During the year 2002, were making our way around Virginia, each
issue visiting a small town and meeting some of the folks who make up the heart of
electric co-op country. On this years first stop, well be...
Down Home in Jonesville By Louise Carver, Contributing Writer
The welcome from Mayor Ewell
Bledsoe’s Internet home page for Jonesville describes the town of
about 995 people as being nestled in the mountains of Southwest Virginia,
established in 1794 as the Lee County seat, and named for Frederick Jones.
The renowned Camp Meeting Shed of the Campground United Methodist
Church, where the sides of the shed are swung open and “outdoor”
services are held each spring. The church was completed and
dedicated in 1943.
is the second-oldest town west of Roanoke. Abingdon is the oldest.
The mayor’s office is located on a hill overlooking
the town in Cumberland Bowl Park. The park is a focal point for activities
throughout the year, including a July 4 celebration attended by thousands,
a Festival in the Park sponsored each fall by the Jonesville Woman’s
Club, and a “Lights in the Park” Christmas display sponsored
throughout the month of December by the town and the Lee County Area
Chamber of Commerce. Cumberland Bowl Park is also home to the Jonesville
Senior Citizens and the American Legion’s Lambert-Fleenor Bays Post 185,
chartered in February 1948 and named for the first Lee County casualties
in World War I.
Mayor Bledsoe, in his 14th year, seventh term, said
recently that he will probably retire from office with the expiration of
his term this July.
Mayor Bledsoe is a member of the Jonesville Lion’s
Club, which, among other activities, sponsors the town’s annual
Christmas parade. He is also a member of the Lee County Area Chamber of
Commerce. He said he spent some time as an electrician with the U.S. Navy
during the Vietnam era.
His wife, Zelma,
is currently president of the Auxiliary at Lee Regional Medical Center, an
80-bed hospital located in the neighboring town of Pennington Gap.
“After 38 years of living in big cities, I wouldn’t want to live
anywhere else but Jonesville,” the Mayor said. “I think Jonesville is
one of the best, safest, cleanest towns in the county due to the good
employees we have, the police department and the maintenance crew (Preston
Jonesville Mayor Ewell Bledsloe (l), who also serves as the captain
of the town’s volunteer rescue squad, talks with fellow squad
member, Cecil Robinette.
The mayor spends a great deal of time serving the
community as captain of the Jonesville Volunteer Rescue Squad. The squad
was organized in 1994. He has been captain since 1996.
The Battle of Jonesville took place January 3, 1864.
Confederate General William E. Jones, assisted by Colonel A. L. Pridemore,
defeated a Union Force and captured the battalion. Union troops burned the
courthouse, located in the heart of Jonesville, in 1864 and the present
courthouse was erected in 1933, the town incorporated in 1884 and
re-incorporated in 1901.
A re-enactment of the battle is sponsored by the Lee
County Area Chamber of Commerce, the Lee-Piedmont Chapter of the Sons of
Confederate Veterans and the 37th Infantry each June. The action takes
place on a nearby farm, with thousands of people attending the event to
experience first-hand how the battle was won and to view artifacts,
clothing, foods, and more, relating to the area.
Quietest Town in the State
Despite the enthusiasm for the annual battle,
however, the farming town of Jonesville, located in the western-most
county in Virginia, bordering Kentucky and Tennessee, is described by Town
Police Chief Kermit Wallen as
“the quietest town within the state, especially to be the county
Wallen, a native of Lee County, born in St. Charles
(population currently 159), the coalfield area of the county, has lived in
Jonesville 25 years and has served 21 of those years as police chief.
Wallen said the town has no major criminal activity.
He said the police department and the town work together to promote a
safe, “wonderful” town. “I think people would look forward to living
in a place like this,” he said.
Points of interest listed by the LenowiscoPlanning District Commission include Cedar Hill Country Club,
Cumberland Bowl Park, Cumberland Bowl Amphitheater, Civil War Cemetery,
Natural Bridge, Jonesville Cemetery and the Gibson House.
