It will become immediately evident to the reader that this publication is not the work of a professional writer who possesses a magnificent manner of expression. It is, in fact, the meager efforts of local people to present a brief history of the town we share. It is an attempt to give the reader a greater knowledge of the events which have shaped our community, and appreciation for the people who have made their contributions, however great or small it may be.
To present a complete, authentic, and detailed history of Galax would require talented writers and much more time than we have been allotted. It is the fondest wish of the Historical Committee that our efforts will stimulate some individual or organization to promote such a history of Galax.
No one or no event has been intentionally excluded from our story of Galax.
Limited space, limited time for research and limited information has determined the contents of our publication.
We are indebted to many people who have been so helpful in supplying us with pictures, stories and information. Without the assistance of Munsey Poole this publication would not have been possible. Much of what has been written here was "borrowed" from his "scrapbook," a series of newspaper articles about the early history of Galax, which he wrote in 1966. Mr. Dan Waugh, Mr. Fred Roberts, Mr. Dan Roberts, Dr. and Mrs. Paul Kapp, Mrs. Joe Nick Felts, Mrs. Elbert Lundy, Mr. Dan Anderson, Mr. Ned Anderson, Mr. Larry Chambers, Mr. Winfred Boaz, Mr. Glenn Pless, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Jones, Mr. and Mrs. Dick Akers, Mr. Duane Ward, Sr., Mrs. Harry Spraker, Mr. Joe Crockett, Mr. Tom Triplett, Mrs. Rachel Gentry and Mrs. Tommy Cole have been extremely helpful. Mr. Gilbert Bryan and Mrs. Oleta Goins provided the Black History of our story. Ms. Ginger Correll wrote the article on our musical heritage. We are extremely grateful to Mr. Pless who has worked so diligently and who has offered so much encouragement when we felt burdened with an impossible task. Mrs. Bill Brown has been a faithful co-worker who has typed pages of manuscripts, corrected errors, rewritten copy and spent hours helping research material.
. We ask that you judge our publication not on its literary merit, but on the information it contains in picture and story.
Chairman, Historical Committee
Seventy-five years is but a moment in the span of history, but for Galax it has
meant the growth from a few scattered farms, interspersed with brush fields,
woodlands, bogs, and swamps, into a thriving and progressive industrial city. Three
quarters of a century has meant a growth in population from only a few families to
a small city inhabited by slightly over six thousand people. Another forty thousand
people reside in the adjoining counties of Grayson and Carroll, within easy driving
distance to Galax for shopping at modern stores, or for employment at diverse
.businesses and industries.
The history of Galax cannot be complete without the inclusion of the histories of
Carroll and Grayson counties, for the city lies astride the line dividing the two
counties. Political divisions separate the city and the counties from each other,
but, in reality, the growth and prosperity of the entire area has been due to the
close relationship of the counties and the city. Perhaps this is why the area is
called the "Twin Counties."
Although the history of Galax is synonymous with that of the counties, time and
space will permit only a portion of that history to be included in this
publication. Reliable information about the pioneer settlers who moved into the New
River Valley is scarce. It is known that among them were the Quakers who came from
North Carolina after the Battle of Alamance in 1771. The Scotch-Irish immigrants
also pushed westward from the Virginia Tidewater and settled in the highlands, an
area which reminded them of their native homeland. Many early settlers were also of
One of the early settlers was Major George Currin, great-grandfather of Dan and
Fred Roberts, who had migrated from North Carolina. He had purchased a large tract
of land from the old Buchannon survey, which included all the land where the City
of Galax is now located.
Over a hundred years before the town of Galax was founded, a settlement was
established on Chestnut Creek in the region now known as Cliffview. This village
was called Blair in honor of John Blair, who built a forge there about 1770. Blair
had developed into a small but flourishing trading center by 1900. Advertisements
in the Blair Enterprise of May 25, 1904, indicated some of the business
establishments to be as follows: Blair Hardware Co.; J. B. Waugh and Son; Sunny
Side Inn, Mrs. J. H. Kapp, proprietor (opposite N & W depot); Crystal Drug Co.
The Cliffview community was dominated by the stately mansion "Cliffside" built in
1902 by State Senator Thomas L. Felts for his wife, Ethel Houseman Felts. At one
time the little community was called Ethelfelts in her honor. "Cliffside" is now
the home of Mr. and Mrs. Hubert S. White, Jr.
The community of Blair was not geographically located to allow for future expansion
and growth, so when the N & W Railroad agreed to extend its line to the new town of
Galax, most of the Blair businessmen followed.
In 1792 Grayson County was formed from Wythe, and Oldtown became the first county
seat. Flower Swift and Clark Nuckolls " donated land for the first county
courthouse, a post office and a jail. The first Grayson County Courthouse was built
at Oldtown in 1794. A second courthouse which is still standing was built in 1838.
About 1850, after the formation of Carroll County, the county seat of Grayson was
moved to Independence.
As the twentieth century began, the area that is now Galax was still farm land. The
William Roberts place was just above Stuart Drive and just west of the N & W
railroad crossing. The Tom Roberts (Fred and Dan Roberts' father) house stood about
where Dr. Cox's house now stands on Stuart Drive. A little farther west in the "big
curve" of Stuart Drive was the Hugh Roberts' house.
This building, which is still standing, is the large white house near the Vaughan
Memorial Library. The A. C. Anderson and the A. C. Painter houses located just off
Anderson Street, both still serve as residences for members of the families. John
Barger Caldwell, father of Dr. J. K. Caldwell lived about where the A. B. Todd
residence on East Stuart Drive is now located. About 1870, for the sum of
$1,500.00, he acquired several acres of land on the east side of Chestnut Creek
(including the land where the present Twin County Community Hospital is located).
