Pulaski, "Gem City" of Southwest Virginia, industrial,
Civic and social center, principal town in the county which this
year celebrates its hundredth anniversary, began with a farmhouse,
a railroad, and a water tank.
About 1854 the Virginia and Tennessee railroad company (later
the Norfolk and Western) brought its track through here. To provide
water for the small wood-burning engines which puffed along the
way, a water tank was erected. This was called Martin's Tank,
so named because Robert and R. D. MARTIN had owned most of the
land through which the railroad passed. "Martin's Tank"
was Pulaski's childhood name.
The MARTIN farmhouse, originally of log construction, stood on
Fifth street where the H. R. FARLEY home now stands. It was Pulaski's
first residence, and at that time the only one.
The town grew slowly. The next house to be erected was that of
J. J. HUFFARD, then section foreman for the railroad. It was in
this house in south Pulaski that Mrs. Mary W. HUFFARD ran the
town's first post office when it was established here in 1870
as "Pulaski Station." The old home is today a municipal
In 1873 the CALFEE brothers, Gustavus, Leaner, and Monroe, came
to Pulaski. All three of them were destined to have important
parts in the development of the town. The first thing they did
after purchasing a parcel of property was to put up a building
and open Pulaski's first store. It was located on the east side
of Valley street.
Coal Deposits Found
By 1877 Pulaski was still progressing very slowly and might have
continued to do so for many years to come had it not been for
a fateful discovery. In that year William T. HART, lately captain
of HART's engineer company in the Confederate army of Western
Virginia, found the coal deposits that resulted the following
year in the establishment of the Altoona Coal and Iron Co.
A narrow gauge railroad was built running nine miles northwest
from Pulaski station to the Altoona mines in the mountains. The
train was powered by a "Saddle bag" dinky engine called
the "Cynthia" after Mrs. Cynthia BENTLEY, through whose
lands the road ran for part of the way.
The Altoona mines meant fuel and power and by the time the railroad
was completed another important event in Pulaski history had taken
place. The Bertha Mineral company was formed to smelt the zinc
from the Bertha zinc mine across the mountain, formerly owned
by Robert CALFEE. Construction of furnaces was begun in 1879 and
the first lot of zinc was turned out in February, 1880. Industry
had now definitely arrived. The future of Pulaski was assured.
Industrial development of the town was speeded up by the completion
in 1885 of the North Carolina or "Cripple Creek" branch
of the Norfolk and Western. About this time the N. and W. built
the Maple Shade Inn which in a few years became known as a summer
resort and attracted visitors from distant point.
A year later, February 24, 1886, the town was incorporated by
the legislature as Pulaski City, and Martin's Tank, Martin's Station,
and Pulaski Station passed into history. The town, which took
its name from the county, was named in honor of Count Casimir
Pulaski, the famous soldier and patriot of the Revolutionary war.
Pulaski began to attract other industries. In 1887 the Pulaski
Iron company erected its furnace, which was to run more nearly
continuously than any other iron furnace in Virginia.
At this time Pulaski's growth was not only industrial. Churches
were being built, the Episcopal Church having been erected on
Valley street in 1879 as the first church here. A public school
building, the first, went up on Water street with Miss Maggie
CALFEE as the first teacher.
Private schools were conducted by the Rev. Charles FETTER and
by Mrs. Lily SAYERS who ran the Pulaski institute, located on
Sixth street. A newspaper was brought here by Judge R. L. GARDNER.
An opera house was built. Lawyers and doctors were attracted.
Dr. C. E. C. PEYTON, who moved here in 1879, was the town's first
Another significant event in Pulaski's history was the erection
in 1891, of the Pulaski Loan and Trust building at the intersection
of Valley and Commerce streets. This bank, of which George L.
CARTER was president, was the first bank in Pulaski, having been
organized on March 8, 1887.
About 1890 things were beginning to boom in Southwest Virginia.
The country was for the first time to be really opened up and
developed and Pulaski shared the boom spirit. Real estate values
began to soar and people talked in expansive terms. Contributing
to this movement was the Pulaski Development company, formed in
1890. It acquired considerable areas of land east of town, divided
it up into lots, laid streets, ha public auctions in which buyers
bid excitedly for property at high prices.
But neither Pulaski nor Southwest Virginia was quite ready for
such a boom. Soon enthusiasm flagged, prices slumped, and many
Pulaskians found themselves on the short end of what they had
thought was a bargain. As a part of the boom, however, the development
company had constructed a large blast furnace, called the "Dora"
furnace along with a foundry and machine shops. It also acquired
a large flour mill, the Pulaski Mills. In 1891 the Pulaski Land
and Improvement company built the Pulaski hotel. The town continued
An event vital in Pulaski's history occurred in 1893. In that
year the courthouse at Newbern was destroyed by fire. As Newbern
was two miles from the railroad, agitation arose to bring the
courthouse to either Dublin or Pulaski. Both towns desired it
and to settle the matter an election was ordered. Bitterly contested,
the election resulted in a victory for Pulaski, after the matter
had been carried to the Virginia supreme court of appeals.
