RAINELLE W.Va. (WVDN) – Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in The Hinton News as part of a column titled “A Peek into Summers County’s Past.” This is a condensed version, some photos and sections have been omitted. To see the entire article, go to hintonnews.com/2023/11/13/a-peek-into-summers-countys-past-meadow-river-lumber-company/.
During the beginning of the 1900s two brothers, Thomas and John Raine, organized what would later become one of the top names in its field, the Meadow River Lumber Company, and purchased 32,000 acres of timber in the western part of Greenbrier County. It was here they built their first sawmill in the town of Rainelle, West Virginia, which would later be named after them. They also formed a 20-mile railroad to work in production with their mill.
Thomas Raine was the first president of the company and served until 1912. It was then that his brother, John, became president until 1938. Howard Gray was then president until 1961. Howard’s son served as the final president until Meadow River Lumber Company was sold to Georgia-Pacific in 1970.
The original mill that started the company burned in 1924 and was then rebuilt in 1925, having three nine-foot band saws. The lumber company could average 110,000 board feet of lumber per day. It was the largest hardwood mill of its kind in the world at that time. During its “heyday,” an average of 20,000,000 board feet of lumber was sawed per year. 1928 was its greatest year, seeing 31.6 million board feet of lumber sawed.
The boards that were sawed in their mill were stacked in 40-foot tall stacks to dry and then it was placed in one of their kilns for 14 days so it would be ready to be sold or processed into one of the many products that Meadow River produced. This was a very dangerous job. Over the years I can recall my uncle, Paul Canterbury, telling countless stories of Meadow River Lumber Company, his father Kenneth Canterbury retired after having been one of the men that stacked the lumber. So he had heard stories all of his life about Meadow River and especially how dangerous this specific job was.
Many people aren’t aware of this, but the lumber company operated a furniture plant until World War ll and a planing mill where items such as baseboards, moldings and stair treads were produced. I had never known about Meadow River having produced furniture until my friend John Clay, who is deceased now and was a fellow lover of antiques and history, gave me a piece of lumber.
It is part of a headboard for a bed that was built by the furniture plant. “Chubby,” as I called him, gave it to me because of the brass plaque that is attached to it which reads, “The Meadow River Lumber Company Flooring Rainelle, W.VA. Trim Cream of Appalachian Hardwoods”. He also gave me a piece of flooring from the mill. It is stamped “Meadow River.” This fact about this piece of this story relates to Summers County more specifically. If a house was built in this county between the first part of the 1900s to the 1960s, there is a good chance the hardwood flooring came from Meadow River Lumber Company since they were one of the largest producers of hardwood flooring in the world.
There is a large oak apothecary cabinet that used to sit in the back of the dining room at the Pence Springs Hotel. When the property became The Greenbrier Academy For Girls they removed it and placed it in storage. Dad got it for me before the school closed this past March and we are going to use it in the living room of grandma’s house. It originally came from the Rexall Drug Store in Alderson and was located on the first floor of the large three-story brick bank building on the Greenbrier side of the river.
Lastly and probably the least known fact about this business is they also had a shoe heel plant. Where it produced between four and six million wooden heels for shoes per year. There is a chance that if you, your mother or grandmother wore shoes with wooden heels they could have been made in Rainelle. I recently, just in the past month, purchased the two wooden heels in my collection from a local thrift store. They read “R L Co. Rainelle, W.Va.” I had looked for a pair of these for decades, and when I saw wooden heels lying on the counter and picked them up, I couldn’t believe what they said. You just never know what you may find lying around.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.