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

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

Jun 23, 2019
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 21, 1920: Wheeling Steel Created

Jun 21, 2019
Wheeling Steel
e-WV / WV Humanitites Council

One June 21, 1920, the LaBelle Iron Works, Whitaker-Glessner, and Wheeling Steel & Iron Works combined to form the Wheeling Steel Corporation.

June 20, 1963: JFK Speaks at WV Birthday Celebration

Jun 20, 2019
This Week in West Virginia History.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online.

On June 20, 1963—the 100th birthday of West Virginia—John F. Kennedy made his last appearance in the Mountain State. 

Speaking on the state capitol steps in Charleston, he credited West Virginia with making him president—a reference to the state’s Democratic primary in 1960, when he beat Hubert Humphrey.

Oak Park, Preston County
WV & Regional History Center / WVU

Oak Park, an amusement park about a mile west of Masontown in Preston County, opened June 19, 1909.

The park was an easy train ride from Morgantown—as well as nearby Maryland and Pennsylvania—which helped fill up the park on weekends and holidays. On one day in that summer of 1909, 14 trains brought more than 4,000 people to Oak Park.

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

Jun 19, 2019
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 18, 1937: John D. Rockefeller IV Born in New York City

Jun 18, 2019
Office of Jay Rockefeller

John D. Rockefeller IV was born in New York City on June 18, 1937, just weeks after the death of his great-grandfather, business tycoon John D. Rockefeller. Jay—as the wealthy Rockefeller heir was known—first came to West Virginia as a poverty volunteer in the 1960s. He soon attracted national attention by switching his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat. He was elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1966 and as secretary of state two years later.

June 17, 1961: Brinkley Bridge Dedicated Near Wayne

Jun 17, 2019
David Brinkley stands before the 'Brinkley Bridge' near the town Wayne, WV
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On June 17, 1961, the Brinkley Bridge was dedicated near the town of Wayne. The previous year, it had entered West Virginia political lore. While covering the Democratic presidential primary between John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey, NBC-TV newsman David Brinkley was reporting on poverty in the Mountain State and the poor condition of West Virginia’s roads and bridges. He visited a Wayne County bridge, built in 1907, that local residents had complained about for years.

June 14, 1957: Newspaperman Cal Price Dies

Jun 14, 2019
Cal Price, Pocahontas Times
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

Newspaperman “Cal” Price died in Marlinton on June 14, 1957, at age 76. Price—the longtime owner and editor of the Pocahontas Times newspaper—was known for his civic involvement and conservation endeavors, such as his famous “Field Notes” column and his panther and bear stories.

The 10,000-acre Calvin W. Price State Forest in southern Pocahontas County was dedicated in his honor in 1954.

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

On June 13, 1861, a committee led by John Carlile of Clarksburg presented a Declaration of Rights of the People of Virginia to the Second Wheeling Convention.

The convention was the first major step toward West Virginia statehood, and the declaration is perhaps the most significant document in our state’s history.

June 12, 1771: Frontiersman Patrick Gass Born in Pennsylvania

Jun 12, 2019
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 11, 1900: Confederate Spy Belle Boyd Dies at 57

Jun 11, 2019
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On June 11, 1900, Confederate spy Belle Boyd died of a heart attack at age 57.

Boyd was born in 1843 to an influential Berkeley County family. When the Civil War erupted, she and her family were decidedly pro-Southern. On July 4, 1861, Belle shot and killed a Yankee soldier in the Boyds’ Martinsburg home but was cleared of any criminal charges. She was only 18 at the time.

e-WV Encyclopedia

On June 10, 1775, Captain Hugh Stephenson organized the Berkeley County Riflemen in response to George Washington’s call for soldiers at the start of the Revolutionary War. These were among the first soldiers from the South to volunteer following the outbreak of hostilities in Massachusetts. The men supplied their own uniforms, weapons, equipment, and food. They wore leather leggings and moccasins, deerskin caps, and homespun shirts made of a coarse cloth called linsey-woolsey.

June 7, 1926: Explosion Kills Six at Berkeley Glass Sand Company

Jun 7, 2019
Drilling to blast
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

On June 7, 1926, a crew mining for sand in Morgan County was preparing an explosion when a spark set off what the Berkeley Glass Sand Company maintained was dynamite. Others, though, claimed it was more dangerous black powder. Six men were killed.

