When the war ended, all the coal mine whistles blowed

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 2, 2014

My father was a coal miner back in the…well, he went into the coal mine when he was 12 years old, and he came out when he was 47. And he worked through the First World War, well he worked, that’s all he ever done, ’till he came to the farm. But he worked through the First World War, but he was down here in the other one.

Everything was rationed back there, just like in the Second World War. You had to take sugar, you had to take cornmeal, and a whole bunch of stuff to get other things, you know. And tea and coffee and all that was rationed. But my dad went in when he was 12 years old. ‘Cause it was a big family of them and he had to work.

Well, bread was ten cents a loaf. And when you could get a dollar—you couldn’t get a dollar hardly ever—but if you got a dollar you could buy something with it. And you can’t now but whenever you made a dollar, and you’d save to get groceries, well, then you could get stuff; but we baked our bread and churned our own butter and had our own eggs and all of that.

We grew gardens and fields, you know, with corn and stuff like that, but I’ve lived with my parents and all my life, and I’ll be 91 in March, and never forget your mother son—that’s right I don’t care—well, your dad too if he’s some people’s man. I feel sorry for the people who do get them and don’t want them and I don’t believe in that.

The teachers were strict when I was in school. If you whispered or turned in your seat a little bit, I don’t know. I can remember once, I whispered, and I remember that teacher ‘till this day. She bent my thumb back like this and whipped me here with a ruler. And you wouldn’t do that now nowadays in school, y’know.

And I was 10 years old when the First World War stopped. And we had to gather, I don’t know what this is ever for, but they had a nail cagier, they used to have nail cagier back then, and we had to save all the nutshells like hickory nuts, walnuts, or anything, but what they ever done with them, I don’t know.

Frontispiece from 'The Story of the Great War,' by Francis Joseph Reynolds et al., 1916.

Frontispiece from ‘The Story of the Great War,’ by Francis Joseph Reynolds et al., 1916.

But when the war ended, all the coal mine whistles blowed, the school bells rung, and the peoples’ wonderin’, well they hadn’t heard yet that the Armistice was signed. They was wonderin’ …and then they all celebrated. But I was ten years old when that ended.

I had an uncle over there in the war. It was rough, they was in those trenches y’know, and things. My mother made taffy and sent it to her brother for Christmas, and he got it, he said and then he sent me a piece to read in church and I knew two verses. “In Flanders field the poppies rose,” and something about crosses rose on rose, but I remember that.

When we was havin’ church I always went to church, and he sent me a doll baby from over there, but he never got back. And I had a cousin over there. They never knew what became of him.

The coal mines had to put out coal and that made the production but my dad was a coal miner and he went from loading coal cut more. And that’s what he did. When he was in the coal mine, mother would put a fire in for the winter so you could have something to bake bread with.

We always had a cow and when my dad was in the coal mines he had ten acres that he would farm. And we always had a cow and chickens and had hogs. That helped with the butchering and things and Mom always kept a garden and we used to churn butter and sell it to people and back then you’d skim the cream off the milk and save it to make butter.

People’d come and buy it for the skimmed milk, you know, and they say it’s better than the stuff you get now. Well there’d be little bits of cream floating in it. Things ain’t like they used to be. Food’s not like it used to be. Sugar, and they got so much dope in the stuff you don’t know what you’re eatin’ and what you are.

Well, my sister was older than me and she was boss, but I didn’t really get in trouble but for Halloween—we’d throw corn and we had a thing with a wooden spool and you’d wrap a string around it and I think you used rosin on it like on violins; and you’d set that on someone’s window and that would make the darndest noise.

And I’ve never trick-or-treated, and you weren’t allowed to be on the streets all hours of the night, and my parents were strict. They knew where their parents were and their parents knew where they were. Wasn’t like some of the families are today.


Emma Barnhill
Guysville, OH
b. 1908
interviewed 1998 by Jesse Brown, Countdown to Millennium Oral History Project, a cooperative effort between Ohio University and Rural Action

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A Quilt and Its Many Connections

Posted by Dave Tabler | July 1, 2014

Please welcome guest author Sherry Joines Wyatt. Wyatt is the Collections Manager at the Montgomery Museum and Lewis Miller Regional Art Center in Christiansburg, VA. The museum collects and exhibits Montgomery County history and works by regional artists, has an extensive historic photograph collection, and offers a research library.


