Remembering Willie Granville Pierce

Posted October 27, 2020 at 3:20 pm

By David Cross

The name Willie Granville Pierce doesn’t mean much to the vast majority of Clinton County, particularly if you’re less than 70 years of age. But his passing recently at age 93 in Louisville, merits more than a mere mention in the local obituary column.

I knew very few people who loved Clinton County as much as Granville Pierce did. He loved it so much he moved back home at least three times over the years, and still owned a home here when he died.

He was one of those Clinton County success stories, one of those fellows who, as the late Edward Cowan would say, could “move away and make a million dollars” (the other part of that memorable saying of Ed’s was, “or you can stay here and starve to death”).

William Granville Pierce was born in Clinton County on January 5, 1927. His parents were J. Nimrod “Nim” and Exonia “Ona” Piercey Pierce.

They operated a country store at Cumberland City in northern Clinton County and did business under the rather unusual name of “J.N. Pierce and Wife General Merchandise.”

The Pierces had bought the old Major Snow store building from Ephraim Guffey and moved it from its former location near the coal company railroad track (yes, railroad track) a short distance to the new highway when KY 35 (now KY 558) was constructed in the early 1930s.

Ona was the last Postmaster at Cumberland City, serving from 1930-1940 until the office was discontinued.

Nim Pierce constructed some cabins a few hundred yards north of the store near the junction of what is now KY 558 and KY 829, and the location began to be called “Cabin City” , somewhat of a derivative of Cumberland City.

Granville graduated from Clinton County High School and went to work as a teenager at the Wolf Creek Dam construction site for J.A. (it was said by some employees that J.A. stood for Jack-Ass) Jones Construction Company.

J.A. Jones was also involved in construction at the Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, during World War II and was an international contractor for many years when Charlie Long and Arlo Sloan, two of Albany’s world travelers, worked for the company.

In 1947, Granville married Mona Fairchild of Wayne County, who also worked for J.A. Jones, who had combined forces with another company to create Jones-Wright Construction, which finished the dam project in 1951.

Mona, as secretary to the project manager, actually got Granville his job with Jones. They were to have one son, Larry. They were married 68 years until Mona’s death in 2015.

Granville became purchasing agent for Jones and began to learn about when to buy and sell, and how big business was done. He learned about buying steel, and learned about transportation costs, and river barges.

After the Wolf Creek project ended, he traveled several years with Jones and was involved in various large construction projects around the country, in places such as Keokuk, Iowa.

After 26 years of service, he left Jones, he moved to the Owensboro/Tell City area where he became successful in the steel and barge business under the name of Pierce Construction Services.

Granville had been an observer of people growing up in his parents’ store. He learned to become a good judge of character watching the people of Piney Woods do business in the store. He had learned about the art of trading as a boy while watching the men of Clinton County trade mules, jacks, and other trade stock and he carried that knowledge with him as an adult to be successful as a trader on a much larger scale.

Granville always considered Clinton County home. He would build a house and move back for a while, but then get restless for the business world, sell out and go back to where he could wheel and deal.

If computer access in those days would have been like what we have now, he likely would have stayed in Clinton County much more and been able to continue his business dealings as we do today, sitting in front of a computer.

The most notable thing about Granville Pierce isn’t that he left Clinton County and became a successful businessman. That is noteworthy, but Clinton County has turned out so many native sons and daughters who have achieved great success elsewhere.

The most noteworthy thing, and the reason we write about him now, is that with all of his success, he never forgot where he was from, and his heart always remained here.