This Week in West Virginia History

October 5, 1931: U.S Senator Dwight Morrow Dies

Oct 5, 2017
Dwight W. Morrow
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / Library of Congress

Financier, diplomat, and U.S. Senator Dwight Morrow died in New Jersey on October 5, 1931, at age 58. He was born in Huntington in 1873, while his father, James E. Morrow, was serving as the 11th principal of Marshall College—now Marshall University. When Dwight was an infant, his family moved to West Liberty, where his father served briefly as president of West Liberty Normal School—which is today West Liberty University. The Morrows then moved to Pittsburgh.

McNeill’s Rangers destroyed property belonging to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

In the predawn hours of October 3, 1864, Confederate guerilla John “Hanse” McNeill led a raid near Mount Jackson, Virginia. After a quick exchange of fire with Union cavalry, McNeill collapsed from a gunshot wound. He would die five weeks later.

October 2, 1867: Foundation of Storer College in Harpers Ferry

Oct 2, 2017
Storer College
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / Harpers Ferry National Historical Park

On October 2, 1867, Storer College was founded in Harpers Ferry. It was established by the Freewill Baptist Church two years after the Civil War to educate freed slaves in the Shenandoah Valley.

Storer was integrated and coeducational from the start. Before present West Virginia State University was established in 1891, Storer was the only college open to African-Americans in West Virginia. Frederick Douglass served on Storer’s board of trustees and spoke on campus in 1881.

Sept. 29, 1992 - Poet and Political Activist Don West Dies

Sep 29, 2017
Don West
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Poet and political activist Don West died on September 29, 1992, at age 86. The Georgia native was also a preacher, labor organizer, and educator. He earned a doctor of divinity degree from Vanderbilt University, where he was influenced by the Social Gospel movement.

When he was in his 20s, West cofounded the Highlander Folk Center in Tennessee, which has been attended by many activists, including Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. In the 1950s, West was a non-cooperating witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Sept. 28, 1955 - Labor Activist Mother Blizzard Dies

Sep 28, 2017
Sarah "Mother" Blizzard
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Labor activist Sarah “Mother” Blizzard died on September 28, 1955, at age 90. She spent her early years on her family’s farm in Fayette County.

Sept. 25, 1913 - The Greenbrier Resort Opens in White Sulphur Springs

Sep 25, 2017
Greenbrier Resort
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On September 25, 1913, The Greenbrier resort opened in White Sulphur Springs. 

Tourists had visited the mineral springs at White Sulphur since the late 1700s. 

The waters were believed to have healing powers, and the cool mountain air lured the rich and powerful away from the sultry summers in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and the South. Some of the prominent politicians who frequented White Sulphur included Henry Clay and Presidents Martin Van Buren and John Tyler. Robert E. Lee’s visits after the Civil War established White Sulphur as a mecca of the South. 

Sept. 22, 1893 - Legislator Elizabeth Simpson Drewry Born in Virginia

Sep 22, 2017
Elizabeth Simpson Drewry
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Legislator Elizabeth Simpson Drewry was born in Virginia on September 22, 1893. As a young girl, she moved with her family to Elkhorn, where her father owned a barbershop. 

She was educated in the segregated schools of McDowell County and graduated from Bluefield Colored Institute—today’s Bluefield State College. Through her work with national organizations and her church, Drewry advanced community programs for needy children and adults. She stressed issues related to blacks in American society, including the importance of education as a means of racial uplift.

Sept. 21, 1970 - The Filming of Fool's Parade Crime Drama Begins

Sep 21, 2017
E-WV

Filming of the Columbia Pictures crime drama Fool’s Parade began on September 21, 1970.

The movie was based on Davis Grubb’s 1969 novel of the same title. Like Grubb’s earlier breakthrough novel, The Night of the Hunter, Fool’s Parade was set in the author’s native West Virginia. Much of the filming was shot on site in Moundsville. 

Sept. 18, 1947 - Historian Minnie Kendall Lowther Dies in Harrisville

Sep 19, 2017
Minnie Kendall Lowther
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

 Historian and journalist Minnie Kendall Lowther died in Harrisville on September 18, 1947, at age 78.