Research often leads you in directions you never considered. In preparation for the new history exhibit (opening July 1), we began researching the quilts in the museum’s collection.

One of these, an unfinished quilt top in the Pine Burr pattern, was intriguing because it is a friendship quilt made by at least twelve women whose names or initials are on the quilt top. We wanted to learn something about the women who made the quilt top. I started with the genealogy of the donors—the Stanger-Silvers family who donated the quilt and other items in 1988.

Portion of Exhibit_MontgomeryMuseum

A color guide for historic fabrics provided an approximate late-nineteenth century date, guiding me to theorize who the quilt makers had been. I soon discovered that many of the women had lived in the Belmont community of Montgomery County. This was a good start, but what else could I learn?

Marriage records seemed to be a logical place to find out more. The marriage dates of the women could help me to discover a more accurate quilt date since friendship quilts were often done in honor of a marriage.

In fact, I learned much more. By chance, I noticed that two of the women were married by the same minister: Reverend D. Bittle Groseclose. This was a new idea – what if the women were not only neighbors or relatives, but also attended the same church.

Crazy Quilt Detail.

Crazy Quilt Detail.

Three women who I believe were connected to the quilt were married in 1890, 1892, and 1896 by Rev. Groseclose. Rev. Groseclose served as chaplain at Virginia Polytechnic Institute from 1897-1902 and organized New St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in the Glade community of Montgomery County in 1903 shortly before he moved to South Carolina.

A search of all the marriage records for 1889-1903 revealed that Rev. Groseclose had married 98 couples. These couples ran the social gamut including African Americans and whites, miners and farmers, railroad workers and physicians. I also learned that an additional twelve couples related to the quilt makers were married by Rev. Groseclose. My study of Rev. Groseclose has brought me a richer history of the lives of these women.

Pine Burr friendship quilt top donated by Stanger-Silvers family in 1988, currently on exhibit.

Pine Burr friendship quilt top donated by Stanger-Silvers family in 1988, currently on exhibit.

In the end, I have been able to hypothesize that the quilt top was made for Amanda Linkous (1864-1906), probably upon her marriage to Sylvester Stanger (1866-1942) in 1890. The identified quilt makers are thought to include: Mattie Hawley, who may have been the daughter of James and Catherine Hawley; Mary Keister, who may have been the daughter of James Ballard and Nancy Hawley Keister; Hattie B. Long who is thought to have been the daughter of William and Rebecca Long; and Luvenie (or Louvenia) Sheppard who was married to James C. Stanger in 1896 by Rev. Groseclose. The fifth name on the quilt top is partially illegible: “ ___ Linkes” [sic, Linkous]. Are you able to identify this Miss Linkous?

Join us to see the Pine Burr quilt top and many other quilts during the museum’s new exhibit: A Pieced History: Quilts in Montgomery County.

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New Exhibit at Salem Museum celebrates D-Day

Posted by Dave Tabler | June 30, 2014

A new exhibit at southwest Virginia’s Salem Museum commemorates the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day invasion with a unique look at one World War II troop transport, the USAT General George W. Goethals, and its role in that epic campaign.

Used to ferry men and equipment in the Atlantic during and after WWII, the Goethals was operated by the United States Army and for the most part carried out routine and uneventful voyages during the war. In June 1944, however, the Goethals took part in the D-Day invasion, one of the most dramatic and well-remembered moments in the war.

The USAT General George W. Goethals. Courtesy Salem Museum.

The USAT General George W. Goethals. Courtesy Salem Museum.

The June 6th D-Day landing in Normandy was one of most difficult seaborne invasions in history and contributed significantly to the Allied victory in World War II.

“The fact that much of the ship’s story survives is by sheer coincidence, and the fact that we have such significant artifacts to tell the story of the Goethals is even more of a coincidence,” said Salem Museum Director John Long. It was a series of chance encounters that made the exhibit possible.

The first coincidence: a ship flag, logs of the Goethal’s activities, and photos of the vessel were donated to the Salem Museum many years ago by the widow of an officer who served aboard the ship. Her husband had attended Roanoke College, but had no other particular connection to Salem.

