The City of Love
According to local tradition, when the postal service needed an official name for the flag shop, postmistress Hattie Hannah gazed north from her office in the Higgenbotham house across the valley to Stoney Ridge, where fields of azure chicory bloomed, and mistily cried, “Look at all the blue fields!” The name stuck, and Bluefield was born.
Early Bluefield presented a rich colorful portrait. Jewish merchants and cobblers helped build the first retail base of the town, bringing with them shrewd shopkeeper sensibilities. Black draymen and construction teams literally built Bluefield, and the railroad’s policy of offering shop level management positions to qualified blacks gave the first evidence of what would become Bluefield’s strong black community.
On November 20th, 1889, Bluefield, West Virginia, was chartered under state law. Full of Italian stonemasons, Jewish merchants, Hungarian and Polish immigrant miners, Tazewell County farmers, and sharply dressed Pennsylvania businessmen, nineteenth-century Bluefield was a noisy place and an enormously complex society - due to such frantic growth.
Most of the fundamental institutions of Bluefield were created in its first decade. It’s strongest churches, it’s oldest schools, and it’s first institution of higher learning —Bluefield Colored Institute, chartered 1895— were products of the community’s first ten years. The Board of Trade, precursor of the Chamber of Commerce, and the pivotal Pocahontas Operators Association were both established in Bluefield before the town was ten years old.
The isolation and remoteness of the young city served to bind its citizens together. With only one way in or out of town —the N&W— everybody knew everybody else, and this closeness and familiarity of the early settlers helped join them together in a common enterprise. Recreation and entertainment in old Bluefield reflected this sense of community, with ice skating, street carnivals, scenic paradise, circuses, Fourth of July outings, fierce baseball rivalries, and town barbecues. Fraternal societies and secret orders helped to bind the disparate elements into a tightly-knit, coherent community with its own distinctive identity and unique character.
The active Pocahontas Operators Association organized what was to become the Bluefield Coal Show, which highlighted the city’s continued position of leadership in the industry. Pocahontas coal fueled the industrialization of America and indeed a world! The Chamber of Commerce famed “Lemonade Stunt,” helped by bringing worldwide publicity of the city’s mild climate as well as a smile to harried Bluefielders. Hence, Nature's Air Conditioned City.
The 6th annual Lemonade Festival is August 26th, 2018 in the downtown historic district. We will have limited merchandise inspired by the cultural heritage of Bluefield. The City of Love capsule is heavily influenced by the camaraderie and commonality of a city. After all, we are commanded to "Love your neighbor as yourself." Mark 12:31
Aerial view of Old Bluefield: https://www.loc.gov/resource/g3894b.pm009870/?r=0.234,-0.146,0.274,0.406,0
Originally published by C. Stuart McGehee