Evelyn (Gibson) Mason and her husband, Jack, live in the oldest
house in Jonesville.
(Gibson) Mason and her husband, Jack, live in probably the only house
in Lee County listed in the State and National Registers of Historical
Places, with the presentation made in 1992.
The three-story stone house is presently located on
62 1⁄2 acres (reduced over the years from about 85 acres) on the
western edge of Jonesville, with the original smokehouse still standing
and a family cemetery overlooking the property.
Construction of the house was started about 1824 and
finished about four years later by Benjamin Dickenson. The house was
purchased from Dickenson’s heirs by Andrew Milbourne. Evelyn said her
grandfather, Michael Brown Wygal, about 1860 or ’61, bought the house
from William E. Wynn in 1919 and handed it down to Evelyn’s mother,
Bonnie Wygal Gibson. Evelyn, who inherited it in 1976, said the house has
been in the family for 82 years. The house was known as the
Dickenson-Milbourne house for years.
Town Police Chief Kermit Wallen describes Jonesville as “the
quietest town within the state.”
The oldest business in Jonesville is Lee Farmers
Cooperative, Inc., which was started by a small group of farmers 61 years
ago in the basement of the county courthouse, taking orders for
experimental fertilizer for the Tennessee Valley Authority and helping
with the feeder-calf sale in the fall each year.
Farmers also pooled crops of wool and strawberries
for markets in Ohio and Georgia.
The current retail store, managed for the past 10
years by J. C. Wade, and
located in the bend around the courthouse for 50 or 51 years, was started
by Jonesville resident Garland Ely (an
Army veteran) in 1950.
The co-op is affiliated with Southern States
Cooperative in Richmond and has 700 active members.
For its golden anniversary in 1985, Tennessee Magazine featured a history by former Powell Valley
Electric Cooperative (PVEC) manager, Ralph
Miner. The co-op was organized in 1938 by a group of rural people and
first called the Powell Valley Electric Membership Corporation. PVEC’s
service area in Virginia includes Lee, Scott and Wise counties.
The current co-op building was built in 1959 and
served as headquarters of the cooperative until 1991, when the
headquarters was moved to Tazewell.
Miner was elected manager in 1962 and served until
1992. In his history, he told of two very bad snowstorms — one on Nov.
21, 1952 — the other in March, 1954.
The 1952 storm was the worst to ever hit the system
at that time, he said, adding that at dark that night not a single member
had service and only 11 employees could climb a pole. Seven crews from two
other co-ops aided in restoring services.
Gary Bledsoe, superintendent of outside construction for Powell
Valley Electric Cooperative, has been an employee at the Jonesville
office more than 31 years.
superintendent of outside construction for PVEC, has been an employee at
the Jonesville office more than 31 years.
He is responsible for everyday construction,
maintenance operations and power outages.
Bledsoe said, “We try to help all the organizations
and the schools with heat pumps and Christmas decorations. We try to help
PVEC’s general manager, Randell
Myers, said recently, “Powell Valley Electric Cooperative has strong
ties to the Jonesville community. Not only does it provide employment and
the resulting stimulus to the local economy, the cooperative is proactive
in its support of economic and community development. The cooperative has
been instrumental in obtaining zero-interest Rural Utilities Service (RUS)
loans for Lee County, which have been used for construction and expansion
of industrial buildings.
“The cooperative has also partnered with the
Tennessee Valley Authority to provide assistance in the form of low/zero
interest loans for economic-development projects, including a $2-million,
one-year, interest-free loan providing interim financing for development
costs related to the federal prison facility.
“The cooperative has also partnered with TVA to
provide several industries, businesses and schools with technical advice
in the form of energy audits and lighting recommendations.
“Most recently, the cooperative has assisted the
Lee County Economic Development Authority with the printing cost for the
county’s new industrial brochure and for the purchase of its new
marketing tool, a 3D model of the new industrial park, Constitutional
“The cooperative lends a helping hand to projects
benefiting the community. The cooperative’s employees and board of
directors have a genuine concern for, and interest in, the quality of life
in the area.”
