When Last Run Restaurant and Cass Scenic Railroad State Park planned its second annual Farm-to-Table event, the goal was to not only focus on a locally sourced family-style meal, but to also incorporate the rich history of the town where the meal would be served.
So they came up with the idea that, prior to the meal, participants would “work up an appetite” by going on a walking tour and hear the history of Cass from park employees and special guests, some of whom grew up in the company houses.
Along with being a walking tour, it was also an appetizer tour – each of the seven stops featured farm fresh and home baked morsels.
The first stop of the tour is one of the most unique and impossible to miss buildings in the town – the Company Store. While the main floor continues to operate as a store and restaurant, the second and third floors are closed to the public, but they contain many intriguing sights.
Naturalist Kailey Price gave the history of the store as eager eyes peered around at the artifacts on the second floor.
“This was formerly known as the Pocahontas Supply Company,” Price said. “This building was built right around 1902. When it first started, it was pretty small and then the building caught on fire. They say that the destruction wasn’t too bad, so they decided to add on to the structure. We’re currently standing in the largest wooden company store known in existence anywhere.”
The store is roughly 300 feet long by 60 feet wide and has two full floors and an attic space.
In its heyday, the store was the one stop shop for merchandise – dried goods, produce, furniture, hardware, fine jewelry, toys, clothing and more.
The second floor contains some of the original display cases, shelves, signs and some merchandise that give a faint hint of what the store once was.
There are also panes of cut glass, paint chip samples and posters advertising certain products.
To stock the store, the company used a steam driven elevator which had a max capacity of 3,000 pounds.
“Just below the elevator was the warehouse, which is where the museum is now,” Price said. “Late at night, they would unload train cars into the warehouse. For example, if they needed condensed milk, they would generally buy around three train car loads at a time. They had to feed everyone in town and everybody that was working in the logging towns, as well.
“When they would get shipments of furniture, they’d put it on the elevator, bring it upstairs, and this is where it would be showcased,” she added.
The elevator is no longer in use because, at one time, someone pushed it too hard and it rose to the second floor too quickly.
“I want to say in the late forties or so, during that time, somebody brought the elevator up too fast, and they actually broke it,” Price said. “They brought it up so fast that the bands popped off of the compressor.”
There is still evidence of the “crash” including buckled ceiling boards cracked open above the elevator shaft.
Among the artifacts discovered on the second floor was a payment device. It looks like an old fashioned rolodex and each patron and employee was assigned a number. They could turn to their number and pick up a bill or their paycheck.
“When Tammy [Shoemaker] found that rack, she actually found a bill that someone had not paid,” Price said. “She found a paycheck and a bill, but it wasn’t the same person. The check was only issued for seventy-five cents.”
From the second floor of the store, Price led the group to the ice house which is located above the current Visitor’s Center.
The ice house continues to be cooler than the rest of the building despite being out of operation since the 1940s.
Many of the tools still remain and serve as a reminder of how blocks of ice were made and delivered.
“What they would have done, this was cooled with these coils back here,” Price said, pointing to the back wall. “They were filled with ammonia and the ammonia would go through this little door on the side of the building. That’s what they would cool this room with.”
The ammonia ran through pipes that lined the floor. A casing which was the size of a block of ice would be lowered onto the pipes where the ice would freeze.
“They would take these casings right here, and they’d fill them with water and they would take the crane, drop them down in there, and they would freeze,” Price explained. “When they were frozen and ready to be delivered, there’s a little delivery door right over here. You would slide your block of ice in here, they’d tip it up, it would go out this door and into the truck for delivery.”
The Visitor’s Center was originally a meat market and was built the same year as the company store. During the logging boom, the market would butcher approximately 25 cows and 25 pigs a week to feed the town.
One of the company houses, known as the Piney Williams House, was open for the tour, and Cass natives Margie Sue Barkley Sparks and Kent Leach shared stories from their childhoods in the town.
“You’ve heard the saying, ‘it takes a village to raise a kid?’” Leach said. “Cass was one of those places. I remember at eleven years old, walking right down through here and I had a cigarette. I lit it up and was walking around, puffing on this thing. A woman comes off a porch and she swatted me on the rear end a couple of times and threw my cigarette down and crushed it. She said, ‘You do that again, I’m going to tell your mom. You get on home.’”
“That’s the way it was,” Sparks added. “Everybody was your parent, you might as well say. That’s the way you looked at this whole town. You were that close to each other and everything that went on.”
Sparks remembered stories from her grandparents, who worked for the Mower family, and her dad, who worked at the company farm.
“My granddad took care of the clubhouse, which is up on the hill,” she said. “That’s when the Mowers came in. They stayed up there and and he and his wife cooked for them and took care of them. After I was born, he still had chickens and cows to milk every day – all that. When we would go to the Company Store, we would go to get chicken feed. He always took me with him because I got to pick out the sacks for my dresses. It took two sacks to make a dress.
“That was interesting, meeting the Mowers,” she continued. “Then my dad worked at the company farm. Coming in [to Cass] now, the big farm you pass, that was the company farm. The Mower’s had show cattle.”
The company also had farms in Deerfield and Slaty Fork where all the produce and livestock for the company was raised.
At the Mayor’s office and Jail, the last town constable, Russell Cassell, shared stories from his time as town cop and mayor.
“I started back in 57 or 58,” he said. “I was town cop for awhile, and I was mayor two or three different times. I put the last man in that jail house. It’s too far back for me to remember, but it was probably just for being drunk.”
Cassell said the town doesn’t much resemble the town he grew up in, but his memories of that time remain, as well as part of his uniform. Pinned to his shirt was his town cop badge that he has kept all this time.
Also included on the tour: the Masonic Lodge, where Mason Forrest Mullenax gave a brief history of the building, which was built in 1903; the Cass Community Center, which was originally a Presbyterian Church, and Cass native David Cain recalled the many ways the building has served the community; the Cass Museum featured storytelling with History Alive! actor Rich Pawling; the Leatherbark Artisan’s Gallery where Pocahontas County Belle Caroline Cassell entertained visitors and Dawn Baldwin-Barrett shared her home grown tea.
After the historic tour, it was time for the family-style dinner. Everyone filed into the Last Run Restaurant, chose a table and made new friends as they shared a meal of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, beets, sliced heirloom tomatoes, coleslaw, applesauce and rolls.
West Virginia Parks Chief Sam England addressed the crowd and thanked all those involved in making the event a success.
“It is good to have you here at Cass,” he said. “I’ve been to several Farm-to-Table events this year, and the first thing I will say – when I started, I weighed 125 pounds and had brown hair, so they’ve all been very good.
“The one thing that is important is they’ve all been unique and special, and this one hasn’t disappointed at all,” he continued. “It was a great idea to do a town tour in advance. All the folks that came out to help interpret what we have here at Cass, thank you all so much. I think we are all reminded about the importance of what Cass actually is to the state of West Virginia and the state park system. Just a walk through here and listening to the stories and listening to the things that happened, really make a big difference. It’s really heartwarming to be able to come and reflect on those things.”
Cass superintendent Marshall Markley also shared his appreciation to all those involved in the event.
Farms and individuals who provided ingredients for the meal were: Barkley Farm, Schilkowski Farm, Fane and Sandy Irvine, Melia Thompson, Frostmore Farm, Delores Hill, Fireside at Oakley Farm, Rick Gum and Brightside Acres.
Rich Pawling, in character as a “wood hick” provided musical entertainment during the meal.