However, it was only recently as Long began to research the ship and relics that the full story, and the ship’s forgotten connection to one of WWII’s most important operations, was uncovered.

Goethals Ships Flag

“The flag was described in our records simply as a navy flag, no other explanation,” said Long, who also teaches WWII history at nearby Roanoke College. “But we discovered, among other interesting data, that the Goethals was not a naval vessel; it was a ship of the United States Army. It is a little known fact that the army operated more ships in WWII than the navy did!”

More poignantly, Long noted, this ship was significant because it was involved in Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy in June, 1944, more commonly known as the D-Day invasion.

“The Goethals served in that campaign by bringing elements of the 2nd Infantry Division to Omaha Beach on June 7, the second day of the fight,” said Long. On that day, the ship’s personnel came under fire and witnessed, among other things, the sinking of the Susan B. Anthony, another troop transport in the flotilla.

The Goethals was credited with being the first troop transport to arrive at Omaha Beach (earlier troops hit the beach only from smaller landing craft).

The other coincidence leading to this exhibit involves something the crewmen of the Goethals never imagined: Youtube.

After the Salem Museum posted a video describing the ship’s flag online, Rick Pitz of San Jose, CA, contacted the Museum. His father, William Pitz, had served on the Goethals, and as a signalman likely hoisted the flags in the Museum collection. After a flurry of email correspondence, Pitz made the trek to Salem with his mother to see the Goethals collection and meet with Long. In his father’s memory, Pitz made a donation to fund the new exhibition.

“Of course, this summer marks the 70th Anniversary of D-Day,” noted Long. “It’s the right time to tell this compelling story.”

After WWII, the Goethals was tasked with ferrying European “war brides” and the children of American servicemen to the US to begin their new lives. When the maritime arm of the Army was discontinued, the ship was transferred to the Navy, continuing to serve in the Atlantic through the Korean War period. She was inactivated in 1959 and scrapped in 1971.

In another interesting local coincidence, Long discovered that the Goethals had a sister ship named for a Salem native. The USAT David C. Shanks was another army transport of the same class, serving in the Pacific Theater, and was named for the celebrated general, raised in Salem, who commanded the embarkation point in New Jersey that sent American soldiers to Europe in WWI.

The exhibit features flags from Goethals, excerpts from the ship logs, period photographs of the ship and crew, and snapshots taken during the Normandy campaign.

The exhibit, located in the Logan Library of the Salem Museum, continues through the summer. The Salem Museum is located at 801 East Main Street in Salem, VA and is open Tuesday to Friday from 10 to 4, and Saturday from 10 to 3. No admission is charged for the Museum galleries.

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Claytor Lake: what’s in a name?

Posted by Dave Tabler | June 27, 2014

It probably should have been named William Christian Lake, considering the multi-generational efforts of the Pulaski County, VA community to preserve that man’s legacy.

Instead, both the dam across the New River and the reservoir it creates were named for Graham Claytor, who just happened to be a senior executive of American Gas and Electric Company, the utility that built the dam in 1937-39. The Visitor Center at Claytor Lake State Park has an unremarkable small plaque about Claytor’s life in a tightly packed case surrounded by other plaques. It’s a facsimile of a typed page that reads like a resume. There are no portraits of Claytor in the public area of the Visitor Center, and the chief park ranger didn’t mention anything about his life to a tour group I joined up with last week.

Original caption reads: “In September 1938 this Appalachian Power dam on the New River above Radford was about a year from completion. The water it impounded became Claytor Lake. Courtesy Claytor Lake State Park/ Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

Original caption reads: “In September 1938 this Appalachian Power dam on the New River above Radford was about a year from completion. The water it impounded became Claytor Lake.” Courtesy Claytor Lake State Park/ Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

William Christian, by contrast, captured the attention of the Count Pulaski Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution at exactly the time American Gas and Electric Company began to build the dam whose reservoir would engulf Dunkard’s Bottom, the colonial era town where Christian lived for 15 years.

