Rock, a small rural community nestled between three mountains and along the Bluestone River, is the valley site Richard Bailey, Jr. chose as his home. In the late 1700’s Richard, Jr., as well as several of his brothers, chose this river valley for its rich farm land. Their father, Richard Bailey, Sr. was one of the earliest settlers of what is now Bluefield, WV. These brothers and their ancestors were great contributors to the history of the Bluestone River Valley. Several direct descendents of Richard, Jr. continue to live in this area of Mercer County where they are known for their community spirit.
Three of the most influential forces contributing to the settling and development of Rock were the Bluestone River, the post office and the railroads. The Bluestone River Valley winds through what is now Tazewell County along the banks of the Bluestone, other settlers continued their settling along this same river. In the area that is now Rock, there is much bottomland, making the area attractive to the early farmers. Therefore, it was on the banks of the Bluestone River that the beginning of the community was established.
Near the banks of the Bluestone is a huge rock cliff formation that provided the community’s first name of “The Rock.” It was near this rock cliff that the first post office was located. At this early stage of history, horses were used to deliver the mail to the community from Spanishburg. However, with the arrival of the N&W Railroad in 1890, it became necessary for the post office of “The Rock” to be moved down the river about a mile to accommodate the delivery of mail by rail. It was in 1892 that the name of the post office and the community was changed form “The Rock” to “Rock.” The first post office to open in Rock was located in a store owned by Winton Bailey and his son, Luther. From that time forward the railroad had a great impact on the economic and social development of Rock.
The N&W Railroad was built on the north side of Bluestone River. Most of the early businesses and residences were also built on that side of the river. Later, when the Virginian Railroad was routed through Rock, the north side of the river began its development. As the population grew, the need for homes and stores increased.
Both the N&W and Virginian Railroads served Rock. Each had a freight and passenger station. Each had a sidetrack for loading and unloading freight. The Virginian RR was vital to delivering bottles and sugar to the bottling plant. At one time there were five passenger trains passing through Rock daily. With the arrival of the N&W and Virginian railroads to Rock, much speculation was given to the town’s becoming a flourishing community as the railroads sought land to expand its enterprises. However, it was not to be. The landowners were reluctant to sell, causing the railroads to look elsewhere. Ironically, the railroads were instrumental in Rock’s lack of growth. In the early 1900’s, with the opening of coal mines in this section of Mercer County, the railroads carried the coal from the mines to market. The N&W served the mines along the Widemouth Hollow, carrying tons of coal daily. All of this coal was routed through Rock. All of these mines closed in the late 1970’s and 80’s. The Virginian also carried coal from mines in Wyoming County. Today the old Virginian line is now the Norfolk Southern Railway and continues to haul coal from Wyoming County through Rock.
In its “hey day” Rock was the home of four stores, a boarding house, a coffin shop, a livery Stable, blacksmith shop, saloon, planing mill, a barrel stave mill and two railroad freight/passenger stations. There was also a slaughterhouse for a short period af time, a bottling plant and a hospital.
The stores sold general merchandise necessary for survival in this rural community. Three stores were on the north side of the Bluestone and the other one was on the south side of the river, across the road from the Rock Cliff Mineral Springs Bottling Plant. As roads were built and automobiles became popular, residents no longer depended on the railroad for transportation. Now they could travel easily to larger towns, as a result, the local stores did not survive. The store that remained in business the longest housed the post office and at one time it also served as a passenger station for the N&W Railroad.
The bottling plant was the largest employer and longest established enterprise in Rock. Founded by two Smith brothers, it was called the Smith Brothers Bottling Plant, later it was shortened to Smith Bottling Company. Later, the company was sold to the Northfork Coca-Cola Bottling Company and renamed Rock Cliff Mineral Spring Bottling Company. At this time the bottling company bottled Rock Cliff sodas, pale-dry ginger ale and golden ginger ale. In the early 60’s the equipment was moved to Bluefield and soon, thereafter, the Rock Cliff sodas and ginger ales became history.
A large two-story boarding house was located between the railroad and the road. When the boarding house was torn down the lumber salvaged from it was used to build two homes that are still occupied. In the same general area there was a livery stable and a blacksmith shop. As horses were abandoned as transportation there was no longer a need for these businesses. The slaughter house was short lived because most farmers usually chose to do their own slaughtering and butchering for personal use.
As with most towns there was a local saloon that stood in the area of the present post office. It was never very popular with the local residents so it did not last too long. Nearby, the N&W Railroad built a freight and passenger station. It was eventually torn down and one of the general stores served as the passenger station. Three other businesses were in the same vicinity. One was a concrete block plant that manufactured the formed blocks that were used to build the bottling plant. The other two business specialized in wood products, one cut barrel staves to be shipped to a factory; the other was a planning mill that produced finished wood material for local homes.
In keeping with the needs of the community, there was a coffin shop located in the lower end of town and the coffins were sold in one of the nearby general stores.
Drs. Byrd and Vermillion established a hospital. It had an ice house nearby for its patients and area residents. The ice was shipped from Princeton via the Virginian Railroad and then hauled to the ice house on horse drawn wagons. The hospital served a large area with some patients coming to Rock on the train. After the hospital closed the building became a residence as it continues to be today.
Many of the early settlers were instrumental in establishing places of worship, two of which continue to hold services for the members of the community. One is the Baptist on the north side of Bluestone. The other is the Rock United Methodist Church built in 1887 on the south side of Bluestone on Black Oak Mountain.
A one-room school located on the hill below the Baptist church and above the N&W Railroad tracks was replaced in the early 1900’s with a new four-room school across the highway bridge that crosses Bluestone. In 1973 this school was closed when the students were transported to the new consolidated Montcalm Elementary School.
In the early 1900’s when the coal companies sponsored baseball teams, a large field located between the Virginian Railroad and the Bluestone River on the side was the center of the community’s sport activities. This property, owned by Dr. Byrd and A. Crockett Bailey, later was a racetrack for motorcycles. Also, from time to time carnival rides were set up in this area.
Of historical significance is the Bailey Cemetery. This cemetery was on the property of Richard Bailey, Jr.. Since his first wife died early in their marriage, it is thought that she could have been the first buried here. It is known that Richard Jr. and his wife, Isabel, are buried here in unmarked graves.
Rock is now a very small community with the post office being the only business. Homes remain along the road on the north side of the river with a few scattered homes in the outlying area. Even though there a few farms in the area, most people travel to local towns for work. From all indications Rock will continue much as it is, serving citizens well as a good place to rear a family in a rural setting, not too far from larger towns, and still within easy driving distance to schools, jobs and shopping.