History of Roane County
Roane county was formed in 1856, from portions of Kanawha, Jackson and Gilmer, and its own name, and that of its seat of justice, Spencer, commemorate that of him whose life and public services added lustre to the annals of Virginia jurisprudence. He was appointed Judge of the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia, April 13, 1795, to fill the vacancy occasioned by the resignation of Henry Tazewell, and served continually until his death in 1822, when he was succeeded by John W. Green.
J. P. Tomlinson carried the petition asking for the formation of the county to Richmond, and laid it before the Assembly. He was a native of one of the counties of lower Virginia, and when a boy was engaged in teaming. On a certain occasion his wagon stuck fast in the mud; while working to get it out, a gentleman rode up, and, alighting, assisted the boy in getting out of the difficulty. That man was Judge Spencer Roane, then on his way to attend court in one of the tidewater counties. Tomlinson never forgot the kindness, and when the county was formed he asked that it be named Roane. Thus the distinguished jurist, by one kindly act, secured the perpetuation of his name in that of one of the counties of West Virginia.
The First Circuit Court convened at the house of M. B. Armstrong, in Spencer, October 20, 1856, with Hon. George Summers, Judge of the Eighteenth Circuit and Ninth Judicial District, presiding.
Spencer, the county seat, is situated in the Spring Creek valley, within a survey of 6000 acres, patented by Albert Gallatin, in 1787. The land afterward became the property of J. P. R. Bureau, once a prominent business man of Gallipolis, Ohio, and one of the French colonists who settled that place in 1791. The town is distant fifty miles from Charleston and sixty-seven and one-half from Weston. . The first settlers upon the spot came in 1812. They were Samuel Tanner, his wife, one child, and a man named Wolf, who lived in Tanner’s family. Their first residence was beneath a shelving rock, within a few yards of the present residence of Hon. J. G. Schilling. The Tanner family thought it, no doubt, a comfortable lodging in a trackless wilderness. The birth of the first white child born here occurred in this cave; it grew to an adult age and yet survives.
In 1813, Mr. Tanner erected his cabin near the spot on which the residence of M. W. Kidd, ex-Clerk of the Circuit Court, was afterward built. In 1814, other pioneers came and settled on Spring creek, two miles below Spencer. In 1817, the spot was visited by a Baptist minister, who preached the first sermon in the cabin of a Mr. Greathouse, and the same year a Methodist minister established an appointment at the house of Mr. Tanner. The first grist mill was built in 1818. It was a water mill with a capacity for cracking about eight bushels of corn per day. The patience of the pioneer was supposed to have stood the crucial test if he had waited for his grist at Runion’s mill.
William Armstrong, J. S. Spencer and John Shedd were among the first teachers.
In 1816, the name of Tanner’s Cross roads was bestowed upon the place, suggested by the fact that two paths bisected each other here. Thus the place was known until 1839, when a man named Raleigh Butcher, residing on Reedy creek, sold his property, intending to go to California, but instead of removing to that far-off land, came to where Spencer now stands, where, in 1840, he erected a large frame house, and the place became known as New California, because it was the place at which Raleigh Butcher stopped. By this name it was known until March 15, 1858, when it was incorporated under the present name. The town was almost entirely destroyed by fire in the summer of 1887.
SOURCE: History of West Virginia in Two Parts, Virgil Anson Lewis, 1889