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

January 18, 1937: Homer Holt Becomes W.Va.'s 20th Governor

Jan 18, 2019
Governor Homer Holt (1898-1976).
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / WV State Archives (WVSA)

On January 18, 1937, Democrat Homer Holt became the state’s 20th governor. Just four years earlier, the Lewisburg native had been swept into statewide office as attorney general in a Democratic wave that ended the Republicans’ long-standing domination of West Virginia politics. He was only 34 at the time.

Becoming attorney general during the darkest days of the Great Depression, he worked with Governor H. Guy Kump to shore up the state’s finances.

January 17, 1918: Engineering Firm Hired to Build Plant at Nitro

Jan 17, 2019
In November 1918, just as Nitro was nearing completion, World War I ended.
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

On January 17, 1918, the U.S. War Department hired a New York engineering firm to build a nitrocellulose plant along the Kanawha-Putnam county border. The DuPont Company had previously chosen the site to manufacture munitions for World War I.

However, there were political objections to one company receiving such a large contract, so DuPont abandoned its plans, and the federal government picked up the task.

January 16, 1892: Activist Robert Simmons Dies

Jan 16, 2019
 Sumner was the first school for African American children in present-day West Virginia and south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

Robert Simmons died at his Parkersburg home on January 16, 1892. A free black man during the days of slavery, he moved to Parkersburg in 1841 and earned a living as a barber. He and his wife Sarah worried that their nine children wouldn’t receive a proper education.

So, in 1862, he and other free black men established Sumner School in Parkersburg. Sumner was the first school for African American children in present-day West Virginia and south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

January 15, 1890: West Virginia Legislators Convene to Choose Governor

Jan 15, 2019
Meanwhile, the sitting governor, E. Willis Wilson, refused to leave office until the dispute could be resolved.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

On January 15, 1890, West Virginia legislators convened in special session to choose the state’s new governor. The most recent gubernatorial election had been deadlocked for an incredible 14 months.

January 14, 1957: Cecil Underwood Inaugurated State's Youngest Governor

Jan 14, 2019
However, Underwood was able to pass measures to provide emergency benefits to unemployed miners and to create a new economic development agency.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

On January 14, 1957, Cecil Underwood became West Virginia’s youngest governor. The 34-year-old Tyler County native also became the state’s first Republican governor in 24 years.

January 11, 1994: Author Agnes Smith Dies in Fairmont

Jan 11, 2019
Illustration for An Edge of the Forest
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / Jan Sharkey Thomas

Author Agnes Clifford Smith died in Fairmont on January 11, 1994, at age 87. She spent her childhood in Clarksburg and Charleston before going to a private academy in New York State. She returned to West Virginia and graduated from Fairmont State College (now University) with an English degree. She married Richard Bruce Parrish, who, for many years, was editor of Fairmont’s afternoon newspaper, The West Virginian. For more than 50 years, the couple lived near Worthington, cultivating hay, oats, and other grains.

January 10, 1940: Bartley Mine Explosion

Jan 10, 2019
Pond Creek Number 1
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

On January 10, 1940, the Pond Creek Number 1 mine exploded at Bartley in McDowell County. The blast killed 91 miners; 47 men escaped. Most of the men who perished died instantly. Although, some asphyxiated following the explosion, and two left farewell letters.

Pond Creek Number 1 was a deep-shaft mine owned by an affiliate of Island Creek Coal. Investigators blamed methane gas for the fatal explosion since the mine’s coal dust had been treated properly.

January 9, 1911: State Poet Laureate Louise McNeill Born

Jan 9, 2019
In 1979, Governor Jay Rockefeller named her state poet laureate.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

West Virginia Poet Laureate Louise McNeill was born on her family’s Pocahontas County farm on January 9, 1911. Her first book, Gauley Mountain, was published in 1939. In it, she peppered her poems with the speech and dialect she’d grown up with.

With its rich tapestry of stories and characters, Gauley Mountain is still hailed as a classic work of American poetry.

