Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

July 12, 2014

Both Bluefields deserve praise for historic nine-decade run as coalfield communities

— Ninety years … and counting. The “birthday of the Bluefields” is that once-in-a-lifetime event that is going to take place on exactly the date to make the anniversary official. When Virginia Gov. E. Lee Trinkle and West Virginia Gov. Ephriam Morgan shook hands out at what is now the city park, it was the Virginia side making a change. Bluefield, West Virginia, organized in 1889, had already established itself as a rail hub for the burgeoning coal industry which had truly begun to blossom when the first Norfolk & Western trains had begun running from Pocahontas to Norfolk in March 1883. The N&W had brought a line over from Radford and soon the need for a service center to supply the needs for an expanding core area of coal mines was evident.

Legends persist to this day that the land prices on the Virginia side prevented (then) Graham from becoming the “big” Bluefield. Whatever the reason, the flat space below Stoney Ridge on the Mercer County side with the convenient “hump” for changing cars on the railroad was soon filled with locomotives and endless streams of black gold rolled through the Summit City.

However, it is worth noting that Graham was incorporated in 1884, five years before Bluefield. Graham had previously been known as Pin Hook, and the Graham name was given from that of Thomas Graham of Philadelphia. As has happened so often in the coalfields, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, among other places, provided the distant financial resources that made the coalfields a reality. Frederick J. Kimball, former president of the N&W, and a driving force in establishing the investment in the area that founded the coal boom and organizations like Pocahontas Land Company, was also a Philadelphia man. He, too, got his name attached to a community — this one down on the “main line” in McDowell County near Northfork and Keystone.

A movement began to have the towns join themselves together and it came to fruition in the mid-1920s. A crowd of thousands, estimated to be the biggest area gathering assembled to that time, showed up on Saturday, July 12, 1924, and witnessed not only the town name change but also a name change for Emma Smith, who become Mrs. Emma Yost that day after marrying Wingo Yost in a ceremony presided over by minister W.W. Abrams as well as the two chief executives.

The area was much different nearly a century ago with few paved roads. Near the site of the great gathering was the land (now adjacent to Stadium Drive) where the old Bluefield airport was located. There was no Bowen Field or Mitchell Stadium although both Bluefield and Graham had established high schools. Wade Field over on the avenue was the place where the big games were played.

Local businesses were the order of the day with dairies, foundries, furniture dealers, community markets, shoe cobblers, bakeries, and similar operations dominant in the municipal area. There was a movement toward consolidation, perhaps best illustrated by a fledgling college located in Tazewell County but within sight of the West Virginia side. Bluefield College, sponsored by the Baptist Church, had already chosen its new name and established a campus in 1922, just two years before the official gathering to join the two municipalities.

Not all organizations completely embraced the union. The high school remained Graham High School. When Bluefield, West Virginia’s Edwin “Bus” McNeer, and his brother James opened a pharmacy in Bluefield, Virginia, they called it New Graham. That was in 1935, a decade after the merger, and it, too, retains that name today. Many on the Virginia side still have a great fondness for the Graham name and often in recent years on student government days, the GHS students will discuss making an unofficial presentation to change Bluefield back to Graham, at least for a day.

Of course, the towns do work well together and there is not really any animosity. Within the past few years, the boards have begun more cooperative work on water and sewer issues and increased the emphasis on working as a team. The pendulum has swung financially back and forth over the years with Bluefield, West Virginia long the financial stronghold but more recently the dollars seem to be flowing toward the Virginia side town, fueled in part by the convenient location of four-lane U.S. Route 19-460 through the old Leatherwood property.

Congratulations to each city for an historic nine-decade run, and the Daily Telegraph, located within two miles of the state line, is poised to continue to bring the best of both Bluefields to all of the citizens.

Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.

 

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