|LOOKING BACK 50 YEARS: THE CALHOUN CENTENNIAL 1956|
By Bob Weaver 2006
Strolling around the bustling town of Grantsville in 1956, you could feel the excitement, with preparations underway for the Centennial Celebration.
It was one of the last big events in the county, with folks coming from all parts to either help with or attend one of the five day events.
The county's dozen or so civic groups lent their support and energy to the 100th anniversary celebration.
A panoramic play put on by local citizens "Calhoun Through The Years" filled the high school football field with actors and musicians, with a huge crowd coming to see the event.
Fireworks every night and one of the largest parades ever in the county.
Changes in the past 50 plus years? There are many, but in the county seat the most notable is the absence of a bustling business community.
And the disconnect from the community itself.
The centennial essentially marked the end of the agricultural era in the county, with the great exodus from family farms starting after World War II.
Most residents were starting to get fuzzy TV signals from a couple stations in Huntington and Charleston, not enough attraction to keep people away from church and school activities.
The industrial revolution barely touched the county, except in purchased goods, services and the advantages it produced, but the county did boast one industrial-type plant in 1956 - Rubber Fabricators, which employed a large number of county residents at minimum wage.
Then, for a period of time, Goodrich had a production plant in the same location.
Among the largest employers, the oil and gas industry, Cabot, Hope and others, the numbers dramatically declining.
Grantsville's population was still holding, once reaching a high of 1,200 citizens, now dwindling to about 500 residents, the town succumbing to changes in centralizing, marketing and transportation.
The impact has been felt by nearly all of West Virginia's rural towns, many barely holding on, with empty business fronts and limited retail traffic.
While some may consider it a stretch, Calhoun is now a bedroom community. It certainly has become a place for retirees.
BUSINESS REPRESENTED COMMUNITY VITALITY
The Calhoun Super Service was just that, everything from Ford and Mercury vehicles, Dearborn farm implements, Firestone tires to ESSO gasoline, Servel gas refrigerators to Maytag washers, and Kroehler furniture.
There were two other new car and truck dealers. Floyd Motor Company, sold Chrysler-Plymouth cars and International Harvester trucks - "We will not knowingly be undersold or out-traded"
The other, Burch Chevrolet, in the structure now occupied by Hardman Supply, asked prospective customers to "Come in and ask for a free demonstration ride in a Chevy," saying "Nothing Without Wings Climbs Like A '56 Chevrolet."
The Calhoun Bank, one of the longest on-going businesses in the county, had already been a mainstay in 1956.
There was nightly entertainment at the Kanawha Theater on Main Street for about 25 cents, popcorn or an ice cream cone cost 10 cents.
The Quality Shop, operated by Gladys Weaver Stump and Lonnie Oles, was about quality. Many Calhoun women still report having apparel from the business 50 years later, "good as new." Try that now. Anyone with a Gladys and Lonnie Mae story?
J & B Rexall Drug Store is still in business on Main Street all these years later, can you believe. In 1966 the family business burned to the ground in one of town's great fires, but rose again.
P and G Cash Store, crowded in an old wooden building next to the modern A & P, had general merchandise and Bible quotes from uncle Amos Gibson. It was a "jot-em down" store, allowing credit for those who ran short. Gibson ran country stores before coming to Grantsville, first operating a gasoline station in south Grantsville.
The A & P was the town's major grocery, locally operated by George and Local Lambiotte. They were still trading groceries for eggs or fresh produce in '56.
Uncle Amos' son W. B. Gibson had a longtime feed and grocery business, both retail and wholesale, near the southern end of the town.
Garland's Grocery had established their business along Rt. 16 near the high school, starting a long run, until the store closed a few years ago. In the Centennial program they wrote "From the days of plowing and harvesting to the days of purchasing in a store - This is Progress."
Barr's Store, near the high school, was a frequent hang-out for students.
The Ben Franklin Store, brought to the community by businessman and political leader C. C. Kingsbury, was in various locations on the town's Main Street, first next door to the Kanawha Theater, later in the spot now utilized by the Calhoun Bank, finally moving to a building now used by Dollar General.
The town had several department stores. The Dalton Store Company, located where Tony Morgan's law office is now situated, was called "The County's Family Store," along with Poe Gunn's emporium.
Howe's Department Store, located in the old Wiant and Barr Department Store location, where Stump Funeral Home now has a parking lot, said "Calhoun County has come a long way - and so have we." They advertised fine cotton fabrics to clothing that will fit.
Francis Hardware, once located in the Pursley Furniture building, later moved to where Western Auto is operating. They advertised hardware, appliances and furniture, Youngstown kitchens, Magic Chef ranges, Philco radios and refrigerators, Speed Queen gas and electric washers and Pittsburgh Paints.
A second hardware store, Consolidated Supply operated by C. A. Witt and George Ball, offered everything from windows and doors, building blocks and clay products to roofing, seeds, fencing and farm equipment.
A long-time appliance business that always advertised they would service what they sold, was Grantsville Appliance, operated by the Yoak brothers and Bernie Siers. While their prime product was GE appliances, they began to sell and repair TVs in 1956, and developed the first TV cable system in Grantsville.
B & B Store sold across the counter drugs and had a soda fountain, Grantsville Cab (Phone 66) would take you where you wanted to go, and Dick Stalnaker (before he was the County Clerk) would do your auto body work.
Modern Beauty Salon, Harvey Stout's Barber Shop, Dink Sturm's Barber Shop, Bridge Service Station and the Rainbow Hotel - "For Modern Conveniences To Make A Stay Pleasant," advertised in the program.
Still in business today and listed in '56 was Smith's Auto Service along Rt. 16. The Calhoun Chronicle, the longest ongoing business in the county published weekly, as did the now deceased Grantsville News.
Medical care was dispensed by the Boling Clinic above the Calhoun Super Service and Dr. Toepher. The Calhoun General Hospital was thankfully on the drawing board in 1956.
Calhoun Insurance Agency, still in business today, was listed with other insurance agencies.
Heiney and Sons Dairy Farm was still delivering fresh milk door-to-door while the town had its' own dry cleaners - Grantsville Dry Cleaners.
Okey and Emmett Johnson had established the Grantsville Tire Shop - "Complete Recapping Service And Wheel Balancing."
Stump Funeral Home, still operating after more than one hundred years.
There were lots of places to eat, drink beer and play pool.
County businesses advertising in the Centennial program, L. A. Justice of Millstone, Kelley's Store of Mt. Zion, Siers Brothers of Chloe, Harley McCoy of Hur, Donald Gunn of Mt. Zion, A. R. Holbert's of Big Bend, Alfred's Grocery of Orma, Weaver's Store of Arnoldsburg, Miller and Metz Store of Orma, and Holly Nester's Store of Millstone.
Holberts Store is still in business after more than 90 years.
During the past 50 years, once bustling villages around the county have virtually faded from existence, although a few are holding on.
Perhaps, among the greatest improvements in the past 50 years is in health care, now Minnie Hamilton Health Care Center, and the construction of the new Calhoun Middle-High School.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent a telegram to citizens for their consideration (1956):
"I wish all of you a highly enjoyable celebration - one that will successfully bring to you the story of men and women who have lived and worked in your region through the past century and which will inspire you to go on to surpass their records of achievement."
Perhaps the most positive thing in the county, while diminished by 21st Century technology, is neighborliness and low taxes.