This Week in West Virginia History

Monday through Friday, at 6:30am & 4:48pm

The West Virginia Humanities Council, publishers of e-WV, and West Virginia Public Broadcasting have created two-minute radio segments for "This Week in West Virginia History" to introduce listeners to important people, places, and events in Mountain State history. Each daily segment is keyed to the actual date in history on which it occurred. The radio scripts, drawn from the content of e-WV, were written by historian Stan Bumgardner and produced by West Virginia Public Broadcasting's Operations Director, Bob Powell. Our composer, Matt Jackfert, composed the original theme music for the program.

Author and storyteller Colleen Anderson serves as the on-air voice. "This Week" airs Monday through Friday, both morning and afternoon during the news.

e-WV is the online version of the West Virginia Encyclopedia, which became a regional bestseller following its publication in 2006. It is the go-to place for concise, authoritative information on the broad spectrum of things to do with West Virginia. The history features are generated daily from a timeline of more than 12,000 items on the e-WV website.

Visitors to the online encyclopedia may dig deeper into e-WV's 2,300 articles, interactive maps, videos, illustrations, opinion polls, and quizzes that test your "WV-IQ." Visit www.wvencyclopedia.org

March 20, 1897: Musician Frank Hutchison Born in Raleigh County

22 hours ago
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 19, 1931: West Virginia United Mine Workers Union Founded

Mar 19, 2019
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / via West Virginia State Archives (WVSA), Coal Life Collection

The West Virginia Mine Workers Union was founded on March 19, 1931. It was a radical alternative to the United Mine Workers of America, known as the UMWA. The new union was the brainchild of Frank Keeney, who had been a key UMWA leader during the West Virginia Mine Wars.

After the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, UMWA national president John L. Lewis began exerting greater control over local union matters. The year after the battle, Keeney had agreed to a temporary wage cut for miners. Lewis used the wage cuts as an excuse to fire Keeney.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On March 18, 1932, convicted mass murderer Harry Powers was executed at the West Virginia Penitentiary in Moundsville. The story of his grisly murders unfolded in late 1931, with lurid details that sounded more like a pulp fiction novel than reality.

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

Mar 15, 2019
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, 2019
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.

March 13, 1756: Sandy Creek Expedition Comes to a Halt

Mar 13, 2019
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 12, 1850: Wheeling Hospital Chartered

Mar 12, 2019
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On March 12, 1850, Wheeling Hospital was chartered. Founded by Catholic Bishop Richard Whelan and Dr. Simon Hullihen, it was the only medical facility of its kind between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

In 1856, the hospital moved to the mansion of Michael Sweeney in North Wheeling. It would remain at this location for the next 119 years. In 1864, the U.S. Army took over the facility and used it to treat wounded Civil War soldiers. Both Union and Confederate troops were cared for side by side.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / via Davis & Elkins College

Politician and industrialist Henry Gassaway Davis died on March 11, 1916, at age 92. As a young man, he’d been a brakeman on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. He invested his savings and his wife’s inheritance in cheap, undeveloped land in what is now West Virginia. The timber and coal resources on that land eventually made Davis one of the state’s richest men.

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 6, 1820: Great Seal Designer Joseph H. Diss Debar Born in France

Mar 6, 2019
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / Design by Joseph H. Diss Debar

  Joseph H. Diss Debar was born in France on March 6, 1820. He immigrated to the United States at age 22. On his voyage across the Atlantic, he happened to meet and become friends with author Charles Dickens.

Diss Debar eventually wound up in Parkersburg as a land agent. For 29 years, he lived in either Parkersburg or the Doddridge County community of St. Clara, which he founded for German-Swiss immigrants. During this time, he sketched numerous people and scenes, providing some of our best images of life on the western Virginia frontier.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

  On March 5, 1963, country music star Hawkshaw Hawkins was killed in a plane crash in Tennessee. Born in Huntington in 1921, Hawkins got his start in music after trading five trapped rabbits for his first guitar. In the late 1930s, Hawkins performed on radio stations WSAZ in Huntington and WCHS in Charleston before joining the Army. During World War II, he fought in the Battle of Bulge and earned four battle stars in 15 months of combat.

March 4, 1866: Disciples of Christ Founder Alexander Campbell Dies at 77

Mar 4, 2019
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / Library of Congress

On March 4, 1866, Alexander Campbell died at age 77. A native of Ireland, he immigrated to America in 1809 and settled in present-day Bethany two years later. During his lifetime, he was variously a preacher, philosopher, author, scholar, publisher, orator, and sheep farmer. He’s best remembered, though, for two lasting contributions.

First, he helped found the Disciples of Christ. Today, the Christian Church—as it’s commonly known—is one of the largest Protestant denominations ever founded in America. Then, in 1840, he established Bethany College and served as its president until his death. Today, Bethany is the oldest degree-granting institution in West Virginia.

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

Mar 1, 2019
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.

February 28, 1963: Legislature Adds Two State Songs

Feb 28, 2019
WV Hills
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

On February 28, 1963, the legislature adopted two more songs to join “The West Virginia Hills” as official state songs.

The two new tunes were “West Virginia, My Home Sweet Home” by Colonel Julian Hearne Jr. of Wheeling and “This is My West Virginia” by Iris Bell of Charleston. They were added in honor of the state’s centennial.

While “The West Virginia Hills” had been adopted as the official state song only two years before, it had long been the unofficial song—at least in West Virginia classrooms.

