© Jerry F. Couch
On March 19, 1891, the Bickley Mills Post began its commercial life. In 1892, it ceased publication. Despite its brief run, the little hometown paper left its footprint on the Castlewood area. Thomas W. Comann was the first publisher of this four-page weekly that featured local happenings, along with a smattering of news from the wider world and a healthy dose of practical wisdom. It is worth remembering that during the time period between the arrival of the Norfolk & Western Railway in 1890, and the Panic of 1893, Bickley Mills showed great promise – much more than nearby St. Paul. Comann had good reason to believe the Bickley Mills neighborhood could support a newspaper of its own. It didn’t work out that way.
At some point in 1891, James M. Dickenson took over as publisher of the Bickley Mills Post. In 1964, his son Felix Dickenson sent 50 issues of the paper to the University of Virginia’s library to be microfilmed as part of a larger project to preserve the state’s older newspapers. It’s possible these papers represented the Bickley Mills Post’s entire run.
Comann was an experienced printer, reporter, and writer. He had been the initial publisher of The Lebanon News, which was founded in 1880 – and is still with us today. Next, he and Martin L. Comann founded the Lebanon Gazette, a venture which lasted until 1892. When Comann left the Bickley Mills Post, he helped establish the short-lived Wise Sun. Next, he established the Norton Herald, which may have been Norton’s first newspaper. Comann and his family relocated to Norton and became an integral part of that community. The following transcription in which Comann is mentioned is from the July 9, 1927 edition of Crawford’s Weekly, published in Norton, VA.
“By a stroke of good fortune Thomas W. Comann has consented to be associated with this new firm [Robert Bunts Printing Company of Norton] in the capacity of shop foreman. “Uncle Tommy” as he is more familiarly known, came to Norton in 1892 and established the Norton Herald. Later he established the Norton Free Press which he operated for several years selling it to Howard C. Miller. During his long and eventful experience, he has been affiliated with a great many of the more prominent papers and shops of this section. “Uncle Tommy” would not get the praise due him if he were to be called a mere Craftsman of the old school.”
Comann died in Palm Harbor, FL on Sept. 28, 1944 – a newspaperman to the end. He had printers ink in his blood, but none of his 3 children chose to follow in his footsteps.
Pictured below, an early 1900’s photo of the thriving community of Bickley Mills.
From the Bickley Mills Post, December 1891
—Taffy stews are very popular in these parts.
—Rev. L. H. Little will preach at Temple Hill on Sunday.
—Rev. W. Y. Quisenberry was in our place yesterday.
—Miss Maggie Adams is visiting friends at Copper Creek.
—Rev. John Jesse died last week at his home in Lee County.
—A big lot of Hats Stovepipe, Candies, etc., at H. P. Dickenson, Jr.’s.
—It is said that a Bickley Mills girl is to be married during the holidays.
—Farley Dickenson, of Wallace’s Switch, is visiting relatives at this place.
—Come, Mr. Weather Bureau, give us an old-fashioned Christmas with snow.
—The best 150 degree test lamp oil at Bickley & Gibson’s t 20 cents per gallon.
—It is said that the ceremonies at the public opening of the bridge on Saturday evening were very appropriate.
—Mr. Jno. T. Dickenson has been quite sick for several days. He is suffering from a very severe cold.
—Plain and fancy candies, French mixtures, anything in the candy line at Bickley & Gibson’s.
—Please do not carry our exchange away from our office without asking for them.
—Mr. and Mrs. Samuel J. Osborn of Blue Grass, gave our office a pleasant call last Saturday.
—Mr. F. C. Ames of the Chicago Bridge & Iron Company, left Tuesday for Chicago having complete the bridge.
—Mr. and Mrs. Jim Jack Dickenson returned Tuesday from a visit to relatives in Lee County.
—We were much pleased to have a communication from “Pansy” last week and shall be glad to hear from her often.
—“What shall I give her?” is a question bothering the impecunious young man, as Christmas Draws near.
—Santa Claus is now balancing accounts and writing tags for the good things favored ones are to receive.
—You can buy useful and serviceable Christmas gifts at J. H. Dickenson & Sons’.
—This is beautiful weather we are having, but not the kind we want for Christmas.
The original steel bridge at “Old Castlewood” formerly Bickley Mills served its community from 1892 until 1980. Though it has been gone for over 30 years, many of us still remember bumping across its rather loosely anchored deck. Because it was a one-lane bridge, we also recall having to wait at times when another car got to the bridge ahead of us.
Thanks to this bridge, farmers of the community were able to bring crops and livestock to the train station for shipping to markets throughout the year. Children walked across this bridge to attend the Temple Hill School. Families crossed the bridge to attend the Fort Gibson Church. Over the years, the bridge survived the Clinch River floods of 1918, 1946, 1957, 1963 and 1977. It would be fair to say the bridge was much like the Castlewood community itself – stronger and more stubborn than it may have appeared.
Will the “new” bridge last as long? Our Citizens of Tomorrow will find the answer to that question on or before 2068.
— Gone But Not Forgotten —