D. H. Ramsey Library Special Collections and University Archives

James William Pless, Sr. Family Collection


Sent as a postcard to his son, Edwin J. Pless from Hot Springs, Arkansas. Inscribed on back of card,
"'I seen my Paw come a steppin' high which was of his walk the way.' His Paw," 3/8/38

Title James William Pless, Sr. Family Collection
Creator James William Pless, Sr.
Alt. Creator Edwin Justice Pless
Alt. Creator Tennessee Valley Authority
Identifier http://toto.lib.unca.edu/findingaids/mss/pless_j_william/default_pless_william.htm
Subject Keyword James William Pless, Sr. ; Annie Miller Pless ; Edwin J. Pless ;  J. Will Pless, Jr. ; Conference of Superior Court Judges ; Chester Cogburn ; E. Ray Carter ; E. Zeph Ray ; Owen F. Cobb ; Charles L. Marler ; D. Ralph Millard ; Guy Weaver ; World War II ; South Pacific ; war ; army ; Clinchfield Railroad ; S.B. Penick & Comapny ; Brevard, NC ; Marion, NC ; North Carolina State Bar ; Michael H. Justice ; Waitstill Avery Cash, ; Rutherford Military Academy ; Merrimon, Adams & Johnston Law firm ; Supreme Court of North Carolina ; Clinchfield Manufacturing Company ; Marion Manufacturing Company ;
Subject LCSH Pless, James William, Sr., 1872-1959
Pless, Edwin J.
Pless, Annie Miller
North Carolina -- History
North Carolina -- History, Local
Lawyers -- North Carolina -- Biography
Description Papers from the James William Pless, Sr. family that include correspondence with son Edwin J. Pless during World War II. Includes photographs of family, friends and images taken by Pless while stationed in the South Pacific during the World War II.
Publisher D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville, 28804
Contributor J. Wallace Winborne
Date 2007-03-29
Type Collection ; Text
Format 1 large 7" manuscript box
Source M2M7.3.1
Language English
Coverage 1934-1963 ; Asheville, NC
Rights No restrictions
Any display, publication, or public use must credit the D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville.
Copyright retained by the creators of certain items in the collection, or their descendents, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
Donor Donor number 242
Acquisition unknown
Citation  James William Pless, Sr. Family Collection, D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, University of North Carolina at Asheville 28804
Processed by Special Collections staff, 2M7
Biography James William Pless, Sr.
[From the memorial tribute by J. Wallace Winborne, before the Bar of Buncombe County, November 2, 1959.]


In the front of Volume 111. N. C. Supreme Court Reports, under the heading "Licensed Attorneys - February Term, 1894," there is this entry: James W. Pless - Henderson County. This was the first time that this name appeared in the North Carolina Reports. It was by no means the last time it was to appear, as an attorney, in the official reports of the Supreme Court. In l894. the State was poor. It was just staggering to its knees from the pillaging and plunder of war and reconstruction.  Ellas Carr was Governor and James E. Shepherd was Chief Justice; the Governor's salary was only $3,000 and the Chief Justice's even less, $2,500. Over at Chapel Hill Dr. George T. Winston was President of the University with a faculty of nineteen teachers and three hundred eighty-five students; and up at Greensboro the Normal and Industrial School had just opened the doors of higher education to three hundred fifty young women. Senator Zeb Vance had delivered the address at the opening of the last State Fair; and the North Carolina Historical Society had just been organized at Charlotte. North Carolina was beginning to stir, to look upward and forward. It was the beginning of a new day. It was a good time for the young man from Tennessee to come to western North Carolina.

