This Week in West Virginia History

March 23, 1803: Pioneer Joseph Ruffner Dies in Charleston

Mar 23, 2018
Joseph Ruffner
Jan Smith Richardson

Pioneer Joseph Ruffner died in Charleston on March 23, 1803. Nine years earlier, the Shenandoah Valley native had purchased some 500 acres in Kanawha County from John Dickinson, including lands rich in salt deposits.

By the close of the 18th century, Ruffner had acquired much of present Charleston and had settled on what’s now the town’s East End.

Benjamin L. Rosenbloom
e-WV Encyclopedia

Former Congressman Benjamin Rosenbloom died in Cleveland on March 22, 1965, at age 84. Rosenbloom, the only Jewish congressman in West Virginia history, was born in Pennsylvania and attended West Virginia University, where he played football in 1901 and 1902.

He went on to study law at WVU and was admitted to the state bar in 1904. He was a practicing lawyer in Wheeling until his retirement in 1951.

e-WV Encyclopedia / Chris Dorst/The Charleston Gazette

The first state boys’ high school basketball tournament began in Buckhannon on March 21, 1914. The event was hosted by West Virginia Wesleyan College, which had West Virginia’s largest and finest gymnasium. Elkins High School took that first state title.

The tournament grew quickly in popularity. In 1922, a field of 64 teams was broken into ‘‘A’’ and ‘‘B’’ divisions, classified based on team strength rather than school size. In 1933, the tournament was reorganized with sectional winners advancing to eight regional tournaments.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Musician Frank Hutchison was born in Raleigh County on March 20, 1897. As a child, he moved to Logan County, where he encountered blacks who had migrated from the Deep South to work in the southern West Virginia coalfields. After listening to the music all around him, Hutchison started merging the blues with traditional Appalachian mountain music. He also developed a distinct style, featuring his slide guitar and high-pitched vocals.

March 16, 1971: Industrialist J. G. Bradley Dies at 89

Mar 16, 2018
e-WV Encyclopedia

Industrialist J. G. Bradley died on March 16, 1971, at age 89. The New Jersey native moved to West Virginia in 1904 and soon became president of the Elk River Coal & Lumber Company.

The company’s landholdings in central West Virginia were so significant that the county of Clay couldn’t meet its financial obligations until the company paid its taxes each year.

March 15, 1988: Reformer Mary Behner Christopher Dies at 81

Mar 15, 2018
e-WV Encyclopedia / Bettijane Burger

Reformer Mary Behner Christopher died in Morgantown on March 15, 1988, at age 81. The Ohio native came to West Virginia in the 1920s as a missionary for the Presbyterian church. From 1928 to 1937, she worked in the impoverished coal communities along Scotts Run, outside of Morgantown.

This once-prosperous region had fallen on hard times after the coal market plummeted in the ‘20s. Thousands of families, including numerous immigrants and African-Americans, were stranded by the economic depression.

March 14, 1974: Dr. I. E. Buff Dies at 65

Mar 14, 2018
Dr. I. E. Buff
University of Virginia Library

Dr. I. E. Buff died in Charleston on March 14, 1974, at age 65. Buff was the first physician to protest publicly that many coal miners’ deaths were inaccurately being labeled as heart attacks.

He argued that the coronaries were being caused by a widespread disease known commonly as black lung. He suggested that as many as half of West Virginia’s 40,000 miners suffered from black lung.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On March 13, 1756, the beleaguered Sandy Creek Expedition came to a halt. The French and Indian War campaign had been initiated by Virginia’s governor in response to Indian raids in the New, Greenbrier, and Tygart valleys.

In the most famous of these raids, Shawnee Indians kidnapped Mary Draper Ingles, who later escaped captivity and walked hundreds of miles back home.

In retaliation, the Virginians planned to attack Shawnee villages in Ohio. Major Andrew Lewis amassed more than 300 men, including nearly 100 Cherokee Indians.

March 9, 1832: Politician George Latham Born in Prince William County

Mar 9, 2018
e-WV Encyclopedia / Library of Congress

George Latham was born on March 9, 1832, in Prince William County, Virginia, on what would later become the Bull Run Battlefield.

He moved to Taylor County in 1849 and taught in local schools while studying to become a lawyer. He opened his legal practice in Grafton in 1860.

When the Civil War began the next year, Latham transformed his law office into a military recruiting station for Northern troops. He formed Company B of the 2nd Virginia Infantry and detained them in Grafton long enough to vote against Virginia’s secession from the Union.

West Virginia State Flag
Lulla / Dollar Photo Club

On March 8, 1963, the West Virginia Legislature adopted blue and “old gold” as the official state colors.

