The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

A Bit of West Virginia History

By Ronnie E. Knight © 1990

Issue: August, 1990

Jim Comstock is a man of humble beginnings whose success as a newspaper man is justly deserved, and his determination in seeing that an old white farmhouse, birthplace of the late Pearl S. Buck, should be preserved is well worth noting. Little did Mr. Comstock know, as a student at Marshall University during the Great Depression of the early 1930's when he first became interested in the writings of Pearl Buck that he would someday be instrumental in purchasing the famous author's birthplace.

During Mr. Comstock's college days it was not unusual for book publishers to send complimentary copies of new books to college professors in the hopes that a review would be written and published in the local newspaper. One of Jim Comstock's literature professors was in the habit of collecting a number of new books, carrying them into the class room, and tossing them to the students. Whatever book a student caught was to be used for a book review which was the student's homework assignment.

It just so happened that on one such occasion Jim Comstock caught a copy of The Good Earth by Pearl Buck. He looked the book over and noticed three things. First, the book was about farming, and since he and gotten a belly full of farming on Hinkle Mountain he wasn't interested. Next, he noticed that the book was about China, and that was a place too far away to interest him. The third thing he noticed was that the author was a woman, and that made the book of even less interest to him.

Mr. Comstock wrote his review and turned it in to his instructor; however, the instructor handed it back a few days later telling him that he was first to read the book, and then to write the review. Mr. Comstock did as he was instructed, and the review was published in the Sunday supplement of the Huntington, West Virginia newspaper. This is thought to be the first published review of The Good Earth [Sayre].

Over thirty years later during the 1960's a project was begun to purchase the Stulting family home in Hillsboro, West Virginia where Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker, later to become Pearl S. Buck, was born. The purchase was to be made in order that the house could be restored as a memorial to the famous author whose works had been awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize. Although Miss Buck offered to reimburse the state of West Virginia for the cost of purchasing and restoring the Stulting home, the state refused on the grounds that an agreement between the state and an individual could not be entered into.

Hearing about the state's refusal concerning the well known West Virginian's birthplace, it was then that Jim Comstock, editor of the West Virginia Hillbilly, entered the picture. In 1965 he contacted a Mrs. Townsend of Ohio, owner of the Stulting house, and purchased the house for thirty thousand dollars. The first part of the transaction consisted of a three thousand dollar down payment which Mr. Comstock sent to Mrs. Townsend in the form of a check. The next thing he did was to appeal to his readers for their support of the project since he didn't have money enough to purchase the house himself. Mr. Comstock, in an editorial, appealed to his readers by explaining to them their need to participate in this worthwhile project. Soon donations began to arrive in the Hillbilly mail box, thus the project was off and running.

Mr. Comstock also alerted Miss Buck of the transaction to say that the house was in the hands of the public as a memorial to her. Miss Buck responded with a letter stating that the house should not honor her, but instead that it should be her mother who was honored. She then wrote My Mother's House of which Mr. Comstock had a deluxe edition printed which sold for one hundred dollars a copy. With this money he was able to continue financing the house until he persuaded the West Virginia Federation of Women's clubs to continue with the restoration project [Comstock 24].

Pearl Buck's birthplace, which was first opened to the public in 1974, is the first house which was restored under the National Historical Preservation Act of 1966 in West Virginia [Zinn 19]. We as West Virginians owe Jim Comstock and the West Virginia Hillbilly readers whom he inspired a tremendous debt of gratitude for making it possible that so many might see and enjoy this bit of West Virginia history.

Works Cited
Comstock, Jim. "Adventure in Publishing - No. 2." West Virginia Hillbilly. 5 October 1989: 24.
Hillbilly. Personal Interview. 29 October 1989.
Zinn, Lucille S. "To China With Love: The Pearl Buck Story."
Wonderful West Virginia. June 1983: 16 - 23.