Mr. Caldwell's farm was bordered on the south by the E. C. Givens' farm in the
vicinity of the present Burlington Mills location. Much of this land on both sides
of Chestnut Creek was marsh land and had to be drained.
A TOWN IS BORN
Just before the turn of the century, a Grayson County man, J. P. Carico, persuaded
Washington Mills to build a dam and locate a plant on the New River. The milltown
which sprang up was called Fries. Mr. Carico then conceived the idea that the N & W
Railroad should extend its line from Blair into a new town yet to be built a few
miles up Chestnut Creek. He joined with Capt John B. Waugh, R. E. Jones, and a few
other investors in forming a real estate company to acquire the site for the new
town. After about 375 acres of land west of Chestnut Creek was purchased two
engineers, named Arnold and DeMott from Lynchburg, were employed to lay the land
off into streets and lots. In the fall of 1903 the first lots were auctioned off.
The price of the lots ranged from $25.00 for a 50 foot lot on a side street to
$250.00 for a corner lot on Main Street. It is interesting to note that what is now
Main Street was first called Mt. Airy Street and that Grayson Street was thought of
as Main Street or Depot Street.
Fred Roberts recalls that Mr. A. C. Painter bought all the lots on both sides of
Center Street from where the Methodist Church is now located to Main Street for
$25.00 each. Dan Waugh remembers that his father, Capt. John Waugh, bought the
corner lot at Grayson and Main, where he later built his store, for $250.00.
Dan Roberts tells the story of how John Caldwell, who had a reputation for plowing
the straightest furrow of anyone around, brought a bull-tongued plow and plowed a
furrow from stake to stake to layoff the streets.
No one seems to be certain why the young town was first called Bonaparte, but the
name lasted only a short time. Soon after the railroad came in 1904, the name was
changed to Galax, after the beautiful green leaves used in floral arrangements,
which grew in abundance in the area. J. W. Cook, an official of the railroad is
said to have suggested calling the town Galax. Another story goes that Mrs.
Kirsley, who sold insurance in the area, suggested the name Galax because she
thought the leaves were so beautiful. At any rate, Galax leaves were the first
express freight to be shipped over the new line. Both the railroad station and the
town were known as Galax.
In 1906 a charter was formed, a mayor-council form of government was established
and Galax was incorporated into a town. By then practically all of the businesses
had left Blair and Oldtown and established themselves in Galax.
Ben F. Calloway, who had come to Galax from Independence to serve as secretary for
the land development company, was selected to be the town's first mayor. He
assisted in drawing up the town charter and went to Richmond to present it to the
General Assembly for approval.
The young town literally sprang up over night. Some of the pioneers in the business
life of the new town are pictured.
Marvin, Monroe, and Frazier Ward operated a mill on the Pipers Gap Road about
where' the Miro Cockerham residence is now located. In 1903 the Ward Brothers
bought a lot on Main Street and shortly thereafter constructed a two-story frame
building. The lower floor was "gents" furnishings and general merchandise. On the
second floor Monroe Ward operated the first movingpicture theater in Galax. Their
business had been in operation only a short time when this building and many of the
other buildings on the east side of Main Street, in the block between Grayson and
Center Streets, were destroyed by fire. A bucket brigade from the town's two wells
the Texaco station is now) succeeded in saving the west side of Main Street ..
Galax quickly became an important shipping point for the N & W Railroad. The dirt
(often very muddy) streets of the little town usually bustled with a variety of
activities. Wagons pulled by oxen and loaded with cross- ties or tan bark could be
seen headed for the lumber yards; herds of cattle, sheep, or even turkeys being
driven by herd dogs, accompanied by their masters on horseback, was not uncommon.
Barrels of apples, berries, chestnuts, and chinquapins filled the depot platform,
waiting to be shipped to northern markets. Much of the farmers' produce was taken
to the old cannery, located about where Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Co. now stands.
Fred Roberts remembered that he was fired from his job in the cannery for cutting
green beans with his pocket knife rather than breaking them as he had been
instructed to do.
Manufacturing began in the town soon after the arrival of the railroad when Capt.
John Waugh, S. E. Wilkerson and Creed Hanks established a furniture factory with
the idea of exporting the plentiful forest resources as finished products instead
of rough lumber. Their factory was located about where the Wonderknit Corporation
now stands on Virginia Street. Fire destroyed the young business in 1907 and it was
Other early industries of this town were as follows: a handle factory, operated by
W. P. Swartz for the manufacture of ax handles and pick handles; a chair factory,
for the manufacture of split-bottom chairs; a flour mill, established by Charles
Bryant and E. F. Perkins. This business later came to be known as Adams Flour Mill
and was operated by Fred Adams. The business is no longer in operation, but the
building still stands on E. Oldtown Street.
Soon after the town's beginning, the "Great Galax Fair" was originated. J. P.
Carico and T. L. Felts promoted the idea and a group of about 90 citizens formed
the Galax Fair Association. Shares of stock were sold at $100.00 per share and no
person was permitted to own more than one share. A 22-acre tract of land, now Felts
Park, was purchased; a race track, grandstand, and exhibit building was constructed
and the "Fairgrounds" was ready for business.
Fair Week was truly the social highlight of the year. Visitors from all over
flooded the little town as the whole family came with team and covered wagon to
camp on the grounds, on the streets, or anywhere else they could find space.
Townspeople opened their doors to friends, relatives, and visitors as all enjoyed a
few days of fun and frolic.
The arrival of the train when the Fair moved in was quite a spectacle. Practically
everyone went down to the depot to see the midway shows, rides, and wild animals be
unloaded from the train and moved to the Fairgrounds.
It was a time when proud farmers could exhibit their produce and fine livestock.
Housewives displayed their most beautiful articles of sewing, knitting, and
quilting. Tasty pies, cakes, cookies, jellies, and preServes were also part of the
exhibit. In addition to the midway shows and exhibits, the fair goers enjoyed
harness races, fireworks, and "free acts". But mostly, people enjoyed associating
with each other and visiting friends they may not have seen or heard from since the
fair the previous year.
