The Greenbrier Historical Society would like to congratulate the Town of Rainelle on this historic milestone! Centennial events are planned for Thursday April 25, 2013 thru Saturday April 27, 2013 in Rainelle, West Virginia.
THE BIRTH OF A COMMUNITY
On early maps, Rainelle is called the Sewell Valley, named for the first settler, Stephen Sewell, who was killed by Native Americans in the mid-1700s. The area was once a buffalo migration trail. Until the twentieth century, the Sewell Valley contained few farms and businesses. It was not until 1790 that the first grist mill was built by James Coggin along the Little Clear Creek. William McFarland built the first saw mill in 1848 on land later owned by the Meadow River Lumber Company.
The James River and Kanawha Turnpike was established in 1827 with a weekly stage line between Lewisburg and Charleston, West Virginia. Soon the trips were increased to three times per week and then daily. A few taverns and stage coach stops grew up in the Grassy Meadows district. By 1850, traffic on the James River and Kanawha Turnpike slowed as changes in transportation affected the stage coach lines. The turnpike was almost quiet at the outbreak of the Civil War when troops, both Union and Confederate, began marching through the Greenbrier Valley.
In 1906, brothers John and Thomas Raine formed the Meadow River Lumber Company and purchased 32,000 acres on the Meadow River in Greenbrier County for $960,000. The Sewell Valley Railroad was established in 1907 to connect the Meadow River Lumber Company mill site to the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad 19 miles away at Meadow Creek. Once the difficult landscape could be crossed easily via railroad, laborers were brought in to begin construction on a steam-powered triple-band mill. The first log was sawed on September 10, 1910 at 5:00pm, and in the mill’s initial year, 3 million feet of lumber were produced. Meadow River Lumber Company remained in continuous operation for the next 14 years.
With approximately 150 employees needed for full production, construction soon began on houses and living quarters to entice young men and families to move to the area. By 1912, four rows of houses extended from the main street (US Route 60) for individual families and a large boarding house was built. John Raine built a large home and moved his own family to Rainelle in 1913. The Bank of Rainelle was formed in 1911 to serve the community with 88% of stock owned by the Meadow River Lumber Company. The first store was a small commissary operated by the lumber company, but as early as 1927 the Meadow River Store was privately owned.
In February 1912, the community, with a population of 335 individuals, held an election to consider incorporation and a majority voted in favor. On April 25, 1913, a charter was issued to the town of Rainelle, named for the Raines brothers who remained active in both Meadow River and the community. J.W. Gray, one-time president of the company, was elected the first mayor and John Raine became a councilman.
That same year, the first school building, a white frame structure, was built by the Meadow River Lumber Company near the center of town. It was used as both the grade school and “pay” high school until 1923 when a separate elementary school was completed and the district formed a public high school in the building. A new brick high school was built in 1947 and continued to be used after consolidation in 1968 as the Rainelle Elementary School. Another staple of the community, the Rainelle Methodist Church was dedicated on June 28, 1914. The wood used for its construction came entirely from the Meadow River Lumber Company.
A BOOMING BUSINESS
On August 28, 1924, a devastating fire began at the Meadow River Lumber Company. As soon as the last embers were extinguished, clean-up and construction of a new mill began – it opened six short months later on March 9, 1925. Three years later, the company saw a record year for production with 2,900 acres of timber cut and 31,655,220 feet of lumber produced.
The Meadow River Lumber Company became known for their high quality hardwood floors, and even furnished the parquet flooring in the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. At the peak of production, 500 employees were needed for full production and approximately 1 million feet of finished flooring could be produced each month. In addition to flooring, Meadow River also produced interior trimming, furniture, and wooden coffins. In 1932, a shoe heel plant was established to fabricate wooden heels for women’s shoes. Between 5 million and 6 million pairs of heels were manufactured annually and shipped to shoe factories throughout the country.
As business continued to boom for the Meadow River Lumber Company in Rainelle, the community of East Rainelle was quickly becoming a commercial center for western Greenbrier County. Located across the Big Sewell Creek from Rainelle, the community of East Rainelle began to form as early as 1910 when the Levelton Land and Improvement Company bought a tract of land and began selling lots for residential and commercial use with the hope that the town would be called Levelton. The first few houses in this area were sided with slabs from a portable sawmill and the community began to be known as “Slab Town.”
With no real industry aside from the mill, development was slow. On March 15, 1921, the town of East Rainelle was incorporated with a total population of 446 people and only a few businesses – including the Hughart Brothers Store, the J.F. Jones Store, and the F.E. Flint Store.
As smaller lines branched off of the Sewell Valley Railroad toward logging sites, private coal companies were developed in the areas surrounding Rainelle. In 1921, the Imperial Smokeless Coal Company in Quinwood shipped its first load of coal down the Greenbrier and Eastern Railroad and over the Sewell Valley Railroad to Meadow Creek.
In 1923, the first movie theater built by Dick Raine and Howard Gray opened in Rainelle, a sign of increasing prosperity. With the introduction of “talkies” the theater declined to convert, and instead became the 34-Room Pioneer Hotel in 1929. The 500 seat auditorium was transformed into the hotel’s lobby, dining room and kitchen. The same year, a group of local individuals opened the Maple Oaks Hotel, but when the great depression hit the Maple Oaks was forced to close. It was purchased by Coleman Gore, a man from Virginia, who renamed it the King Coal Hotel around 1935. A large lump of coal was placed in front of the building and a golden crown set on top. Both the King Coal and the Pioneer Hotels were popular stops for salesman travelling from Charleston before Interstate 64 diverted traffic through Beckley.
By the 1960s, life in Rainelle was beginning to change. Meadow River Lumber Company’s production practices were out of date and the plant suffered from high production costs. In 1969, the plant was sold to Georgia-Pacific who closed the original mill and built a new one on the other side of town. The company-owned homes and businesses were either sold or donated back to the community. On a positive note, the two communities of East Rainelle and Rainelle merged on July 1, 1969.
Unlike most company towns, Rainelle developed into a commercial center that lasted beyond the closing of the mill. The Raines family cared not only for the company, but for the community as well – leading to businesses, recreational areas, and dedicated individuals who would ensure its survival.
In 2013, the town of Rainelle celebrates its 100th Anniversary with celebrations and events that commemorate this community’s rich history.