During the year 2001, 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 eighth stop, well be...
Down Home in South Hill by Barbara G. Nanney, Contributing Writer
Download in PDF Format As they prepare to celebrate their towns 100th birthday, the citizens of
South Hill are taking pains to preserve the past for the future.
When a town
survives and thrives for a century, its time to have a centennial celebration. That
is what South Hill, Virginia, is going to do beginning February 16, 2001. South Hill was
incorporated February 16, 1901. The Atlantic and Danville Railroad was completed through
South Hill in 1889 connecting the eastern and western parts of the state of Virginia.
Later, U.S. Rt. 1 passed through South Hill connecting north and south and U.S. Rt. 58 in
an east-west direction.
South Hill Chamber of Commerce Building, a restored railroad depot, houses the doll and
train museums and a wildlife exhibit. Joyce Bratten, Josephine Shaw, and Frank Malone
(l-r), Chamber of Commerce staff, welcome visitors.
South Hill is situated on a ridge with the Meherrin River in a northerly position
and Buggs Island and Gaston Lakes to the south and southeast. Rail and highway systems,
plus the tobacco industry, contributed greatly to South Hills growth and
development. Many military personnel will remember South Hill because they traveled these
routes going to and from their homes to serve in the military. In 1965, Interstate 85
opened up just east of town providing a major route north and south. I-85 is an asset to
South Hills industrial and business growth.
The towns depot has been restored and now houses the South Hill Chamber of
Commerce and the South Hill Tourist Information office. The Virginia Evans doll
collection, two operating train villages, one of which includes a small replica of South
Hill in the early 1900s, is also in the depot. There is a wildlife exhibit as well as a
photographic exhibit of old South Hill in the depot.
Across the street and up the block is the Tobacco and Farm Life Museum. The only museum
of its type in Virginia, it shows the history of tobacco and farm life. There is a
reconstructed wood-burning tobacco barn on the site. Mrs. Patricia Farrar, curator,
is there to guide you or to answer questions about tobacco farming and farm life. The
Tobacco Museum is located in a triangular building that was once located along a railroad
spur. R.T. Arnold donated the building.
Patricia Farrar, curator of the Tobacco Farm Museum of
Virginia in South Hill, helps visitors get a feeling of early day tobacco production and
what equipment was used.
Along with the development of transportation, two tobacco warehouses were built
in 1901 and 1,600,000 pounds of tobacco were sold that year. Later, several other
warehouses and tobacco-related industries were built. From the beginning until today,
South Hill has ranked among the top four tobacco markets in Virginia.
"Preserving the Past for the Future"
When people get together for birthdays, they tend to recall the past and talk about the
future. Lucy Clayton Wilkerson left a handwritten, undated account of South Hills
beginnings. "South Hill had a very small beginning of one store, a railroad car for a
depot on the A and D (Atlantic and Danville) Railroad and a small store which stood on the
site of the home of Mrs. W. H. Paulette Jr."
The "Village of South Hill" was surveyed and laid off in lots in 1889 but was
not incorporated until 1901. With the completion of the A and D in 1889, financiers, quick
to see the advantages for future growth, purchased 56 acres of land. The land was surveyed
and laid out in lots, streets and alleys. The original plat of South Hill was in a circle.
South Hill and Washington, DC, were two of only three or four towns platted in a circle.
The circle did not change until annexation in 1967. Since then there have been other
annexations and plans are in the works for another one.
South Hill Manager John Stockton describes the town
council and other government bodies as energetic, talented and forward-moving.
John Stockton, town manager, says with the new annexation, 2.9 square
miles of land mass will be added to South Hill. "Land mass and water supply are two
important factors for future growth," states Stockton.
"South Hills town council and other town government-related bodies are
aggressive, visionary and forward-moving. These groups of people are energetic and
talented and provide leadership to enter this millennium," Stockton continues.
Sandra Harper Kinker, who with her husband owns Harper Jewelry, says the store
has been located in the same building since 1958. It is located on Route 1, one-half block
from what at one time was the only traffic light in town.
