© Jerry F. Couch 2019
MATERIAL FOR THIS ARTICLE comes from a notebook compiled by Appalachian Electric Power Company in 1956 which documents the groundbreaking ceremony that year for the company’s new Carbo generation plant. In addition to photos and speeches, the notebook also includes copies of many newspaper clippings announcing construction of the power plant. We did not include them because for the most part, they are modified versions of Appalachian’s press release which is transcribed in this article.
Certainly the effects of the new power plant were far-reaching. The economic effect on Russell County was comparable to a very long tail on a very small kite. In retrospect, we can see that the hoped-for industrialization of Russell County was never fully realized. However, the power plant itself did provide jobs (good ones). Its presence boosted employment at Clinchfield Coal Corporation as well as the companies connected with it. In addition, the power plant’s tax payments to Russell County financed a very substantial portion of the county’s operating expenses for its school system.
Enjoy the photos – they are a real treasure!
Guests have lunch at Cleveland High School cafeteria preceding the groundbreaking ceremony of Appalachian Electric Power Company’s Clinch River Plant at Carbo, Virginia on May 16, 1956. J. P. Gills, manager of the Bluefield Division of Appalachian, was master of ceremonies at the luncheon.
A cake-cutting at the luncheon. Philip Sporn, president of Appalachian and American Gas and Electric Company, at left, looks on as J. P. Routh, chairman of the board of Clinchfield Coal Corporation, center, cuts a piece of cake. At right is R. H. Smith, president of the Norfolk and Western Railway Company. The cake was presented to the heads of the three companies by Chairman Sherman Wallace of the Russell County Board of Supervisors on behalf of the people of Russell County.
Some of the guests cross the bridge over the Clinch River to the power plant site in preparation for the groundbreaking ceremonies.
Part of the crowd of over 2,000 people listen to G. L. Furr, vice president and general manager of Appalachian, who served as master of ceremonies for the groundgreaking, as he opens the festivities at the plant site.
The flag is raised by a color guard from the 305th Engineers Battalion of the U. S. Army Reserve from Abingdon. Music for the flag raising and for the ceremony was provided by the Lebanon High School band.
Mr. Furr introduces the guests who were on the speaker’s platform at the groundbreaking.
The groundbreaking —- signaling the start of construction on the 450,000 kilowatt Clinch River Plant. From left to right, those taking part in the groundbreaking were: G. L. Furr, Philip Sporn. J. P. Routh, former governor John S. Battle, Judge Lester M. Hooker of the Virginia State Corporation Commission; Congressman Pat Jennings of the Ninth Congressional District of Virginia, and R. H. Smith.
Virginia State Senator Harry C. Stuart of Elk Garden, who represents Russell County in the State Legislature, keynotes the ceremony with a talk about the history of the area and what the coming of the new plant will mean to Russell County and Southwest Virginia.
The following is a transcription of Mr. Stuart’s comments:
“Mr. Furr, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, and particularly the officers and agents of the ever-progressive Appalachian Electric Power Company, the Clinchfield Coal Corporation, the Norfolk and Western Railway, the county officials of our county and of adjoining counties, and I speak also to all friends in Russell.
“I am happy here today and feel greatly honored at an invitation to speak a word or two of welcome from my own good people of Russell County to the progressive men behind the gun in this initial step called “groundbreaking” for the new Appalachian Electric Power Company’s 55 million dollar plant to be erected here. I am glad to look in the faces of so many interested people as I recall with you the fact that here is the confluence of the watershed of the swift flowing Dumps Creek and the more gentle waters of the Clinch, which by the way was called by the Indians the Pellissippi, meaning in Indian language, the Little Mississippi.
“We are on the first old hunting grounds of the memorable Castlewood District of old Russell, formerly Washington County, formerly Fincastle, and formerly what was called West Augusta when Virginia was a province. Here it was that the old pioneers, who were called long hunters, first located to hunt and fish and live like sportsmen.
“The Cherokee Indians of the South and the Iroquois Indians of the North claimed this land and protested vigorously because the white man was crossing Clinch Mountain and because he was located within the hunting grounds of their mountain. They claimed that a treaty was broken, and that issue was carried to London and heard by the British Parliament. The white man in the defense of his invasion pled that he was simply hunting and fishing and should be allowed so to do. Parliament never passed on the issue. There was a so-called “hung jury,” and this issue was later decided by force of arms.
