This Week in West Virginia History

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Physician Jesse Bennet was born in Pennsylvania on July 10, 1769. He studied medicine in Philadelphia under Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. In the early 1790s, Bennet settled in Rockingham County, Virginia. In 1794, he successfully performed a Caesarean section on his wife—the first operation of its kind in U.S. history. The emergency procedure, although primitive by today’s standards, saved the lives of both his wife and infant daughter.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

The Battle of Laurel Hill, also known as the Battle of Laurel Mountain or Belington, began on July 7, 1861. A month earlier, Southern troops had retreated south after their loss at the Battle of Philippi. Confederate commander General Robert S. Garnett had seized a key mountain pass and set up his defenses at the foot of Laurel Mountain, located in eastern Barbour County. Beginning on July 7, Union troops under General Thomas Morris attacked Garnett’s men in a series of skirmishes. The two sides fought for the next five days. In the end, the Confederates were overrun. 

July 6, 1934: Coal Operator Sam Dixon Dies at 77

Jul 6, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Coal operator Sam Dixon died in Raleigh County on July 6, 1934, at age 77. A native of England, Dixon emigrated to Fayette County in the 1870s and worked for a while in his uncle’s coal mine. In 1893, he and a partner opened their own mine in Fayette County, quickly followed by several other mines.

WV Division of Tourism (WVDT) / David Fattaleh

July 3, 1863, was a pivotal day in the Civil War. On that day, the Union Army scored a key victory in the Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg, and Confederates offered their surrender at Vicksburg, Mississippi. The Battle of Gettysburg ended the Confederates’ last major invasion of the North and is viewed by some as the war’s turning point. The Confederate loss of Vicksburg was perhaps more important because it opened the way for the North to seize control of the entire Mississippi River, cutting the Confederacy in half.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On June 30, 1904, the Kelly Axe and Tool Company acquired 53 acres of land along the Kanawha River on the West End of Charleston. It eventually became home to the world’s largest axe factory.

The company was founded in 1874 by William C. Kelly, who established his first factory in Kentucky before relocating to Indiana and then West Virginia. Kelly was attracted to the Kanawha Valley by the availability of abundant natural gas and good access to river and rail transportation.

June 29, 1919: West Virginia State Police Established

Jun 29, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

The West Virginia State Police was established on June 29, 1919. Governor John Jacob Cornwell had pushed to form the unit in response to the mine wars, which were rocking southern West Virginia. Cornwell had grown frustrated with ineffective sheriffs and constables who had to face reelection and, at the same time, tended to take sides in labor struggles. Also, coal companies were hiring some deputies to serve as private security guards, and coal company guards were being sworn in as deputies—all of which angered miners.

June 26, 1936: NBA Hall of Famer Hal Greer Born in Huntington

Jun 26, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Basketball hall of famer Hal Greer was born in Huntington on June 26, 1936. In the early ’50s, he was a standout guard at Huntington’s segregated Frederick Douglass High School. Coaching legend Cam Henderson recruited Greer to play for Marshall College—now Marshall University.

June 23, 1944: 103 People Die in State's Deadliest Tornado Outbreak

Jun 23, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On June 23, 1944, the deadliest tornado outbreak in West Virginia history nearly destroyed the Harrison County community of Shinnston. Sixty-six people died in and around the town, with victims ranging in age from 85 years to only 6 days. Overall, the outbreak killed 103 West Virginians and seriously injured another 430.

June 22, 1926: Earl Olgebay Dies at 77

Jun 22, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Earl Oglebay died on June 22, 1926, at age 77. The son of a wealthy Wheeling businessman, he became head of his father’s bank at age 28, making him the nation’s youngest bank president. In the late 1800s, Oglebay partnered with John D. Rockefeller in a Cleveland iron business. He amassed a small fortune in 1901, when he sold his iron interests to U.S. Steel.

June 19, 1786: Indian Ambush Changes Lewis Wetzel's Life

Jun 19, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On June 19, 1786, a tragic hunting trip changed pioneer Lewis Wetzel’s life forever. Wetzel, his father, and two brothers ventured out from their home near Wheeling and were ambushed by Indians. The attackers killed his father and one brother and badly wounded the other brother.

June 16, 1900: Naturalist Maurice Brooks Born in Upshur County

Jun 16, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

West Virginia’s greatest naturalist, Maurice Brooks, was born at French Creek in Upshur County on June 16, 1900. The Brooks family name is synonymous with natural history in West Virginia. His father Fred was an entomologist, uncle A. B. was a legendary naturalist at Wheeling’s Oglebay Park, and uncle Earle wrote numerous articles on birds and folklore.