Over the next few decades, she taught college English but didn’t publish another major collection until 1972.

January 8, 1964: President Johnson Declares War on Poverty

Jan 8, 2019
For instance, community organizers in Mingo County and other parts of southern West Virginia fought to clean up their local governments. In the process, they drew the wrath of powerful politicians.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

On January 8, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson called on Congress to declare an “unconditional war on poverty.” Combatting poverty had been a big thrust of John F. Kennedy’s campaign in 1960. Johnson introduced the War on Poverty legislation less than seven weeks after his predecessor’s assassination.

January 7, 1933: Jamboree Airs on WWVA

Jan 7, 2019
Capitol Music Hall in Wheeling
Steve Shaluta / Humanities Council

On January 7, 1933, the Jamboree first aired on WWVA radio in Wheeling. Along with other radio shows of the day—like the Grand Old Opry, the Chicago Barn Dance, and the Louisiana Hayride—the weekly Jamboree helped make country music an international sensation. At its peak, it could be heard across much of the East Coast and even in parts of Canada. Its listenership went national for a while in the ’50s, when CBS radio picked up a portion of the broadcasts every third week.

January 6: 'Old Christmas' Celebrated Across West Virginia, Appalachia

Jan 6, 2019
Jesse Weese / Flickr

  January 6 is the day traditionally known as Old Christmas. It’s a relic of the Julian Calendar, developed 2,000 years ago. In the late 1500s, Pope Gregory XIII changed the calendar to match the solar cycle more closely. To do so, the Julian Calendar had to be reduced from 376 to 365 days, eliminating 11 full days. Some countries, though, resisted the change and kept the old Julian Calendar. It took nearly 200 years for England and Scotland to come around. Both countries adopted the Gregorian Calendar in 1752.

January 5, 1887: New Capitol Building Dedicated in Charleston

Jan 5, 2019
Charleston Capitol Circa 1887
E-WV / WV State Archives

On January 5, 1887, Governor E. Willis Wilson hosted a ball and banquet to dedicate West Virginia’s new capitol building in downtown Charleston. The event marked the end of what had become a running joke in the state’s early years—the location of the capital city. In the first two decades of statehood, the capital had already been moved from Wheeling to Charleston and back to Wheeling, again.

The dedication event in Charleston marked the capital’s final journey—at least in terms of host cities.

January 4, 1980: Musician John Homer Walker Dies in Princeton

Jan 4, 2019
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Musician John Homer Walker died in Princeton on January 4, 1980, at age 81. The Mercer County native was raised in Summers County and lived much of his adult life in neighboring Glen Lyn, Virginia. He usually worked as a laborer and farmhand.

“Uncle Homer,” as he was affectionately known, learned to play clawhammer-style banjo from his mother and uncle. He picked up traditional songs, like the old spiritual, “Steal Away,” from his grandfather, who was born a slave.

January 3, 1921: State Capitol Burns

Jan 3, 2019
State Capitol burns.
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

On January 3, 1921, the West Virginia state capitol building in downtown Charleston was destroyed by fire. Originally dedicated in 1885 and completed in 1887, the 85-room Victorian structure was our state’s fourth capitol—and the second in Charleston.

Firefighters struggled to put out the blaze due to the intense heat, and rescue efforts were pulled back after one firefighter was killed by a collapsing masonry wall.

January 2, 2006: Sago Mine Explosion Kills 12 Miners

Jan 2, 2019
In this Jan. 2, 2007 file photo, crosses, wreaths and a candle lay at the Sago miners' memorial in Sago, W.Va., on the one-year anniversary of the mine explosion that trapped and killed 12 miners near Buckhannon.
Jeff Gentner / Associated Press

An explosion at the Sago mine in Upshur County killed 12 men on January 2, 2006. The initial methane blast at 6:30 a.m. killed one worker. Twelve men sought refuge from the carbon monoxide fumes, but 11 men were dead by the time rescuers reached them 41 hours later. 

