have helped lay the foundations or progress and development for their county, beginning with the early religious heros who helped safeguard Christianity and keep in progress the ideals and purposes of higher and better standards of living.

Dr. I. S. Anderson
Dr. Isaac S. Anderson was probably the first white child born on the Virginia side of Bristol. He was born in 1854 and his father, Joseph Anderson donated the land on which King College is founded. After being graduated from this college and also from a theological seminary in New York, Dr. Anderson came to Lee County

and devoted some 47 years to the ministry. He would often ride 30 miles each way to and from his church appointments. He founded Mount Carmel Church at Rose Hill and was pastor of it for more than 40 years. He also established many other churches in the county. Always a scholar as well as a minister, Dr. Anderson once made a trip to the Holy Land.

The Reverend N. C. Burkhart
N. C. Burkhart was only sixteen years old at the outbreak of the Civil War and consequently was too young to be inducted into service. He was not too young, however, for Christian service and for helpfulness to humanity, and to this he dedicated his life. It is said that he would visit the battlegrounds, take water and food to wounded soldiers, pray with them, and give every aid possible.

He entered the ministry at an early age and still specialized in helping the unfortunate and troubled. Hanging was the means of capital punishment in his day and Mr. Burkhart would often spend the previous night with the condemned man, praying with him and helping to prepare for his imminent death. Mr. Burkhart organized the first Methodist-Episcopal group in Pennington Gap in 1892.

The Reverend Reuben Steele
Reuben Steele was chaplain in the 64th Virginia Regiment during the Civil War and was with them when they drilled on the grounds of the old Seminary Church in eastern Lee County. After the war he became an outstanding minister, preaching throughout Lee, Scott and Russell counties. Embittered and impoverished by the war, the people in some places were cruel and unfriendly towards Steele, but he always maintained a courage and perseverence that was almost superhuman. On some of his circuits, there was so much hostility that they locked up some of his churches and threatened to whip Steele or even kill him if he did not abandon his field. Mr. Steele's faith is singularly evident in a farewell letter which he wrote just before his death to the Reverend John Borden: "I am not afraid to die for religion is not a failure, I have tried it long enough to know. Let atheists, infidels, skeptics, and scoffers say what they will, religion is not a failure. I have tried it long and am trying it right now in death."

The Reverend Daniel H. Carr
Daniel Carr was born at Whitegate, Giles County, on the 12th of July, 1838. He became a licensed minister in August of 1866. It is said that he read the Bible through once for each year of his life, one time entirely on his knees. He underwent the dangers and the hardships of service in the Civil War and was for a time a prisoner of war. He moved to Jonesville as pastor of the Methodist-Episcopal Church, south, in 1891 and from there he went to

Pennington Gap. In his diary Mr. Carr records that at Jonesville he tore down the old parsonage and built a new one, built a new church of Pennington Gap and built a parsonage at Pennington Gap. The Reverend Mr. Carr was the grandfather of the Reverend S. E. Bratton, who was later at Pennington Gap.

Henderson Graham
Henderson Graham was a member of one of Lee County's most prominent families living in the Hickory Flats community. After service in the Civil War he became Lee County's first superintendent of schools.

Robert L. Evans
Robert L. Evans was one of the first school teachers in the mountainous section of Lee County. He taught in a one-room, log school house just off the highway from Stone Creek on the Harlan road. The school building was warmed by a wood stove, had one window in the rear of the building, and was furnished with crude wooden seats. In his funeral oration for Mr. Evans, the Reverend Tom Forrester had this to say, "He was one of the kindest and best men I have ever known, and I know how great it must be if Heaven is in that home to which he has gone."

Dr. John C. Orr
John C. Orr, D. D., was a native of the Sugar Run section of Lee County and grew up on a farm. While still a boy in his early teens, his parents moved to the community now known as Green Hill between Dryden and Woodway. Dr. Orr helped establish churches in Lee County, became president of Sullins College at Bristol, and also pastor and professor of Bible at Emory and Henry College. He was a great singer and led the song services for the Jonesville Camp Meetings and for Holston Conference. He was one of the most widely known and outstanding ministers of his day.

Professor W. S. Cox
Professor W. S. Cox was a pioneer Lee County school teacher. One of his early schools was a little three- room building in Pennington Gap.

Asa Johnson
Perhaps it is not out of order for us to take a backward look at a family who in earlier years meant so much in the building of Pennington Gap. They were the Asa Johnsons, a wealthy family from Ohio who came here about the year 1893, it was now this time that the Louisville and Nashville Railroad was being constructed through this section toward Norton. Mr. Johnson became the first depot agent and soon his daughter Myrtle succeeded him. The Johnsons built and operated the first hotel in Pennington Gap, a beautiful three-story building, and in the west wing of the ground floor they operated a general merchandise store. The hotel and store were located where the Piggly Wiggly store now stands. Every day at noon a big bell suspended on the outside of the hotel called the patrons into the dining room for the noon meal. The Johnsons also founded a laundry that stood near where the C& P Telephone building is now located. They established and operated a planing mill and a lumber shed. They were a charitable family and donated to the building of a new Methodist-Episcopal Church in east Pennington and also to other worthwhile organizations. There were five girls in the family and one boy Earl who now holds a high government position and lives in Vancouver.