During the winter months, the young town was practically isolated. The railroad
served as its link to the outside world. Mail and passenger service to Roanoke was
provided on a daily basis. It was possible to leave Galax at noon and arrive in
Roanoke about 6 P.M. Anyone wanting to make the round trip could do so by leaving
Roanoke about 4 A.M., and if the train made connections in Pulaski, could arrive in
Galax around noon. Roads leading into Galax were hardly more than trails and were
impossible driving most of the winter months.
An attempt was made by the late R. A. Anderson to do something about the town's
isolated situation, through the medium of Blue Ridge Bus Lines, which he operated
to Mt. Airy, N. C. and Pulaski, Va. This materially helped the mail service. Bad
roads were, however, such a constant drag on bus equipment that operating losses
wrecked the company before the routes were developed sufficiently to make
economical operation of the buses possible.
The Good Spur Gap Road crossed the mountain near the present Fancy Gap Methodist
Church, extended north by the county farm in Carroll County and connected with a
road leading east and west at Fort Chiswell. A little later a road branching off
the Good Spur road at the county home in Carroll County was built. This road passed
through Galax along what is now Stuart Drive and extended on through Grayson County
to the Washington County line. Another road crossed the mountain, followed the
Piper's Gap Road, crossed Chestnut Creek about where Webb Furniture Plant No. 2 now
stands, ran north by the old filtering plant, turned west about where Long Street
is now, passed by the Anderson farm and extended to Oldtown. There were no bridges
across Chestnut Creek and the creek had to be "forded." Swinging bridges were built
for pedestrian traffic. When the creek was "up," travelers were forced to camp on
the east side until the waters receded.
About the first thing an old timer recalls of early Galax history was the muddy
streets and roads. Many of them will tell you of seeing oxen mired to their bellies
in the mud on Main Street. Early residents tried to top each other's tall tales
about the town's mighty mudholes. Perhaps the topper is the tale told by Harry
Early about a man, while walking down Main Street, saw a hat in a mud hole. When he
picked the hat up, he discovered a man underneath. When the man was asked if he
needed help, he replied, "No thanks, I'm all right, I'm on horseback."
Galax residents continued to fight the mud until about 1923 when the town got its
first paved street. Senator T. L. Felts had been instrumental in securing passage
of the Robertson act which aided Carroll County to build a paved highway from
Hillsville, to Galax.
Pictures show that Galax had telephones early in its history, but we have been
unable to determine how this service was provided.
An early attempt to provide electricity to the town was made when a citizen's group
headed by W.I. Harp undertook to build a dam and construct a municipal light plant
on Chestnut Creek. High costs and construction set-backs when the creek flooded
discouraged the promoters and the project was abandoned. Appalachian Power Company
began supplying electricity to Galax March 4, 1926.
Industry and Manufacturing
Galax experienced no large scale industrial growth until after World War I. Soon
after the war, Mayor J. F. Vass and other civic leaders met with John D. Bassett,
head of Virginia's foremost furniture empire, and Bunyan C. Vaughan, also a noted
industrialist. The result of that meeting was the founding of Vaughan-Bassett
Furniture Company. B. C. Vaughan came to Galax as president of the newly formed
company, and his brother, Taylor. G. Vaughan, was placed in charge of sales. E. B.
Lennox was production manager and Thomas B. Stanley, who served as Governor of
Virginia 1954-58, was secretary-treasurer. The new business, which began production
in 1919, prospered and before long, T. G. Vaughan proposed the organization of a
new furniture factory. Galax citizens subscribed to stock, and in 1923 Vaughan
Furniture Company became a reality.
J. V. Webb approached Galax businessmen about forming yet another furniture plant.
The group made a direct donation of $5,000.00 toward the enterprise and in 1924
Webb Furniture Company began business. Duane Ward, Sr. has been associated with the
company for a number of years, serving as president of the company and Chairman of
the Board of Directors.
The textile industry began in Galax when a Mr. Robbins from High Point, N. C.,
agreed to start a hosiery mill here if Galax citizens would purchase stock equal to
1/3 the initial investment. The money was "dug up" and J. T. Pollard was sent here
to organize The Galax Knitting Company. The plant which began operation in 1924 was
located where The Wonderknit Corporation is today.
Galax Furniture Company, Inc. was established in 1925 by C. L. Smith. In 1943 John
Messer, Sr. gained control of the company and about 1960 it was merged with Webb
John Messer, Sr. could be considered the Horatio Alger of the Galax story. He came
to town in 1927 with a shine on his pants and a gleam in his eye. Within
twenty-five years he parlayed his meager assets into the controlling interest in
two mirror plants and three furniture plants. The unofficial conglomeration was
known as Messer Industries. Messer's inauspicious beginning was a shack behind Webb
Furniture Company where he started a small mirror factory. This soon expanded into
The Galax Mirror Company with its products marketed all over the United States.
This business is now called The New Galax Mirror Company, and Webb Furniture
Company is a division of The Congoleum Company.
The Carnation Company, processor and distributor of evaporated milk, began
production May 10, 1937. Formal opening ceremonies were held July 23, 1937 in Felts
Park on "Cow Day," and Governor George C. Perry delivered the principal address.
Burlington Industries opened the Galax Weaving Plant in 1937. The plant has
expanded substantially and today it is one of the city's larger industrial firms.
Robert Sills is the present plant manager
Sawyers Furniture Company, manufacturers of upholstered furniture, was established
in 1945 by C. F. Sawyer. Hubert H. Watson is president and general manager of the
Henry L. Harris, a textile graduate of North Carolina State University, joined the
staff of Galax Knitting Company in 1945, and he and C. W. Marshall formed the
HarrisMarshall Hosiery Mills, Inc.
