Grover Hillman’s Store

© Jerry F. Couch 2021

The store operated by Mr. Grover Hillman on Riverside Drive was a familiar St. Paul landmark for many years. If you are one of the thousands of people who visited that store, then I’m sure you remember the smiling gentleman behind the counter who welcomed you. Maybe you were a miner who bought lunch items and gas at the store, Or, like me, you were a child who bought candy cigarettes or little wax bottles of colored liquid. Maybe you even remember Mr. Hillman’s old faded blue Ford panel truck – like the one pictured in this factory illustration.

There’s another aspect of Grover Hillman’s story that isn’t widely known. During the Great Depression, when many people were facing what is referred to today as “food insecurity,” Mr. Hillman provided groceries to people in dire straits by extending credit even when he knew they couldn’t pay. In later years when times improved, some repaid him and some did not. He accepted this cheerfully, saying, “They had little children. What else could I do?” Blessed are the merciful….

Mr. Hillman was downplaying the seriousness of his economic situation of that time. What he didn’t mention was that he mortgaged his home, then pumped the money into his business to keep it going. As a result, he made it through the worst of the Great Depression. By 1938 the mortgage had been repaid in full.

Like most of the Hillmans in Southwest Virginia, Grover Hillman was part of the “Scott County Connection.” These pioneer families included surnames such as Dingus, Kilgore, Quillen, McConnell, Broadwater, Hilton, and several others. Hillman descendants in this area remain numerous, but Grover Hillman’s children migrated to areas of greater opportunity.

The picture below is the earliest photo of Grover Hillman in our CVT archives. He’s the man shown at right beside the gas pumps. This service station was near the spot where the present Eastern Star building stands today.

Take note of the 1920’s automobile pictured at the far right, near St. Paul’s original Rosser Bridge spanning the Clinch River. Because it was a one-lane bridge, the driver of that car may have been waiting for another motorist who was crossing from the Russell County side.

The photo below of the Grover and Anna Belle Hillman family probably dates from around 1950. The two Hillman children I can positively identify are Jack (lower right), and Wayne (standing behind his dad).

In the photo below, Betty Jessee is standing on Tazewell Street in front of the home (then) of Dr. Hall. Most of us remember it as the home of St. Paul High School faculty member, Mrs. Peggy Lipps. On the right is the Grover Hillman home. It was a spacious house and perfect for a big family. It also had a feature that was unique in St. Paul – a screened upstairs sleeping porch. Both these houses were demolished to make way for the present-day St. Paul Elementary School building.


Pictured below is Grover Hillman’s store as it looked during the Flood of 1957. This scene would be repeated in 1963 and again with even more disastrous results in 1977. The home of Horace and Gertie Powers can be seen beyond the store.

Lillian Austin, a clerk at Grover Hillman’s store, is pictured below pumping gas into Roy Austin’s car.

Below, another photo of Lillian Austin taken at Grover Hillman’s store. In the background is long-gone Couch Hill and the home of Dule Couch.

Each year, Grover Hillman planted a garden behind his store. In free moments, he would take a break to tend it – something he obviously enjoyed. In the photo below, some fisherman are shown on the banks of the Clinch River behind Mr. Hillman’s garden back in the early 1970’s.. There must not have been a flood that winter, because the previous year’s dead cornstalks are still standing.


Like his old blue Ford panel truck, Grover Hillman was wearing out. After the 1977 Clinch River flood, he called it quits. His store property, like all the property on Riverside Drive, was purchased by the Wise County Redevelopment & Housing Authority and the site it occupied eventually became part of the Riverside Shopping Center. Before the store could be demolished, however, someone set fire to it.

In October of 1983, Grover Hillman, a fine Appalachian gentleman, passed on to his reward. Then, in October of 1992 his wife, Anna Belle Hillman also departed this life.

Good friends can never be forgotten because they can nver be replaced.

4 thoughts on “Grover Hillman’s Store

  1. I remember going into Mr. Hillman’s store when I was a child. My Dad and I would get snacks and drinks there sometimes before a night of fishing in Sagertown. Back then, people respected others’ property and you could fish just about anywhere you wanted.

  2. Loved this article on Grover. My dad took me to his store on Saturdays to get groceries and we would stay there for awhile and watch tv. We watched wrestling most of the time.

  3. In the summer of ‘73 my Grandmother Janice Nancy Denny, Grover and Anna Bell’s daughter, my mother Peggy Lee Mayne and my three brothers Kevin, Chris and Michael drove across the country in a station wagon to visit my Great grandparents. My mother and grandma took turns driving and we drove straight through to St. Paul. When we arrived, grandma honked the car horn and Granny Bell promptly came out the screen door and on to the porch to greet us in her house apron with a grand smile on her face. I remember that great big house too, and the panel truck parked out front. Great grandad was still at the store at the time we got ample hugs cheek pinches.
    Grover eventually came home in his matching blue pants and shirt with a pocket protector and the eight of use sat down for a fried chicken dinner.
    Later we met some kids in the neighborhood and were introduced to a lot stuff California kids never had experienced, like Redman chewing tobacco and fireflies.
    The next day when we woke Grover had already gone to work, but when he came home for lunch he took three of us boys back to the store with him. I thought the store was pretty cool with the river running right behind it. I got to see and visit my first outhouse too. I remember inside the store were a collection of old cash registers, also very cool!
    That night after work, came home and took a photos of us three boys wearing Grover’s fedoras leaning against that panel truck pretending to gangsters. All in all given the whirlwind trip it was very memorable. And I thank the author of the story that brought me to recall my great great grandparents Grover and Anna Bell Hillman.
    By the way, I’m pretty sure the picture them on the porch was taken on our trip.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to respond to my article and share your memories. Grover Hillman has not been forgotten by older folks in St. Paul 🙂

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.