June 8, 2004: Judge Elizabeth Hallanan Dies at 79

Jun 15, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Judge Elizabeth Hallanan died on June 8, 2004. She was 79 years old.

June 12, 1771: Frontiersman Patrick Gass Born in Pennsylvania

Jun 15, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On June 12, 1771, frontiersman Patrick Gass was born near present Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. In the 1790s, he was stationed as a ranger at Yellow Creek, Ohio, and later across the Ohio River at Bennett’s Fort on Wheeling Creek. His job was to guard the frontier against Indian attacks. By 1797, Patrick Gass and his family were living in Brooke County. He joined the army two years later and was dispatched to Kaskaskia in the Illinois Territory.

June 9, 1957: Pastor T.D. Jakes Born in South Charleston

Jun 15, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On June 9, 1957, pastor T. D. Jakes was born in South Charleston. He developed an avid interest in the ministry as a young boy, preaching to imaginary congregations. After graduating from West Virginia State College, he started his first church. The Greater Emmanuel Temple of Faith opened in a Montgomery storefront in 1980 with a congregation of 10. Two years later, the Union Carbide plant where Jakes worked closed, and he pursued the ministry full time.

June 15, 1963: First Passengers Board Train at Cass Scenic Railroad

Jun 15, 2017
Cass Railroad

On June 15, 1963, the first passengers climbed aboard a train at Cass Scenic Railroad. The railroad was dedicated five days before West Virginia’s Centennial as a state.

This popular excursion railroad takes visitors on a trip back in time. It’s the last remnant of a once vast rail network, started in 1900, to harvest red spruce on Cheat and Back Allegheny mountains. The red spruce, which grew up to 100 feet in height, was used to supply a pulp mill in Covington, Virginia, and the lumber mill in Cass.

Winter in Dolly Sods Wilderness
Adobe Stock

On June 5, the Big Frost of 1859—as it’s remembered—hit what would soon become the new state of West Virginia. The unseasonable cold snap killed wheat crops and fruit trees, leading farmers in higher elevations to begin planting hardier crops, like potatoes. The late-season frost even inspired Preston County farmers to start sowing a resilient crop that would become their staple: buckwheat.

June 2, 1951: Sergeant Cornelius Charlton Killed in Battle

Jun 2, 2017
e-WV Encyclopedia

On June 2, 1951, Sergeant Cornelius Charlton was killed in battle. He was 21 years old. Charlton was a native of East Gulf in Raleigh County, the eighth of 17 children. His family moved to New York when he was a teenager, and he enlisted in the Army at age 17.  

When the Korean War broke out, he was transferred to Korea. Charlton volunteered for combat and was assigned to the 24th Infantry—the Army’s last all-black regiment.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Artist Blanche Lazzell died on June 1, 1956, at age 77. She was born in Maidsville in Monongalia County in 1878. After receiving a diploma from the West Virginia Conference Seminary and an art degree from West Virginia University, she moved to New York City and studied with influential artists Kenyon Cox and William Merritt Smith. A remarkably independent woman for the time, Lazzell traveled twice to Paris, where she became enthralled with the avant-garde Cubism movement.

May 26, 1888: City Founder Alfred Beckley Dies at 86

May 26, 2017
Alfred Beckley
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

  City founder Alfred Beckley died on May 26, 1888. It was his 86th birthday. He was the son of John James Beckley, the first Librarian of Congress and a political ally of Thomas Jefferson. With help from President James Monroe, Alfred Beckley received an appointment to West Point.

May 25, 1937: William Kendrick, Pioneer of West Virginia’s 4-H Program, Dies at 55

May 25, 2017

On May 25, 1937, William Kendrick, a pioneer of West Virginia’s 4-H program, died at age 55. “Teepi,” as he was nicknamed, was born in Alabama and moved to Morgantown to attend West Virginia University. In the decade before World War I, WVU had established corn clubs for boys and canning clubs for girls as a way to teach modern agriculture. Kendrick became the state agent in charge of these groups and adopted the 4-H name. He soon broadened the scope of the clubs beyond agriculture to emphasize various aspects of youth development.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

  On May 22, 1861, Thornsberry Bailey Brown became the first Union soldier killed in battle during the Civil War. It occurred during a brief stand-off at Fetterman in Taylor County.