About 1946 Ross Penry came to Galax from Martinsville. He joined Hubert White,
Waldo Price, and others in forming The Old Dominion Knitting Company. The business
has developed into the present day Penry Manufacturing Company.
Dixon Lumber Company, Inc. originated from a saw mill business in the early 1920's
by S. R. Dixon, with approximately six men. Later in 1938 the name was changed to
S. R. Dixon Lumber Shop with sawmill and planing mill. In 1941, the name was
changed to Dixon Lumber and moved to its present location, with sawmill and planing
mill and retail lumber supply. In 1945, it began the manufacture of hardwood
flooring, and in 1948 began manufacture of drawer sides which has expanded into its
present dimension plant. In 1949, it was incorporated into Dixon Lumber Co., Inc.
as it now operates with 250 employees.
Mr. S. R. Dixon, the founder and president, passed away in 1964. Upon his death,
his son, Glenn W. Dixon, who had worked alongside his father and other employees
from 1934, became president. The policy has been one of promoting and protecting
the welfare of the employees in the best interest of the company. This assures a
sound business which will provide the highest degree of security for all.
The Wonderknit Corporation, established in 1952 for the manufacture of knitwear, is
one of the city's largest industries.
Hanes Knitting Company employs more people than any other industry in the city.
Galax citizens raised over a million dollars in just thirty days to provide the
local effort needed to convince the Hanes Corporation to locate a plant here in
Bluefield Church Furniture Company was established in 1956 on Oldtown Street in the
old Galax Chair Co. It later moved to its present location on Shaw Street.
American Mirror Company, Inc. broke ground in MAy of 1957 and began operation the
latter part of that same year. Full production was begun in 1958
Square Building Supply, Inc. opened for business in January, 1962, as Square
Wholesale Building and Supply Corporation. The manager at that time was Boddie
Melton, who, except for one year when Bill Clary took over, was manager until April
of 1967 when the present manager, Don Lyon, took over. In 1963 the business name
was changed to Square Building Supply, Inc. The business has always been located at
its present location on Railroad Avenue.
Galax Chair Company, Inc. founded by Bill Woods in 1958, is now a subsidiary of
Vaughan Furniture Company.
Joines Body Shop, makers of aluminum truck covers, was started in 1959 by "Whitey"
Chestnut Creek Corporation, manufacturers of upholstered furniture, was established
in 1971. John Nunn operates this recent addition to Galax industry.
B. C. Vaughan Furniture, established in 1974, is owned and operated by George and
John Vaughan. The plant is located near Chestnut Creek just north of Cliffview.
This rapid industrial development has brought greater employment and prosperity
to the entire area. New retail business have expanded. Shopping Centers have sprung
up and the small rural town has grown into a thriving little city.
Much of the industrial growth of the city could not have taken place without the
help of the Galax Development Corporation. This corporation was chartered in 1957.
Harvey M. Todd was Secretary for many years, Warren B. Giersch, Vice-President, and
A. Glenn Pless, President. This Corporation is still in existence and Charles Waugh
is now President. Directors of Galax Development Corporation are: Roland Alderman,
Walter G. Andrews, Dr. R. C. Bowie, George Ben Davis, Jack Guynn, Gene T. McKnight,
A. Glenn Pless, Robert T. Porter, John W. Sutherland, Dan B. Waugh, Charles Waugh,
Robert Webb, H. S. White, Jr. This corporation, together with the Small Business
Association, helped to finance the Bluefield Church Furniture Company building,
Penry Manufacturing Company (original building and the addition later). Sawyers
Furniture Company, which was rebuilt after a fire destroyed it, and the Wonderknit
The Hanes Company came to Galax in 1955 and began operations in the Albert Eads
building on South Main Street across from White Chevrolet Company. In 1960 they
wanted to expand. They made the town a proposition that, if the town would raise
$1,000,000.00 by subscription, they would build a large plant in Galax. To handle
this venture, the Carroll-Grayson Development Corporation was chartered and raised
more than the amount specified, within a period of 30 days. They now have a plant
consisting of 10 acres, all on one floor. Raw cotton goes in one side of the mill
and comes out a boxed product on the other side. Hanes paid back the note holders
long before the notes were due.
Galax's industry did not just happen. It is here because of interested citizens who
were willing to give of their time and money, even from the very beginnings of
w. K. Early and Company, Inc., one of the oldest businesses in Galax, began
operation in 1906. Over the years it has grown until it is one of the largest
lumber and building material companies between Roanoke and Bristol. It is one of
the few businesses that is still owned and operated by the family of the original
Blue Ridge Transfer Co., Inc. was organized in 1932, by J. W. Stanley, for the
primary purpose of serving the furniture industry in Galax and Virginia. It now
operates in nineteen states and the District of Columbia, in the movement of
general freight from the principal cities of the east and from Atlanta, Georgia, to
all Southwest Virginia. The company maintains other terminals in Stanleytown and
Roanoke, Virginia. J. W. Stanley is president and Jack Stanley, Jr., Secretary and
Assistant General Manager.
GOVERNMENT, SCHOOLS and CHURCHES
The town of Galax was incorporated in 1906 with a mayor-council form of government.
Ben F. Calloway was the first mayor and the first council was: Elbert F. Wright,
Dr. J. K. Caldwell, E. C. Williams, M. L. Bishop, J. H. Kapp, and Dr. J. W. Bolen.
The mayors following Mr. Calloway in succession were as follows: J. W. Stamey
(1908), J. F. Vass (1909), R. E. Jones (1911), J. F. Vass (1912), D. A. Robertson
(1920), DaCosta Woltz (1930), J. P. Carrico (1932), B. D. Beamer (1934), W. G.
