Sometimes, I run into friends or acquaintances and share some thoughts, but I always have a feeling there’s something missing. It isn’t the same as in my younger years, although I do not believe my aging has anything to do with that feeling of loss.
Where, I think, has all the enthusiasm of the people gone? Why do we have so few businesses, compared to earlier years? Surely, I am not wrong in thinking that this little community on Tug River, that was like a boom town in the late 1800’s as it grew with the Norfolk & Western railroad, can thrive once again.
I have had conversations with longtime residents of this city who think there’s no hope for Williamson to ever achieve the sparkle it once had.
Surely, the 21st Century has people in the Williamson area with ability equal to that of the early citizens of the valley who had foresight and energy to bring government, business, industry, schools and churches to our little valley.
Saturday night in Williamson was always anticipated by young and old citizens. Older citizens used to park along the streets in downtown Williamson just to see and talk with friends and acquaintances.
The young people, like myself, were usually in the Cinderella Theatre on Saturday, attending movies early in the day or evening. Afterwards, you and your friends would walk down Third from the theatre, perch on a stool or sit at a table in a combination pharmacy and ice cream parlor; or head for a table or stool at Hurley Drug or Strosnider Drug thirsty for a fountain beverage or an ice cream sundae.
A great alternative to the drug stores was Franklin Dairy on Second Avenue, opposite the Mountaineer Hotel area. There one could buy – for a dime – a huge milkshake. Kelsay Clay, a sportsman and businessman, managed Franklin’s. As a matter of fact, my late husband, James “Doc” Sanders, worked in the store as a youth and his experience there accounted for his ability as a “short-order cook” in later years when our sons wanted a sandwich, or granddaughter Joy cajoled him into fixing her a snack.
My Dad, an East Williamson grocer (Walker Oliver) was a great sports fan and an athlete himself. He was also a friend of Ellis Johnson, who was head coach at Williamson High School at the time. As the tale was told, Ellis was very fond of Franklin Dairy’s milkshakes and Dad challenged him one day, saying he would pay for as many ‘shakes as Ellis could drink. When the coach consumed 10 ‘shakes, the bet fell by the wayside, so it is said. Or, maybe Ellis showed signs of erupting, or Dad was running out of money to cover the bet.
Incidentally, Ellis Johnson later enjoyed a stellar coaching career at Marshall University, Huntington, and Morehead University, Morehead, Ky. His wife was Myrtle McCoy, who taught me in the Eighth Grade. She was a daughter of the late Williamson businessman Kenner McCoy and a sister of Walter, Clyde and Burl McCoy. If you ever visit the museum at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., you can see a life-size display of Johnson.
I have been perusing a 1968 City Directory for Williamson, owned by retired businessman Abe J. Cantees now of Lexington, Ky., and loaned to me by his nephew, “Chuck” Eubanks of Williamson. If you check the business listings for that period in the city’s history, it will give you an idea just how much business, industry and entertainment sources we have lost during the last 42 years.
Part of our changes began during the World War II years and probably the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, but the Great Flood of 1977 gets my vote for the worst influence on our style of living.
What started me reminiscing of what we used to have and what we don’t have now, was when I lifted out a large white envelope containing an old white pillow case. I had received the item in the mail from a longtime friend and former neighbor, the late Jenny (Corn) Taylor, shortly before her sudden death in her Centre Hall, Pa. home.
Jenny, her late husband, Okey Taylor, and their son, Hank, lived in the large log home now occupied by Circuit Judge Michael Thornsbury and family before and shortly after the big flood.
Several neighbors, Jenny, Ida Kathryn Weaver (my sister-in-law), Mattie Walters, Jean Jewell and myself were among the nearly 1,000 citizens who rode a special train on a pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., in April 1978, prevailing upon legislators to provide flood control for our area and elsewhere in southern West Virginia and Kentucky.
We rode the train all night, arriving in the nation’s capital early the next morning. We then walked to the capitol area where a meeting with legislators was scheduled. I remember we were provided box lunches and were joined on capitol grounds by Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-Third District of West Virginia. We were not to get our wishes for flood control until about 1984 but Williamson, Matewan and South Williamson now have flood protection from flood walls, and there are other flood protection measures visible throughout the area.
I suffered some nostalgia when I opened the white envelope at home recently and held the old pillowcase signed by we neighbors who had shared several seats aboard the special train that took us on our important mission. Also, it brought back memories of Jenny Taylor, who visited Williamson occasionally after moving to Pennsylvania and was a close friend of the late Gail Rose (Perkins) Hatfield.
Since April 4, 2010 marked the 33rd anniversary of the devastating flood, I felt moved to call attention to that fact. We have much for which to be thankful but there is the lingering feeling, and wish, that things could be like they once were.