Again in the year 2009, were making our way around the
region, each issue visiting a small town and meeting some of the folks who
make up the heart of electric co-op country. On this year's
Down Home in Rose
by Louise Carver, Contributing Writer.
Photos by Rick Watson.
Located in Southwest Virginia’s Lee County, Rose
Hill was once home to Cherokee Indians and is today described on its
Web site as a place characterized by warm and friendly people.
It is a community with staying power for
residents and attraction for newcomers, offering potential new
employment with the construction of a shell building in the Rose
Hill Constitutional Oaks Industrial Park. The facility is served by
fiber-optic Internet, water and sewer services.
First Baptist is one of
four churches in downtown Rose Hill.
Lee County Economic Developer Tim Long recently
described Rose Hill as a “new ‘town’ on the move” with the upgrading
of the adjacent 289-acre industrial park.
Long says the community has significant potential
for self-employment and small business. And, he adds, the county and
state (through Wilderness Road State Park) are promoting tourism, an
industry that is growing in the area. In 2008, there were 138,000
visitors to the park, which is located about 10 miles west of Rose
According to the 2000 Census, 23 percent of the
Rose Hill labor force is self-employed, mostly as workers in their
own businesses. This compares to 9 percent in Lee County, 6 percent
in Virginia, and 7 percent in the United States.
Rose Hill is located at the original site of
Martin’s Station, at one time the westernmost fort in the frontier
U.S. It is not an incorporated town, but rather a community once
known as Boone’s Path.
Two late historians, Bashie Kincaid and Frances
Bayless, agreed that Rose Hill was named for the local rose-laden
hills at the time, with Miss Bayless narrowing the site to wild
roses growing in front of the home of the late Byrd Johnson. Bayless
listed the elevation of Rose Hill at 1,340 feet.
A cruise through the business district reveals
the hardiest of businesses that are surviving tough economic times
and are easily accessed by U.S. Highway 58, a four-lane roadway laid
parallel to the business district and completed Nov. 15, 1994.
Don Grabeel, whose
business is the hub of the community has been serving
customers for 47 years.
Don Grabeel operates a combination
supermarket/variety store/laundromat in the center of town, which,
with the new Dollar Store, he agrees is probably the hub of
activity. He notes that business is not as good as in years past,
adding that the new road and the tunnel built to connect Virginia
and Kentucky might have had some impact, but only temporarily.
Grabeel doesn’t let his age — 70 — keep him from
working about 80 hours per week, usually 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. His
secretary and office manager, Sharon Bryant says, “He works harder
around here than anyone else, young or old.” He does admit to a
siesta after lunch each day.
Grabeel and two of his sons and their wives are
runners, with Don winning first place recently in his age group in a
half-marathon of 13 miles in West Virginia. His time was two hours,
43 minutes and 10 seconds.
His father, the late F.L. Grabeel, opened the
business as the G&G Supermarket in 1958, and Don opened his
Foodliner store in 1962, staying 47 years, so far, with no plans for
The “hub” has become so comfortable a gathering
place that local people say, “We’re going over to Don’s,” instead of
naming the business, according to one observer.
“We used to say we had a town of 1,000 and a
trade area of 6,000 including shops, groceries, gasoline and more,”
The annual Christmas parade, sponsored by the
Thomas Walker Civic Club in early December, is a big draw to the
community, according to Grabeel. He says viewers begin arriving for
the event three hours early, filling his parking lot to capacity and
enjoying seeing each other. “I usually close the store and let the
employees watch the parade,” he adds.
Bell-ringers for the holiday fundraiser by the
Salvation Army hold out their bright-red buckets in front of his
store on December weekends each year.
Sue Rosenbalm, a retired educator, served as the
2008 parade grand marshal. She speaks lovingly of Rose Hill, noting
that she and her late husband, Kyle, also an educator, and their
son, Steve, have lived in the community twice. She is a long-time
member of the Rose Hill Christian Church.
“I love living in Rose Hill,” she says, adding,
“The more I travel, the happier I am when I get home. If I could
choose anywhere in the world to live, I would choose where I live.
It’s a wonderful little town. I love it.”
She says she shops in Rose Hill, where she can
get most anything she needs.
Morris Lawson, Jr.
and his son Chris run Morris Lawson's Building Supply.