Andrews (1941), R. L. Nelson (1942), Ross P. Penry (1946), Dr. R. C. Bowie (1950),
B. D. Beamer (1952), Dan B. Vaughan (1954), McCamant Higgins (1956), Jack Guynn
(1968) and John Vaughan (1974).
In 1922 the charter was changed to a Town Manager form of government and I.G. Vass
became the first Town Manager. Other Town Managers have been Harvey M. Todd, Orrin
Rhudy, W. G. Andrews, and Harold Snead who presently serves in this capacity.
The town became a second class city in 1954 with its own government independent of
the county. Councilmen select one of their own members to act as mayor. The Mayor
has no power other than presiding over council, although he does have a voting
privilege on the council. The present City Council consists of: John Vaughan,
Mayor; S. J. Johnson, Vice-Mayor; Horace Cochran, Gene T. McKnight, Jim Ballard, L.
A. Kyle, and Glenn Wilson. Newly elected Councilmen scheduled to take office July
1, 1976 are Michael Coomes, Herb Walker, and Ed Diamond.
Citizens of Galax who have served in the House of Delegates of the General Assembly
of Virginia are as follows: Thomas L. Felts, 1926-28; Miss Vinnie Caldwell,
1928-30; H. Prince Burnett, 1937-39; Dr. Robert C. Bowie, 1943-45; Floyd Williams,
1949-51; Dr. Virgil J. Cox, 1962-64.
Citizens of Galax who have served in the Senate of the General Assembly of Virginia
are as follows: Thomas L. Felts, 1928-32; Taylor G. Vaughan, 1932-40; Bunyan C.
Vaughan, 1940-42; Floyd S. Landreth, 1944- 46.
Installation of the town's first water and sewer systems occurred in 1916. A spring
and a well on the Capt. John B. Waugh property, now the home of Mrs. Charles Waugh,
served as the source of supply for the town's first water system. The first water
reservoir, which still serves the city, was constructed on the nearby hill. A
filtering plant, located near the city warehouse, to purify the water was
constructed at the same time. Beginning in 1949, under the direction of Town
Manager W. G. Andrews, plans were made for modernizing the sewage and water plants.
A new sewage treatment plant was completed in 1955, and a new water plant, which
increased water storage capacity from 300,000 gallons to 1,500,000 gallons, was
finished in 1956.
At present, the Galax City Police Department consists of Chief Nelson Lineberry, 16
male officers, 1 female officer, and 1 female office clerk, who is also an officer,
and 4 dispatchers.
Galax's first, jail was a "little frame shack" that stood where the Bank of
Virginia now stands. When the prisoners "sobered up," they usually kicked off a
couple of boards and went home.
Some of Galax's former police chiefs were as follows: C. L. Dotson, Troy Higgins,
Walt Anderson, Posey Martin, Joe Snow, Jack Higgins, Hugh Turner, Harold Williams,
Brad Dickens, and Harold Detter.
Chief Posey Martin is the only town or city policeman to be killed in the line of
duty. This occurred in 1935 when a prisoner, Howard Delp, stabbed officer Frank
Dotson and Chief Martin while escaping from jail. Officer Dotson was severely
wounded, but Chief Martin was unable to survive his injuries. The manhunt which
followed was the largest this area had seen since the Allen Tragedy in Carroll
County. Chief Martin's son, Rayburn, is presently employed by Burlington
In 1925 McGuffy Coomes (father of the late Robert L. Coomes), a Federal Revenue
Agent, was slain while manning a roadblock in an attempt to capture "moonshiners" hauling illegal whiskey. The incident took place on Stuart Drive in a barn behind what is now Martins Cleaners.
In the early 1900's the first fire fighting in Galax was done by "bucket brigade." Church bells and factory whistles were used to sound the alarm and everyone grabbed a bucket and turned out to assist. The first town-owned equipment consisted of two carts with hose reels, which required 5 men to pull the hose and 5 men to hold each cart.
The Galax Volunteer Fire Dept
In the early 1900's the first fire fighting in Galax was done by "bucket brigade." Church bells and factory whistles were used to sound the alarm and everyone grabbed a bucket and turned out to assist. The first town-owned equipment consisted of two carts with hose reels, which required 5 men to pull the hose and 5 men to hold each cart.
The first Volunteer Fire Department was established in 1912. The first fire truck was a Model T. Ford, customized by firemen to haul hose and ladder. The first Fire House was located on Center Street where the City Council Chambers are now located
The present Fire House is on West Grayson Street and is known as the Walter G. Andrews Municipal Fire Station, named for the former Town Manager who devoted several years to serving the town and city. The station was built with the future in mind. There is suitable office space and living quarters if the City ever needs a paid Fire Department. The department is now adequately equipped with a 50 ft. ladder truck, 3 pumper trucks, a tank truck, a utility truck, a Panel reserve truck, an ambulance, a pick-up truck, and a brush truck.
The 36 members of the Galax Volunteer Fire Department are as follows: Joe Crockett, Chief; Richard Dalton, Assistant Chief; F. H. Anderson, Capt. Co. No.1; Mac Higgins, Lt. Co. No.1; Bill Morton, SecretaryTreasurer; Carroll Clark, Chaplain; Harvey Hennis, Capt. Co. No.2; Charles Burnette, Lt. Co. No.2; R. V. Morris, Trustee; Bays Roberts, Trustee; James Talley, Trustee; Winfred Boaz, John Bryant, Clarence Burnette, Duard Burnette, Mike Coomes, Ulyss Cruise, Larry Diamond, Royce Easter, Ralph Gatchel, Bill Gurley, Roy Hale, B. C. Hankley, James Holderfield, Mike Holderfield, Jeff Morris, Robert Morris, Jr., Gale Perry, Bob Reavis, Willie Richardson, Ralph Sexton, Bolen Shepherd, Dewey Sturdivant, G. W. Todd, L. M. Todd" Glenn Wilson and Bud Wright.