Sept. 15, 1875 - Governor Henry Hatfield Born Near Matewan

Sep 15, 2017
Henry Hatfield
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Governor Henry Hatfield was born near Matewan on September 15, 1875.

While his Hatfield relatives were fighting their famous feud against the McCoys, Henry was away at college. He eventually became a coal-camp physician in McDowell County. Appalled by the lack of medical facilities, he fought to have three miners’ hospitals established in the state and served as director of the Welch hospital for 13 years.

Sept. 11, 1913 - Huntington's Ritter Park Opens to the Public

Sep 11, 2017
Ritter Park
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Huntington’s Ritter Park first opened to the public on September 11, 1913. Five years earlier, the city had purchased most of the current site for a municipal incinerator.

But neighboring residents opposed that plan, so Mayor Rufus Switzer converted the property into the city’s first major public park. It got its name from lumberman Charles Ritter, who donated an additional 20 acres, bringing the park’s total to 75 acres.

Sept. 8, 1841: Clarksburg Convention Highlights Education Inequalities

Sep 8, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On September 8, 1841, one of the most important education conventions ever held in present West Virginia convened in Clarksburg. At the time, a formal education was virtually unheard for families without money.

In 1829, the Virginia General Assembly had authorized counties to establish school systems but provided little funding. Monroe County opened a free school under this plan but soon discontinued it.

Christopher Payne
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

West Virginia’s first black legislator, Christopher Payne, was born in Monroe County on September 7, 1848. He was raised near Hinton, where he worked as a farmhand. Although he was born a free person of color, he was forced as a teenager to serve as a servant in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

After the war, Payne attended night school in Charleston and taught school in Monroe, Mercer, and Summers counties. He became a Baptist minister and earned a doctor of divinity degree from the State University in Louisville.

Sept. 4, 1964: Businessman A.W. Cox Dies at 79

Sep 4, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Businessman A. W. Cox died on September 4, 1964. He was 79 years old.  

The Roane County native attended a one-room school through the eighth grade. And, by 17, he was operating his father’s sawmill. After a brief teaching career, he got a part-time job at a store in Clendenin in northern Kanawha County. While working there, Cox decided to make a career of retail sales. He moved to Charleston in 1914, when he was 29, and bought out a downtown department store. It became the first in a chain of 21 A. W. Cox Department Stores in West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky. 

Sept. 1, 1671: Explorers Set Out Westward from Petersburg, Va.

Sep 1, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Explorers Thomas Batts, Thomas Wood, and Robert Fallam set out on a momentous expedition westward from Petersburg, Virginia, on September 1, 1671. At the time, white settlers knew almost nothing about the land west of the Allegheny Mountains.

The explorers’ exact route is unknown, but they likely crossed into present West Virginia in Monroe County and then followed the New River. From there, it’s difficult to match their journal up with actual places. However, they likely made their way to the Falls of the Kanawha River at what is today Gauley Bridge in Fayette County.

August 31, 1957: Historian Charles Ambler Dies at 81

Aug 31, 2017
Charles Ambler
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Historian Charles Ambler died on August 31, 1957, at age 81. He was one of the most influential historians in West Virginia history.

August 24, 1921: Miners March to Protest Martial Law in Mingo County

Aug 24, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / WV State Archives (WVSA), Coal Life Collection

On August 24, 1921, a group of armed miners started out on a long march southeast from Marmet near Charleston.

Their goal was to end the governor’s order of martial law in Mingo County and to wipe out the anti-union mine guard and deputy sheriff systems in Logan and Mingo counties.

August 21, 1915: Jazz Singer Ann Baker Born

Aug 21, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Jazz singer Ann Baker was born on August 21, 1915. She got her start performing in Pittsburgh jazz clubs and made her Broadway debut with Louis Armstrong’s band in the early 1940s.

She later joined the bands of Lionel Hampton and Count Basie. 

In 1946, she landed her signature gig, replacing Sarah Vaughan in Billy Eckstine’s band, which included, at different times, jazz legends Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Art Blakey, and Dexter Gordon.

