Emma Gilham Page

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Emma Hayden (née Gilham) Page (September 27, 1855 – February 14, 1933) was the youngest daughter of Major William Gilham, Commandant of Cadets at Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, Virginia, where she was born 5½ years before the beginning of the American Civil War.

In 1882, Emma married William Nelson Page (1854–1932) a United States civil engineer, entrepreneur, capitalist, businessman, and industrialist. William Page is best known as one of the leading managers and developers of West Virginia's rich bituminous coal fields in the late 19th and early 20th century, as well as being deeply involved in building the railroads and other infrastructure to process and transport the mined coal. He was co founder of the Virginian Railway, and the namesake for the West Virginia unincorporated communities of Page in Fayette County and Pageton in McDowell County.

Emma and William Page settled in the town of Ansted, West Virginia where he had a palatial Victorian mansion built on a knoll by coal company carpenters. There, they lived for 27 years (1890–1917) in the highly visible symbol of wealth and power in the community and raised their family with the help of 8 servants. In modern times, known as the Page-Vawter House, it is a surviving landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places that has been described as evidence of the once thriving coal business of an earlier era in the Mountain State.[1]


Emma Hayden Gilham was born in 1855 in Lexington, Virginia in Rockbridge County.[2] She was the daughter of Major William Gilham, Commandant of Cadets and an instructor at Virginia Military Institute (VMI), one of 7 children he had with his wife Cordelia Adelaide (née Hayden) Gilham.[3] Her father was assisted at VMI by a younger teacher who was to become one of the more famous Confederate leaders, Thomas J. Jackson, better known as Stonewall Jackson.

In 1860, Major Gilham prepared a well-known training manual for recruits and militia at the request of Virginia Governor Henry A. Wise. It was entitled Manual of Instruction for the Volunteers and Militia of the United States and was initially published in Philadelphia. As the American Civil War broke out the following year, he was involved with early training of cadets at Camp Lee (also known as New Fairgrounds, or Camp of Instruction) in Richmond, Virginia.[4] In June, 1864, Emma's childhood home on the campus of VMI was burned during a raid led by Union General David Hunter. The house, a campus landmark, was later rebuilt to original specifications after the War.[5]

After the War ended in 1865, William Gilham became president of fertilizer company in Richmond. Emma spent her teen-aged years at Richmond, where she was a débutante at one of Richmond's earliest "Germans", which were formal social gatherings for the young people (the name of these events had no relationship to Germany).[6] She was the sister of Julius Hayden Gilham (April 6, 1852 – March 10, 1936) who also buried in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia.[3]

Marriage, children[edit]

On February 9, 1882, Emma married civil engineer and coal property manager William Nelson Page, son of Edwin Randolph and Olivia (née Alexander) Page of Locust Grove in Campbell County, Virginia. According to author H. Reid in his book The Virginian Railway (Kalmbach, 1961), they made their home in Ansted, West Virginia. As head of Gauley Mountain Coal Company, in 1889, William Page had company carpenters build a palatial white Victorian mansion on a knoll in the middle of town. Architect William Minter designed the house in a Gothic style. Completed in 1890, it had 15 regular rooms, plus a butler's pantry and a dressing room. There were 11 fireplaces with hand-carved wooden mantels, most in different styles. Even the doors had ornately decorated hinges.[7] The exterior featured 52 8-foot-tall windows. The mansion was a symbol of wealth and power in the community.[8] A staff of eight served the family's needs.

In the family den, William Page first developed the plans for Building the Virginian Railway working with silent partner Henry Huttleston Rogers. The 440-mile Virginian Railway (VGN) extended from the bituminous coal-rich counties of Fayette, Raleigh County, Wyoming County, and Mingo County, West Virginia to coal piers at Sewell's Point on Hampton Roads near Norfolk, Virginia. Considered an engineering marvel, the profitable and efficient VGN was completed in 1909. (It was merged with the Norfolk and Western Railway in 1959, and remains an important artery for Norfolk Southern Corporation in the 21st century).

William Nelson and Emma Gilham Page had six children, four of whom survived childhood:[2]

  • Delia Hayden Page, 1882–1976
  • Edwin Randolph Page, 1884–1949
  • Mary Josephine Page, 1893–1962
  • Randolph Gilham Page, 1893–1930

They also had two other children who died in infancy:

  • Evan Powell Page, born 1887
  • William Gilham Page, born 1890

In the late 1870s, Emma, and her mother-in-law, Olivia Page, who had come to live with the family, were influential in establishing the Church of the Redeemer, the Episcopal Church in Ansted.[7][9] In addition to pursuing business interests, William Page also found time to serve as the mayor of Ansted for 10 years and rose to the rank of brigadier inspector general in the West Virginia National Guard. He was also an incorporator and director of Sheltering Arms Hospital in neighboring Kanawha County.

After William Page retired in 1917, Emma and William moved to Washington, DC, where they spent the remainder of their lives. There, he served as a consultant to federal regulators on metallurgical and mining matters.

Their youngest son, Randolph Gilliam "Dizzy" Page, was an early pioneer of the U.S. air mail industry. He was killed in plane crash in 1930.

Emma Gilham Page died on Valentine's Day, February 14, 1933. She was interred in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia, along with her husband William, who had died the year before.


The Virginia Historical Society at Richmond, Virginia has a photograph of her listed as "Mrs. William N. Page with child" in its archives collections.

Emma and William Page's family home, the mansion on the hilltop in Ansted, West Virginia, still stands as evidence of the once thriving coal business. Later occupied by several generations of the Vawter family, the Page-Vawter House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. As of 2008, this community landmark was under restoration by new owners, the Campbell family.[8] Nearby, the famous overlook known as Lover's Leap in Hawk's Nest State Park overlooks the New River Gorge National River and the main line of the former Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O) (now part of CSX Transportation) from a height of 178 m (585 feet) from a high bluff.,[10]


  1. ^ "America's Byways". Retrieved 28 November 2016. 
  2. ^ a b Noonanf, Barry Christopher (1 January 2010). "ruvignyplus/014". www.angelfire.com/realm3. Retrieved 28 November 2016. [self-published source][better source needed]
  3. ^ a b "General and Flag Rank Officers - VMI Archives - Virginia Military Institute" (PDF). Retrieved 28 November 2016. 
  4. ^ "Camp Lee". Retrieved 28 November 2016. 
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-20. Retrieved 2008-08-10. 
  6. ^ Newspaper Article: Richmond Germans at richmondthenandnow.com
  7. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-05-22. Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  8. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-05-26. Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  9. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-05-24. Retrieved 2008-10-11. 
  10. ^ Shawnee Captive: The Story of Mary Draper Ingles (Women of the Frontier), page 83, Mary R. Furbee, Morgan Reynolds Publishing (July 2001), ISBN 1-883846-69-2