Mr. Pless was born Feby. [sic] 19, l872, in Polk County, Tennessee, a descendant of the Davidson and Alexander families of western North Carolina, the son of John Allison Pless and Harriet Smith Pless. At the early age of sixteen he went to work for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad. Within two years he had been advanced to the office of Chief Clerk of that railroad, at Knoxville, Tennessee.  Realizing the value of education, he moved to Rutherford-ton, N. C., where his uncle, Michael H. Justice, was practicing law. There he completed his schooling at the Rutherford Military Academy, and "read" law under the tutelage of his uncles, Michael H. Justice and William A. Smith, of Hendersonville, N. C..  To round off his legal education, he went to Morganton where Justice Alphonso C. Avery conducted a celebrated law school in western North Carolina. At Morganton, under Justice Avery he secured a thorough grounding in Blackstone's Commentaries and completed his preparation for the Bar.

As we have already noted, he secured his law license at the February Term, l894, of  the North Carolina Supreme Court. Although he had already learned how to earn his own livelihood, he came to the Bar at the age of twenty-two, an age at which young men come from the law schools today still innocent of the realities and practical demands of the business world. He chose Brevard, N. C., as the site of his beginning years in law and shortly became associated with Waitstill Avery Cash, a seasoned lawyer in the prime of life. He moved quickly to prominence in the life of the little commu­nity and became Mayor of Brevard when only twenty-six years old. He served as Mayor of Brevard from 1897 until 1900 when he moved from Transylvania County to the Town of Marion, in McDowell County. He transferred his community interests to his new home, and later served as Mayor of Marion in 1905 and 1906.

Mr. Pless moved from Brevard to Marion in order to join his first cousin, Edwin Judson Justice, the son of Superior Court Judge Michael H. Justice, his old mentor at law, in the practice of law. Mr. Justice had begun the practice of law in Rutherfordton in 1888 but later moved to Marion. The firm of Justice & Pless, at Marion, continued until 1903 when Mr. Justice moved to Greensboro from which he achieved State prominence, - was Speaker of the N. C. House of Representatives, and ultimately was named Special Assistant to the Attorney General of the United States. Mr. Pless continued to practice in Marion and in 1907 J. Wallace Winborne, who had taught at Bingham School at Asheville, joined him in a partnership for the practice of law under the firm name of Pless & Winborne. This firm continued until 1919, when Mr. Pless' son, J. Will Pless, Jr., joined the firm and the name of the firm was changed to Pless, Winborne & Pless. This was the firm status until 1926 when Robert W. Proctor, of Lumberton, N. C. became a junior in the firm of Pless, Winborne, Pless & Proctor.  In 1928 Mr. Pless withdrew from the firm to move to Asheville and became associated with one of the leading firms there - Merrimon, Adams & Johnston.  As J. Will Pless, Jr., was appointed Solicitor of the Eighteenth Judicial District in 1921, the old firm was divided and two new firms formed in 1928, Pless & Pless, and Winborne & Proctor. The firm of Winborne & Proctor continued until the senior [Winborne] became a member of the Supreme Court of North Carolina in 1937, and the firm of Pless & Pless continued until the junior member of that firm, J. Will Pless, Jr., was appointed regular judge of the Superior Court in 1931.

After continuing his association with the firm of Merrimon, Adams & Johnston at Asheville for a time, Mr. Pless formed a partnership with Harry Sample, who was at one time Director of Probation for the State of North Carolina, Mr. Pless' practice in both State and Federal courts in the foothill mountain counties covered the first half of the twentieth century. It began when the communities were isolated and remote, communication was slow, and poor roads offered the only means of transportation. During this period a close companionship developed between the judges and the lawyers who traveled the circuit together from one county seat to another. The judge, and some of the lawyers, always traveled by hack, but Mr. Pless belonged to that more rugged element of the Bar which rode to the nearby county seats on horseback. During the first quarter of the century he regularly attended the neighboring courts and long before the days of branch banks, he set up a system of branch law partnerships at county seats. With John McBee he established Pless & McBee at Bakersville, N. C with Robert Wilson he set up Pless & Wilson at Burnsville; and with York Coleman, for a time, he maintained Pless & Coleman at Rutherfordton, Thus Mr. Pless' wise counsel and advice was extended widely among partners and associates.