Other long-time businesses include O’Dell’s
Furniture Store, Mike Bacon’s Car Parts and Wrecker Service, and
Morris Lawson’s Building Supply.
The building-supply store has been in business 64
years. It was established by the late C.M. Lawson Sr. and his wife
Mayme in 1964. Morris Jr. and his wife, Linda, live in Rose Hill and
operate the business, with son Chris serving as manager — the
family’s third generation in the business.
Chris, who oversees day-to-day decisions and
sells equipment, says the business has 10 employees and serves a
75-mile radius. He notes that the company currently concentrates on
agriculture-related business, selling tractors, mowers, and related
equipment to full-time and hobby farmers. The company has the oldest
ready-mix concrete plant in the county and molds pre-constructed
Chris says the low population in Rose Hill slows
business, but the extension of services and experience helps. “We’re
learning to survive with hard work and dedication,” he notes.
His twin brothers, Travis (pharmacist and owner
of Rose Hill Pharmacy at the western outskirts of the business
district) and Tracy (also a pharmacist), have offered their services
to Rose Hill the past four to five years.
John Phillip O’Dell Jr., current proprietor of
O’Dell’s Furniture, says his family has been in the same location
for more than 90 years.
John Phillip O'Dell Jr.
is the fourth generation proprietor of the family business
now known as O'Dell's Furniture.
O’Dell notes that the store was started in an old
converted blacksmith shop by his great-grandfather, Bartholomew
Grabeel. His grandfather, Van Grabeel, told John Phillip Jr. that
when he started the business, he could put all his merchandise into
a large wash tub. Van developed a thriving business and purchased
adjoining property, with the business evolving from a general
merchandise store into one offering a full line of furniture,
bedding and appliances. According to O’Dell, his mother Roseanna
remembered that people in the community would say, “If you can’t get
it at Van Grabeel’s, you don’t need it.” She said the store had a
dirt floor when her grandfather started the business.
Van, whom O’Dell describes as very hardworking
and industrious, was with the business 60 years. O’Dell’s father,
John Phillip O’Dell Sr., was involved in the business 54 years. He
is a fourth-generation owner, while his son, John Phillip O’Dell
III, who worked at the store in the summers during his college
years, chose a military career and is a major in the U.S. Air Force.
O’Dell says one customer told him that, as a
girl, she could get anything she needed at Grabeel’s. “Many
customers’ grandparents did business with my grandparents,” he says,
adding that many customers have had accounts with him for more than
30 years, a few for more than 50.
“This is a good town with a lot of good people,”
he says, adding that he has a lot of friends all over Lee County.
“If you don’t know us, come in and get acquainted. We’ll swap
stories. We have a good reputation for quality merchandise. Some of
our customers express pride in the fact that everything they have in
their house came from O’Dells.”
Rose Hill’s relatively small business district
also has two banks: Farmers and Miners, on the east end; and Peoples
Bank, on the west end. There are two supermarkets: Grabeel’s IGA
Foodliner, adjacent to Don Grabeel’s Discount Center; and Food City
Super Dollar, on the west end. There’s one laundromat, an addendum
to the IGA; three gasoline stations, Eddie Grabeel’s Rose Hill Truck
Sales, Everett Gibson’s Tip Toe Market, and Hensley’s Quick Stop.
There are three garages: Charlie Rouse’s Wholesale Tires, J.R.
Hoskins’ Rose Hill Parts and Service, and Edwin Daniel’s Garage.
Vivian McMurray’s Barber Shop (beauty shop) and other concerns round
out the Rose Hill business community.
Mike Bacon, a former school board member, opened
his auto parts store on Dec. 15, 1967, and also operates a
full-service garage and wrecker service. He says the economy has
reduced the number of wreckers he operates from four to one, the
number of workers he employees by two.
Ryan Teague and Ron Eddy
serve as interpreters at Martin's Station, one of the
attractions at Wilderness Road State Park.
Bacon built a home in Rose Hill in 1973 and still
lives there. “Lee County might not have many jobs, but it’s the same
everywhere,” he says, adding that Rose Hill is a good place to
retire, has a quiet neighborhood, the mountains, pretty views and a
low cost of living.
Pizza Plus is located across the four-lane
highway, near Dorothy Duff’s flower shop; along with Rosemary
Montgomery’s business, Slender You, and Arney Mullins’ Funeral Home.
