© 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.