Many West Virginians think that blue and “old gold” have always been the state colors, but it didn’t occur officially until West Virginia’s Centennial celebration in 1963.

Prior to that, the state often used blue and gold in ceremonies because those were the official colors of West Virginia University. So, when the legislature adopted blue and “old gold,” it came as a surprise to many West Virginians that we didn’t already have official colors.

e-WV Encyclopedia / Library of Congress

On March 7, 1942, aviator “Spanky” Roberts completed his training at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, becoming one of the first five Tuskegee Airmen.

Roberts, a native of London in eastern Kanawha County, moved to Fairmont as a child. He graduated from Fairmont’s segregated Dunbar High School before earning a degree in mechanical arts from West Virginia State College (now University). He went through the college’s Civilian Pilot Training Program and became the first black licensed pilot in the state.

March 1, 1925: New River Pocahontas Coal Company Acquires Kaymoor

Mar 1, 2018
Kaymoor
Jet Lowe, HAER staff photographer / Library of Congress

On March 1, 1925, the New River Pocahontas Coal Company acquired the Fayette County town of Kaymoor and its mining operations.

The new owner, a huge international company, began shipping coal from Kaymoor to the Atlantic Coast in Virginia, where the coal was used to fuel naval and merchant marine vessels.

Lydia Boggs Shepherd
e-WV Encyclopedia

Society hostess Lydia Boggs Shepherd Cruger was born in present Berkeley County on February 26, 1766. Her family moved near Wheeling in 1774.

Lydia and her husband, Moses Shepherd, became wealthy landowners in the Wheeling area. Their magnificent home, Shepherd Hall, hosted six U.S. presidents. One of the most famous stories about Lydia involves a visit from Senator Henry Clay.

February 23, 1884: Writer Mary Meek Atkeson Born in Putnam County

Feb 23, 2018
Wikimedia Commons / West Virginia University

Writer Mary Meek Atkeson was born at Buffalo in Putnam County on February 23, 1884. She earned a bachelor's degree and a master's degree from West Virginia University. Her master's thesis catalogued the works of 87 writers in what is now West Virginia dating back to colonial times. She later earned a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University and taught at WVU.

February 22, 1963: Athlete Ira "Rat" Rodgers Dies at 67

Feb 22, 2018
Athlete Ira Rodgers
e-WV Encyclopedia

Ira Rodgers died on February 22, 1963, at age 67. "Rat," a nickname adapted from his middle name of Erret, was one of West Virginia University's greatest football players. The Bethany native was named to Walter Camp’s All-American team three times: in 1916, ‘17, and ‘19—the first of WVU's All-Americans. In 1919, Rodgers led the nation in scoring with 147 points—49 of them coming in one game. Sportswriter Grantland Rice wrote that “there was no greater all-around football player in the land.”

Wikimedia Commons / User Fir0002

On February 20, 1995, the Golden Delicious apple was officially named the state fruit of West Virginia. It’s one of two popular apples that originated in the Mountain State. The first was the Grimes Golden, discovered in the early 1800s on the Brooke County farm of Thomas Grimes.

Legend has it that the Grimes Golden tree grew from a seed planted by John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed. The original Grimes Golden tree blew down in 1905, after bearing fruit for a century.

February 19, 1908: The Eccentric Orval Brown Born in Clay County

Feb 19, 2018
e-WV Encyclopedia

An eccentric who would become known as the Clay County Wild Man was born near Lizemores on February 19, 1908. Orval Brown grew up fairly conventionally. He lived on his family's farm, went to school through eighth grade, loved to read, and played outdoors. But, even from an early age, he didn’t like to wear many clothes.

By the time he was 20, Brown had become a local legend. Stories spread about a Tarzan-like man who dressed in a loin cloth and lived in a cave. People paid him a quarter to have their picture taken with him. And he'd sell photos of himself at carnivals and fairs.

On February 16, 1917, the West Virginia Legislature established what was then known as the West Virginia State Colored Tuberculosis Sanitarium at Denmar. It opened at a time when the state’s public institutions were segregated by race. The Pocahontas County facility treated African American patients who suffered from TB. It was part of a movement by black legislators to build more facilities for African Americans. Prior to that, African Americans with TB had to be sent to a facility in Virginia.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / West Virginia Humanities Council

On February 13, 1899, newspaperman Archibald Campbell died at age 65. A graduate of Bethany College, he became editor of the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer in 1856.

At the time, the Intelligencer was the only daily Republican newspaper in Virginia. During Campbell’s first years at the paper, the country was rapidly plunging toward civil war.