In his later years one day he was in Bob Proctor's office at Marion with his son and me. He called a photographer and had a group picture made of all of us former partners. When the picture was developed he was examining it with manifest pride, declaring that he had trained all of them. Then, noting Proctor's law license on the wall in the picture, he said: "Now just look at that! I trained a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and a Superior Court Judge, but Bob Proctor is the only one of the three with sense enough to stay and practice law."

Indeed, Mr, Pless was known to have expressed satisfaction in the fact that in 1957 his three "boys," former partners, held three of the most important legal positions in the State: J. Wallace Winborne as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of North Carolina, J. Will Pless, Jr., as President of the Conference of Superior Court Judges, and Robert W. Proctor as President of the North Carolina State Bar. Mr. Pless himself could have risen to the judiciary had he not preferred the practice of law. Between 1913 and 1921 both Governors Locke Craig and Thomas W. Bickett tendered to Mr. Pless appointments to judgeships of the Superior Court, but he declined both tenders.

Although a man of exceptional ability, Mr. Pless did not seek the limelight. He demeaned himself always with a keen sense of the legal proprieties and with a dogged loyalty to the interests of his clients. Thoroughness of research f and accuracy of opinion were outstanding in his practice of law. Favorite retorts from him when asked a question of law by one less experienced were, "What do the authorities say? What does the statute say?" These questions proved of inestimable value in my own training. My association and contact with him are and will be remembered and appreciated. I am deeply grateful to him.

Physically, Mr, Pless was not a large man and he sought to offset this with an alertness and energy not displayed by men of more imposing statute. He showed marked astuteness in business foresight and was one of the founders of each of the two textile mills which are still the largest enterprises in Marion, -- Clinchfield Manufacturing Company and Marion Manufacturing Company, both of which he long served faithfully and wisely as a director. And, too, he was a charter member of and, until his death, a director of S. B. Penick & Company, crude drug dealers, organized at Marion, N. C., and now of international business scope and reputation.

Early in the century the ambition of almost every lawyer was to become counsel for a railroad and when such an appointment came, it was regarded within the profession as a marked citation of legal ability; the fact that Mr. Pless for thirty years served as division counsel for the Clinchfield Railroad is itself the ultimate commentary upon his outstanding ability as a lawyer.

Mr. Pless spent his later years in Asheville. During the last three years of his life his health was poor and during the final eighteen months he spent much time in hospitals and rest homes. He was at a rest home in Morganton when he died on Friday, September 2, 1959, at the age of eighty-seven. Two sons survive him, Judge J. Will Pless, Jr., of Marion, and Edwin J. Pless of Asheville; also surviving him are two brothers, Ernest E. Pless of Morristown, Tenn., and Charles E. Pless of Chattanooga, Tenn., a sister, Mrs, E. V. Jacobs of Knoxville, Tenn., three grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

He was buried with Masonic rites in Oak Grove Cemetery at Marion, North Carolina, on Saturday, September 26, 1959.

[James William Pless, Sr. was married to Annie Miller Pless, a native of Charleston, S.C.]


Box Folder Description
1 1 James William Pless, Sr., obituary and information
  2 Edwin J. Pless Personal correspondence
  2 Edwin J. Pless Business Papers - Crest Furniture Company
  3  J. Will Pless newspaper clippings
  4 Annie Miller Pless information and newspaper clippings
  5 Newspaper clippings - Family and friends
  6 Pless Family memorabilia
  7 Moore General Hospital publications
  8 WWII - Edwin J. Pless official documents
  9 WWII - Correspondence
  10 WWII - Newspapers - Death of Franklin D. Roosevelt
  11 WWII - Newsletters
  12 WWII - Magazine Clippings
  13 WWII - Communications during war-time
  14 WWII - Newsmap Overseas Edition
  15 WWII - Publications, Misc.
  16 WWII - Japanese Maps
  17 WWII - Maps
  18 WWII - Maps
  19 WWII - Memorabilia
  20 Photographs - Family    
  21 Photographs - WWII