David Lee (D. L.) and Mary (Crawford) Thompson Family
Contributed by David Green
D .L. Thompson was a law enforcement officer, mayor, storekeeper, telephone company president, phone company lineman, and farmer – often simultaneously. He was also my Grandfather. He and his wife Mary had nine children, eight of whom lived to become adults; first four boys and then five girls. They sent all their children to college at a time when it was not common for girls to get a higher education. His children were all educated at Concord College (now University) and most taught at one time in the Mercer County school system. Their children were Bernard Beckwith Thompson, Ralph David Thompson, Robert Keith Thompson (mayor of Athens 1969-1972), Ernest Dale Thompson (his wife Genevieve was a faculty member at Concord University), Emily Elizabeth Thompson (died young), Mary Lee (Thompson) Rierson, Alberta (Thompson) Green, Madeleine (Thompson) Shorter, and Frances Catherine (Thompson) Houchins.
David Lee Thompson was born August 24, 1874, in Kegley, WV. His parents were William Robert and Mary Elizabeth Arabella Ellen Hardy. His brother “K” was about a year older (yes, the letter K was his legal name). David was not quite two years old when his father was killed by a falling tree while logging. About five years later his mother married Joseph H. Caldwell, a successful farmer and livestock trader. Their farm was in Clover Bottoms, near what was once the Lake Shawnee resort south of Spanishburg.
In 1899 Joseph Caldwell sold his step-son 135 acres of land on Black Lick Creek for $1.00. This was the start of a long business relationship between Joseph and my Grandfather. On March 4, 1902, at the age of 28, he married Mary Francis Crawford, age 23. On April 22, 1904 they purchased 1.5 acres on the east side of the Bluestone River, where Black Lick Creek joins the river just south of Spanishburg. The purchase included a stone house. The first six of their nine children were born in this house. In 1910 David and Mary purchased an additional 225 acres along Black Lick Creek.
In September of 1907 David and Mary purchased 1.5 acres of land then just outside the city limits of Athens.. Additional land was purchased adjacent to this property in 1909 and, with the help of Joseph Caldwell, lumber was also purchased in 1909 for the construction of a house. The 1910 US Census was conducted on April 15 and shows the family living in Athens at the end of a road that was to become East Concord Street.
The 1910 Census lists David Lee’s occupation as “merchant.” The type of business is listed as a “general store” and he states that he worked on his “own account” (options were owner, employee, and own account). Sales and tax receipts indicate that the store was owned by Caldwell-Thompson & Co. Thus, he did not own the store (Joseph Caldwell probably did) but he ran the business as his contribution to the partnership. He registered for the draft for World War on September 12, 1918. He was living in Athens, and now listed his occupation as farmer.
For much of his life D.L. Thompson was a police officer. For many years he was a Mercer County Deputy Sheriff. For four months in the summer of 1929 he was a guard at the West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville. By then he was 55 years old and this job was probably in response to a personnel problem at the penitentiary. Records show that he was the Chief of Police in Athens from 1939 to 1947. One story my mother used to tell me illustrates Granddaddy’s ability to shoot a pistol. She said that while working as a prison guard he would live during the week in Moundsville and periodically come home to Athens on the bus. Because of his frequent bus trips, he got to know the bus driver pretty well. One afternoon the bus was traveling through central West Virginia on its way to Athens. My Grandfather was the only passenger on the bus. He and the bus driver had been discussing what it was like to be a prison guard. Granddaddy still had his uniform on, including his pistol, and the driver was joking that he bet Granddaddy couldn't even shoot the pistol straight. The bus was traveling through farmland and Granddaddy saw a ground hog in a field up ahead and about 25 yards from the road. He reached up and opened the window, pulled out his pistol, and told the driver that he would show him how well he shot. After firing the pistol, the ground hog went down. Granddaddy said, "There, that shows what a prison guard can do." The driver said that he did not believe that the ground hog had been shot, that it had just ducked down when the shot was fired. Granddaddy told the driver to pull over and they would see who was right. When the ground hog was found they saw that the bullet had gone right through an eye. When he got home, Granddaddy said that this was just a lucky shot, but he did not tell that to the bus driver.
Athens once had its own telephone company; complete with switchboard operator and hand-crank ringer telephones. At various times early in the 20th century D.L. Thompson was the phone company president, vice-president, or served as a Director. Being a Director was not a white collar job sitting behind the desk. The job was to keep the phones operating within a given area. When a subscriber had a problem with their telephone, or a line was down, it was the responsibility of the Directors to get the problem fixed. In an article in the Bluefield Sunset News marking the 40th anniversary of the telephone company Granddaddy discusses the early days of the company. He said that sometimes the work involved putting in new telephone poles or picking up ones that had rotted off at ground level. The rotted poles were often put back into the hole. “Some of those poles are getting pretty short,” Granddaddy quipped.
By 1917 homes in Athens had electricity. My mother would have been about six years old. She said that the house had gaslights, with natural gas piped in by the town of Athens. The wicks on the lights were of the Colman lantern type and provided good lighting. However, she clearly remembered when they first got electricity. She said there was a single bulb hanging from a wire in the living room. At the end of the day, when the chores were over and the supper dishes were put away, they would go into the living room, turn off the gaslight, and turn on the electrical switch. The family would then stare at the bulb for a while and then turn off the light and go to bed. I don’t know if this only happened once or several times. Today, we take electric lights for granted and sometimes forget what an amazing invention electric lights were once considered.
My Grandfather always did a little farming, partly to feed his large family and partly to sell excess produce to supplement his income. At one time, he had a couple of cows, a good-sized chicken house, and planted a big vegetable garden. There were also berry patches, fruit trees and a grape arbor. By the time I was old enough to remember, he was down to his last critter, a cow. She was almost more pet than dairy animal, but was still being milked every day. The cow was kept in a small barn in the pasture just below the house but could wander freely in the pasture. On occasion, Granddaddy did not get down there to milk her as soon as she felt ready. However, she knew how to get the gate into the pasture open, and on more than one occasion I remember hearing cow hoofs on the front porch as she came to “hurry him up.”
My Grandmother Mary Francis Thompson was a homemaker and teacher. She taught in the Mercer County school system for many years while working on a “First Class Certificate.” This meant that you had to register with an approved college (establish a certificate) and take required courses every year. This was usually done during the summers. Mary completed her Certificate and obtained her Bachelor’s degree at Concord Normal School (now Concord University) in 1927. It was a proud day for her, and her daughter Mary Lee kept the shoes her mother wore on graduation day. My Grandmother died of a stroke on July 17, 1949 and is buried in the Athens cemetery. Mary Lee lived with her father on East Concord Street until his death. David Lee Thompson died of a stroke on October 17, 1952 at the age of 78. He was surrounded by his children and many of his grandchildren. He is buried beside his wife and several of his children in the Athens Cemetery.