A History and a Memory
By Jewell Willis
From The Heritage of Wise County and The City of Norton - Volume I
Coal barons chose the site and names for their coal towns. Construction companies were hired to build four-room houses with open front porches, and duplexes designed to shelter two families, with a continuous interior wall separating them, and a large front porch to be shared by the two families.
One such town was that of Pardee. Information in Luther Addington's The Story of Wise County, Virginia, gives the following: "One of the pioneer mines in Wise County was that of the Blackwood Coal and Coke Company, organized in 1903. The president was Calvin Pardee. The town, Blackwood, derived its name from a coal town situated near Pottsville, Pennsylvania. The operations of Mr. Pardee were not only at Blackwood but at Pardee, on Roaring Fork, and at Calvin."
Charles A. Johnson's A Narrative History of Wise County, Virginia tells us that the Pardee Post Office was established October 19, 1911, with George Kilgore as Postmaster.
The little coal mining town of Pardee was formed because of the numerous thick seams of high-grade bituminous coal which lay beneath its majestic mountains, but there was more to Pardee than the coal corporations which sold their product to run factories and electric power plants, and to provide heat in winter to millions of homes. Mrs. Orpha Buckles Warf, whose family moved to Pardee when she was five years old, is able to put into words what she and many others feel about the little town. "Pardee was the people. It was the men who mined the coal, risking their lives and breaking their backs for very little pay. Pardee was the women who ran the home and never complained when times were very hard. It was the children who were taught to believe in God and to see the good in all people, to obey their parents and respect their elders.
"The love and concern for each other through sickness and death and long strikes, drew the people together like one family. Each need was met. The sick were visited; the dead were grieved for; the widow did not go cold or hungry. Neighbors had time to talk and listen to each other."
Evidence of the close bond and lasting friendships is displayed each year during the reunions of persons who lived and worked at Pardee. Even though the town of Pardee is gone, the memory and spirit of the little town still lives in the hearts and minds of its people.
Every lump of coal which was sold from Pardee mines was painted with a thin stripe of red paint. Red Bar Coal was the trademark of all coal which came from Pardee mines.
As the coal filled the railroad car, a boom with a dozen sets of fingers painted every lump of coal. The boom which was filled with red paint automatically raised as each layer of coal filled the car.
Many coal towns had baseball teams. The uniforms worn by the members of Pardee's team bore the words: "Red Bar Coal".
Coal traveling north was often to fill lake orders, which went to New York or Michigan, across the Great Lakes and into Canada. Lake orders had to be filled before winter when the lakes were frozen over. Companies often requested that no block of coal be less than six inches across.
The company store, or, as it was most often called, the commissary, was a place where you could buy not only groceries and meat, but shoes, clothing of all kinds, material and thread, gardening tools, household articles, chicken feed, chop to feed cows and pigs; and toys at Christmas. Coal orders were paid for at the store. Each man had to buy his own powder and explosives which were ordered and paid for at the store.
The dray wagon pulled by two horses was owned and operated by the coal company to deliver groceries to the homes. At Pardee the dray was driven by Van Bloomer. At Christmas time, each miner paid a dollar for each child in the family, the company added to it and the dray wagon delivered a Christmas bag for each child.
Just inside the store was the scrip office where a miner or his wife could draw scrip on his next payday. The scrip was then used to purchase items from the store. Each miner had a scrip card with his check number on it.
Scrip was similar to the present-day credit cards. It was different in that the scrip could be used only at the company store and no other place. Many families, using scrip at the company store, spent all or nearly all that the miner earned. On payday the miner had very little or no money coming to him.
After the old store burned in 1940, a new brick store was built. The brick store was prominent in the movie, "The Coal Miner's Daughter", part of which was made in Pardee in February 1980.
Pat Short, a merchant in Norton, took orders and delivered groceries to the miners' home on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. His store was a lifeline to the miners when they were organizing the union and during a strike. He sold groceries to the miners on credit, often carrying them for months, and even years until they were able to make payment.
Some of the people associated with Pardee were: John Hopkins, Superintendent of Miners; Lucian Smith, Chief Electrician and later Superintendent; general manager of the Blackwood Coal and Coke Co., which included Pardee, Roaring Fork and Blackwood, John Oster; tipple superintendent, Henderson Hall, who had earlier helped to build the houses in Pardee; store managers, Van Buren Keys and later William MacArthur, Bookkeeper, Ralph Bellamy; and the barber, Allen Sturgill.
Some of the company doctors were Dr. J. G. Bentley, Dr. Ralph Lachausse, Dr. Jones, Dr. Hines, Dr. Willie, and Dr. Collens.
The sheriff was Bob Carter, and later Glen Skeens, Warren McNutt, was the chief of Police over the night guards for the three towns owned by the company; John Hurd was the night watchman. He had to punch a clock at certain places every four hours.
The postmasters were Gracea Reed, Vernie Bellamy, Mrs. MacArthur and Prencess Kiser.
Myrtle Reed, with her mother-in-law, ran the boarding house. John Edenas who lived at Roaring Fork carried the mail to and from Appalachia, and ran a taxi service.
The Pardee Church served all denominations except Catholic who had their own church. There was also a church for the black people.
The Church was also used for school plays, Christmas plays, cake walks and box suppers.
Some of the ministers were: Harry Fannon, Carson Barnette, Jess Smith, John Prince, Henry Collins, Gordon Freeman, and John Parker.
Revivals in the little church would sometimes be held for two or three weeks.
The Pardee School was in two buildings. The smaller building was used for the first and second grades and was built in the late thirties. The other building, the older of the two, contained two rooms and was used for the third grade or elementary school, it was necessary for students to go to Appalachia for high school. In 1931, the county began running a school bus from Pardee, Dunbar and Roaring Fork. Before that, it was necessary for those wishing to attend high school to arrange their own transportation,.
Some of the teachers at Pardee were Harry Willoughby, who was also principal, Trula Vaughn, Cleo Reach, Trilby Robinette, Izell Helton, Mrs. Taylor, Wentz Tate, Miss Dixon, Foy Meade, Marvin Wilson, Herbert Peters, Elizabeth DeBusk Whittaker, Dwight Billings, John Ossea, Mrs. Reasor, and Maude Perry.
Missionaries often were sent to Pardee. Two of them were Bunie Lacks and Evangeline Taylor. In addition to teaching Bible, they taught singing and crocheting. They held young people's meeting on Saturday afternoons and taught Bible school in the summers.