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Burns, William E. (William Elkanah), 1860-1930


William E. Burns was a prominent lawyer, judge, and civic leader in southwest Virginia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was born in Williamstown, Ky., on May 26, 1860. He was the oldest son of Harrison Gaines Burns, also a distinguished lawyer in Russell County, Va., where the family had moved prior to the Civil War. Based in Lebanon, Va., William E. Burns handled both civil and criminal cases primarily in southwest Virginia and East Tennessee. At various times, he was in practice with his grandfather, William Harvey Burns, E. M. Fulton of Wise, Va., W. A. Ayers of Russell County, and his brother, Clarence C. Burns.

In 1905, Burns gave up his profitable law practice to accept appointment as a judge on the 27th Circuit of Virginia and served in this capacity for many years. In addition to his law practice, Burns was active in the industrial and economic development of the “Mountain Empire” region. He was involved in real estate development in Russell and Wise counties. The town of Coeburn, Va., was named for him and for W. W. Coe, chief engineer of the Norfolk and Western Railway. Burns died on May 19, 1930 in Lebanon, Va.


D. C. Pratt, Russell County: Virginia’s Bluegrass Empire (Bristol, Tenn.: King Printing Company, 1968), 103-106.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

William E. Burns Papers

 Collection — other: Boxes 1-2
Identifier: AppMs-670
Scope and Contents The William E. Burns Papers consist deeds, memoranda, notes, and other legal documents, correspondence, and business records related to Burns’ law practice involving cases primarily in southwest Virginia and East Tennessee in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Among the cases documented are property title suits, estate settlements, lawsuits filed against the Norfolk and Western Railway Company, lawsuits over monies owed patent medicine companies, and an estate suit in Johnson City, Tenn.,...
Dates: 1889-1945