February 12, 1901: Congressman Jacob Blair Dies at 79

Feb 12, 2018
Jacob Beeson Blair
e-WV Encyclopedia

Congressman Jacob Blair died in Utah, on February 12, 1901, at age 79. He was born in Parkersburg in 1821 and orphaned at a young age. He studied law under his uncle John Jay Jackson Sr., was admitted to the bar, and then elected prosecuting attorney of Ritchie County.

February 9, 1843: Politician Nathan Goff Jr. Born in Clarksburg

Feb 9, 2018
Nathan Goff Jr.
e-West Virginia Encyclopedia

Politician Nathan Goff Jr. was born in Clarksburg on February 9, 1843. He served in the Union Army during the Civil War, rising from a private to brevet brigadier general. In 1864, he was captured at Moorefield and sent to Richmond’s notorious Libby Prison. He was released in a prisoner exchange personally authorized by President Lincoln.

February 8, 1915: Photographer Volkmar Wentzel Born in Germany

Feb 8, 2018
Volkmar Kurt Wentzel
e-West Virginia Encyclopedia / Peter Wentzel & Viola Wentzel

Photographer Volkmar Wentzel was born in Germany on February 8, 1915. He and his family immigrated to New York State when he was 11. He eventually ended up in Preston County, West Virginia, where he attended high school.

As a teenager, he joined up with some Washingtonians who’d formed an artists’ colony in the forests of Preston County. While working at the artists’ colony, Wentzel built a darkroom in a pump house and began shooting local scenery for postcards.

After being captured in 1776, Lee supplied the British with plans to defeat the Americans.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

General Charles Lee was born in England on February 7, 1732. As a young man, he served with distinction in the British army before immigrating to America in the early 1770s. When the Revolutionary War began, he sided with the Americans and served as a major general in the Continental Army.

February 2, 1895: Preacher Shirley Donnelly Born in Jackson County

Feb 2, 2018
This Week in West Virginia History.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online.

Preacher and historian Shirley Donnelly was born in Jackson County on February 2, 1895. When he was 14, he and his family moved from the village of Rock Castle to Charleston. After attending seminary in Richmond, he became an ordained Baptist minister.

e-West Virginia Encyclopedia

On February 1, 1975, 25 Catholic bishops from Appalachia released a pastoral letter called “This Land is Home to Me.” It was officially distributed from Wheeling College (now Wheeling Jesuit University). 

It was written in response to a report from the Catholic Committee of Appalachia, highlighting the region’s economic and political inequalities. For a year, committee members traveled throughout Appalachia and collected stories of hardship from individuals and from community and church groups. The committee members then folded these stories into the pastoral letter.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

West Virginia’s youngest county came into existence on January 30, 1895, when the legislature created Mingo County from Logan County. When West Virginia entered the Union in 1863, it had 50 counties. Grant, Mineral, Lincoln, and Summers counties were added during the first four years of statehood.

January 29, 1876: W. Va. Senate Removes Treasurer Burdett From Office

Jan 29, 2018
Senate Chambers
e-West Virginia Encyclopedia

On January 29, 1876, the West Virginia State Senate removed state Treasurer John Burdett from office. Burdett had been accused of pilfering funds in a scheme with his son and offering to deposit state funds in certain banks for a personal kickback on the interest.

Burdett’s impeachment was something of a shock given his background. The Taylor County native was one of West Virginia’s founders. At the outset of the Civil War, he’d served in the Richmond Convention and voted against Virginia’s secession from the Union.

January 26, 1850: Virginia General Assembly Creates Wyoming County

Jan 26, 2018
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On January 26, 1850, the Virginia General Assembly created Wyoming County from part of Logan County. The original county seat was located at Oceana but was moved to Pineville in 1907.

The county’s first major industry was timbering, which began on a large scale about 1889. Before the arrival of railroads, logs had to be floated down the Guyandotte River to the Ohio River at Huntington.

January 25, 1715: Thomas Walker Born in King and Queen County

Jan 25, 2018
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Thomas Walker was born in King and Queen County, Virginia, on January 25, 1715. He was a widely respected physician, farmer, merchant, and legislator.

He also was an investor, agent, and surveyor for the Loyal Company of Virginia, which promoted settlement in present southern West Virginia, southwestern Virginia, and southeastern Kentucky.

This was a particularly active period in the Mine Wars—a violent time that pitted miners against coal operators.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

Labor leader Fred Mooney was born in Kanawha County on January 23, 1888. At age 13, he began working in coal mines as a trapper boy. 

Six years later, at the young age of 19, he became secretary-treasurer of District 17 of the United Mine Workers of America.

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