When the railroad came into Pulaski County in the 1850s a station was built on the riverside opposite the city of Radford, and around the station grew the little village that the railroad company named New River Depot. Like all settlements of this type there was a steady growth of railroad related activities: livestock pens, feed stores, boarding houses, homes, a hotel, and as Conway Smith , a local writer said, there was even an undertaker at New River. The village bloomed from a busy little settlement to a boom town with the coming of the construction of the New River division of the Norfolk and Western Railroad that ran westward on a long curve that must have been considered an engineering marvel for that day, and across what is now State Highway No. 114, down Belspring road, through Belspring and Parrott, and on into West Virginia, ending at Pocahontas. It was often called the Pocahontas line.
After the start of construction of this line in 1883 the area around the village became a beehive of activity. Large cattle farmers in the area shipped cattle from New River Depot in four directions to various parts of America. There were lumber dealers, a wagon factory, and several craft shops. Even a hotel, where some big time dances took place, where area party-goers had some good old times, according to written records.
Trains weren’t the only vehicles crossing the New River. There were two ferries, the nearest being Lyons’s Ferry and not very far away was Dudley’s Ferry.
The first post Office was established in 1868 when the village was beginning to grow. In records of the Civil War, the village was called New River Bridge. The second of only two battles fought on Pulaski County soil was known as the Skirmish of New River Bridge. The railroad bridge on the only rail line crossing New River at the time was burned by the Yankees on May 10, 1864.
Because of heavy traffic on the railroad, the village had two hotels to take care of travelers. One was equipped with a boardwalk to the train station to prevent ladies and gentlemen from having to put their shoes in mud. In one hotel, The Piedmont, dances were held in the lobby. And some amusing stories are told about these social affairs. There was a restaurant nearby, and a barber shop. Haircuts were 15 cents, and shaves 10 cents, making the total consistent with the nationwide saying, “shave and a haircut, two bits.” One customer was reported as saying, “I stayed clear of the barber shop because I never did like to have my hair pulled out by the roots, and my beard filed off.”
Like all communities, New River Station had its characters. One such person was Captain Barger. He was dancing at a party at the union hall, where a rope hung from the ceiling, allowing people to swing back and forth across the dance floor. Captain Barger was swinging merrily to the cheers of the crowd, when they noticed the seam of his pants seat had ripped out, and they were experiencing what was perhaps the first act of mooning ever to be performed in Pulaski County. I’m sure that other amusing stories could have been told about another character by the name of “Hooligan Dudley.”
-Lloyd Mathews is a retired land surveyor and a historian who lives in Pulaski..