Friday, August 12, 2011

Don't Blame it on the Rain

 My daughter in Asheville, NC, is friends with a couple who at one time lived in a house far out in the woods.  When Katie was visiting, she and Ashley were sitting in the swing on the porch watching a heavy rain storm pass through.  During a lull in the conversation, Ashley said, "Rain, rain, rain.  Rainelle!"  Katie blinked twice and asked, "What did you say?"  As far as we know, there is only one Rainelle, an evaporating lumber mill town at the foot of Sewell Mountain in West Virginia.  It turned out that Ashley and Burton had been to the Appalachian String Band Music Festival at Clifftop, WV, and had travelled through Rainelle. 
Unlike Milli Vanilli, we can't "Blame it on the Rain".  We can, however, credit Thomas and John Raine for the town's unusual name.  Most sources attribute the name of the town simply to the Raine brothers, but recently tradition is growing that the name came from the daughter of Thomas Raine, Nell.  Thus, you see, "Rainelle".  However, I could find no documentation for this.  That doesn't mean it isn't true, but if it is, no one bothered to write it down.

The only public memorial to the history of Rainelle.
The only "monument" to the history of Rainelle is a marker along Route 60.  The town is certainly different than when I was growing up there, and I'm sure that it bears little resemblance to the original settlement that the Raines built around 1910.  Since the early 1970s major buildings have been torn down:  the sawmill, the Raine house on top of the hill, the railroad depot, the Pioneer Hotel.  Soon the high school will follow them. 

Thomas and John Raine were the sons of an English immigrant, Joseph Raine, and his wife, Ruth, who were living in Ohio as early as 1850.  Thomas was born in January, 1851, and John was born in Ironton, Ohio, on April 6, 1863. 

In Tumult on the Mountains, Roy Clarkson writes that John started his career as a choreboy in a lumber camp at the age of 13.  He worked in a grocery in Ironton until he was age 30, when he joined Thomas in a lumber business in Empire, Pennsylvania.  After exhausting their timber in Pennsylvania, they happened upon the virgin timber stands of West Virginia. 

The Clarkson book published photos of felled trees with diameters wider than the men were tall.  It's difficult to comprehend the size of the forests that existed in West Virginia before the loggers took them down.  We will never see forests like that again in West Virginia.

Otis Rice says in West Virginia: a History, that lumber companies from New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Minnesota bought most of the timber in West Virginia.  The going price was about two to five dollars an acre.  Rice explains that a yellow poplar tree that cost about 50 cents could yield 2,000 board feet of timber that sold for $80-$100 per thousand board feet.  Pretty good return on the investment. 

The Raine brothers eagerly explored the indigenous hardwood forests of West Virginia.  They first developed Evenwood in Randolph County in 1903.  The Raine-Andrews Lumber Company then discovered the forests of Sewell Valley along the Meadow River in 1906.  No rail access existed in the area, so the Raines built the Sewell Valley Railroad to transport timber to the mill.  The first board was sawed at Meadow River Lumber Company in 1910.  The mill was known as the world's largest hardwood lumber mill, a triple band saw mill capable of cutting an average of 110,000 board feet of lumber in 10 hours.  Clarkson says that eventually the mill's production increased to 30 million board feet of lumber a year which required the cutting of 3,000 acres of trees a year.

One of the eight-foot circular saws from the Meadow River Lumber Company is on display at the Cradle of Forestry Historic Site at Pisgah National Forest near Asheville, North Carolina. 

A postcard showing Rainelle and dated 1915, mailed from
Corliss, WV.  It is signed by Rebecca in Camp #7, Rainelle.
The town of Rainelle was incorporated on April 25, 1913.  It was a company town, with a company store and company housing for the employees of the mill.  In 1900 Thomas Raine lived in Pennsylvania; in 1910 he lived in Randloph County, WV, but by 1920 he had moved back to Pennsylvania.  I could find no indication that he ever lived in Rainelle for any significant period of time. 

John Raine and his wife, Elma, lived in Pennsylvania with two children in 1900.  By 1910 they had moved to Hillsboro in Pocahontas County, West Virginia.  None of their children were born in West Virginia but were all born in either Ohio or Pennsylvania.  In 1920 John and Elma Raine lived in Rainelle with their five children:  Burton (an inspector in the lumber yard), Richard, Margaret Helen, Max, and Edward.  Another son, John Raine, Jr., died April 13, 1919, at the hospital in Hinton from appendicitis. 

Thomas Raine died in 1933.  John's wife, Elma Davis Raine, died March 11, 1928.  Soon after Elma's death, John married Elizabeth Davis, because they lived in Rainelle in 1930.  Also in the household were Betty B. Davis (John's step-daughter) and Francis S. Davis (a step-son).  The live-in help included a cook, Fanny Lee, and a gardener, Jim Clay.  John Raine owned his home, worth $50,000.  He also had a radio and was the president of a lumber plant.  John Raine died August 28, 1940, in Montgomery, West Virginia, and is buried in Rainelle. 

And so ends the story.  A blue-collar kind of place for most of us, Rainelle, as we once knew it, full of families and stories to tell, is mostly gone.   The massive forests are gone, the mill is gone, and many of the people are gone.  Only shadows remain where once fortunes were made.

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