January 1, 1888: Hatfields Attack McCoy Cabin Killing Two

Jan 1, 2019
Without Devil Anse himself being present, the Hatfields set fire to the cabin of Randolph McCoy, the head of the McCoy family.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

The night of January 1, 1888, marked the worst atrocity in the long-running troubles between the Hatfields of Logan County, West Virginia, and the McCoys of Pike County, Kentucky. That evening, New Year’s Day 1888, Hatfield patriarch “Devil Anse” Hatfield launched a scheme that he hoped would end the feud once and for all. It was led by his uncle, Jim Vance. Without Devil Anse himself being present, the Hatfields set fire to the cabin of Randolph McCoy, the head of the McCoy family. Although Randolph escaped, two of his grown children were killed.

December 31, 1952: Hank Williams' Final Concert

Dec 31, 2018
By the end of 1952, Williams was trying to get his life and career back on track. He’d even released a new single entitled “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive.”
E-WV / Humanities Council

On New Year’s Eve 1952, country music legend Hank Williams was scheduled to perform at Charleston’s Municipal Auditorium as part of his comeback tour.

His life had been descending into turmoil for a long time. Various issues were to blame, including marriage troubles, back problems, prescription drug abuse, and alcoholism. In August 1952, he had been fired from the Grand Ole Opry because his notorious unreliability had finally overshadowed his incomparable talent.

The resulting law increased mine inspections; allowed the government to shut down unsafe mines; placed stricter limits on coal dust; improved ventilation, roof supports, and methane detection; and provided compensation to miners suffering from black lung.
E-WV / Humanities Council

On December 30, 1969, President Richard Nixon signed into law the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act.  Since the Monongah mine disaster in Marion County more than 60 years earlier, Congress had been passing laws to address coal mine safety. However, most were filled with loopholes or lacked funding for enforcement.

The tide turned after another Marion County disaster. The 1968 Farmington explosion killed 78 miners. Americans watched in horror as the drama unfolded on national TV. 

December 28, 1879: Brigadier General Billy Mitchell Born in France

Dec 28, 2018
Brigadier General William "Billy" Mitchell
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / United States Air Force

Brigadier General Billy Mitchell was born in France on December 28, 1879. By 1921, he’d become chief of the Army Air Service. After seeing the potential military impact of aircraft during World War I, he wanted to demonstrate how planes could be used to quell civil unrest at home.

December 27, 2006: Artist June Kilgore Dies

Dec 27, 2018
Kilgore’s modern and abstract work evokes intense emotion and a sense of the spiritual.
E-WV / Humanities Council

Artist June Kilgore died on December 27, 2006, at age 79. The Huntington native was an expressionist painter who spent 30 years as an art professor at Marshall University. Kilgore’s modern and abstract work evokes intense emotion and a sense of the spiritual.

An eloquent communicator, she had a significant influence on her students at Marshall and inspired many accomplished West Virginia artists, including Dolly Hartman and Sally Romayne.

December 26, 1917: Instrument Maker Harold Hayslett Born

Dec 26, 2018
One of Hayslett's cellos earned the society’s prestigious gold medal for tone. In 1996, filmmaker Robert Gates took an in-depth look at Hayslett’s life and work in the documentary Building a Cello with Harold.
E-WV / Humanities Council

Harold Hayslett was born in Putnam County on December 26, 1917. After serving in France during World War II, he worked as a pipefitter for Union Carbide in South Charleston. He retired in 1980 after 33 years of service.

While working at Carbide, he started a side hobby—making violins, cellos, and other instruments. His reputation spread quickly—first locally, and then worldwide. The Violin Society of America honored Hayslett on several occasions.

December 25, 1887: Folk Artist James T. Rexrode Born

Dec 25, 2018
At first, he drew only from his photographs but then started painting what he called the “old-timey subjects” of his youth.
liveauctioneers.com / e-WV

Folk artist James T. Rexrode was born in Pendleton County on Christmas Day 1887. Although he’d always been an amateur photographer, he didn’t start painting until late in life.

