Friday, July 7, 2017

Heading home...

All too soon it was time to leave...     After saying goodbye (always sad to leave a 1.75 year old baby who is just beginning to speak) we headed east.

This time, the traffic was much lighter than our trip west.   Well, until the road construction on (you guessed it) I-81.   As we usually do, we jumped off the interstate for the back roads.  Which led us to the picturesque little town of Emory, VA.   (Home of Emory and Henry College, a small - 1000 student -  institution nestled in the hollers of rural Virginia.)  

It's a really beautiful campus, but you'd definitely need a car there.   The town is "not much."  (Sorry, Emory.)  If you can't get it in the "Mercantile" you can't get it in town.   Drive to the next town....

Then, of course it was off to the train station...which no longer is used as a train station, since there are no passenger trains.   It's on the fringe of campus, but probably used to be an important mode of transportation for students - and what little town there was.

Not one, but two tractors...busily doing whatever the farmers do in the fields...takes teamwork to avoid what in the rail industry is known as a "cornfield meet" - where two trains are on one track, headed in opposite directions and directly toward each other....

Here's an abandoned factory in Chilhowie, VA.   Just waiting for the call back to service, which probably will never come.   

According to the "visitvirginiamountains" website,   "The Town of Chilhowie is located at exit 35 on I-81. Chilhowie, a Cherokee word meaning “valley of many deer,” was adopted as the town’s name when the town incorporated in 1913. During its stagecoach days the community was known simply as Town House. After the railroad was built in 1856 the town was referred to as Greever’s Switch, a reference to the name of the first Station Master and to the mechanical switch that allowed freight cars to be moved to a side track for loading and unloading of freight.

The first industry in Chilhowie is credited to Minter Jackson. In 1879 he built the Pottery Shop. His business was the forerunner to the Virginia Paving and Sewer Pipe Company, built by George Palmer in 1890. These small businesses paved the way for various manufacturing and agricultural enterprises which have contributed to the town’s growth over the years. Pottery, brick, lumber, textile, fertilizer, equipment and furniture manufacturing companies have all operated successfully in Chilhowie.

The clay used in Chilhowie Brick, a brand of kiln-fired brick, was popular nearly one hundred years ago. The removal of the clay lowered and flattened the slope of the land immediately south of Old Stage Road. The bricks were extremely popular and they have even been found lining the streets of Paris, France."

However, a slightly different viewpoint is shown in the LA Times article "A town traded away" from April 19 of 2002.   

"Chilhowie has lived through several cycles of industrial boom and bust. Situated in the Great Valley of the Appalachians, near the point where Virginia bumps up against North Carolina and Tennessee, its first big employer was Virginia Paving & Sewer Pipe Co., which shipped its bricks "from Lynchburg to London" until its vein of clay ran out in 1910. Chilhowie Lumber Co. had its run too, supplying logs to build the Panama Canal before bankruptcy intervened.

It was not until the early 1970s that Chilhowie began to transform itself into a thriving industrial town. Local entrepreneurs enticed makers of furniture, clothing and other goods to set up shop along Route 11. Before long, Chilhowie was attracting workers from as far away as Kentucky.

The industrial boom transformed more than just the landscape. "We went from one breadwinner in the home to the ladies going to work in the sewing factories," said Tom Bishop, who operates a home supply store, a scrap metal business and a wood framing plant in Chilhowie. With the extra income, families could afford bigger houses, better cars and other middle-class amenities.

The good times kept rolling through most of the '70s, '80s and early '90s. Then Chilhowie's world turned upside-down.

In 1994, Congress approved the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada. U.S. apparel makers soon found themselves fighting for their lives. Some cut back domestic production; some set up plants in Mexico, where factory workers get only a fraction of the wages paid to Americans.

"To be competitive, you had to go south," said Larry Gibbs, who has managed Spring Ford Industries' knitting mill in Chilhowie since 1988. "I've seen the whole industry go away. It was all based on cost."

Four years ago, Gibbs kept 450 workers busy assembling millions of T-shirts for the likes of Reebok International Ltd. and J.C. Penney Co. But Spring Ford announced last month that foreign competition was forcing it to go out of business. Today, Gibbs will lay off his 50 remaining workers.

One by one, Chilhowie's biggest employers have shut their doors. Tultex Corp. closed its 200-worker sweatshirt factory in 1998. The Buster Brown plant, where 300 people assembled children's clothes, followed in 1999. Three months ago, Natalie Knitting Mills shuttered its 350-worker sweater factory. Other mills were shutting down too. Spring Ford was the latest to fall."

The town lives on...but not well.   It's showing definite signs of wear, and there is no end in sight.  Weeds continue to grow in abandoned employee parking lots...  Yes, folks, history is being recorded...every day.  Even today.  Despite the political turmoil in DC.  And it's where you find it.   We look for history in all our travels.  And obviously, so did that reporter from the LA Times!

On a quiet note after our visit to Chilhowie, we headed home, and had an uneventful balance of the drive.    Now we wait to go again...which will happen, later this year.



  1. While many on the left hailed Bill Clinton's NAFTA agreement and many more on the left were pushing for Obama's TPP these were both ill conceived and not in the best interests of American workers. If you will follow the 'money trail' of big contributors to both the Clintons and Obama you will find those who benefited from NAFTA and would have benefited from TPP. Hopefully, we can get some relief with better agreements negotiated by Trump.
    I have a soft spot for the garment and rag trade. My mother, and her 4 sisters (all 4 of my grandparents were immigrants) were all members of the ILGWU and worked on piece work in factories. From time to time my mother, whose primary trade was sewing ladies dresses, would bring home a dress for herself, a neighbor or a niece. I was jealous. THe dresses she sewed were sold in the major department stores such as Lord & Taylor. Sewing those dresses put food on our table and paid our bills. It is sad when left wing politicians lose sight of the worker class and pander only to those who line their pockets.

    1. Let's hope so on the better agreements...

      I mostly stay out of deeper philosophical political discussions. This post was about the most political I get, and that's because we see the topic from the historical background, how the people are hurting. Sad.

      So the fondness for dresses goes way back for you, too? Having relatives in the garment industry couldn't have hurt anything!!!

      I can remember trying on some of Mom's clothes as a kid "back in the day." They didn't fit well, but I tried anyway. Dresses in particular. I like them a lot, but it's tough to find one that fits.

      I hope to get an old jumper dress I bought cheap (too big) altered soon, to fit me. Then maybe I can start to wear a dress occasionally, instead of skirts and tops.