“In the meantime, the Indians called these old pioneers long hunters, and the long hunters had to build forts in many points of the county, particularly here in the Castlewood District, to fight out this issue. The old pioneers cleared the forest, killed wild animals and Indians, built their cabin homes, possessed the land; and here they and their descendants have lived since those early, eventful, tragic days. They were here on this very ground when the call to arms by the colonies came to make war for freedom against Great Britain, and they shouldered their old flintlock rifles and marched away to King’s Mountain, leaving their womenfolk to man the forts.
“These men were fighting here when the shackles of British despotism fell, and when they came back to the County of Russell, which was later organized, named for General William Russell, they proceeded with their county organization. The first officers of the counties were appointed from the list of old soldiers. The first Clerk of Russell County was Mr. Henry Dickenson, and he and all other county officers were paid their first year’s salary in tobacco.
“And here it was that the old muster ground was located where the men of this area were drilled in the art of war for the purpose of fighting the Indians and later for fighting the Yankees.
“And here we are – and please don’t shoot – welcoming with open arms and warm hearts the sons of those Yankees in this most eventful day, a day which we shall long remember as the mother’s day of industry and industrial development in the age-old land of the long hunters.
“If I have spoken slightly humorously, I speak none the less sincerely when I say that we are happy to see you and shall be happier to see a different medium of exchange than tobacco The great development proposed and is now in actual progress toward consummation will some day be a monument to the memories of the faith of the officials behind this tremendous project as well as a godsend to our people since it insures more power, more life, and more abundance to all.
Ladies and gentlemen, I welcome each and every one of you.”
Former Virginia Governor John. S. Battle, who is also a member of the board of directors of American Gas and Electric Company, parent company of Appalachian, spoke to the crowd.
Here is what Mr. Battle had to say:
“Mr. Chairman, distinguished guests, my friends from Southwest Virginia – it was a marvelous speech that Harry C. Stuart just gave us. I am sorry I have not had anybody write a speech for me. You know, I am not in office anymore. He’s still a Senator and he rates those things, but I am just a humble little “ex,” so if I do any talking, I just have to get up and try to talk for a little while. But I assure you it comes from the bottom of my heart when I congratulate this great Southwestern empire, congratulate the Commonwealth of Virginia upon the fine accomplishments which we will initiate today. I like this project because it is not built with tax money. To tell you the truth, it is built mostly with Yankee money, but it is going to pay taxes to the County of Russell and that is going to be one of the material benefits which you people will get out of it. You can’t spend 55 million dollars in a project and not expect to be taxed, and they are glad to pay taxes. It is going to furnish better service, and I think it will furnish cheaper service.
“I was sitting here a moment ago and looking out over these magnificent hills, these green hillsides, and from that platform you can’t see a house. That little cabin up there on the hill looks like a barn. Now why is this great power plant being built in this spot, remote, and no industry immediately around it? Because the gentlemen who are behind this project had a vision and because they believe this is the beginning of an industrial revolution in this great and favored portion of the Commonwealth. You’ve got everything. You’ve got coal, unbounded quantities of coal; you’ve got water, and you are now going to have power – the three things industry needs. And above all you have got people which in the last analysis, I take it, is the most important element.
“And so I say that I think this is a memorable occasion and an occasion which I am very happy to have the privilege of participating in because I believe it is going to do much for Southwest Virginia, for this entire section of our Commonwealth in the years to come.
“I am very happy to be here to greet you, to join with you in celebrating this wonderful occasion and assuring these gentlemen from the North that the North and South unite here today looking to a brighter, a happier, a fuller day in old Russell County in Southwest Virginia. Thank you.”
Philip Sporn, president of Appalachian and American Gas and Electric Company, makes the principal address at the ceremony. He described the company’s plans for the new plant and said that it was the beginning of what he hoped would be a new industrial era for Russell County and Southwest Virginia.
This is what Mr. Sporn said:
“To begin with, let me warmly thank all of you for taking the time on this beautiful spring day to come out here. It is a great pleasure to have the opportunity of meeting and talking with, and to, you. And I particularly enjoyed the opportunity and special pleasure I had of lunching with some of you.
