What Happened In Hinton

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How does one describe a small town? And how does one explain a town when it sets out to catch all its sinners? All I can do is tell you a little of the history of my hometown, Hinton, Summers County, West Virginia, as I remember it.

It always touches my heart when I come in sight of Hinton, regardless of which direction I come from. I’ve been from Virginia to California and from Texas to Canada, and no scenery makes my heart skip a beat, increases my pulse, or causes a warm, glowing feeling to flood my soul the way the overwhelming beauty of our valley does.

When my great-uncle’s brother was in the Confederate army, he forded the river at what is now Hinton, where the Greenbrier and New rivers flow together. He said that there were only two or three houses there then. He told me this in 1940, and he died in 1942 at the age of 103. Less than ten years after the war, the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad came down the Greenbrier, and the town of Hinton was born. All railroad men who ran east from Hinton to Clifton Forge, Virginia, were known as mountain men, and all who ran west of Hinton were known as rivermen. Several railroad engineers and crews had two families, one at each end of their run. There was a saying at one time that there was no Sunday west of Clifton Forge and no God west of Hinton.

Hinton was built upon a bench of a mountain with a cliff on the river side. The railroad tracks are between the river and the cliff. The bench is perhaps two miles long and wide enough for two streets from one end of the town to the other. The streets, Temple and Summers, come together on the east end of town and go down Avis Hill. Avis Hill was so steep that when the circus came to Hinton, it objected to having to pull its equipment up the hill. In the early days Summers Street didn’t run all the way out behind Riverview School. I remember hearing that when it was extended, a black graveyard had to be moved to make room. I used to look for ghosts there after dark when I was a child, but I never saw any.

From the early 1920s, when I was three or four years old, until 1942, when I went into the service, Hinton was a beehive of activity. People were coming and going at all hours of the day and night, going to work on the railroad. All the women fussed because they could never hang their clothes out to dry; the coal dust settled on everything. All the houses looked dingy and grimy. Today Hinton is clean, with most houses in good repair and freshly painted, but the vital life signs of a growing community are missing. Hinton is like a hundred-year-old man sitting in a wheelchair and waiting for death to remove him.

The streets in Hinton were paved with bricks to the city limits, but mostly that was it. In the 1920s I remember the Model T Fords coming in on railroad flatcars. I loved to watch the cars being unloaded, and I can still hear the cars in winter with broken tire chains slap-slap-slapping against the fenders when they went by our house at 110 Main Street.

 

Our friend Marion had a store two houses from us with chickens for sale in coops in front of the store. Those roosters began crowing an hour before daylight. Marion had a son, Ray, who started chewing tobacco as a young boy. He could go half a day without spitting. He chewed and worked in his father’s store for twenty years or more before his father found out he used tobacco in any way or form.

Our house was a block away from the courthouse square. The old Confederate monument sat over in the corner of the courthouse yard, and we boys used to climb up the statue and put our fingers on the trigger of the rifle. We also tried to cock it, to no avail. I’ll always remember with respect what was written on one side of that marker: “This monument is dedicated to those men of the Greenbrier and New River Valleys who chose to follow Lee and Jackson.” There was another monument, a Civil War naval cannon, on the square when I went into the service. When I came home, it was gone. Some overzealous patriot had donated it to the war effort.

Now back to my story.

Hinton started to grow. With its railroad yards and roundhouse, it was a center for timber, coal, and farm produce, which made for quite an interesting and rowdy town. Naturally the men who built the railroads, cut the timber, and mined the coal had to have some entertainment, such as women and whiskey Madam’s Creek, across the river from Hinton, acquired its name from a house of ill repute that was set up there to take care of these men.

The first girls in Hinton proper had their main headquarters on Front Street, a dead-end street that runs for five or six blocks down next to the railroad. Men looking for a wild night on the town came from Lewisburg, Roncevert, and Alderson. The village of Cass sent down its lumberjacks. For years the railroad put on an extra coach to Hinton on the weekends closest to the fifteenth and the thirtieth of the month—paydays for the miners.