Sandra H. Kinker, member of the revitalization
committee, says South Hills greatest asset is its people.
Sandra, who grew up visiting her parents shop, can recall all the
businesses located on that block. New businesses now occupy the buildings in the block,
but Garland Drug is still on the corner at the traffic light.
The motto for South Hills centennial logo and celebration is "Preserving the
Past for the Future." There is a revitalization committee working on plans to keep
the old buildings and the ambience of the past in the town. At the same time the committee
is thinking of the future and how the town can move forward yet maintain its image.
Frank Malone, recently appointed executive director of the South Hill Chamber of
Commerce, says his parents were in the motel business and he met many interesting people
and heard many stories about South Hill and its people. He recalls how his family was
concerned when Interstate 85 opened in 1965. They were sure their business would close
down, but on the first night the highway opened the new Holiday Inn was calling and asking
for vacancies. "I did have to adjust to a quieter street once the through traffic
stayed on I-85," says Malone.
"South Hills greatest resource is its people," says Malone. "If
there is a need, people respond generously with time and money. The pace sped up, but the
people still slow down to help each other."
Dr. C.H. Crowder Jr. recalls the days of medical
practice before the construction of Community Memorial Hospital in 1954 and speaks with
pride about todays expanded services.
Dr. C.H. Crowder Jr., a recently retired family practitioner in his 70s,
recalls the early days of medical practice and the development of Community Memorial
Hospital, now known as Community Memorial Healthcenter (CMH).
In the days prior to the hospital services, doctors had their offices in commercial
buildings downtown, usually on the second floor. A few doctors built offices on their
property. The doctors made house calls, often riding in carriages or on horseback.
When the Hill-Burton Act, which provided grant money for hospital construction and
equipment, was passed, a committee was formed to begin the application process.
Mecklenburg, Brunswick and Lunenburg counties joined together to seek the grants.
In 1954, Community Memorial Hospital opened its doors to provide medical services. It
was a 40-bed hospital with a full-time physician staff of seven doctors who operated their
own offices and were on 24-hour emergency call.
Faye Matthews, director of marketing at Community Memorial Healthcenter, says
that today the hospital is licensed for 284 beds. The hospital provides long-term care and
psychiatric care as well as most other medical services. There are 46 active physicians on
staff plus courtesy staff. Employing approximately 700 people, the hospital is one of the
largest employers in the county.
CMH is a not-for-profit hospital managed by a volunteer board of trustees. It has a
working relationship with Duke Medical Center and Medical College of Virginia Hospital.
This relationship allows it to offer care and treatment for special-needs patients,
including oncology and dermatology.
"If you need to know, ask Jo," is the slogan at the South Hill Chamber of
Commerce office. Miss Josephine Shaw is 85 years old. She retired from the
telephone company in 1980 and since 1982 has been a full-time volunteer at the chamber
Miss Jo moved to South Hill from Bracey in 1935 because she "wanted to come to
town." She worked for the Ribbon Mill before going to work for the telephone company
where she was one of two switchboard operators. She likes all the changes that have
occurred since she came to town. She appreciates all the services, particularly the
hospital and life-saving services, and the wide variety of shops, stores and restaurants
that people can enjoy. She does, however, miss the times when people dressed up for
Saturday nights and met in town for socializing and dancing.
Open to New Ideas
Mayor Earl O. Horne is proud of the progress made in
South Hill by past and present town councils.
While Miss Jo was here when telephone services started, Mayor Earl Horne
is enthusiastic about bringing in fiber optics and broadband lines to the community. This
type of telecommunication will open up computer systems for faster communication around
the world. The system will be an asset for the smaller businessman as well as the larger
industries, several of which are already internationally connected.
When Mayor Horne came to South Hill in 1973, there was a small mall with a chain store,
Burlington Industries and Community Memorial Hospital. He saw a need for recreational
activities for children. So his first involvement as a public servant was to help
establish a youth basketball league.