The first school in Galax was in 1904 over what is now Jones Furniture Store, At that time the first floor was a grocery store and the past office, both operated by R. E. Jones, the town's first postmaster. Mr. Jones also operated an undertaking business on the second floor and the little school was in the back of the building, Mrs. Mike Nuckolls was the teacher and the students were Platt Harpe, Lela Beasley Jones, Callie Beasley Spraker, Grace Bishop Roberts, Dan Roberts, Fred Roberts, Walter Jones, Luther Jones, Clyde Harp Carico, Eugene Carico, and Harry Carrico.
When Galax was laid off, the promoters set aside ten acres of a beautiful pine grove, called "Piney Woods", for public school purposes. Within two years an elementary and high school building known as the "academy" was constructed. Mr. A. C. Painter was instrumental in raising funds for the new school. He served as president of the Galax High School Corporation and Professor G. F. Carr, principal of the school, was Secretary and Treasurer. In addition to the sale of stock, funds were raised through "box suppers", plays, and talent shows. The building was a two story wooden structure with four classrooms on the first floor and an auditorium on the second, all of which were heated by wood burning stoves.
A new brick building was constructed in 1908 to accommodate the fast growing community and another building was added in 1925.
Another of the numerous fires which seemed to plague Galax struck again in 1936. This time the target was the school building which had been constructed in 1908, but the other building was only slightly damaged. The following year the building was reconstructed and it is still serving the community. It was remodeled and expanded in 1971.
A separate high school was constructed on "Knowledge Knoll" in 1955 and today the Galax City Schools have an educational program equal to any small city in the state.
William G. Davis is Superintendent of Schools and members of the Board of Education are: Dr. E. H. Robinson, chairman; John Nunn, vice chairman; Roy Kyle; Lucille Porter; and Ed Barker.
The First Baptist Church on Oldtown Street was the first church built in Galax.
It was organized April 30, 1905, and while the other churches were being built, it
served people of all faiths. When the First Baptist Church moved to a new location on Main Street in 1927, the old church on oldtown Street was purchased by the Friends (Quakers). The present location of the First Baptist Church is East Stuart Drive.
The Methodist Church on Center Street was organized in 1905. It has remained at its original site where there has been ample room, remodeling and expansion.
The Presbyterian Church was moved to Galax from Oldtown. The present building on Center Street was dedicated August 7, 1905
First Christian Church on Main and Washington Street was constructed in 1909 and enlarged in 1928.Their present location is West Stuart Drive.
These downtown area churches are only a few of the places of worship located within the cities boundaries.
HospitalsDr. J. K. Caldwell was instrumental in starting the first hospital in Galax. In 1925 he contracted J. E. Davis to construct a 30 bed facility on Center Street and he arranged for Dr. R. H. Edwards to come here from West Virginia to be the chief surgeon. Dr. Davis, Dr. Glenn Phipps and Dr. John Phipps were members of the staff. Mrs. Louise Bolen (wife of Dr. David Bolen) was the first laboratory technician in the city.
Dr. Caldwell was somewhat a visionary and he became greatly interested in the development of Fisher's Peak into a resort area. In an interview for the Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel of May 18, 1952, Dr. Caldwell stated, "I want to develop a 1,600 acre playground up here on Fisher's Peak. Roads come here from all parts of the country. Here on the peak there is everything a man could wish - scenery, climate, and the wilderness of the old times. What I want is for people - all sorts of people - to come here in the summer and enjoy this country."
Dr. Robert L. Waddell, a graduate of Wake Forest and The Medical College of Virginia, came to Galax in 1945. Dr. Waddell had sixteen years practice before coming to town and he soon saw the need for increased medical facilities. In 1950 he opened the Waddell Hospital, a privately owned 30 bed facility. Before long the hospital was expanded, a clinic was added, and still later, the Waddell Nursing Home to care for the aged was established.
Dr. Virgil Cox was largely responsible for the Galax General Hospital established in 1953 to provide additional facilities and medical services for the citizens of the area. After several years of operation the Galax General came under the management of a group of local doctors.
A modem four story 104 bed facility known as the Twin County Community Hospital began operation in 1974. Patients were moved from Waddell Hospital and General Hospital, and these facilities were used for other purposes. The former Waddell Hospital is now the Waddell Rehabilitation Center and the former Galax General Hospital is now the Waddell Home Care Center.
Plans are presently underway for completing and equipping the fourth floor of the new hospital in an effort to provide care for more patients. Mr. Kenneth Waddell is Administrator of the new hospital and Dr. Palmer Fant is Chief of Staff.
Near the new Twin County Community Hospital is the Community Medical Center where doctors maintain offices and examining rooms. The new complex provides the capability for medical services equal to or surpassing other small cities in the state.
The first newspaper in Galax was The Galax Post Herald. It was organized about 1908 by Rufus Cox who served as editor until he sold the paper to Blue Ridge Printing Company composed of Andy Williams, R. H. Eversole, and Greek Wright. About the spring of 1915 H. Prince Burnett, who had recently moved from Floyd to Galax to practice law, purchased the stock of Blue Ridge Printing Company.
Mr. Burnett and his wife, Sara, moved the newspaper operation from Grayson Street to a building which he purchased at the corner of Main and Center Streets. Mr. Burnett installed the first linotype machine in this area. In 1919 he sold the Post Herald to Mike Crabill and his mother, Mrs. Lydia Crabill. The newspaper was moved again when the lot at Main and Center was purchased for the construction of The Bluemont Hotel. Publication of The Post Herald continued with Alex M. Blackburn serving as editor at the time it was merged with the Galax Gazette in 1955.