In 1937, the DAR contacted the Cloyd family, owners since 1808 of William Christian’s property at Dunkard’s Bottom. Before American Gas and Electric flooded the valley, the DAR dismantled the chimney rock of the house Colonel Christian built in 1771 at “the first white settlement west of New River, made in 1745 by Dunkers”, and reassembled it as a memorial to Christian, on County 611 outside of Dublin, VA.

In 1989 the Pulaski County Sesquicentennial Commission, the Pulaski County Chapter of the New River Historical Society, and the Virginia Division of State Parks hired stone artisan Samuel Lucas to move the monument and its accompanying bronze plaque to their present site in Claytor Lake State Park, prominently displayed along the road leading to the administrative offices. “This chimney,” adds a new plaque, “formerly of the home of William Christian, brother-in-law of Patrick Henry and frontier militia commander, was built about 1772 a mile downstream at a site now submerged by Claytor Lake.”

Composite portrait of Colonel William Christian by Manx artist Victor Kneale in conjunction with, in 1976, Isle of Man issuance of a commemorative stamp honoring Col. Christian; from study of early portraits of presumed Isle of Man ancestors. Now hanging in Botetourt County (VA) Historical Museum.

Composite portrait of Colonel William Christian by Manx artist Victor Kneale in conjunction with, in 1976, Isle of Man issuance of a commemorative stamp honoring Col. Christian; from study of early portraits of presumed Isle of Man ancestors. Now hanging in Botetourt County (VA) Historical Museum. Courtesy Findagrave.com

Claytor Lake State Park displays a third plaque honoring Colonel Christian in this outdoor enclave. Though it’s undated and there’s no organization taking credit for it, it appears to be about the same age & style as the 1937 DAR plaque. This plaque reads: “Christiansburg, VA was named for this Revolutionary War leader and Virginia Patriot. Chairman of the Fincastle Resolution Committee and brother-in-law of Patrick Henry.” Not remembering what the Fincastle Resolution was? Stay with me, dear reader, we’re rounding that bend in a moment!

In 2005, Appalachian Power Company, the modern day successor to American Gas and Electric Company, submitted a periodic application to renew its license to operate the Claytor Hydroelectric Project to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission/Office of Energy Projects/Division of Hydropower Licensing.

“During the pre-filing consultation process,” notes a 2010 FERC progress report, “‘scoping meetings’ were held to determine what issues should be addressed in the Environmental Assessment. Scoping meetings were held in Dublin and Pulaski, Virginia on April 5 and 6, 2006, respectively, to request comments on the project.”

The Virginia State Historic Preservation Officer for Pulaski County, Friends of the New River, the New River Land Trust, and several other groups who were consulted, recommended that the Dunkard’s Bottom site be included in the National Register of Historic Places.

And they wanted one more thing.

Sketch of William Christian home, with ruins of a Dunkard home in foreground. From "Dunkard’s Bottom: Memories On The Virginia Landscape..."

Sketch of William Christian home, with ruins of a Dunkard home in foreground. From “Dunkard’s Bottom: Memories On The Virginia Landscape…”

Appalachian Power hired two architectural historians, Heather C. Jones, M.A. of Columbia, SC, and Dr. Bruce Harvey of Syracuse, NY to prepare a historical narrative of the site. DUNKARD’S BOTTOM: MEMORIES ON THE VIRGINIA LANDSCAPE, 1745 TO 1940 —HISTORICAL INVESTIGATIONS FOR SITE 44PU164 AT THE CLAYTOR HYDROELECTRIC PROJECT —PULASKI COUNTY, VIRGINIA —FERC PROJECT NO. 739 released in July 2012.

Representing the curt passive voice of bureaucrats who’ve been pushed to spend money when they didn’t wish to, the two announce in their introduction: “As part of Appalachian Power Company’s application for a new license to operate the Claytor Hydroelectric Project near Pulaski, Virginia (FERC No. 739), cultural resource studies of the dam and surrounding area were completed…Site 44PU164 was determined eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. Because the site is being adversely affected by the operations of the Claytor Hydroelectric Project, this booklet is being produced to mitigate those adverse effects. The booklet is a compilation of historical research on the inhabitants of the area, from the 1740s through the 1930s, and is intended to make this information readily available to the public.”

