Author Releases Pictorial History Book
CLEVELAND, Va. – Russell County keeps calling to Kathy Shearer.
Just over the mountain, from her home at Emory, Va., Russell County has lured Shearer into giant book projects for years.
Nearly a decade ago, she compiled a book on Dante, the fabled coal mining community near the Dickenson County border.
Later, she released the ambitious “Wilder Days” – a big book about a place that really just does not exist anymore. In between, she put together a collection of postcards in a book titled “Far Southwest Virginia: A Postcard Journey.”
Shearer celebrates “Cleveland on the Clinch,” a pictorial history featuring both new and vintage images of a railroad town on the Clinch River.
Here, daily passenger trains once stopped on the Clinch Valley Extension of the Norfolk & Western Railway. The town, especially in the 1890s, prospered as a shipping point.
“Several enterprising merchants opened stores, hotels and restaurants in Cleveland to take advantage of the traffic, and the town became a busy trade center for Russell County,” Shearer said. “Visitors also came daily to see who was arriving or leaving by passenger train and what news the mail might bring.”
Here, in common scenes of the early 1900s, flocks of turkeys would once scurry along the street, Shearer said, and herds of cattle or sheep might thunder by, driven by men on foot and on horseback.
“Unlike the coal towns, people here could own their own homes,” Shearer said. “Merchants were able to start their own businesses, and many of them prospered. But the sense of closeness that was felt in the other small towns was found here as well. People looked out for one another, and still do.”
Shearer, who published the book through her own Clinch Mountain Press, spent a couple of years working on “Cleveland on the Clinch.”
“I first became interested in this town when I was approached by Linda Couch, who, with her sister, has collected many historical pictures and artifacts and displayed them in the former Cleveland Elementary School on the river,” Shearer said. “I could tell that there was a wealth of information about this old railroad town that needed to be preserved and shared.”
In addition to collecting more than 70 first-person accounts and hundreds of vintage photographs, Shearer spent many hours researching in archives and scanning back issues of The Lebanon News on microfilm.
“After covering the documented history of the area, I divided the first-person stories into ‘town’ and ‘country,’ ” Shearer said. “Stories by Una Puckett and Bill Ferguson give good information on Cleveland when it was a busy place. Earl Campbell tells about knick-knocking, a trick that the boys played on a teacher who lived in town.”
Stories from the surrounding area, from Mill Creek to Combs Valley, are also included.
“Pretty much anywhere you open the book, a good story emerges,” Shearer said. “One of the most amazing ones is the search for gold out west by the McReynolds family, told by Betty Robinson, a Bristol resident.”
The hardest part of these book projects is to collect the huge amount of material and turn it into a book that people will enjoy reading, Shearer said.
“Editing all the transcripts of the taped interviews so that they ‘flow’ well is very time-consuming, but necessary. I try hard to retain the true character of the storyteller. I want the reader to feel that he or she is sitting right there with us at the kitchen table – a part of the conversation.”
The final chapter brings the reader up to date, taking a look at the mussels and other creatures that make the Clinch River a special area, as well as a proposal to create a state park along the banks of the river.
“If this plan comes to pass,” Shearer said, “Cleveland will rise again.”
YOU SHOULD KNOW
What: “Cleveland on the Clinch” by Kathy Shearer
Available at: Clinch River Café, Cleveland; Russell County Public Library, Lebanon; Cave House Craft Shop, Abingdon
Info: (276) 944-5355
When and where: June 27, noon-4 p.m., Cave House Craft Shop, 279 E. Main St., Abingdon