George F. Cridlin with his father, Judge Joseph N. Cridlin in front
of the family law office.
Jonesville attorney Joseph
N. Cridlin, second of three generations of attorneys in Jonesville,
and now a retired circuit court judge, was retained as cooperative
attorney March 7, 1947, to replace their charter attorney W. L. Davidson,
who died from a fall from a barn he was building on his farm west of
Cridlin served the cooperative until March 1961, when
he resigned his duties after being appointed circuit court judge for Lee
and Scott counties. He was replaced by his brother, Clyde
Y. Cridlin, six months later.
A PVEC member since 1957, when he moved to the
country near Jonesville, Judge Cridlin said the Cooperative, when new,
gave customers diagrams of what electrical services they would need.
Jonesville is also home to retired General District
Judge Glen M. Williams.
When PVEC built its office in Jonesville, a fuss
erupted about whether the rural co-op could service the town, but the
established Old Dominion Power Company held the town, with agreements made
to allow PVEC to serve its own facility, according to the judge.
Judge (J. N.) Cridlin’s sheepskin adorns the lobby
wall of his son George F.
Cridlin’s office in downtown Jonesville, along with that of his
father, Lee County Judge George P. Cridlin, with the family sporting three
generations of judges and lawyers (George F. serving occasionally as
judge). George P. Cridlin started his practice in 1901, Judge J. N. in
1935, and George F. in 1975.
Jonesville is also the home of the late attorney
Edgar Bacon, who was selected to serve as cooperative attorney in 1974 and
who served as a member of the Virginia Transportation Commission. Mr.
Bacon was instrumental in having started in western Lee County the
643-mile four-laning improvements to U.S. Highway 58, which are continuing
to the state’s coast. Route 58, through Jonesville and Lee County, has
been named the Daniel Boone Heritage Trail for the pioneer credited with
opening Cumberland Gap to the west. A section of Route 58 was named for
On Jonesville’s doorstep about two miles to the
west is the Campground United Methodist Church, first a one-room log
church built about 1794, with construction started on the present-day
brick started in 1928. A sturdy, hand-hewn limestone rock wall built in
1890 stands between the church and the renowned Camp Meeting Shed, where
the sides of the shed are swung open and “outdoor” services are held
each spring. The church was completed and dedicated in 1943.
Methodist services at the Jonesville First United
Methodist Church were listed as early as 1840 and held in individual homes
by circuit riders, with the first building, a two-story log and
weatherboard church, sitting atop the hill at the junction of Palace and
The present church building, erected in 1885 in the
shadow of the courthouse at the corner of Church and Institute Streets,
has been renovated several times over the years, with an educational
building and brick veneer added in the early 1950s, and changes made to
the bell tower. The Lee County School Board Office now occupies the former
site of the Jonesville Elementary School and is currently the number-one
employer in the county, with 679 professional and non-professional
personnel. The total school enrollment for elementary schools and two high
schools was 3,766 as of Sept. 30.
School Superintendent Dr.
Dan Wilder, on the job since July 1, 1998, said recently that having
the school board office in Jonesville is convenient due to the business
that is interrelated with County Administrator Dane Poe and Treasurer Ikey
Hub for Local
County Administrator Dane Poe.
speaking as Lee County administrator, said recently that as the county
seat, the town of Jonesville serves as the hub for local government as
well as many state government offices.
“This alone brings approximately 150 government
employees to town each day,” he said, adding, “When you factor in the
number of citizens coming to town to transact business at county offices,
make court appearances, or obtain information from various state or local
offices, you begin to realize the economic impact this has for the town
and its merchants.”
As a resident of Jonesville, he said, “Although
somewhat busy and bustling during the daytime, the town transforms into a
very quiet and peaceful residential neighborhood after government offices
close for the day. This provides an excellent environment in which to live
and raise a family.
“One needs only to drive through town on a summer
evening and see the number of folks walking or visiting one another to
understand the sense of community felt here. It’s a nice little town
where you feel your children are safe and folks care about each other.”
