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Town of Pulaski: A Walking-Driving Tour

And Web-Based Pictorial History

From the Founding to Historic Calfee Park

Downtown Pulaski, ca. 1930

(David C. Kent, Photo)

US Geological Survey Map of the Town of Pulaski


A driving/walking tour of the Town of Pulaski is an important experience in modern industrial history. "The Town sprang up at the coming of the railroad" (statement on the State of Virginia historical site sign in Jackson Park) is true, but the discovery and exploitation of coal in the nearby mountains fueled the growth of "Pulaski City." Commerce, especially industrialization, brought residential development. From the Welsh workers' houses to Victorian Queen Anne mansions, Pulaskians lived (and continue to live) a shared destiny. Pulaskians are fortunate to have national recognition for our historical districts. Although we who live and work here daily may occasionally take our surroundings for granted, there are three Historical Districts in the community which underscore architectural significance: the Historic Commercial District, the Pulaski South Historical Residential and Industrial District; and the Pulaski Historical Residential District. Four structures are recognized landmark site s: the Pulaski Depot, the Pulaski County Courthouse, the Dalton Theater Building, and Calfee Park. This tour is chronologically arranged, admittedly not the best for "touring" per se. One key in understanding the Town of Pulaski, however, is to appreciate the "compaction" of its history. Pulaski was a late Nineteenth Century boomtown that moved quickly away from its agrarian roots as the Martin Plantation to a manufacturing center with buildings, factories, and industrial activities more in common with urb an society. The legacies of rapid industrial growth remain. Some are beautiful and enchanting. Others are foul and in disrepair. The next phase of the Town's history will inevitably build on these physical legacies. Yet, the stories of the people who built and sustained the boom now need to be told. In a driving -walking tour, we must try to identify them, hear their stories, and listen to their voices.

John B. White


A major source of the current work is the surveying undertaken by P ulaski citizens in early 1987 under the leadership of Gibson and Charlotte Worsham. The surveys were nominations for residential and commercial historical district designations. Elizabeth Bonham's History of Pulaski Parish 1875 -1975 (Christ Episcopal Chur ch) is a readable and helpful study. There are unpublished histories of other churches that give a rich tapestry to Pulaski life. Two "Design Guidelines," one focusing on historic residential districts (by Gibson Worsham) and the other on the historic commercial district (by Frazier Associates) provide an overview of the architectural value of sites in the Town of Pulaski. The Sanborn Maps of the Town of Pulaski are an important resource for the location of historical sites. The earliest ones are available on microfilm at the University of Virginia Library. Edna Isbill for her willingness to highlight historical photographs of Pulaski photographer and artist, David C. Kent. Munsey Webb's Norfolk and Western Railway Company North Carolina Branch (1995) published by Commonwealth Press in Radford has some wonderful recollections of the railroad and its times. Linda Killen's body of work on the African -American experience in Pulaski County is an invaluable resource. Conway Smith's, The Land That is Pulaski County, B.D. Smith and Brothers, remains the best source of County history up to 1939. Lloyd Matthew's Sunday columns "Looking Back" in The Southwest Times are a rich resource of Pulaski history and commentary. His booklet, The History of the Pulaski Rai lway Station, chronicles the Pulaski Depot from the coming of the railroad to the station's completed restoration in 1994. The Raymond F. Ratcliffe Memorial Museum at the Pulaski Depot for historical photographs and materials. Jennifer White, Jamie Rowl ett, and Dan Hayes for editorial suggestions; Debbie Bivens for network and technological assistance. Mayor Charles Stewart, Jr., Town Manager John Hawley, and Town Council members for their interest and support.

Town of Pulaski: A Walking-Driving Tour

Pepper's Ferry Road from Radford to Wytheville crossed the Robert Martin Farm into what was to become Pulaski City. The Farm included most of the current Town of Pulaski north and west of current US Route 11. Pepper's Ferry Road followed Fifth Street to Randolph Avenue, continuing southwards to Valley Road and Draper's Mountain beyond.

The Martin Home ­ Mid-19 th Century. Long gone, the log farmhouse of Robert D. Martin once sat approximately on the site of the current education building of the First Ch ristian Church just off Jefferson Avenue. The Martin Farm was "Mountain View." Terry Martin's family (Robert's son) once occupied the original home that was demolished with a new structure built. That home, known as The Farley House, was demolished in 1974. The Farley Home was built by Early Moore. Later the house was occupied by the Alexanders (associated with the Alexander Hotel on West Main), the Oscar Laughon family, the Crocketts, and the Flanagans. The spring used by the Martins still exists along the south hillside behind 27 Fifth Street, NW.

The Martin Plantation Spring House

"Big Railroad" and "Little Railroad" ­ in 1854 the Virginia Tennessee Railroad was completed to Mile Post 310, "Martin's Tank" (later call ed "Martin's Station"). The area west of Town is known as "Big Railroad" as the main route continued westward toward Bristol. Later, a small gauge track (Little Railroad) was built north west to the Empire and Altoona Mines at Little Walker Mountain follow ing current Altoona Street and Brookmont Road. Another branch rail line followed Pierce Avenue through what is now Calfee Park to mine iron ore on Draper's Mountain. In 1883, the most important of the branch lines began to be built: the Cripple Creek Extension running from Dora Junction, three miles east of the Pulaski Depot to Galax. Macgill Memorial Chapel --1879, an Episcopal congregation, located at 138 Valley Street, is now a private residence. Robert Martin (who was a Presbyterian) gave the land for the Chapel that served as an interdenominational house of worship. The Church was named in honor of the wife of James MacGill, in whose home, "Old Claremont," services were also held. The Episcopal congregation grew quickly in Pulaski City due, in part, t o the number of people from England and Wales brought in by the founding industries. The first Episcopal rectory was at 150 Valley Street.