The courthouse was built in Pulaski in 1895. It swung the growth
of the town from the south to the north side of the railroad tracks.
Pulaski's lawyers settled themselves conveniently to the courthouse.
New stores sprang up. New faces were attracted to the town.
With the coming of the courthouse Pulaski developed a new civic
consciousness. It saw the pressing need for public utilities.
To this end it acquired a watershed of 3,000 acres and constructed
a dam to insure the town a safe and ample water supply, as previously
the water had come from springs and artesian wells. Streets were
also improved. Through receipts obtained from the establishment
of a liquor dispensary, which was short-lived, however, as in
a few years it was voted out, ruts and mud holes in the streets
were done away with. Dispensary receipts also provided for what
is now, with changes and improvements, the local municipal building.
After the dispensary disappeared, bonds were issued and a sewer
system and street lighting system were installed. For a while
the town had its own electric plant, but finding it too expensive
to operate turned the job over to the Appalachian Electric Power
By this time other changes had taken place. In 1905 the town,
following an action of the post office department, was named Pulaski,
rather than Pulaski City. In 1897 the Pulaski Iron company had
joined with the Pulaski Mineral company, which had evolved a method
of using the hitherto un-usable "Mundic" or heavily
sulphured iron ores; this company removed the sulphur, converted
it to sulphuric acid, leaving the iron suitable to be made into
Those were the beginnings. Today the picture is changed. The old
zinc plant is gone, the P. I. Furnace has been torn down, old
homes and places of business have disappeared. But growing out
of those is the new Pulaski. In the last two decades few towns
have had the industrial and civic growth that has been Pulaski's.
Replacing the old iron and zinc works are lumber mills, knitting
mills, furniture factories. The population that in 1890 was 2,112,
is now close to 10,000. Banks, churches, a fine public school
system, up-to-date businesses, all speak of the new progress.
Martin's Tank has grown up. Pulaski looks to the future.
Source: 1939 Centennial Edition of the SW Times
MARTIN'S TANK AS PULASKI NAME
The earliest map that I have been able to find showing any
sizeable portion of Pulaski County is one covering an area in
and around what is now the town of Pulaski.
This map was drawn by Captain William T. HART in the year 1873,
at a time when surveyors took great pride in the artistry of their
map making. It must have taken hours of the Captain to draw the
title of that map.
The map shows a survey of sixteen thousand acres of land owned
by Robert D. Martin, and titled "Map of Mountain View, etc.,"
so as far as I am concerned Pulaski was called Mountain View Farm
before there was a Martin's Tank.
The main road through town at that time was Pepper's Ferry Road
that ran through Max Meadows, across the mountains to what is
now Valley Road, northward through town, passing in front of the
Martin home, which was on the lot where now stands the Christian
Church Education Building, along Fifth Street, and toward Dublin
along the present Pepper's Ferry Road location.
This was a through road to the Ferry that was located near where
Route 114 now passes over New River going toward the Powder Plant.
From west of town came Ridge Road, which is now known as Mount
Olivet Road, and from the north, Robinson Tract Road. The railroad
through the center of Town at the time was knows as the Atlantic,
Missouri, and Ohio Railroad, and it was a wood-burner. The map
shows Lake Sumpter, where the Town shops are now, and an old boring
mill just southwest of town. A large spring in the Northwood area
was called Cook Spring.
Captain HART was a soldier in the War Between the States, and
had been stationed in the area during the war. He, like many other
military men, met and fell in love and married a local girl.
She was Lucy BENTLEY, whose family were prominent farmers in the
Robinson Tract area. Captain HART was instrumental in getting
the first coal mining established in this section.
When the Bertha Mineral Company came here to start their business,
it is very likely that Captain Hart had already told them of the
coal in Little Walker's Mountain.
He helped to get this industry started and was Chief Engineer
for the Altoona Mines, which were located near where the present
Route 738 crosses over toward Little Creek.
Coal was hauled out to Pulaski by horse wagon for a while, and
later the Altoona Railroad was built up through Brookmont to the
mines. This was a narrow gage railroad that was soon branched
off to the Empire Mines, operated by D. Gary LANGHORNE.
Any observation about area progress has to go back to three closely
related industries: railroading, mining, and smelting. Pulaski
County was one of the boom areas of Southwest Virginia from late
1800 until 1930's. There was a time when a large part of business
and industry in the area depended on one way or another on coal
Hotels, supply houses, grocery stores, and generally small businesses
were here to supply and equip one of the big three.
The first area of Pulaski Town to be developed was the southwest
section. In that area either the Bertha Mineral Company or the
CALFEE's owned practically all of the developable property. Besides
owning and developing much of the property southwest of the railroad
tracks, Leander CALFEE owned a train of wagons, which were used
to pull minerals from the far end of this County and Wythe County
for processing by the Bertha Mineral Works, at the present location
of Magnox on West Commerce Street.
Along Commerce Street, from Jefferson Avenue, westward, and along
Valley Street for a couple of blocks was old old downtown. I am
told that along these streets were board sidewalks, and the buildings
housed all of the businesses necessary in a town of the era.
