100 Years of History in Rainelle, West Virginia

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.

The Raine Brothers

The Raine Brothers

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.

Rainelle002Rainelle001

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.

The First School in Rainelle

The First School in Rainelle

Rainelle High School

Rainelle High School

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.Rainelle004

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.

Rainelle009

                           “Slab Town”

Rainelle011

             East Rainelle, West Virginia

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.

Sewell Valley001

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.

Rainelle007

                  The Pioneer Hotel

The King Coal Hotel

                    The King Coal Hotel

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.

Advertisements

15 thoughts on “100 Years of History in Rainelle, West Virginia

  1. My Mother’s first job was at a Boarding House in Rainelle, owned and operated by a Mr. & Mrs “Pop” Wells, around the early 1920’s; somewhere I have a photo of them. She left there in 1929, and never returned until the 1960’s.

  2. I cannot say how much I enjoyed reading this article on Rainelle. My father’s family has a long history in Rainelle and even though I was not born there; to me it is still home.

  3. This article is great! I would love to see pictures of the furniture they made. I have a table stamped “property of Meadow River Lumber company” I would love to see others.

    • Thank you. There is certainly Meadow River Lumber Company furniture throughout the Greenbrier Valley, but GHS does not have any to share photos of. We welcome anyone else to share photos of Meadow River Furniture with us!

  4. Thanks so much for the post! My dad’s family was in Rainelle before it was Ranelle- (1800’s)
    Lived on Craig Road (old Dennis Route) I went to 3rd grade at Rainelle elementary in the early 1970’s… great place to grow up. I hope the town survives the next 100 years!

  5. My father, Russell Lefler was the first child born in Rainelle. He died diagonally across from the house in which he was born. He worked at the Mill from 17 until the mill closed at which time he was foreman of the shoe heel department. He designed a lot of the shoe heels that were made there. I was fortunate enough to purchase the desk he made and used in his office when the mill closed.

  6. My great grandfather was John Raine. I have grown up with many stories of Rainelle from my grandfather Edward H. Raine. It fills my heart with pride that the Town of Rainelle has so much pride in their history. I still come across some photos of my Raine family on the internet. My mother was a Raine and my Father is a Steinbrenner, but I feel very much apart of both as I am as much a Raine as I am a Steinbrenner.

    Thank you for posting your memories of Rainelle.

  7. I remember Russ Lefler as he was my mother, Willie Fergusons boss in the shoe hill. I attended Rainelle Elementary and graduated from Rainele HS in 1957. Moved to Texas in Sept. 1957 when I married. I loved growing up in Rainelle.

  8. Does anyone have or know anything about Davidson furniture store that was in east rainelle i have some furniture from there and would like to know about how old they are

  9. My grandfather, Delos Frashure, worked for the mill and lived in one of the family homes with 3 of his kids after his first wife passed away

  10. I just got this posting two days ago from my sister, Barbara (Harford) Wilson. This is wonderful!! I wanted to know if anyone could tell me what year the photo was taken of East Rainelle. I can see the house I was born in in the photo and the empty lot where my Dad and Mom, Delvin and Leta Mae Harford, built the house where Barbara was born and we were raised. Also, I was wondering who was flying the airplane and who took the photo of East Rainelle. Thank you and God Bless you!!!

      • I’m Barbara Harford Wilson. I was born in 1956 so the photo had to be taken a few years before that since our house wasn’t built yet. It would eventually be in the lower right hand corner where the empty lot is.

Tell Us What You Think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s