MacGill Memorial Chapel (Rectory next door)

Bertha Zinc Company ­ 1880, current site of Magnox Corporation, was P ulaski's first industry, an amalgam of railroad, coal discovery, and the early iron industry. The Bertha Commissary is currently the home of Oscar and Mickey Seagle at the corner of Commerce and State Streets. Leadership for the smelting industry came from Wales with the subsequent "Brick Row" housing area reminiscent of the Welsh mining communities.

Bertha Zinc Foundry Commissary ­ currently a private home

Bertha Zinc Ca. 1890

Bertha Worker

Commerce and Valley Street Commercial District ­ In the Nineteenth Century, businesses quickly arose along Commerce and Valley. Now this area is dominated by Jefferson Mills, with the current large factory buildings and parking lots belying the history of shops, banks, rooming houses , and even the opera house located at the south west corner of Commerce and Valley.

Original "Downtown" ca. 1905

Lake Sumpter, located at the connection of the current Lake, Cliff, State, and Commerce Streets, was part of the meandering Peak Creek bas in in the days before the Peak Creek Channel was created. Its draining was part of the commercialization plan of the Pulaski Land and Improvement Corporation. The site currently includes the Town's Public Works Department.

Former "Lake Sumpter"

The Pulaski Land and Improvement Corporation built Peak Creek Canal Walls in 1884. The walls are an engineering marvel built of large stone blocks inlaid without mortar. The draining of the Peak Creek basin created land for the current Historic Commercial District of the Town of Pulaski. What was previously swampland was filled with slag from the various foundries to create a stable building area north of Peak Creek. The walls are 12' high and the channel is 100' in width.

Creek Walls

Maple Shade Inn - 1884, site is the current Maple Shade Business Park, corner of Commerce and S. Washington. Built by the Railroad, the old Inn gave accommodations to rail passengers and soon became a summer resort destination. Legend has it that its dining room was beyond compare and the ballroom was in constant use. In 1963, the aging building was razed for a shopping center.

The Maple Shade Pulaski Train Depot - 1886, built of native granite from the Peak Creek bed by Italian masons (Town of Pula ski chartered the same year). Site is on the National Historical Register. A significant effort took place in 1986 to restore the Pulaski Depot. Under the leadership of Mayor Gary Hancock, Mrs. Virginia Kelly MacNeal, and Tom Compton, the Depot now serves as the home of the Raymond F. Ratcliffe Memorial Museum and the Greater Pulaski Alliance, Inc. Town and County Historian, Lloyd Matthews, has recently published a history of the Pulaski Depot.

Pulaski Depot

Pulaski Iron Works (PICO) established in 1888 at the current site of Gem City Junk Company on First Street SE. The current street called "Pico Terrace" recalls that industry and its geographical place in Pulaski history.

Pulaski Iron Works

Water Street (now Johnson Street) is the site of several early African American churches and the center of the historic African American business district. Johnson Street is named for J. Rush Johnson, local civic leader and successful business man in Pulaski's early years.

"Needmore" settled in 1889, a largely African American settlement in North Pulaski near the present Town Limits on Randolph Avenue, north of Sixteenth Street, NW. Just after the turn of the Century, African-Americans constituted a quarter of Pulaski City's population, providing a significant percentage of foundry workers. Clark's Chapel , east side of Robinson Tract Road, ca. 1889. John A. and Delia A. Clark with some family members and friends founded this historic Methodist congregation which was known originally as the Colored Thornspring Methodist Church having roots dating back to 1875. The Church later moved across the street, and the historic church was demolished in 1948. Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church was constructed at the corner of Fifth Street and Washington ­ 1889-90. Dr. J.W. Keister, a druggist famous for his early map of Pulaski City, was a driving force in its construction.

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church

Dora Furnace ­ 1890, site approximately one mile east of the current Gem City Junk Company. Site of commissary and jail is located at the corner of Bridge Street and Dora Highway. Company cemetery is located on S. Bridge Street (top of the hill). Dora Furnace was built by industrialists George L. Carter and George J. Mills. Carter was president of the corporation that later merged with the Virginia Iron and Coke Company. Carter also developed blast furnaces in Radford, Max Meadows, Bristol, Johnson City, and Big Stone Gap.

Dora Foundry Cemetery ­ S. Bridge Street

The First Baptist Church on Randolph Avenue at Third Street NW (ca. 1891). The building has been remodeled, enlarged, and brick-encased over the years. Hotel Pulaski ­ 1891. This three-story brick building located on the current site of the BB&T Insurance Building was an example of the optimism that existed in the new Town of Pulaski at the time.

(Photo by David C. Kent)

One Story Commercial ­ ca. 1890's. Located at the corner of West Main and Randolph Avenue, this building may have originally been a grocery store but over the years helped anchor the former African American business district and most recently has served as a house of worship.

Early Commercial Building

First Baptist Church on Magazine Street was organized under the leader ship of the Rev. Thomas Chick in 1892. Its prominent steeple was a signature of the Pulaski landscape until 1967, when a new church was built.

Looking to the east from near Magazine Street

First Christian Church on Jefferson Avenue built in 1892. Later brick-encased. Two towers exist in the structure, only one of which (north) is capped with a spire.

First Christian Church

Virginia Church Furniture - pre-1894, was originally a boarding house located at the corner of First Street NW and Randolph Av enue. By 1913, the building housed a restaurant, which by 1920 catered to African American citizens.



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