Christian chimney shown in modern day photo at its Claytor Lake State Park site. Courtesy Bernard Fisher/hmdb.org

Christian chimney shown in modern day photo at Claytor Lake State Park site. Courtesy Bernard Fisher/hmdb.org

Their full 35 page report is actually well sourced and thoughtfully written for the most part. Alas, poor Graham Claytor is named nowhere in it. And the Fincastle Resolution mentioned earlier? Here’s an excerpt from the ‘Memories’ booklet that speaks to that:

As the colonial relationship with England disintegrated, in 1775 and 1776, William Christian supported the revolutionary policies that his brother-in-law, Patrick Henry, advocated. In January 1775, Christian was one of 15 men selected by the freeholders of Fincastle County, which had been created in 1772 from Botetourt County, to represent the county‘s interests.

This committee, of which Christian was elected chairman, drafted a written address to Virginia‘s delegates to the Continental Congress, which was adopted on January 20, 1775, and came to be known as the Fincastle Resolutions. Many of the signers of these resolutions, including Christian, had at least distant family ties to Patrick Henry and his influence on the document is evident.

Although not calling specifically for war, the Fincastle Resolutions clearly stated that the men ―by no means desire[d] to shake off our duty or allegiance to our lawful sovereign…but if no pacifick [sic] measures shall be proposed or adopted by Britain, and our enemies will attempt to dragoon us out of these inestimable privileges which we are entitled to…we are deliberately and resolutely determined never to surrender them to any power upon this earth, but at the expense of our lives ‖ (The Fincastle Resolutions, in Glanville 2010:102–103).

Christian‘s political activities continued in 1776, when he was part of the Convention that adopted the Constitution of Virginia and elected Patrick Henry as the first governor of the new Commonwealth.


More personal experiences from Claytor Lake State Park here.

Appalachian Power Company, Project No. 739-022-VA: online at claytorhydro.com/documents/ClaytorDraftEA.doc

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I used to flesh them by hand

Posted by Dave Tabler | June 26, 2014

“I started working at tanning when I was fifteen years old and I’m 63 now. It’s hot. Like putting your nose right on the grindstone all the time– day in and day out like taxidermy. Deer hides, deer skin products, clothes, bags, coats — we do the whole thing right from the rawhide to the finished garment. Most of it’s deerskin and some cowhide.

Kerth Snyder

Kerth Snyder

We don’t manufacture anything from cowhide. Deer hide. Everybody wants deer hide. It’s softer and has a better feel, but they’re hard contemptible things to tan. The enamel in the grain is so easily damaged it’s hard to tan them and get a glaze on the finished product. Much more so than cow. But there’s no leather that can be made to feel like deerskin. That had that soft suppleness that deerskin has.

“[We sell] locally mostly. To tourists and people who come into the store. Oh, we sell some to other craftsmen. Well, I call them hippie clothes that they make. It varies from year to year, but on an average [we process] about a thousand [hides a year]. Equivalent to a thousand deerskin. We have a fleshing machine and we have power drums. The hides are seldom ever touched by hands. The paddle wheel, all that’s necessary to . . . The broiler, hot water. There’s very little handwork to it. Splitting machines that split them to a uniform thickness after they’re tanned. This day and time, handwork don’t count. In this kind of work. There’s too much to be done.

“We just, I used to flesh them by hand, used to air ‘em by hand. I used to do everything by hand. If I counted my time at normal wages, I’d have to have two or three hundred dollars per hide to come out and make wages. I used to flesh cowhides by hand with a sharp knife about two feet long. Handles on each end. Sharpen it up just sharp as a razor and actually shave that flesh, fat and membrane from the hide . . . hide after hide I shaved that way. Now we can put them through the flesh machine that takes about 30 seconds to clean one up and do a better job than I can do it.


“The little man hasn’t much chance now. He can’t operate with the big man. No use to try. Getting worse every day. The little man. They’re going to push him out. We bought dyes from DuPont for 35 years. Until two years ago. We called them in Philadelphia and they wouldn’t sell us a thing.”


Kerth Snyder
Greenbank, WV
Snyder operated a deer hide tanning plant on State Route 28 south of Greenbank.

Source: http://www.marshall.edu/library/speccoll/cass/html/kerth_snyder.asp

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