Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

October 8, 2012

Community unified in efforts to preserve historic opera house

By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

POCAHONTAS, Va. — Coal built Pocahontas, and when most of the coal had been mined out, jobs and ultimately the companies that provided those jobs, started leaving the area. In time, the stately buildings that gave Center Street in Pocahontas its unique appearance, started to fall into disuse and ultimately, to crumble.

The sadness of watching that dramatic decline continues to spark emotions. While controversy has emerged in recent years, one iconic project has recently drawn the attention of the town government, the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors and Historic Pocahontas, bringing them together in a more harmonious way — the Pocahontas Opera House.

“It’s a magnificent building,” Pocahontas Mayor Benjamin Gibson said. “A new roof was put on it about 10 years ago, but some bricks have come lose in the front and some of the mortar needs to be replaced.”

Gibson said that Thomas Childress, the new Northern District Supervisor who was appointed to complete the unexpired term of Dr. Tom Brewster, was able to get a $5,000 grant from the county to restore the bricks.

“I spoke with the contractor (on Thursday) and he was scheduled to start working on the project (on Friday),” Gibson said. “The contractor will remove some bad bricks and replace them with new bricks in keeping with the appearance of the building.”

The Southwest Virginia Improvement Company started building structures in the town of Pocahontas in 1882, as the (then) Norfolk & Western Railway was laying track from Radford to an outcropping of the 13-foot thick coal seam in Pocahontas. The opera house came a few years later and was one of the first brick structures in the town. The late Edna Drosick, unofficial historian of Pocahontas, had an 1895 photograph of a theater marquee in front of the building that listed the great W.C. Fields as one of the players who would be performing in an acting company showing in the opera house.

“Historic Pocahontas is donating the use of its lift for the contractor to do the work,” Gibson said. “Mr. Childress has been a great help in this project. It has been a combined effort of the town, the board of supervisors and Historic Pocahontas.”

For many years, the town of Pocahontas maintained an office in the ground level of the opera house building and conducted town council meetings there. Gibson said the town moved to another location in the mid to late 1980s. He said that about eight months ago, council voted to return to the historic structure.

“Last year, we received an $800 grant to paint the voting precinct,” he said. “When we did that, we wanted to start using it again of a regular basis.”

Gibson said that the unity of the supervisors, Historic Pocahontas and the town is the most important aspect of the brick-repair project.

“It is a beautiful building,” he said. “The county is going to make it ADA accessible by putting in a ramp. That will be a big improvement too.”

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com