In the early '20's H. Prince Burnett purchased the Grayson Gazette from Willard S. Barbery and moved the newspaper from Independence to Galax. Mr. Burnett published the paper now called the GraysonCarroll Gazette for a short time. During the next few years the paper was edited at various times by F. L. Cox, H. A. Melton, R. L. Branscome, and Mrs. S. Victor Wilson.
The newspaper was operated by Mr. and Mrs. Ray Alden Smith from 1927 to 1931, when it was then sold to H. B. Zabriskie. Mr. Zabriskie was an experienced newspaperman from Altoona, Pa., and under his management the Gazette began progress which still continues. Mr. Zabriskie retired in 1958 and Mr. Arthur Gurley, the present editor assumed management of the paper. The Gazette became a subsidiary of The Times World Corp. of Roanoke in 1961. At the present time the Galax Gazette is owned by Landmark Community Newspaper, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Landmark Communications Inc., with headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia. Frank L. Batten is chairman of the Board, M. W. Armistead, III-president, and W. Arthur Gurley, Jr., secretary and publisher of the Galax Gazette.
Gurley also is editor of the Gazette. Other personnel include: Larry Chambers, managing editor; Munsey M. Poole, associate editor; Wilda Ann Fayne, news editor; Ottie Padgett, Carroll County reporter; Cecil R. Bryant, production manager; A. Richard Dalton, plant superintendent; Robert S. Tucer, advertising manager; and Cora M. Bowman, office manager. David A. Lundy is circulation manager.
Other personnel include: William A. Gurley, III, Donald Handy, Barry Kleinke, Willard Smythers, Anna G. Coleman, Faye Bryant, Mary N. Ward, Annis Sizemore, Maxine Houk, Susie Davis, Larry B. Ward, Cynthia Varanko, Mattie Flick and Peggy
SOME BLACK HISTORY OF THE GALAX AREAHistory tells us that the Black man was brought from his native homeland, first as
indentured servant, and later as a slave. His new environment was completely
different and he was forced to learn new jobs, develop new skills, and make many
adjustments. He was needed by his owner for the
cultivation of the fields, clearing the wilderness, or performing the many
Many times his new life was confusing to him and his knowledge was limited to the
boundaries of his owner's plantation. His one sustaining force seems to have been
his faith. The roots of early Black history seem to be deeply embedded in his
religious beliefs. His life revolved about his labors and his church.
When the Emancipation Proclamation freed the Black men from bondage, many of them
remained with their former masters and worshiped with them. Others spread
throughout the land, some to establish their own churches.
Although it is not known how or why the Black race came to the
Grayson-Carroll-Galax area, it is known that the church was an essential part of
The first church for Black people in this area is believed to have been in North
Carolina near Sulphur Springs (near Mt. Airy). A large plantation house was on top
of a hill, and slaves would slip down the hill at night to hold their worship
services on a large, wooded, grassy spot near a creek.
About 1870, a church was established at Pleasant Hill, near Jefferson, N. C., in an
old log cabin with a huge rock chimney in the back. Another church was built in the
River Hill section near Baywood. Before long there were 15 churches in the area
with one common faith and belief. They were as follows:
Bethany Baptist Church at Woodlawn; Tolliver Chapel near the Blue Ridge Parkway;
Mount Carmel at Ivanhoe; Mt. Zion at Independence; Redmond's Creek near Baywood;
White Plains near Sparta, N. C.; Macedonia near the Blue Ridge Parkway, beyond
Sparta, N. C.; Bridle Creek at Fox; Grassy Creek, N. C.; Pleasant Grove near
Jefferson, N. C.; Oldtown Baptist Church (established about 1930).
The entire group of churches is organized into the New Covenant Baptist
In the wars that America has fought, the Black race has been represented. In The
War Between the States, many slaves fought alongside their masters for the South.
Others fought for the North, and, just as it was with the White man, sometimes it
was brother against brother. We have no knowledge of Civil War Veterans, but in the
Spanish American War we know that Rev. Hilary Williams and Rev. Bill Blair (known
as Uncle Willie) fought for their country. Charlie Hash of Woodlawn, James Hale,
and Joe Brown were veterans of World War 1. World War II, Korea, and Vietnam called
many of the area's young men, some who never returned. The late Richard Bryan, son
of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Bryan and a disabled veterans of WW II, is pictured here as
symbolioc of all Black Americans who have served their country in the Armed Forces.
The Black associated himself first with a church and then with a lodge known as the
Odd Fellows.. The ladies' affiliate was the Household of Ruth and Juveniles. The
lodge was established in a tall, narrow, three story building near Oldtown. An
annual affair of the loodge was the "Turn Out." On this occasion, theentire family
would put on their symbols of recognition and march along the road. The march
would begin near what is now the home of Floyd Blairs and proceed to Oldtown. This
early picture shows the marchers preparing to return. Buildings in the picture are
as follows: on the left, the Hurst Richardson house, Bedsaul house, Floyd Diamond
house; on the right, Diamond's General Store.
An organization presently active in Galax is Star of the West #114 Masonic Lodge.
formed in the early nineteen hundreds.Brothers Lawrence Robinson and Joe B. Beamer
were Past Masters and Spencer Brown is Present Master. The Lodge Hall is located on
Calloway Street and meetings are held the first Tuesday each month.
Eastern Star, a ladies organization is also active.
THE BRYAN FAMILY
A business establishment that has become an institution in the history of Galax is
the BRYAN BARBER SHOP. Even before the town began, the Reverend Abe H. Bryan
operated a barber shop at Blair and at Oldtown, devoting one-half day to each
concern. In addition to his business duties, Mr. Bryan served as a teacher and a
minister. When the new town was established and there was a need for a barber shop,
Mr. Bryan began one of the town's oldest business concerns. He opened his first
shop on Main Street. The business, now located on Carroll Street, has moved
locations several times in its history.