August 18, 1823: Greenbrier County Pioneer John Stuart Dies at 74

Aug 18, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Greenbrier County pioneer John Stuart died on August 18, 1823, at age 74.

As a young man, he helped survey the Greenbrier Valley and, in 1770, built the county’s first known mill —in the community of Frankford. He was given command of Fort Spring, which became a place of refuge for early settlers in the event of Indian attacks.

August 17, 1944: Heroic Actions Earns Fayete Co. Native Medal of Honor

Aug 17, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Stanley Bender’s heroic actions on August 17, 1944, would earn him the Medal of Honor. Bender was born in Fayette County in 1909, the son of a coal miner and Russian immigrant. His family moved to Chicago in 1930, and Bender enlisted in the Army in 1939.

August 14, 1894: Entertainer Ada 'Bricktop' Smith Born in Alderson

Aug 14, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

  On August 14, 1894, entertainer Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith was born at Alderson. At age five, Ada made her stage debut in Chicago, appearing in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. By age 16, she was performing on the vaudeville circuit. Soon afterward, a New York saloon keeper gave her the nickname ‘‘Bricktop’’ for her blazing red hair, unusual for an African-American.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On August 11, 1958, the Congress of Racial Equality—or CORE—launched a sit-in movement at several Charleston lunch counters. Prior to this time, African-Americans in Charleston could order takeout food at many white-owned diners but were not allowed to sit down and eat.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

In a referendum on August 7, 1877, West Virginia voters chose Charleston to be the permanent state capital. The capital’s location had become a running joke, as government records had been moved from Wheeling to Charleston and then back to Wheeling again, all in 14 years.The capital was on the move so much on West Virginia riverboats, it earned the nickname of “the floating capital.”

August 3, 1977: Coal Operator W. P. Tams Dies at 94

Aug 3, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Coal operator W. P. Tams died on August 3, 1977, at age 94. Tams studied engineering at Virginia Tech before going to work in 1904 for coal operator Sam Dixon in the southern West Virginia coalfields. Four years later, Tams launched his own company, known as Gulf Smokeless Coal in the new Winding Gulf Coalfield. He founded the Raleigh County town of Tams as his company’s headquarters and later acquired another coal operation in neighboring Wyoming County.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

The Wheeling Suspension Bridge over the Ohio River reopened to the public on July 28, 1860. The bridge had originally opened to much fanfare in 1849. At the time, it was the longest clear span in the world and helped usher in an era of great American bridge building.

Most significantly for the northern panhandle, the bridge boosted Wheeling’s economic fortunes. Three major transportation routes converged in Wheeling. In addition to the heavily traveled Ohio River and Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the bridge now extended the National Road westward into Ohio.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

West Virginia Governor Arthur Boreman was born in Pennsylvania on July 24, 1823. When he was young, his family moved to Tyler County. And then, in 1845, Boreman relocated to Parkersburg, which would be his hometown for the rest of his life.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On July 21, 1924, actor Don Knotts was born in Morgantown, where his mother ran a boarding house. During World War II, he honed his comedic skills entertaining troops in the Army.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

 

  College founder Nathan Brackett died on July 20, 1910, at age 73. The native of Maine was a minister in the Free Will Baptist Church. In 1864, he joined the U.S. Christian Commission, which was providing assistance to Union and Confederate soldiers and to freed slaves in the Shenandoah Valley.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On July 17, 1861, Confederates won one of their first victories of the Civil War at the Battle of Scary Creek in Putnam County. Union forces had been dispatched to dislodge Confederates, who had controlled the Kanawha Valley since the war began three months earlier. On July 17, about 1,300 Union troops under the direct command of Colonel John Lowe clashed at the mouth of Scary Creek with about 900 Confederates under Colonel George S. Patton of Charleston. Patton was the grandfather of General George S. Patton of World War II fame.

William "Big Bill" Lias Arrested, September 26, 1952
collections of the Ohio County Public Library Archives.

Gangster “Big Bill” Lias was born on July 14, 1900 in either Greece or Wheeling. The uncertainty over his birthplace would later derail the government’s efforts to deport him.

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