© Jerry F. Couch 2018
Unfortunately, St. Paul has lost most of its earliest buildings. At this writing only three pre-1900 structures remain in the downtown area. Over the years, many old buildings were repurposed and modernized, losing key architectural features in the process. One such building was originally known as the St. Paul Provision Company on Broad Street. It dates from the early 1920’s and is pictured at left in the 1971 photo below.
By the time this picture was taken, the former St. Paul Provision Company building had experienced multiple iterations: Fuller’s Market, Fred Meade’s Market, and others as well. Take note of the elaborate fanlight over the store’s entrance door. Unfortunately that fanlight was removed years ago when the building was remodeled. However, it lives on in this photo and I like to think it may have been salvaged for use in a building elsewhere.
The middle building pictured above was built in the early 1920’s. From then until 1967 it was leased by the United States of America as a post office. In those days, many people received their mail “general delivery,” picking it up in person at the post office’s service window. The post office and the Blue Sulphur Hotel next door helped make Broad Street a busy place, indeed. A few months after this picture was taken in 1971, the former post office became the new home of the Clinch Valley Times, and remained so until 1975.
The two-story building at right in the photo above was built by Dr. Conley Greear and his brother, H. C. Greear in the late ‘teens. It was was St. Paul’s first drugstore. After Dr. Greear retired to his farm in Scott County, it became Hall’s Drug Store, and would remain so for the next 31 years.
The St. Paul Masonic Lodge was located on the second floor of this building prior to the lodge’s purchase of the old Assembly of God church on Third Avenue in the early 1950’s. Aftewards, the space it had occupied became a rental apartment once again. Over the years, the apartments over the drugstore were the “first home” of many young St. Paul couples.
After Dr. Guy Hall’s retirement, the building became a Sears Catalog Store in 1971. The store was operated by Jack and Melody Burk (pictured below). Sears, with its famous “satisfaction guaranteed or your money back,” was a valuable addition to the St. Paul business community during the King Coal Era. It was a place where local residents could purchase clothing, furniture, appliances both large and small, tires – anything sold by Sears.
For years an Esso service station occupied the corner of Broad Street and Fourth Avenue. Today many people (including me) still refer to this spot as “The Esso Corner.” In the early 1900’s, the short-lived Clinch Valley Lumber Company’s office building occupied this site. After the company’s failure, the office building was purchased and remodeled by Noah Skeens as a large residence. It was a fixture of the town’s landscape until the 1940’s, when it was razed and the service station took its place. Though the service station is still with us, it is vacant at the time of this writing.
— Incidentally, there’s an “unsolved mystery” surrounding Noah Skeens. He disappeared and was (as far as I know) never heard from again by his family or friends. His wife said he “went to the store and never came back.” There was speculation that he had been murdered because it is VERY unusual for a living person to disappear without a trace. Over the years, several people claimed they had seen Noah Skeens in other localities.
In 1971, Johnson’s 5 & 10, a mainstay of Fourth Avenue since the 1940’s, relocated to the corner of Fifth Avenue and Broad Street. Afterwards, the Western Auto Catalog Store moved from the old Gaiety Theatre building next door to the former 5 & 10.
All three buildings pictured in the 1971 photo above were constructed by the Rainero brothers. These men were master carpenters and brickmasons. Many early 20th century brick stores and homes throughout the area remain today as tangible evidence of the Rainero’s skill.
The bulding pictured above left was constructed around 1920 as a Ford dealership. Through mergers and partnerships, this company’s DNA became co-mingled with other early automobile dealerships in our area. The eventual result was Clinch Motors.
The center building pictured above dates from 1919. Notice the faded original “Gaiety Theatre” sign. James Rainero and his wife, Dosha, owned this building until the 1940’s, though they did not personally operate the theater. The building was orignally a one-story structure. A second story containing two apartments was added a short time later.
The building on the right was originally Guy Molinary’s grocery store. Like the Gaiety Theatre next door, it also had two apartments upstairs. The apartments in both buildings shared a common stairway. Most of us remember this long-gone building as Lay’s Hardware.
Pictured in the photo above are the Western Auto’s owner/operators, Shelby and Bonnie Hilton. The picture was taken shortly after the store was moved to the Johnson building. As you can see, the store carried a surprisingly large inventory. Hundreds of other items could be ordered from Western Auto’s catalog for in-store pickup. Like Jack and Melody Burk, the Hiltons were very nice people. They and their employees worked hard to provide a high level of service to their customers.
The buildings shown here have had a remarkable past. Their history is our history. Let’s hope they have a remarkable future as well. I can think of no better way for these brick & mortar “old friends” to enter their second century.