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Zinc industry emerged

The zinc industry got its start locally in the year 1868 when Jason W. Mixter and his associates purchased 242 acres of land that was rich in zinc ore on the south side of New River in Wythe County and 10 acres in Martin’s Tank, later Pulaski, the latter 10 acres to be the site for the zinc works that would soon be established as a part of the Bertha Zinc Mining and Smelting Company.
Zinc was a very important part of Pulaski’s history.
Several things had to come together for this industry to make a go of it.
First, there had to be an ample supply of coal to fire the plant, and there had to be an available railroad to transport the finished product to other areas. Then there had to be an ample work force of knowledgeable people to operate the plant.
And, of course, most important was that there had to be plenty of ore from which to produce the zinc
The zinc plant was built in just a little time because the weather cooperated so well with the construction workers.
In 1880, the Bertha Mineral Company was organized and the furnaces were in the big bend in Peak Creek on West Commerce Street, in the booming little village of Martin’s Tank.
Among the local businessmen who became early officers was John S. Draper, who later became a circuit judge in the area.
Because local people knew nothing about the making of zinc, they employed a man from Wales by the name of Thomas Jones, who was an expert to run the plant.
He brought with him from across the waters eight men from his home country who were experienced zinc workers to train the local workers.
The eight men who were brought to America were Richard James, Nelse Patterson, John Reese, John Alcock, Francis Thomas, William Williams, John Williams and William Thomas.
On Feb. 16, 1880, four furnaces were lighted.
These initial lightings were usually carried out with a great deal of fanfare, with some celebrity usually on hand to do the honors, and, if all went well, they stayed burning for long periods of time, usually until recession or some calamity in the business caused a slowdown.
When these workers from Wales agreed to come to Pulaski to work, it was under certain conditions, one being that the workers would be supplied with all of the beer they needed to drink while on the job.
This stipulation was strictly adhered to by the management.
The Calfee family has always had a big part in Pulaski’s development of the mineral interests in southwest Virginia, even since the start of the village of Martin’s Tank.
L. S. Calfee was an enterprising young man, whose name can be found on many of the old property maps of that day.
When the zinc industry was running full blast, L.S. Calfee had the contract to transport the ore from the mines in Wythe County to the plant in Pulaski.
This project required 34 horse-drawn ore wagons, and the ore was pulled through a large portion of Wythe County, through Draper’s Valley and across Draper Mountain to the zinc plant.
Bertha Zinc Company was well-situated in those early times.
Out in the Robinson Tract area, on the south side of Little Walker Mountain, coal was mined and hauled by wagon into town to fire the zinc plant, making the operation almost self-sufficient.
Raw materials were moved by the power of horses, while the finished product was hauled out by rail since the railroad right-of-way bordered on zinc company property.
The company had a commissary on the opposite side of the street from the plant, and nearby was the paymaster’s office, a brick structure that still stands.
And located on State Street about a block to the south is the old apartment house called “Brick Row,” where some of the Welsh workers lived.
Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and a historian who lives in Pulaski.

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Zinc industry emerged

The zinc industry got its start locally in the year 1868 when Jason W. Mixter and his associates purchased 242 acres of land that was rich in zinc ore on the south side of New River in Wythe County and 10 acres in Martin’s Tank, later Pulaski, the latter 10 acres to be the site for the zinc works that would soon be established as a part of the Bertha Zinc Mining and Smelting Company.
Zinc was a very important part of Pulaski’s history.
Several things had to come together for this industry to make a go of it.
First, there had to be an ample supply of coal to fire the plant, and there had to be an available railroad to transport the finished product to other areas. Then there had to be an ample work force of knowledgeable people to operate the plant.
And, of course, most important was that there had to be plenty of ore from which to produce the zinc
The zinc plant was built in just a little time because the weather cooperated so well with the construction workers.
In 1880, the Bertha Mineral Company was organized and the furnaces were in the big bend in Peak Creek on West Commerce Street, in the booming little village of Martin’s Tank.
Among the local businessmen who became early officers was John S. Draper, who later became a circuit judge in the area.
Because local people knew nothing about the making of zinc, they employed a man from Wales by the name of Thomas Jones, who was an expert to run the plant.
He brought with him from across the waters eight men from his home country who were experienced zinc workers to train the local workers.
The eight men who were brought to America were Richard James, Nelse Patterson, John Reese, John Alcock, Francis Thomas, William Williams, John Williams and William Thomas.
On Feb. 16, 1880, four furnaces were lighted.
These initial lightings were usually carried out with a great deal of fanfare, with some celebrity usually on hand to do the honors, and, if all went well, they stayed burning for long periods of time, usually until recession or some calamity in the business caused a slowdown.
When these workers from Wales agreed to come to Pulaski to work, it was under certain conditions, one being that the workers would be supplied with all of the beer they needed to drink while on the job.
This stipulation was strictly adhered to by the management.
The Calfee family has always had a big part in Pulaski’s development of the mineral interests in southwest Virginia, even since the start of the village of Martin’s Tank.
L. S. Calfee was an enterprising young man, whose name can be found on many of the old property maps of that day.
When the zinc industry was running full blast, L.S. Calfee had the contract to transport the ore from the mines in Wythe County to the plant in Pulaski.
This project required 34 horse-drawn ore wagons, and the ore was pulled through a large portion of Wythe County, through Draper’s Valley and across Draper Mountain to the zinc plant.
Bertha Zinc Company was well-situated in those early times.
Out in the Robinson Tract area, on the south side of Little Walker Mountain, coal was mined and hauled by wagon into town to fire the zinc plant, making the operation almost self-sufficient.
Raw materials were moved by the power of horses, while the finished product was hauled out by rail since the railroad right-of-way bordered on zinc company property.
The company had a commissary on the opposite side of the street from the plant, and nearby was the paymaster’s office, a brick structure that still stands.
And located on State Street about a block to the south is the old apartment house called “Brick Row,” where some of the Welsh workers lived.
Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and a historian who lives in Pulaski.

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