Dr. James Noah Greear, Early Physician of Castlewood & St. Paul

© Jerry F. Couch

The following biographical sketch of Dr. James Noah Greear is excerpted from A Narrative History of Wise County, Virginia by Charles A. Johnson.

Dr. James Noah Greear was born on his father’s homestead near Coeburn, February 27, 1859, and was reared there.  Possessed of a strong will power and determination, and the ability to bear hardships and overcome obstacles, he, in his youth, decided to educate himself and choose a profession.  He first attended the private schools, and then the public schools in his locality and in 1880 graduated from the Abingdon District High School, after which he entered the University of Virginia, took the medical course and was graduated in medicine in the class of 1883.  

During the year 1884-1885, he was a student in the New York Polytechnic School of Medicine, and returned back there for further study in clinical training during 1890-91.  He commenced the practice of medicine and did his first work after graduating at Bickley’s Mill, now known as Castlewoods, in Russell County.  He remained there until the construction of the Clinch Valley Division of the Norfolk and Western railroad was begun, when he was employed as a company doctor, taking care of the employees over a 30 mile stretch of the road.  

After completion of the railroad, the coal mines at Toms Creek were opened and he was employed as company physician at the coal operations, which position he held until 1895, when he resigned and removed his family to St. Paul, being one of the first settlers in that town.  Since that time, he has continued the practice of medicine and surgery at St. Paul.

Harding Home

Dr. Greear and his family lived in this home during the early days of his medical practice at Castlewood.  Afterwards, it was the home of the Harding family for many years.  The house was located on the River Road and was torn down years ago.

It should also be noted that Dr. Greear was a partner in the St. Paul Land Company, Inc., holding a 1/3 interest.  Mahlon Kemmerer, a Pennsylvania coal baron with extensive holdings in Wise County, owned the remaining 2/3 interest.  Due to land forfeitures, additional purchases, and consolidations during St. Paul’s economically unstable pre-Clinchfield RR years, this company ended up owning most of the town.

St. Paul Land Co. Inc.

During an outbreak of smallpox in 1898, Dr. Greear and others took the initiative to help protect citizens of St. Paul by petitioning the courts to order a quarantine of the entire town.  You can read about this incident by following this link:  https://sphistory.wordpress.com/smallpox-the-1898-1902-epidemic/

During the influenza epidemic of 1918-1919, Dr. Greear set up a temporary infirmary under quarantine.  There, he treated patients as best he could with the limited medical technology of that time.  By doing this, he put his own life at risk.  Some of the people who did not survive were buried in the original St. Paul cemetery, site of the present-day Clinchview housing complex.

Today, Dr Greear is best remembered for the babies he delivered – hundreds of them.  For example, Dr. Greear delivered both my father and my mother.  According to Judy Dye Ring, his extant records include a total of approximately 1,535 deliveries.  However, these records do not cover all the years of Dr. Greear’s practice.  There were probably many more deliveries.  He charged $15 for his obstetric services and apparently never raised his price over the years.  Only a small percentage of the babies he delivered did not survive.  This is worthy of note during a time when childbirth was risky, and infant mortality rates were fairly high.

Henry Couch Birth Record

From Dr. James Noah Greear’s birth records, courtesy of Judy Dye Ring.

After the Greear home “Sunnyside” was destroyed by fire.  Dr. and Mrs. Greear relocated to Wise Street.  Today, the house in which they lived is remembered by older St. Paul residents as “The Tommy Willis house.”

Greear House - Sunnyside

In this ca. 1935 photo, two unidentified girls pose on Buchanan Street in front of the Greear home, “Sunnyside,” built in the 1890’s.

Dr. Greear & grandchildren - Wise Street

[ABOVE]  A ca. 1940 photo of Dr. and Mrs. Greear with two of their grandchildren at their home on Wise Street.  [BELOW] Members of Dr. Greear’s family.  Both photos may have been taken the same day.  The house is located next door to the Methodist Church.

Dr. Greear's Family 1


From The Big Stone Gap Post, March 19, 1942


Aged Physician of St. Paul Passed Away at Hospital; Practiced Medicine For 59 Years

St. Paul, Va., March 14 — Dr. James N. Greear, 83, of St. Paul, Va., a pioneer citizen and practicing physician for the past 59 years, died in the George Ben Johnson Hospital at 11:30 o’clock this morning following a heart attack one week ago.