“We have just carried out a groundbreaking ceremony signalizing the beginning of construction of a new large power plant; a plant with a capacity of 450,000 kilowatts, or over 600,000 horsepower. It is to be named after the famous river whose name this valley also bears — Clinch River Plant.
“I believe it is a good idea to go through this modest ceremony that we are performing today and even to have this brief talk about the project.
“One of the difficulties of our modern world is its complexity and our failure to understand it. And one of our reasons for failure to understand it is that we take too much for granted. The really astounding facts: That only a couple of months or so ago we announced a decision to build this plant; that now, so short a time after, we are actually starting to build it, and that in a little over two years it will be generated over 600,000 HP of power contributing to the productive effort, ease and comfort of several million people in hundreds of communities located in several states. Most, if not all, of these acts are too readily taken for granted.
“The enterprise, initiative, the long and detailed investigation, and planning and know-how that have made this possible are again accepted as matters of course, and are all too soon forgotten. A ceremony such as this we are participating in is, therefore, a good thing; it helps to point these facts up a bit.
“There are a number of facets to this project that are particularly worth noting because they are unique or because they have particular interest to this valley, or to the entire state. I would like to review these briefly.
“First, the plant: It will consist of two 225,000 KW units, or a total of 450,000 KW, over 600,000 HP. It will cost close to $55,000,000 to build these first two units. Eventually the plant may be considerably bigger than this. Each of the first two units will be powered by a single coal-fired boiler to operate at the highest pressure at which a power plant operates in the United States today – somewhat over 2,000 lbs. per sq. inch.
“The fact that the plant will burn coal is of particular interest because the coal will come right out of this valley, almost from the back door of the plant. In the last half-dozen years there has been a tendency to write coal off as an obsolete raw material, something that was useful in the dark ages, but was not going to have any application in the new atomic era that we are coming into. We in Appalachian and in American Gas have not felt that was the case, and so we have worked very hard to try and develop and present coal’s true picture in our dynamic economy and the contribution that it will have to make and, I believe, will make both in satisfying our rapidly growing energy requirements for defense and peace.
“Second, the plant will burn almost 1,300,000 tons of it a year, and more perhaps as time goes on. Thus on top of the $55 million which the plant will cost of the additional coal mining facilities that will have to be and will be constructed by Clinchfield Coal Corporation. These will cost millions more. In our own case, the expenditures will mean raising a great deal of outside capital; I feel sure this capital will be raised.
“Third, the construction will employ hundreds of people, scores of crafts, and at a peak the total direct employment on the job will certainly be well over 1,000.
“Fourth, with the start of the work on this Clinch River plant we will bring the capacity under active construction on the AGE System, to be completed in the next three years, to 1,700,000 KW.
“Fifth, before many months we will begin the construction of still another block of 900,000 KW, all to be completed in the five-year period 1956-1960, bringing the total capacity under construction on the System to 2,600,000 KW. This is well above the total hydro capacity of TVA which TVA built in a period of 20 years starting in about 1935.
“Sixth, the object of all this capacity is to supply the additional and growing requirements of hundreds of communities in Virginia, West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and northern Tennessee, in which states Appalachian Electric Power Company and its sister companies, Kentucky Power Company and Kingsport Utilities, operate, and the chain of more than 2,300 communities in the total seven-state area of Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, served by the American Gas and Electric System. We want to make certain that all these communities have power in abundance, power to satisfy their every existing requirement and any requirement foreseeable which they may have in the immediate future. We want to be sure that to the fullest extent that electric power can contribute to the health, comfort, safety, and economic welfare of the people in these communities; that electric power will be there whenever it is needed and at the lowest practical cost.
“We all know that electric power holds an important place in modern civilization. Modern living in the home, whether on the farm, in the suburbs, in the city, without electricity, is hard to imagine. Without electricity, business today – even the smallest retail establishment – would find it tough going. Without electricity, our modern industry – light, medium, or heavy – would be practically impossible. Whether the manufacturing involves the making of clothing, the mining of coal, or the production of chlorine, any one of these operations would be impossible without electric power, or, if it could somehow be done, the productivity would be so low that the finished commodity would be so expensive the demand for it would be almost negligible. It has become an almost accepted base of our civilization for electricity to supply the muscle, the power for cutting, shaping, splitting, melting, welding, lifting, moving, transporting, and to carry on the thousand and one other tasks calling for energy and energy use. And even though electric power is but a small, fractional part of the cost of an operation, without it most industrial operations would come to a standstill.