December 24, 1852: B&O Railroad Completed Near Moundsville

Dec 24, 2018
When West Virginia statehood leaders carved out the new state’s borders, the eastern panhandle counties were included primarily to keep the B&O in West Virginia and outside of Confederate Virginia.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / e-WV

On Christmas Eve 1852, the last spike was driven on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad between Baltimore and the Ohio River. The event occurred at Rosbys Rock near Moundsville.

December 21, 1891: Senator Frank Hereford Dies in Monroe County

Dec 21, 2018
Honorable Frank Hereford
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / Library of Congress

Former U.S. Senator Frank Hereford died at Union in Monroe County on December 21, 1891, at age 66. The Virginia native had gone west in 1849, during the California Gold Rush, and practiced law in Sacramento. After the Civil War, he moved back east, settled in Union, and married Alice Caperton, who came from a prominent Monroe County family. 

Hereford, a Democrat, was a leader in the successful push to restore voting rights and other political privileges to West Virginia’s ex-Confederates. Shortly thereafter, he was elected to Congress.

December 20, 1999: Newspaperman Jack Maurice Dies in Charleston at Age 86

Dec 20, 2018

Newspaperman Jack Maurice died in Charleston on December 20, 1999, at age 86. Maurice was born in 1913 in the McDowell County coal town of Vivian. During his childhood, his family moved frequently around the West Virginia and Kentucky coalfields. He graduated from Huntington High School and Marshall College (now University) and immediately started his career with the Huntington Herald-Dispatch in 1935. Three years later, he joined the staff of the Charleston Daily Mail.

December 19, 1907: Colonel Ruby Bradley Born

Dec 19, 2018
Ruby Bradley
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online

Ruby Bradley was born near Spencer on December 19, 1907. As a member of the Army Nurse Corps, she would become one of the most decorated women in U.S. military history.

Bradley’s ordeal also is one of the most incredible stories of World War II. Just hours after attacking Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Japan bombed American defenses in the Philippines, where Bradley was stationed as an Army nurse.

About three weeks later, she was captured and imprisoned in an internment camp in Manila. Conditions in the camp were brutal and kept deteriorating as the war dragged on.

December 18, 1842: Senator Nathan B. Scott Born

Dec 18, 2018
Shortly after moving to Wheeling, Scott began to dabble in Republican politics.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / e-WV

Businessman and U.S. Senator Nathan B. Scott was born in Ohio on December 18, 1842. From a meager start as a boy working in a general store, he eventually would become one of the four richest men in West Virginia.

December 17, 1861: Henry Ruffner Died

Dec 17, 2018
Ruffner was ahead of his time in arguing for a free public education system.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / e-WV

Henry Ruffner died in Malden on December 17, 1861, at the age of 71. He had been one of western Virginia’s most influential citizens. In 1819, at the age of only 29, Ruffner had organized the first Presbyterian denomination in the Kanawha Valley. Then, for nearly three decades, he had taught ancient languages at Washington College and served as the college’s president for 12 of those years.

December 16, 1919: Dancer Andre Van Damme Born in Belgium

Dec 16, 2018
Andre Van Damme
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / Charleston Ballet

Dancer Andre Van Damme was born in Belgium on December 16, 1919. Shortly after his 16th birthday, he was admitted to the ballet company of the Royal Opera House of Brussels. When his country fell to the Nazis in 1940, Van Damme joined the underground while continuing to perform. 

December 14, 1857: Coal Operator Justus Collins Born in Alabama

Dec 14, 2018
Justus Collins, e-WV
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

Coal operator Justus Collins was born in Alabama on December 14, 1857. He got his start in coal mining in the Deep South but moved north about 1887 to pursue his fortune in the coalfields of southern West Virginia.

In Mercer County, Collins organized the Louisville Coal & Coke Company, one of the first mines to ship coal on the Norfolk and Western Railway. In 1893, he opened Collins Colliery at Glen Jean in Fayette County. About the same time, he started Greenbrier Coal & Coke and later opened the Whipple mine near Mount Hope.

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