Dr. Greear was born near Coeburn, Va., February 27, 1859.  After finishing the grade school near home and a boarding school at Temple Hill High School, he graduated from the University of Virginia Medical School in 1883 and has been practicing in St. Paul and vicinity ever since.  Before there were doctors in Dickenson and Buchanan counties he made periodic trips through those sections.  He specialized in obstetrical work and for several years led the State of Virginia in the number of cases handled by a general practitioner.

Dr. Greear was a member of the St. Paul Methodist Church and a member of the Masonic Lodge NO. 343 A.F. & A.M., and was recently awarded a medal for being a member of the order for 52 years.  He was first master of the Castlewood Lodge No. 231.  He had served as a member of the Wise County Democratic Committee for 40 years, but never held a public office.  H was exceedingly active for his age.  He played golf in the low eighties after he was 80 years old.  He showed a keen interest in active affairs.  He practiced medicine until four days before his death.

On June 17, 1886, Dr. Greear married Miss Bessie Earnest of Chucky, Tenn., who survives him.  He is also survived by eight of ten children:  Mrs. D. H. Martin, Indiana, Pa., Dr. James N. Greear, Washington, D. C., Mrs. C. S. McCall, South Hill, Va., Mrs. B. S. Gillespie, Big Stone Gap, Va., Mrs. N. D. Speiden, Niagara Falls, N. Y., Lynn E. Greear, Virginia State Highway Department, Fred B. Greear, Commonwealth’s Attorney of Wise County, Norton, Va., and Elizabeth Greear, St. Paul.  Also surviving are the following brothers and sisters, ranging in age from 71 to 80:  Mrs. Wilson Holbrook Coeburn, Va., William Greear, Coeburn, Va., Mrs. John Dingus, Castlewood, Va., Mrs. Ben. F. Hillman, Coeburn, Va., Mrs. George Gose, Castlewood, Va., and Mrs. Joe Crouch, Seadrift, Tex.; thirteen grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Funeral services were conducted in the St. Paul Methodist Church Sunday afternoon at 3 o’clock.  The Rev. J. L. Mullins officiated, assisted by the Rev. H. C. Auvill and the Rev. Walter Lawton.  Interment followed in the St. Paul Cemetery on Gray Hill.

Active pallbearers:  W. D. Richmond, Fred Addington, E. E. Thacker, Felix W. Dickenson, Harold Fleming, Guy Pugh, Henry Clay, and Jimmie Jessee.

From The Big Stone Gap Post, April 29, 1943


Mrs. Bessie Earnest Greear, 79, widow of Dr. J. N. Greear and mother of Fred B. Greear, Commonweath’s Attorney for Wise County, died Thursday at her home in St. Paul.  She had been in ill health for some time, but was seriously ill for the past ten days.

Mrs. Greear, a native of Chucky, Tenn., came to Virginia as a music teacher at the old Temple Hill Academy.  On June 17, 1886, she married Dr. Greear who was at that time a young physician at Castlewood.

After making their home at Castlewood for a few years, they came to Wise County where Dr. Greear was surgeon for the construction company that built the N & W Railway through Wise County.  They had made their home at St. Paul continuously since that time and both were beloved by everyone in the vicinity.  Dr. Greear died two years ago.

Surviving are eight children:  Mrs. D. H. Martin of Indiana, Pa., Mrs. N. D. Speiden of Niagara Falls, N. Y., Mrs. C. S. McCall of South Hill, Va., Mrs. B. S. Gillespie of Kingsport, Tenn., Dr. J. N. Greear, Jr., of Washington D. C., Fred Greear of Norton, Lynn Greear of Richmond, and Elizabeth Greear of St. Paul, with whom Mrs. Greear had been living.

Funeral Services were held at 3 o’clock Saturday at the Methodist Church in St. Paul.  Burial followed in the St. Paul Cemetery.


(1)  The Greear family graves were later relocated from the St. Paul Cemetery to Temple Hill Cemetery.

(2)  Because the material quoted above was originally written by different people at different times, it contains slight discrepancies.  No attempt was made by this author to correct them.

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