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Looking back at 112 years of Virgilina history

South Boston News
SoVaNow.com / February 06, 2012
By Hallie T. Owen
Special to the News & Record


(Editor’s Note: Several years ago, the first Virgilina town council minute book was found cast aside in a corner on the upper floor of one of the town’s old frame store buildings. How it got there, no one knows. But the article below was first published in the News & Record back in February of 1983, thus the little town will now be celebrating 112 years of incorporation in 2012. We are indebted to Mrs. Paris Gravitt for bringing this article to our attention and hope that our readers will enjoy a little past history.)

Happy Birthday, Virgilina Feb. 3, 1983

Happy birthday, Virgilina! Few people know it, but the town will be 83 years old this February. According to the first town council minute book, Virgilina was incorporated and its charter approved on Feb. 5, 1900.

What was it like in Virgilina in the days of its infancy? Not many are living today who could tell us. We can get a glimpse of the first thirteen years of life in the lusty young town from the accounts kept in the record book. So come with me now through the yellowed pages of the old book as we read the strong, upright script of Max Horn and the flowing hand of W.L. Gregory, both town clerks.

Virgilina was granted a charter to incorporate by the General Assembly of Virginia in February 1900. There were twelve articles in the charter which listed the powers conferred upon the town. The first two articles dealt with setting the boundaries. Articles III, IV and V called for the election of a mayor and councilmen and the appointment of a town sergeant, clerk, assessor, treasurer and any other necessary officer. Under Article VI the council was given the power to make laws and ordinances and manage the town’s fiscal and municipal affairs.

Among the duties of the council were to secure all inhabitants from contagion’s, infections, and other dangerous diseases; to regulate the building of stables, privies, and hog pens; to prevent the establishment of slaughterhouses or soap factories within town. The council was also bound to keep hogs, dogs, cows and other animals from running at large; to prevent the riding and driving of horses or other animals at an improper speed, and to prevent the playing of marbles or throwing stones in the streets.

Other duties were to restrain drunkards and punish them, restraint vagrants and street beggers and to suppress houses of ill-fame and gambling. Anyone applying for a license to sell spirituous liquors had to provide a certificate of good character.

The organizational meeting of the town was held in the Border Warehouse on Feb. 9, 1900 at 7:30 p.m. Mr. W.H. Pannebaker was appointed mayor. The first appointed councilmen were John Ford, Alfred Hayes, W.W. Tuck, S.M. Torian, M.D. Hubbard and C.S. Garner. Max Horn was elected clerk and assessor of revenue (salary, $36.00). W.S. Garner was elected town treasurer and J.B. Hodges, town sergeant.

Several ordinances were approved at the February 12, 1900 council meeting. Among them were provisions against drunk and disorderly behavior, carrying concealed weapons, firing guns, pistols or firecrackers. An ordinance was approved to require removal of dead animals from town and against racing horses or mules along public streets. One unusual ordinance banned the exhibition of fish in barrels or any other thing offensive to the smell, from the streets. It was also ruled that there should be no jumping on or off a moving train.

Paying taxes in town

Virgilinians were taxed then too. There was a capitation tax of 50 cents on each male citizen over 21. Real estate and personal property taxes amounted to 25 cents per $100. Livery stables were taxed $5.00, retail liquor dealers and barroom keepers, $100.00; slot machines, $2.50 each; harness makers, $2.50 and undertakers $5.00. At this same time a committee was appointed to investigate buying or building a jail.

The Bank of Virgilina was declared acting treasurer of the town in September, 1900. Accounts paid and approved were Wm. Wilkins work on bridge, $0.62; Torian and Tuck, oil $1.63; J.B. Hodges (salary), $3.00; Max Horn (salary) $3.00; Ford and Tuck, lumber for bridge, $3.63.

The storage of dynamite was a concern in February 1900. The W.D. Amis Co. was instructed to move the dynamite in the magazine within thirty days to a place outside the corporation. During this same meeting, council appointed a committee to ascertain the cost of street lamps.

