Pauline Miller Shares Youthful White Rock Memories

I received a letter from Pauline Asbury Miller of Erwin saying my recent article concerning the collapse of White Rock Summit on Buffalo Mountain brought back so many fond memories of her teenage years.

Mrs. Miller was born in 1918 in Bluefield, WV and moved to Johnson City in 1932. She married Robert H. Miller who was one of five maintenance supervisors on the Clinchfield Railroad. They were wed in Erwin on October 22, 1942 (which coincidentally was the day I was born).

“I belonged to Calvary Presbyterian Church on Harrison Street,” said Pauline, “where we had about 25 very special young people in our Christian Endeavor group. Mr. D.R. Beeson, a prominent architect in Johnson City, was a mentor to our group. Once each spring for about four years, he took us on a day outing to White Rock.” 

The assemblage made an entire day of it, leaving about 9 a.m. and returning around 5 p.m. They parked in a big field at the foot of the mountain and began their steep ascent to the rock. Pauline had particularly weak ankles and had to be assisted, as did some of the others, as they approached the top.

During the climb, Mr. Beeson encouraged his youthful entourage to keep moving by telling them to endure for a few more minutes and they would arrive at the spring near the summit for a refreshing cool drink of clean water and fill their thermos containers.

Pauline said the first order of business after arriving at the big white rock was to get some much-needed rest. They sat around and talked, enjoyed the spectacular view, ate their lunches, drank the cool mountain water and took photographs. It was a dream place to be.

Pauline indicated that the rock was relatively small for a large group with heavy growth around it that prevented very much movement for games or other outdoor activities. They were content to simply sit and converse with one another. She commented that White Rock was potentially dangerous with no guardrails; you had to stay sufficiently back from the edge or risk the chance of falling off. She indicated that the times they went there, she couldn’t recall seeing anyone else present. 

Mrs. Miller sent me two photos that were taken in the spring of 1936. The left one shows Mr. Beeson standing on the left wearing a cap. Pauline is sitting on the front row, third from the right wearing a sailor’s outfit. She was 18-years-old and had just landed her first job at S.H. Kress Department Store in downtown Johnson City. The girl on her left was Marjorie Manning, her best friend.

The right photo is that of Conrad “Connie” Girdner sitting precariously on the edge of the rock near a steep drop-off. He worked for Western Union when mail was delivered by bicycle. Sadly, he was struck by a car and killed not long after this outing.

Mrs. Miller said the view from White Rock was breathtaking especially on a clear sunny day because you could seemingly see forever. Every time she went there she was reminded of a quote from Psalms 123:1, “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.”

Pauline laughingly commented that the downhill trip from the rock back to the car was much easier than the journey to the top of the mountain.

The most heartrending moment of my interview with her occurred when she lamented, “I often sit and look at my old photos and think about my memories of White Rock and all the fun we all had up there on our church outings. I get in such a mood that I think about going to the phone and calling some of my friends until I realize that most of them are long gone.”