February 27, 1871: Huntington Incorporated By West Virginia Legislature

Feb 27, 2019
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On February 27, 1871, the West Virginia Legislature incorporated the city of Huntington. It came into existence quite unlike any other community in the state.

It was named for Collis P. Huntington, who, in the early 1870s, was extending the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway from the Atlantic Coast to the Ohio River. For the western terminus of his railroad, he selected a plot of Ohio River farmland that was best known for a small teachers’ school known as Marshall.

February 26, 1972: Coal Mining Dam Collapses in Buffalo Creek

Feb 26, 2019
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / via Earl Benton

 On February 26, 1972, a coal mining dam collapsed at the head of Buffalo Creek in Logan County. Over the next three hours, 132-million gallons of black water raged down the hollow. The deluge obliterated or badly damaged 17 communities and claimed the lives of 125 people, including entire families. The disaster also injured 1000 people and left 80 percent of Buffalo Creek’s residents homeless.

February 25, 1911: Newspaperman Jim Comstock Born in Richwood

Feb 25, 2019
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / via Doug Chadwick / Goldenseal

Newspaperman Jim Comstock was born in Richwood on February 25, 1911. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he returned to his hometown and established the Richwood News Leader. Then, in 1957, he founded the legendary West Virginia Hillbilly newspaper. The Hillbilly became a forum for Comstock’s conservative politics and wry wit.

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

Feb 22, 2019
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.”

February 21, 1913: Legislature Passes Workers' Compensation System

Feb 21, 2019
This Week in West Virginia History is a co-production of West Virginia Public Broadcasting and the West Virginia Humanities Council.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / e-WV

On February 21, 1913, the legislature passed an act creating a workers’ compensation system.

It had been a major campaign issue for incoming Governor Henry Hatfield. In his work as a coalfields physician, Hatfield recognized the need to support injured workers financially.

The system went into effect in October 1913. In the case of a fatal accident, workers’ compensation paid the funeral expenses of the deceased and a stipend for widows and children. In the case of partial disability, workers received half their salaries.

February 20, 1995: Golden Delicious Apple Named Official State Fruit

Feb 20, 2019
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, 1943: Aerospace Engineer and Author Homer Hickam Born

Feb 19, 2019
Cecelia Mason / Shepherd University

Author Homer Hickam Jr. was born in Coalwood on February 19, 1943. After serving in Vietnam, he worked for NASA for 17 years as an aerospace engineer. During this time, he wrote his first book, Torpedo Junction. His second book, published in 1998, brought Hickam international acclaim.

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

On February 18, 1969, 282 coal miners walked off their jobs in Raleigh County. While coal strikes were common at the time, this one was different. First, the miners weren’t protesting for better wages but to have black lung recognized as a compensable disease. Second, the strike was in direct opposition to union wishes. For decades, miners had asked United Mine Workers of America leaders to address black lung. But, their pleas had been largely ignored. The previous year, union leader Tony Boyle finally had agreed to support black lung recognition at the state level.

February 15, 1902: Confederate Veteran Isaiah Welch Dies at 76

Feb 15, 2019
A 1946 Saturday afternoon, Main Street, Welch.
Russell Lee via e-WV Encyclopedia

Industrial promoter, land speculator, and railroad developer Isaiah Welch died at St. Albans in Kanawha County on February 15, 1902. He was about 76.

Like scores of other Western Virginians, Isaiah Welch went west during the California Gold Rush in the late 1840s. He came home without striking it rich. That would come later.

During the Civil War, he reached the rank of captain in the Confederate Army. He also served in the legislature of Confederate Virginia throughout the war.

February 14, 1968: Governor Barron and Others Indicted

Feb 14, 2019
The former first lady was included because she allegedly handed a paper bag containing $25,000 to the jury foreman’s wife
e-WV / WV Humanities Council

On February 14, 1968, former Governor Wally Barron and five others were indicted by a federal grand jury on bribery and conspiracy charges.

The indictments alleged that members of the Barron Administration, including the governor himself, had set up “dummy corporations” and received kickbacks from people doing business with the state. Five state vendors testified they’d made payments to the dummy firms. After 18 hours of deliberation, the jury found everyone but Barron guilty.

February 13, 1899: Wheeling Newspaperman Archibald Campbell Dies at 65

Feb 13, 2019
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, 1880: UMWA Leader John L. Lewis Born

Feb 12, 2019
United Mine Workers President John L. Lewis
E-WV

Union leader John L. Lewis was born on February 12, 1880. Although he never lived in West Virginia, he had a profound impact on the Mountain StateIn 1920, Lewis became president of the United Mine Workers of America, known as the UMWA. It was in the midst of the West Virginia Mine Wars—a period of violent conflict between coal operators and miners. After the Mine Wars ended, UMWA membership declined rapidly in West Virginia. By the end of the ’20s, the union had fewer than 1000 dues-paying members in the state.

February 11, 1969: Medal of Honor recipient Tom Bennett killed in action

Feb 11, 2019
Thomas Bennett, Corporal, United States ArmyMedal of Honor Recipient
E-WV

On February 11, 1969, medic Tom Bennett was killed in action in Vietnam. As a conscientious objector, he was perhaps the Vietnam War’s most unlikely recipient of the nation’s Medal of Honor. 

February 8, 1915: Photographer Volkmar Wentzel Born in Germany

Feb 8, 2019
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.

February 7, 1732: General Charles Lee Born in England

Feb 7, 2019
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.

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