Dr. Andrew Taylor Still
Dr. Andrew Taylor Still was a native Lee Countian who blazed the pages of not only Lee County but American History. He was born in an humble cottage home two miles west of Jonesville about 1818. His father was the Reverend Abram Still, one of the founders of Jonesville Camp Ground in 1810. The house in which the family lived was removed several years ago. Dr. Still was the discoverer of osteopathy, which is a system of therapy based on the belief that the body normally makes its own remedies, but can do so only if it is in the proper adjustment. After several years of effort, hardships and struggles, Dr. Still established a college of osteopathy at Kirkland, Missouri in 1892. The college has grown until at the present time there are over 13,000 licensed physicians in the United States. Dr. Still died in 1917.

Dr. W. L. Davidson
Dr. W. L. Davidson, a native of Jonesville, is listed among the world's leading scientists. He was formerly director of the B. F. Goodrich Research Laboratory at Akron, Ohio. One of his early achievements was invention of the talking golf ball. The ball was made radioactive by the use of .02 grams of radioactive zinc under the rubber cover which answers to the call of a Geiger counter by setting up a ticking instrument as one nears the ball. Dr. Davidson once stated that a similar but still harmless amount could e added to register at 100 feet.

Eli Davis
One of the first commercial enterprises in Lee County was the Silver Leaf Nursery, four miles south of Rose Hill, established by Eli Davis in the early 1800s. Tradition says that Daniel Boone had a part in naming the nursery. On his trek westward Boone sat down to rest at a spring near the place. Leaves on the silver Maple trees nearby were casting prancing shadows over the waters and Boone called the place" Silver Maple"; but Davis preferred "Silver Leaf."

Mr. Davis came to Lee County as a young man from Claiborne County, Tennessee. For a while he farmed and taught school. For a text book he used the old Blue Back Speller. He would also talk from the New Testament and tell the children Bible stories. After a long usefulness in the church, school and other public interests, he became interested in budding and grafting fruit trees by joining buds and cuttings from choice varieties to seeding root stock. This grew into a flourishing business that lasted over fifty years, giving employment to many. Mr. Davis and his wife Nancy donated the lot on which Silver Leaf Church was founded, and he was chairman of the first Board of Supervisors of Lee County, and at one time was county surveyor.

Jim Laningham
Jim Laningham was the first licensed embalmer and undertaker in Lee County. Although there were other stores in the county that sold hardware, he purchased the first real hardware store in Pennington Gap. He achieved his greatest financial success in the early years of the coal industry. He was superintendent of the Black Mountain Coal Company, held an interest in Penn-Lee Coal Company, and was its superintendent for several years. He was also consignee for the Texas Oil Company in both Lee and Wise counties.

These many business interests and activities did not supplant Jim's love for his church. He attended as long as he was physically able and supported it liberally. He and his brother Earl gave the church its lovely pipe organ and Jim later donated the carillon chimes. In the last years of his illness while bedfast he would telephone his friends and urge them to be present at the Sunday School and preaching services.

Dr. James E. Browning
Dr. James E. Browning, a pioneer resident of the Camp Ground area, was a versatile man. He was a land surveyor, operated an old-time water mill, and was a preacher and doctor of medicine. It is recorded that on one occasion he stayed for six weeks in the house of a man who was afflicted with typhoid in Harlan, Kentucky. When the man recovered from his illness, Dr. Browning charged him $5.00.

Charlie Bondurant
Charles W. Bondurant, one of the pioneer Lee County "coal kings," was born in Bristol, Tennessee, January 23, 1866, son of Jessee Green and Elizabeth Latham Bondurant.

At the early age of 9 he worked in a brick yard at Bristol at 40 cents a day and soon after this first job worked with a grocery store in Bristol, at $3.00 a week, gradually gaining the reputation for hard work and honesty. For a time he was with the R. J. Reynolds tobacco Company and still later worked with a company in Knoxville. 

In the beginning of the early coal industry, Mr. Bondurant came to Lee County opening up mines an taking out coal leases. For a time he had as a partner Mr. S. G. Hill, now living in East Pennington. After the two dissolved partnership Mr. Hill operated the Virginia Lee Coal Company. He was chairman of the Lee County School Board for several years. Mr. Bondurant got off of the train at Pennington Gap and either walked or rode horseback up through the mountain country. He would pick up the mail in Pennington Gap and deliver it to people along the way. One after another coal mine or station opened up. Bondurant influenced the building of the Mountain Branch of the L & N Railway through Pennington Gap into the coal fields; and at Darbyville the first car of coal was shipped out of the county. Mr. Bondurant and his office assistant gave the name of Saint Charles to the mining center which later became a good-sized town. Bondurant's first name being Charles, and his office assistant Saint John.

Pages 31 to 34


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