At the beginning of the war, both Union and Confederate forces were scheming to control the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, which had arrived in Taylor County in 1857. The railroad would be a key to moving troops and supplies.

May 18, 1932: Industrialist I.T. Mann Dies at 68

May 18, 2017
I.T. Mann
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

Financier and industrialist I. T. Mann died in Washington on May 18, 1932, at age 68. As a young man, the Greenbrier County native apprenticed at his father’s bank. Then, in 1889, he helped organize the Bank of Bramwell in Mercer County. The bank became a financial pillar of the southern coalfields and attracted wealthy coal operators to the town. Bramwell soon achieved the distinction of being the “richest small town in America.”

Minnie Buckingham
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

  On May 15, 1886, Minnie Buckingham was born in Putnam County. She later moved to Keystone in McDowell County and married E. Howard Harper, who was elected to the legislature in 1926. When Harper died in the middle of his term, the county Republican executive committee unanimously recommended Minnie to replace him. In January 1928, Governor Howard Gore appointed Minnie Buckingham Harper to complete her husband’s term, making her the first African-American woman in U.S. history to serve in a state legislature.

May 12, 1971: Nurse Col. Florence Blanchfield Dies at 87

May 12, 2017
 Florence Blanchfield
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

Colonel Florence Blanchfield died in Washington on May 12, 1971, at age 87. She was born in Shepherdstown in 1884, the daughter of a nurse and a stonecutter. After training as a nurse in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, she enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps in 1917 and served in France during World I.

May 11, 1930: Artificial-Heart Researcher John C. Norman, Jr. Born in Charleston

May 11, 2017
 John C. Norman, Jr.
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

Physician John C. Norman Jr., a pioneer in artificial-heart research, was born in Charleston on May 11, 1930. His father was West Virginia’s first licensed African-American architect.

Norman was valedictorian of his class at Charleston’s Garnet High School in 1946. He went on to Harvard Medical School, graduating in 1954. As a surgeon at Boston City Hospital in the 1960s, he began researching organ transplants and, in 1967, successfully transplanted the spleen of a healthy dog into a hemophiliac dog. He also started experimenting with a battery-operated pump for heart patients.

May 8, 1892: U.S. and Confederate Congressman Alexander Boteler Dies

May 8, 2017
 Alexander Boteler
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

U.S. and Confederate Congressman Alexander Boteler died on May 8, 1892, shortly before his 77th birthday. Before launching his political career, Boteler was a farmer and the owner of a hydraulic cement plant on the Potomac River at Shepherdstown. He entered the U.S. House of Representatives as a Whig in 1859. That same year, he interviewed John Brown extensively after Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry. A skilled artist, Boteler also made a sketch of the imprisoned abolitionist.

May 5, 1923: Golfer Bill Campbell Born in Huntington

May 5, 2017
Bill Campbell
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

Golfer Bill Campbell was born in Huntington on May 5, 1923. He would win more than 30 championships over seven decades, establishing him as one of the greatest amateur golfers in history.

  His father introduced him to the game when Bill Campbell was only three. At age 15, he played in his first U.S. Amateur Tournament, where he met Sam Snead. Snead would become first a mentor and then lifelong friend to Campbell.

May 4, 1896: Children’s Home Society of West Virginia Founded in Charleston

May 4, 2017
Children's Home Society of West Virginia
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

On May 4, 1896, the Children’s Home Society of West Virginia was founded in Charleston. The Society was part of a national movement to place orphaned and neglected children with caring families, rather than crowding them into county poorhouses, where children often lived in squalor, with conditions resembling a Dickens novel.

May 1, 1930: Labor Leader Mother Jones Celebrates 100th Birthday

May 1, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

On May 1, 1930, labor leader “Mother” Jones celebrated her 100th birthday at a party in Maryland. The firebrand did what she did best: ruffle feathers. On this occasion, she denounced the nation’s prohibition on alcohol, saying it violated her right as an American to drink beer instead of water.

April 28, 1924: 119 Miners Die in Benwood Mine Explosion

Apr 28, 2017
Graveside service for miners lost in Benwood coal mine
e-WV, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

 A little after 7 a.m. on April 28, 1924, miners at Benwood in Marshall County were preparing their work areas for their daily shift. One miner approached a roof fall, thinking incorrectly that it’d been examined by the fire boss.

His open light ignited firedamp, which is an explosive mixture of methane and air. An explosion ripped through the mine, which was dry and dusty with poor ventilation and sprinkling practices. The explosion spread quickly, and slate and debris blocked portions of the main entry.

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