Dorothy Duff, owner and operator of Dorothy’s
Flowers, was surprised at the length of Rose Hill’s business list.
“We have quite a bit, not to even have a red light.”
She opened a flower shop, formerly called The
Flower Gallery, for Phyllis Munsey in 1980 on Main Street, and is
now shop owner. Duff moved to her current site at 118 Enterprise
Drive near Pizza Plus eight years ago. She appreciates the patronage
of her neighbors over the past 30 years. She describes Rose Hill as
“a great place to live and raise children … It’s remarkable how
people pull together in times of need or tragedy. I just think it’s
Source of Pride
A source of pride on Main Street is the Rose Hill
Community Library, located on an attractive former residential site.
A history of the Library, written by Lela Johnson, branch manager,
relates the humble beginning of the facility as a bookmobile that
operated in Rose Hill at various sites over a span of about 22
years. Due to fuel rationing in 1976, the bookmobile was parked,
with patrons using the tiny stationary library.
Dr. Danny and Mrs. Rita Seale donated the house
he grew up in to become the current library (given to Lee County) on
Nov. 4, 1994, with renovations completed in March 1998 and
dedication taking place in April that year. A grant provided funds
for a computer lab in 2006, with that dedication on June 11, 2007.
The grant ended June 30, with the 12-computer lab remaining for
schoolwork and other public use.
Those helping with the renovations included the
board of trustees, the director, the C. Bascom Slemp Foundation and
the county’s Board of Supervisors. The library in Rose Hill is part
of the Lonesome Pine Regional Library (Wise County), with the only
other branch, the Lee County Public Library, located about 25 miles
east of Rose Hill in Pennington Gap.
Rose Hill Elementary School, which lies in the
valley between the business district and the four-lane highway, was
built in 1952, with renovations to add more classrooms and a
lunchroom made in 1999. Students in grades K-7 number 200, while a
Head Start Unit adds another 20 students.
As principal of nine years, Lynn Metcalfe
supervises 15 teachers at the school, which is accredited by the
Virginia Department of Education, as are all of Lee County’s
schools. There are currently approximately 3,377 students and 383
teachers enrolled and working in Lee County’s schools.
Metcalfe said recently, “In my eight years as
principal of Rose Hill Elementary, many tasks and challenges have
arisen, providing the opportunity for me to make positive changes
that have been beneficial to others. The day-to-day undertakings are
important to me as I strive to provide the best educational setting
for the students at Rose Hill Elementary. I enjoy working with the
faculty, staff, students, parents, and the community and cherish the
friendships this opportunity has given me as principal of Rose Hill
Churches located downtown include Rose Hill
Christian (built in the 1920s), Morgan Memorial United Methodist,
First Baptist and Faith Trinity.
Rose Hill is one of five magisterial districts in
Lee County and has had 39 churches at various times from 1851 to the
Joan Porter is a grant writer and composer of
Rose Hill’s Web site home page. Though not a native of the
community, she’s now very much a part of it. She said recently that
a friend in another town told her of events to visit there. Porter
asked, “Why would I want to go there? I have more to do in Lee
County than I have time.”
Wilderness Road State Park — The park is open
from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Visitors can participate in numerous history
and nature workshops. Other possible activities and features include
picnics, walking trails, a playground. To schedule reunions and
weddings at Karlan Mansion, call 276-445-3065.
The visitor center is open Monday through Sunday
from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Visitors can see the historical film,
“Wilderness Road: Spirit of a Nation,” walk through interpretive
exhibits, visit the Powderhorn Gift Shop, and talk with park
personnel about the significance of the site.
Historic Martin’s Station Fort is open Wednesday
through Sunday from10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors can take a walk back
in time to the late 1700s, when settlers were making their way west,
and can experience historically accurate re-enactments of pioneer
life as volunteers re-create the 18th-century lifestyle and use
native materials and historically accurate tools.
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park — Visitor
center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For information, call
606-248-2817 or visit www.nps.gov/cuga.
Thomas Walker Civic Park — Located off Route 724
in Ewing six miles west of Rose Hill, hiking trail leads to Sand
Cave and White Rocks, managed by the National Park Service. One-mile
walk through park. Wear comfortable walking shoes; you can reserve
one month in advance.