During the spring of 1900 council approved a regulation which made it unlawful for any barroom keeper to obstruct a plain view into his barroom from street by use of screens, curtains or painted windows. However, a partition could be maintained midway of the bar to separate black and white customers. Applications for barroom licenses were granted to Peyton Puryear, A.L. Jones and W.H. Gooch.

Council began making progress on securing a jail during the spring of 1900. It was authorized to rent the W.D. Amis dynamite house as a jail for temporary use. In May, bids were received for the construction of a jail. Bids were: J.W. Loftis, $125.00; B.F. Pool, $82.00; J.W. Williamson, $85.00. The contract was awarded to Pool.

In July, council was authorized to purchase six street lamps at a cost of $21.00 and freight. A later ordinance declared a $5.00 fine for destroying or injuring a street lamp. At this time, council got tough on itself. It passed a fine of 25 cents on councilmen for non-attendance at any meeting or for being more than 15 minutes late, except when excused by council. At the September 4, 1900 meeting, the rewards of this rule were reaped when M.D. Hubbard was fined for non-attendance.

Council finds a new home

Toward the end of 1900, the meeting place of the council changed from the Border Warehouse to the Virgilina Warehouse. Later, because they needed to hold court, council rented front rooms above the barbershop of Tuck and Ford at a monthly rent of $1.50. It was ordered that one suitable table and twelve chairs be bought for the new meeting room. At a later meeting the furnishings committee reported purchase of a table and six spittoons! The committee was then discharged.

The town council had to provide fire protection for the citizens. Council was instructed to have made a lot of ladders to be used in case of fire and to purchase 13 galvanized buckets. In 1906, W.W. Tuck was instructed to organize a hook and ladder company and he was appointed captain of it. An alarm bell, now to cost over $5.00, was ordered. An engine house was completed in 1908 and the fire committee was instructed to organize a volunteer fire company.

Mayor W. Howard Pannebaker died on September 28, 1901. At a called meeting, S.M. Torian was appointed mayor pro tem. Councilmen and town officers met at the Pannebaker’s house to escort the deceased mayor’s remains to the depot. (The Pannebaker’s were from Pennsylvania. They came to Virgilina with the mining interest).

The meeting of October 1, 1901 was a busy one. S.M. Torian was unanimously elected mayor to fill Mr. Pannebaker’s expired term. The town sergeant reported the purchase of some handcuffs for $4.00. The sergeant was ordered to fix the floor of the calaboose for winter and purchase several pairs of heavy “Dutch” blankets. An ordinance prohibiting begging and loitering was passed. Non-resident vagrants were to be requested to leave town or be put to work on the chain gang not exceeding 15 days.

Rev. E.H. Powell of the Methodist Church appeared before council in March, 1902 to propose doing away with barrooms and substituting a dispensary. A committee was appointed to investigate and later reported that it would take a special act of the legislature to do this. Since the legislature had already adjourned, council failed to consider the proposal further.

Salaries were paid to the council as follows: S.M. Torian, mayor, $3.00; J.S. Rogers, sergeant, $25.00; Max Horn, $3.00.

Destination unknown

W.A. Sanford was appointed sergeant to replace J.S. Rogers who had “gone to parts unknown.” (Rogers dead body was found in town a few days later).

On one occasion, the clerk was instructed to write R.F. Tuck, supervisor, and put in a claim for a coffin for one Henry Childs. The board of supervisors refused reimbursement in whole or in part of Childs’ burial.

The sanitation and health committee stayed busy enforcing the health regulations. Dr. F.D. Drewry was chairman of this board for many years. In 1903, the committee reported several cases of smallpox near Christie. All persons who had been exposed to the small pox were notified not to enter town.

The health committee reported that the two warehouses’ lots and stalls were in filthy condition. They recommended that the stalls be cleaned, manure removed or covered with lime. The warehouses were also instructed to provide a sufficient number of privies to accommodate their patrons and employees.