“But what we began this afternoon has a number of other and special significances. The plant we started building will burn coal, and coal has a unique significance for this valley. Coal is Russell County’s most valuable mineral asset, as indeed it is of the whole Commonwealth of Virginia. This plant alone will burn close to 1,300,000 tons of coal a year. The 1955 coal production in Russell County was 750,000 tons. Thus, by this act alone that we have performed here today, we have started a chain that when completed will increase coal production in the county to a level almost triple the 1955 amount.
“The people required to mine this coal, coupled with those who will be employed in the operation of the plant will make a major contribution to employment in this community and in this valley.
“But a still greater prospect opens up with the coming of this plant. The plant being built here will be one of the most economical in the United States, combining highly economical coal reserves with the most modern, most advanced, technology in efficient power generation by steam-electric methods. There will thus be offered an opportunity for industry to come in and establish itself profitably here. I am thinking particularly of industry that will be able to utilize other resources that exist in the valley – the shale and limestone, the lead and the zinc, the natural gas. There is every reason for belief that the coming of this plant will stimulate the development of chemical, electro-chemical, and electo-metallurgical operations utilizing the combination of local resources and a highly economical power supply. With such new industry there will come not only direct employment to additional hundreds of people in the immediate area, in the county, and spreading even beyond the county, but by the well-understood multiplier effect that one industry has on related industries. Their effect will spread over a much greater area and their influence will be felt more deeply.
“Thus the population trends of a number of parts of this area should change and the entire valley should have opening before it a new era of greater opportunity, greater prosperity, and greater welfare. Certainly to the fullest extent that even more ample supplies of power than have been heretofore available, and which will be made available with the coming into production of this new plant, can bring that about, we in Appalachian and American Gas and Electric renew our pledge to see to it that this condition shall continue into the future. We have always considered this to be the most important part of our responsibility, and we have always lived up to it in the past. The beginning of construction of the Clinch River Plant is the earnest demonstration of our determination to continue to live up to it in the future.”
Guests look over the Clinchfield Coal Corporation’s new coal processing plant at the Moss No. 2 Mine.
Mr. Fred Richmond of Clinchfield Coal Corporation describes the new plant which is being constructed to process coal primarily for the metals industry and other markets.
A view of the Clinchfield Plant [as it appeared on May 16, 1956]. Visitors and dignitaries attending the groundbreaking ceremonies at the site of Appalachian’s new Clinch River electric generating plant toured part of Clinchfield Coal Corporation’s properties and inspected the new Moss No. 2 plant.
FROM A PRESS RELEASE BY CLINCHFIELD COAL CORP., MAY 1956 — The above is an artist’s conception of Clinchfield Coal Corporation’s Moss No. 2 Mine coal preparation plant as it will appear when construction is completed. This plant is of the latest design and will be one of the most modern and complete coal washing, drying, and preparation plants in the industry.
The Moss No. 2 plant is well under construction and is expected to be in operation in August of this year. The plant is located at Clinchfield in Russell County, Virginia, near the site of the Appalachian Electric Power Company’s new Clinch River electric generating plant at Carbo, Virginia, which is now under construction. Some of the production from Clinchfield’s new Moss No. 2 Mine will be furnished to Appalachian’s Clinch River plant; however, the major portion of Appalachian’s requirements for this plant will be supplied by Clinchfield from still another new mine yet to be constructed in the area. The Moss No. 2 plant will initially produce some 5,000 tons per day of the highest quality metallurgical coking coal and will be shipped primarily to the steel industry.
This is how the new Clinch River plant of Appalachian Electric Power Company will look when it is completed in 1958. The 450,000 kilowatt generating station will be built a Carbo in Russell County, Virginia, on the Clinch River. When the two-unit plant is completed it is expected to use 1,300,000 tons of coal annually. Coal for the plant will be furnished from the rich reserves of the Clinchfield Coal Corporation.