Tullius Ambrose McNeer (1863-1936)
Teacher, Merchant & Mill Owner
Last fall a visitor, Jack Ford from Williams Bay, Wisconsin stopped at Cooks Old Mill in Greenville unannounced. He was on a quest to see the mill his grandfather, Tullius A. McNeer, had owned (1897-1905) and he brought with him these marvelous pictures, thereby returning them to West Virginia for the first time in over a century. I decided to delve into the life of Tullius and Ada, his wife, and I present some of these findings in this article.
Tullius was born during the Civil War (1863), the son of Centreville residents, John and Elizabeth (Arnott) McNeer. His grandfather and uncles were prominent citizens of the town (now called Greenville) since it was laid out in 1846. In fact, they shared ownership in what was then called the Centreville Grist Mill from 1868 to 1894. The grandfather, Anderson Augustus McNeer also had a "tobacco factory" in town, while the father, John was a tanner. The McNeers were a prolific and entrepreneurial clan.
At 18, Tullius graduated from school and became a teacher. The portrait in this article probably dates from this time and he later recalled that he was paid $30 per month and had to ride his horse six miles to work. I speculate that he taught at the Coulters Chapel School or Swopes School, both near the modern high school. He must have got tired of this ride because he obtained property nearby on Flatwoods Road in 1888.
A year later, he married Ada Susan Broyles at her parents, Christopher and Amanda's, home where Lick Creek crosses Wikel Road, one mile north of Coulters Chapel. He quit the teaching job and the newlyweds moved into Greenville where Tullius became a merchant with the firm of "Mitchell and McNeer". This was located in the "old upper store building" which was two doors west of where the Country Store is now.
Ada and Tullius had five chlldren, Grace Eugena (1890), Mabel Ellen (1892), Theodore Everett (1896), Mary Lucillle (1898) and Horace Ambrose (1900). Possibly they all lived in the apartment over the store. During this time, Tullius was the postmaster for the Town of Greenville, and the Post Office was relocated to his mercantile business.
In 1897 Tullius became the third generation of McNeers to own the mill, by then referred to as the Greenville Roller Mills. I imagine that he had the mill picture taken at this time and I assume that the proud looking man in the cut-away, to the right of the porch, is Tullius himself! Also in the picture are workers in the doorways, customers to the right, while the carriage, horse and groom to the left may have belonged to the photographer who had traveled all the way from Hinton for the occasion. In other words, this was a big occasion which required the photographer to make a six or seven hour round trip! To the far right is the saw mill, while to the far left is the headrace to connect with the dam, which was upstream from the present location. Finally, a bag of wheat is shown being hoisted to the upper floor of the mill. Oh, and what about the floral motif above the front door?
I think that the McNeers probably maintained the mercantile business during this period although Tullius gave up the postmaster's job when he purchased the mill. In 1900 he bought Lot 15 in Greenville from an uncle and built a fine home on School Street. Sadly, neither the store nor the house has survived to the present.
In 1905, the McNeers sold their home, and the mill which they traded for a farm in Crozet, VA, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge. At this time Tullius became a traveling shoe salesman. Then they moved to S. Greenfield, MO in 1907 and finally to Crescent, north of Oklahoma City, in 1907 where they settled down. Here Tullius again established a mercantile business, "T.A. McNeer & Co."
Jack Ford was brought up by his grandparents, T.A. and Ada, because his mother, Mabel, died shortly after childbirth. He remembers the following about his grandpa. "His generosity was well known around the area. I remember being in the store one day during the depression days when I saw a farmer take a couple of shirts from a display, put them under the bib of his overalls and walk out of the store. I ran to Grandpa and reported the incident. He looked down at me and thanked me for telling him and said 'Don't worry about it, it's OK because he obviously needed them more than I did'. Jack goes on to say, "I can readily remember the boxes of unpaid charge slips that sat in our garage for many years".
Tullius must have done fairly well as he was on vacation in Florida in 1936 at Christmastime when he died. Ada lived through the war years and died in 1959, long enough to see her son, Theo strike oil on his farm in Oklahoma. Of special note is that her great grandson, Robert Ford has been in the national news recently as the current Ambassador to Syria.
Thanks go to Jack and his cousin, Shari Smith of Kansas City for the photos, family dates and anecdotes. I am trying to compile the entire 230 year history of the mill, so I would very much appreciate information from other mill owner's families at firstname.lastname@example.org. Better still, why not drop by for a visit - lots of people do!
Published in the Monroe Watchman, January 12, 2012
Our genealogy section has a page on the lives of T.A. McNeer and Ada Susan (Broyles) McNeer.