Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

September 30, 2012

Mercer Farm Bureau transforms railroad history into farm museum

PRINCETON — In 1909, when Henry Huttleston Rogers built the Virginian Railway from Sewall’s Point, Virginia on the Atlantic coast into the coalfields of southern West Virginia, he selected Princeton to serve as the car and locomotive shop area for the railroad.

After the Virginian merged with the (then) Norfolk & Western Railway (now Norfolk Southern), in 1959, several of the structures that the Virginian built in Princeton became unused. Among them, was the old Virginian’s Railway Express office that was standing on NS property and needed to be moved as the city of Princeton prepared to build a replica of the old passenger station.

Prior to the ribbon-cutting ceremony at noon on Saturday, Frank Nash of the Mercer County Farm Bureau explained that the building that now houses the Mercer County Agriculture Museum, “is the only wooden structure remaining from the Virginian Railway” in Princeton.

A crowd of about 75 people gathered for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the museum that has been many years in the making. Nash said that Doug Freeman, former Princeton city manager, spoke to him about the availability of the Railway express structure. Nash said that it has “always been a dream of mine,” to establish an agricultural museum in Mercer County to salute the county’s rich farming tradition.

Nash said that the city paid the expense of moving the structure to its present location beside the Princeton Railroad Museum. He added that the city also owns the property where the museum is located, but pointed out: “We do carry good insurance on it,” he said.

The city continued to help the agricultural museum effort, along with Ralph Repass who, along with his son, helped with the building, Bill Calfee of American Block who supplied the blocks for the foundation; Jack Fredeking and Joe Stafford who supplied the workers to lay the block; the Mercer County Commission including Joe Coburn, Karen Disibbio and John Anderson who provided funds for the flooring, the Knights of Columbus and the late Reed Wheby who supplied lighting and electrical help; Whitey Beckett, Paul Canterbury and other volunteers who helped the Farm Bureau.

“We really had a lot of people who helped,” Nash said. “We have over 350 artifacts in here. The main thing is that we preserved this building.”

After the ribbon-cutting, most of the people who attended the event toured the museum, and appeared to be captivated by the broad range on farm implements on display.

“I liked working horses when I grew up,” Luieco Lawson, 92, said as he and two of his Gardner Road neighbors, Freeman McKinney and Robert “Sonny” McMillan toured the museum with him. “I farmed in the day, and worked in the mines at night.”

Lawson grew up on a farm at Windmill Gap, and started out working in the mines at Crumpler. He said it was challenging to work a team of horses on the steep mountains of Mercer County. “Where I live now, I have some level land,” he said.

“One of the most amazing things is that he had a real nice garden on his property until just recently,” McMillan said.

Nash said he hoped that the presence of the museum will bring forward more stories of Mercer County’s farming past.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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