Mayor Horne describes the past and present governing bodies of South Hill as willing to
research facts for growth and development and as being open to new ideas. The mayor is
proud of the development of the Roanoke River Services Authority (RRSA). The RRSA, which
is now under construction and scheduled to be completed by December 2001, will pump
additional water from Lake Gaston to the area. The new service will increase the water
supply from 11/2 million gallons per day to four million gallons per day. Meherrin River,
the current water source, has reached its maximum capacity and without a good water
source, industry could not move into the area and the town could not easily meet the needs
of an increasing population.
The towns Industrial Authority does an
outstanding job of attracting businesses says Rosland Hossli, plant manager of Narricot
Roland Hossli, plant manager of Narricot Industries, said the RRSA would
be capable of providing the company with the additional water needed for their expansion.
He went on to say that the Industrial Development Authority does an outstanding job of
attracting industry and assisting the businesses in the industrial parks to grow.
South Hill has three industrial parks, all of which have successful businesses, many of
which are growing and expanding. Narricot Industries was the first industry to locate in
South Hill Industrial Park, the first park developed in South Hill in the 1980s. Narricot
was purchased in 2000 by Berger Group of Germany and is the largest air bag producer in
the world. There are several industries now located in the park. BGF located in another
industrial park, is a French-owned company that produces glass fabrics used in space
programs, boating, and recreational gear. Jones Apparel has a large warehouse in the same
industrial park. Virginia Quilting was the first industry in the third industrial park.
Peebles, owners of a chain of department stores, has its corporate offices in South Hill.
For the future, Mayor Horne wants to establish a Farmers Market, a continuing
education center, and to continue providing assistance and guidance for industrial growth
Working Together for a Better Community
When asked how he wants South Hill to be viewed in 2101 when the time capsule is
opened, Mayor Horne says, "I hope the people will see that the citizens and
organizations in South Hill pitched in and worked together in the year 2001 to develop a
leading locality in this part of Southside Virginia. I hope the citizens in 2101 have the
same attitudes of today, that of working together for a better community. I would like for
the community to keep its rural flavor, however."
South Hill officials are working hard to preserve the past for the future and to make
the town a good place in which to live and work.
If You Go...
Hill Centennial Committee has three major events planned to help celebrate the 100th
It all starts on Friday, February 16, 2001, with the official ceremonies at 1 p.m.
The reading of the official charter passed by the Virginia General Assembly on
February 16, 1901, followed by a viewing of a special-made video of South Hill,
"Preserving the Past for the Future." Also, there will be a cutting and serving
of a huge "birthday cake." The public can not only see the video, but also visit
a new photo gallery in the town municipal building of old photos of South Hill.
They can visit the doll and train museums, as well as a wildlife exhibit in
the Chamber of Commerce building (restored depot), see how tobacco was harvested in the
early 1900s at the Tobacco Farm Life Museum of Virginia, and South Hill Veterans
Memorial Park all within easy walking distance from the town municipal
The centennial logo represents the many factors that
contributed to the development of South Hill.
On Saturday, April 28, at 11 a.m., the Centennial Committee will unveil and
dedicate its Memorial and Living History Wall and Garden at Centennial Park on East
Danville Street. The Exhibition Hall 100 will open that day and a church tour of
the older churches is planned.
A full day has been planned for Wednesday, July 4th, starting in the morning at Centennial
Park with games and activities for children, a "non-moving parade" in
which antique automobile and farming equipment as well as other items will line the
streets near Centennial Park and the public can browse at their leisure to view the many
interesting items on display. The program will continue that evening at South Hills
annual "Picnic in the Park," with the Community Chorus providing a medley
of music representing different time periods of the past 100 years. All of this will be
followed by a fireworks display and all of it is free to the public.
Mark these three dates on your calendar and join in the fun. There are quite a number
of eating establishments and hotels in South Hill to help make your stay comfortable. If
you need more information, contact the Chamber of Commerce, (804) 447-4547.