Information about Jonesville is
readily available at Mayor Ewell Bledsoe’s office in Cumberland
Bowl Park, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, phone
276-346-1151; and at the office of the
Lee County Area Chamber of Commerce, phone 276-346-0553, in the Lee
Long, Lee County’s community development director, has great
enthusiasm for expanding the county’s business and industrial base. His
office number is 276-346-7766.
Highway 58 four-laning improvements through the state, a new airport
under construction five miles west of Jonesville, and a new federal
prison, USP Lee County, opened for public view November 19, are expected
to expedite growth in the county and its towns.
Thousands of people attend the annual
reenactment of the battle of Jonesville.
Two radio stations, WJNV in
Jonesville and WSWV in Pennington Gap, join
Powell Valley News in providing news and public services.
The Chamber directs tourists to
various activities, including the Cumberland
Camp National Historical Park, about 37 miles west of Jonesville,
where a pinnacle overlook offers a view of parts of Virginia, Kentucky and
A brochure, developed in 1998,
features pictures of a restored log house at Natural
Bridge, winter at the restored Hensley
Settlement atop Stone Mountain
in the national park; phone 606-248-2817 for information about shuttle
schedule and fees.
Natural Bridge, a karst
structure carved from limestone near the Cedars
Nature Preserve, on Route 662, 2.1 miles west of Jonesville, is
located in the same vicinity of the Andrew
Still Memorial Park, which commemorates the birth of the founder of
Mountain River and Valley were named for Dr. Ambrose Powell, one of
the explorers who accompanied Dr. Thomas Walker through the area in 1750.
The river flows through the Jonesville area and is described as “one of
America’s greatest places,” where opportunities are available for
fishing, canoeing, camping, swimming, hiking and horseback riding along
the scenic stream.
In early June each year, “Race Unity Day” is held in Leeman Field in Pennington Gap to
celebrate human diversity, with music and food offered (phone
276-346-1151, mayor’s office).
United Methodist Camp Meeting is held each year in early August, phone
276-346-2293; a Festival in the
Park each fall provides arts and crafts in the Bowl, phone
Hill Country Club, an 18-hole golf course, is open year-round with a
club house, swimming pool and tennis courts available, phone 276-346-1535.
This plaque marks the grave of an unknown
Civil War soldier. A memorial service is held each year during the
first weekend in June as part of Civil War Day.
Located on U.S. Route 58A near
Jonesville, between Jonesville and Ben Hur,
Hillcrest Lanes offers multi-lane bowling, with a video arcade, and
delicatessen, phone 276-346-3795.
Cinema, having a modern movie theater with two screens, is only 15
miles away in Dryden, phone 276-546-3988.
Regional Medical Center, a drive of nine miles from Jonesville in
Pennington Gap, offers 24-hour service, phone 276-546-1440.
Lee County Sheriff
Gary Parsons oversees a crew of 45 employees. The office is located in
the courthouse, phone 276-346-7777.
Jonesville has more than 50
businesses, doctors, churches, restaurants, auto services and more, and is
near two state parks, Wilderness
Road State Park in Ewing, phone 276-445-3065 and Natural
Tunnel State Park in Duffield, phone 276- 940-2674.
Other area activities include
special events at the national park, such as wildflower
walks, falling star extravaganza (in August), tours of Cudjo’s Cave and other caves; Gathering
on the Creek, Stickleyville, late June, phone 276-546-1337; Thomas
Walker Old Fashioned Fun Day, phone 276-445-4683;
Tobacco and Fall Festival, phone 276-346-0553; and Cumberland
Horse Association events, phone 276-546-2568.
Motor Court, located on Route 58 on the edge of the western corporate
limits of the town, phone 276-346-3210, has 20 comfortable rooms, with
cable television (children under 12 years free), and is operated by Depak Patel of India. Jean
Burchett, manager, said the motel is clean, very quiet and
family-oriented, with many people returning as they visit local relatives.
The Convenient Inn is located
in Pennington Gap and can handle additional tourists in peak seasons,