By 1912 residents owning or using privies were required to clean them out twice per month during the months of May through September. They were required to keep a box of lime, ash or dry, dust for use in the privies.

Ordinances were suspended or amended from time to time to accommodate the citizens. J.W. Pleasants and J.T. O’Bryant were allowed temporary permission to maintain pigpens in town and firecrackers were allowed to be shot for one night during Christmas.

A new mayor takes over

Alfred Hayes was elected to fill the office of mayor upon the resignation of S.M. Torian in 1904. R.E. Amis was elected treasurer at this time. Max Horn was instructed to go to Houston (Halifax) and attend to having the Red Bank precinct voting place transferred to Virgilina.

The dispensary system was put into effect in 1906. Elected to the dispensary board were: Arthur Tuck, F.D. Drewry and J.W. Pleasants. Salaries for the board members were $36.00 per year for the chairman and $12.00 for the others. Rules governing the dispensaries prohibited loitering, profanity and indecent language.

The mayoral election of July 4, 1906 resulted in a tie. Alfred Hayes had 15 votes and J.T. Torian 15 votes. The tie was decided according to Section 135, Code of Virginia, 1877, and gave the election to Alfred Hayes. W.L. Gregory was elected clerk at a later meeting.

Alfred Hayes resigned as mayor on May 7, 1907, and J.T. Torian was elected. In his oath, a mayor had to not only swear support to the U.S. and State Constitutions but also to swear that he had never fought, aided or challenged in a dual with a deadly weapon. Members to the council at this time were J.P. Wilkins, R.E. Amis, J.W. Pleasants, F.D. Drewry and W.W. Tuck.

On Aug. 6, 1907 an ordinance was passed to limit the speed of horses, mules, bicycles and automobiles to eight miles an hour through town.

A committee composed of J.P. Wilkins and Dr. Drewry was appointed to see the members of Union Church about arranging for a town cemetery “over at the old burying ground.”

In October 1906, thought turned to building a new school near the town. The council appropriated $50.00 for this purpose. In 1910, Professor Stephenson and Max Horn reported that the tuition of North Carolina students amounted to only $64.00. The clerk was asked to write to Mr. J.F. Webb at Oxford to see if North Carolina would pay more of its students’ charges.

The governor visits

The governor of Virginia visited Virgilina in October 1910. The governor at this time was either Claude Swanson, governor from 1906-1910, or William Hodges Mann, governor from 1910-1914. A committee composed of W.W. Tuck, T.G. Pool, Max Horn and Mayor J.T. Torian was appointed to entertain the governor while he was in town. They were allowed $50.00 for this purpose. At the next meeting, the mayor was instructed to sell the lumber used in building the seats for the occasion of the governor’s speaking!

The town’s calaboose was burned by arson in April 1911. A reward of $100 was offered in May for the arrest and conviction of the guilty one. A committee was formed to look into building a new calaboose. In a get-tough move, the clerk was instructed to buy handcuffs, twisters and a badge for the town sergeant. The mayor’s salary was increased to $5.00 per month.

In 1912 it was decided to put down concrete sidewalks. Sidewalks until this time had been grit-covered walkways. Sidewalk construction was evidently a big item because the council argued it back and forth for several meetings. Granolithic walks were put down at a cost of $1.18 per square yard. Ten foot sidewalks were to be put down in front of business houses and five foot walks in front of residences. Property owners were to pay one-fourth of the cost. The engineer was instructed to build the sidewalks to J.W. Whittmore’s and from the Hill Hotel west.

The final entry of the minute book, Thursday, July 17, 1913, noted that this meeting was called in regard to a misunderstanding concerning work on the sidewalks. Councilmen present at this final meeting were J.T. Torian, mayor; R.E. Amis, W.W. Tuck, Max Horn, T.G. Pool and W.S. Daniel.

From the accounts in this book I think you’ll agree with me that early Virgilina, restless, proud and progressive, must have been an interesting place!

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Not such a place anymore, and it only lived 13 years.


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