• A visit to Union 2013. If you grew up in Union, West Virginia and you have not been able to return to Monroe County recently, chances are you will enjoy a little tour of Union and the area.

    View a Picture Tour of Union & Monroe County.


Dr. James E. Roles “Saga of a Country Doctor” by Joe B. Roles

Dr. James Roles and wife Emma

                                          Dr. James E. Roles  1876-1925


Dr. James E. Roles was born at Lillydale, West Virginia in 1876, a son of Hansbury B. and Elizabeth Baker Roles.  He was one of their two sons.  James  married Emma Belle Hill Roles and together, they had four children.

James taught school in a one-room schoolhouse near Rock Camp before attending a preparatory school in Baltimore, Maryland.  In 1898, he graduated from the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond.  At that time medical school only required three years and no internship.  In 1904, the American Medical Association changed the requirements to four years.  He graduated from Medical College the same year that aspirin was introduced in the United States.

In the early part of the 1900’s, to take a sick patient to a doctor in a jarring road wagon in the wintertime was not only difficult but dangerous.  Therefore, country doctors would go to the home to visit the patient, a country doctor could be defined as one who goes to the home or makes house calls.  Monroe County had a number of country doctors, seems like there was one in every community, Gap Mills, Sinks grove, Lindside and Greenville.  One such doctor was Dr. James Roles who opened a practice in the old stone store building at Salt Sulphur Springs in 1898.  Two years later he moved to Union, to help aging Dr. Brown with his practice.  He lived in the large yellow house on Main Street across from the United Methodist Church.  His office was in a small building beside the house.

Much of Dr. Roles’ practice consisted of house calls, which he made on horseback.  No one ever worked harder….always answering calls at any hour and in hundreds of homes across the County.   Dr. Roles had two horses, and he rode them all over Monroe County. He would come home when his horse would get tired and ride off on the other one. His groom was Will Campbell who looked after the horses.  His practice extended all the way to Johnson’s Crossroads as he was the physician to the Johnson family living there.  Doctors would often stay with patients until the patient’s fever broke as there were few medicines available at that time.  In bad winter weather he would often spend the night rather than attempting to cross the mountain by horseback in the dark.  He served many families across the Knobs, always on horseback.  The Compton family history records five babies with Roles as their middle name in his honor.  In one case he was called prematurely and the mother was not ready to deliver so he and the father went squirrel hunting around the hill until the mother was ready.  It was not unusual to set a broken leg in a farm ditch while his son held ether under the patient’s nose.

Then in the days of the automobile, people in Monroe County started buying cars. Dr. Roles was one of the first people in Union to purchase an automobile, it was a 1913 Ford five-passenger touring car.  It was seldom used in the winter months as the roads were rugged to travel.

In 1912, he was active in community life representing Monroe County by going to Charleston to attend Grand Lodge and Grand Royal arch of the Masons.  Dr. Roles served on the Monroe County Board of Education for a number of years, and also served as County Medical Examiner during World War I.

Dr. Roles practice was prematurely terminated in 1925 as he died from an internal goiter at the age of 51.  His wife Emma died two months later.  Dr. James and Emma Roles are the grandparents of Joe B.  Roles.

The house where Dr. Roles and his family lived on the corner of Main Street in Union, has been beautifully restored and now houses The Monroe Community House.


Written by his grandson:  Joe B. Roles – Class of 1951