Just north of the tracks and to the west of South Jefferson was
a cluster of small businesses, and on Randolph between the railroad
tracks on Main Street.
This was also downtown, and I have heard Mr. E.P. WHITMAN talk
about how hard it was to get a horse and wagon out of downtown
after a heavy rain. All streets were dirt for a number of years.
First Street from commerce to Jefferson was once a busy block,
especially after dark, because the old Opera House stood there.
It was on the last block of South Randolph that the famous character
Captain TEANY had his blacksmith shop, and where he held his famous
marble tournaments. TEANY was the Civil War veteran, who brought
the cannon here, and had it placed in the Town Park.
During all this time the section of downtown, north of the
railroad tracks, was a swamp. Peak Creek meandered throughout
the low bottom, covering hundreds of acres that would some day
be needed for development of industry and businesses. In the late
1800's a group from Philadelphia came in and surveyed a large
area north of the tracks and formed what is known as Pulaski Land
This company began immediately to drain the swamps and change
the flow of streams. Their first big project was the building
of two giant stone walls from west of Randolph Avenue, parallel
with the railroad tracks, eastward (almost Due East) to a point
past Madison Avenue.
The walls were built a hundred feet apart, and ten feet high in
places, and between these rock walls, the main channel of Peak
Creek was made to flow.
By this time Pulaski Iron Company, which was located where Gem
City Iron & Metal Company is now, was running to full blast.
The thousands of tons of furnace slag was dumped in behind the
rock walls of Peak Creek, filling the swamps and claiming land
that had never been good for anything before. Peak Creek stayed
within the walls of this channel, except for possibly one or two
flood times, when water went over the top causing damage to nearby
industries and businesses. The worst flood was in 1913.
Source: Lloyd Mathews
This map of the town of Pulaski in 1884 (then Martin's Tank)
was drawn by Dr. J.W. Keister a short time before his death and
has been reproduced from the original which appeared in the 1939
Centennial Edition of the SW Times newspaper. It was redone according
to the original by Tami Ramsey.
The houses and buildings are numbered and include:
2-Built for wagon factory by Brook WATSON.
3-Dr. C.E. C. PEYTON, physician for Bertha Zinc Co.
4-Mrs. M.W. HUFFORD, boarding house.
5-G.A. CALFEE, salesman.
6-Normy BOWER, blacksmith.
7-Conway KEISTER and Co., drugs.
Owned by Dr. W. B. CONWAY, the Rev. W.E.
HUBBERT, J.W. KEISTER. After one year owned by J.W. KEISTER.
8-Stables of M.H. CALFEE.
9-M. H. CALFEE residence, salesman.
10-Store being built.
11-Capt. Thomas JONES, general superintendent of Bertha Zinc.
12-Dick MARTIN, son of Col. Robert D. MARTIN, owner of land on
which Pulaski is
13-Maple Shade Inn, being built by the Norfolk and Western railroad
under name of
Virginia Co., and was about one story high.
14-L. S. CALFEE residence. Son-in-law of Col. Robert D. MARTIN.
15-Episcopal church, now a residence.
16-Calfee and Howard, drugs.
17-L.S. Calfee and Company, merchant.
18-Norfolk and Western railroad. Old water tank operated by Rance
DUDLEY. At this
place he lost both of his arms.
19-Postoffice building still on Randolph Avenue.
20-Norfolk and Western railroad station. Small wooden building.
Passenger and freight.
21-Lee LYONS, merchant.
22-Capt. C.C. TEANEY, boarding house.
23-Small school house.
24-Squire Jacob HARRIS, mill.
25-Terry MARTIN. Home of his father Col. Robert D. MARTIN.
28-Charles H. LEACHE with Bertha Zinc mercantile
29-Mike J. ALEXANDER, supt. Of Pulaski Land Co.
30-Frank CAMPBELL, connected with the Altoona railroad.
31-Lee L. SUMMER's residence.
32-Dr. A.B. LIVINGSTON, druggist, residence.
33-Robert CRABTREE, contractor, residence.
34-Phil CURRIN, shoemaker, residence.
35-James GEMMELL, bookkeeper, residence.
36-Chas. FOLGER, tinner, residence.
37-C.L. TEANEY, blacksmith shop.
38-John RATCLIFFE residence.
39-Rance DUDLEY residence.
40-Columbus JACKSON residence.
41-W.M. FARLOW residence.
42-Richard JAMES, superintendent of Bertha Zinc Co., furnace.
43-John REESE, skilled zinc man.
44-Neil PETERSON, maker of retorts for smelting zinc.
45-Francis THOMAS, skilled zinc man.
46-William THOMAS, skilled zinc man.
47-Jack GURREN, harness maker.
48-House built by Col. Robert D. MARTIN.
49-House known as the Litchfield house.
50-Bertha Zinc Co. store.
51-Bertha Zinc Co., plant.
52-Ed RAY, lumberman.
Origin of name "Robinson Tract:" George ROBINSON secured
a grant on February 20, 1748 for 2,675 acres on North fork of
Peak creek. He died in 1763. Randolph Avenue in town would be
the beginning of Robinson Tract Road