The Rev. Abe Bryan was married to the late Mary Bryant and to this union one son,
Walter F. Bryan, was born. Before he came to Galax, Mary died and Abe married Rosa
Wolfe. Their children were Knoud, Oscar, and Abe.
Walter Bryan assumed operation of the barber shop when his father died in 1926.
Like his father, Walt, as he was most often called, was active in church and
community affairs. He was a trustee of the Oldtown Baptist Church, a master mason,
promoter of the school, and farmer. His greatest pride was his horses, and his
favorite was a white horse named "Dan," which he rode to and from work.
Walter was married in 1914 to Leota Hale, who still resides at the old home place
in Oldtown. At the age of 80 she is still active in church affairs and attends many
senior citizen functions. Seven children were born to Walt and Leota: Rudolph,
Lotis Blair, Richard (deceased), Walter, Jr., Rose Kyle, Gilbert, and Leota
Gilbert, a small equipment operator for the Bank of Virginia and R. L. Persinger,
is part owner of a shoe-repair business, and the present owner and operator of
Bryan's Barbershop. Raymond (Tojo) Brown assists Gilbert in the operation of the
small but thriving enterprise. Gilbert has maintained the family tradition of
practicing the barber trade and assuming leadership of church, civic, and community
affairs. He is Senior Warden in the Masonic Lodge, an active member of the Y's Men
Club, Deacon of Oldtown Lodge.
Gilbert has seen many changes in the barber trade. He recalls his grandfather's
stories of customers sitting in straight-back chairs for a shave (5 cents) or a
haircut (10 cents), heating water in a pan on a potbellied stove, and using a
feather duster for removing loose hair from the customer's neck.
Other businesses in Galax which are operated by Black owners are as follows:
-Riteway Shoe Shop, Weldon Phipps, owner and operator. He began his trade at the
age of fourteen when he worked for Earl and Ellis Melton. He opened his own
business in 1974 with Gilbert Bryan as part owner. He and his wife, the former Iola
Saunders, have three children.
-City Body Shop, Blaine Hash and Joe Poe, owners and operators. This business is
located at 106 Carroll Street and is an automotive repair shop. Blaine began
working in body repair at B & L Chevrolet in the early '30's. He started work at
Galax Motor Co. in 1946. Joseph Brown is the only employee.
Speller's Cafe, Mrs. Annie Speller owner and operator. Mrs. Speller is the widow of
the late George W. Speller, a long time resident of the City of Galax.
THE SPELLER FAMILY
Shortly after the Great Depression a young couple, George and Annie Speller, came
to Galax from Winston-Salem, N. C. The Spelers were teachers who later engaged in
diverse enterprises, many of which were designed to aid the Black people of the
comunity through greater employment opporrnnities. Among their many business
ventures were a gas station and general store, beauty parlor, a barber shop, a
cafe, a real estate office in Galax and other cities, and rental property.
Like many men of vision, Mr. Speller was able to realize all of his dreams; among ,
a theatre, shoe repair shop, and a factory for the employment of Black citizens.
Although he was unable to accomplish all he wished to do, his efforts enriched the
lives of many. Those who knew him pay him tribute when they remember him as "a
friend to man."
The first Black school at Oldtown was held in a two-story frame building in 1910.
The first teacher was Miss Louise Porter of South Boston. Other early teachers were
Watson Willis, Frank Maxwell, Zemri Holmes, Mrs. Odessa Davis, Mrs. Luella Tidiline
and Mrs. Josie Early.
Black students going to high school prior to 1949 went to Christiansburg Institute
or other places. After this date, Black students were bused from Galax and Grayson
to Scott Memorial in Wytheville. Students from this area now attend Baywood or
Fairview Elementary and Galax High School.
A Negro School in the City of Galax, Virginia was a fond desire of area citizens
for many years. It was not until 1924, that a group of interested citizens
contacted the city officials to see what could be done toward this much needed
Seeing a vast need for a Negro School in this area, Mr.T.L.Felts, Galax, Virginia,
gave the entire land where the present school is located as well as five hundred
dollars toward the building fund.
Realizing that this step was just the beginning, Mr. Felts suggested that the
Rosenwald Foundation of New York City, be asked to support the effort. Mr. William
Gershwin, representative for the Rosenwald Fund and state supervisor of Negro
Schools, was contacted.
After many months, the superintendent, Mr. J. Lee Cox, Councilmen Mr. Charles P.
Warren, Mr. Emmett Cox and Mr. Shelby Vass, Sr., were informed by Mr. Gershwin that
the Rosenwald Foundation would finance the school erection.
Rev. Calup Carson, Mr. William Martin, Mr. Rich Garrett, were chosen the first
Mr. James Isom, Independence, Virginia, called together the parents of this
cornmunity and the first Parent Teachers Association was organized. This associa
tion launched many programs and activities to raise funds for the new school.
Finally, March 1926, a two-room school, named Rosenwald Felts, was opened for
Mr. James Isom, Independence, Virginia, was selected to be the first principal.
Teaching with him was Miss Alberta Clark. Approximately seventy-five students from
Galax and Oldtown, Virginia, were enrolled.
Principals and teachers following were:
Mrs. Sears, Miss Nowlin, Mrs. Josie Early, Mrs. Odessa Davies, Miss Pace, Miss
Wotten, Mr. Anderson, Miss Bowan, Mr. Hart, Mr. George Speller, Mr. Booker, Mrs.
Dixon, Mrs. Seay, Mr. Hensile Millner, Mr. Forte, Mr. Henderson, Mr. John Beamer,
Mr. Robert Early and Mrs. Lillie Bradley. 1968-69 faculty: Mr. J. G. Williams,
Principal; Miss Volyn Dykes, Mrs. O'Leta Goins and Mr. Theodore Gibbs.
The Rosenwald-Felts Elementary School was closed in 1969 and the new
Rosenwald-Felts Kindergarten was opened in 1973.