Their deaths inspired John Unger, a local blind singer, to write the ballad “The Miner’s Doom,” which was recorded in 1927 by early country music star Vernon Dalhart.

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

Just after midnight on June 6, 1979, an old Douglas DC-6 cargo plane carrying 12 tons of marijuana attempted to land at Charleston’s Kanawha Airport—now Yeager Airport.

Two Ryder rental trucks were waiting at the airport to haul away the illegal cargo, but the scheme went awry when the plane plummeted off the edge of the runway. Hundreds of bales of marijuana spewed from the plane before it caught fire.

June 5, 1859: The 'Big Frost' Kills Crops, Leads to Buckwheat Farming

Jun 5, 2019
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 4, 1975: Old-Time Fiddler Clark Kessinger Dies at 78

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

Old-time fiddler Clark Kessinger died in St. Albans on June 4, 1975, at age 78. Known for his near-perfect intonation and impeccable tone, Kessinger was a pioneer in the resurgence of traditional music in the late 20th century.

Kessinger’s career started in the 1920s, when he and his nephew launched a duo known as the Kessinger Brothers. In 1927, they began performing live on Charleston’s first radio station. Over the next three years, they recorded more than 60 instrumental tunes.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On June 3, 1861, one of the opening acts of the Civil War unfolded in the town of Philippi. At daybreak, the roar of Union cannons shook some 800 slumbering Confederate soldiers from their tents. The routed Confederates made a hasty retreat, derisively remembered as the “Philippi Races.” The brief engagement was the first land battle of the Civil War involving organized troops. And it probably was the first time in history that railroads had been used to bring together troops for battle.

May 31, 2008: Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy Graduates Last Class

May 31, 2019
e-WV Encyclopedia

The Mount de Chantal Visitation Academy in Wheeling graduated its last class of students on May 31, 2008. 

May 30, 1940: Smoke Hole Caverns Opens for Tours in Grant County

May 30, 2019
e-WV Encyclopedia / David Fattaleh via WV Division of Tourism (WVDT)

On May 30, 1940, Smoke Hole Caverns in Grant County opened for tours. Of our state’s four commercial caves, the Smoke Hole Caverns is likely the most visited.

May 29, 1961: Elderson Muncie Receives First Food Stamps in Nation

May 29, 2019
e-WV

On May 29, 1961, Elderson Muncie of Bradshaw in McDowell County received the first food stamps in the nation. Muncie, an unemployed miner and father of 15, took his stamps to John Henderson’s supermarket in Welch and bought two watermelons.

The new federal program was intended to provide supplemental income for welfare recipients and families below certain income levels. Because of high unemployment and poverty rates, West Virginia has been a focus of the program since its inception.

May 27, 1912: Legendary Golfer Sam Snead Born

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

Legendary golfer Sam Snead was born on May 27, 1912, in Ashwood, Virginia. In high school, he excelled at baseball, basketball, football, and tennis but decided to focus on golf. He started teaching the game at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs in the ’30s and, in 1936, won the first of 17 West Virginia Opens. The next year—his first on the PGA tour—Snead captured five wins. Then, in 1938, he won the first of eight titles at the Greensboro Open. His last victory at Greensboro came at age 52, making him the oldest player ever to win a tour event. He also won seven majors and a total of 82 PGA tournaments, placing him first all time in victories, ahead of “Tiger” Woods and Jack Nicklaus.

May 24, 1896: Former Confederate General John Echols Dies in Staunton

May 24, 2019
e-WV Encyclopedia / Library of Congress

Former Confederate General John Echols died in Staunton, Virginia, on May 24, 1896. In 1843, the Lynchburg, Virginia, native had moved to Union in Monroe County to practice law. He remained in Union until the Civil War began in 1861.

May 23, 1862: The Battle of Lewisburg Fought in Greenbrier County

May 23, 2019
e-WV Encyclopedia

On May 23, 1862, the Battle of Lewisburg was fought in Greenbrier County. It occurred as Union troops were moving from Western Virginia toward Tennessee in the spring of 1862. Union General John C. Frémont planned to move his forces southwest from Monterey, Virginia, to the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad near Christiansburg. There, Frémont was to connect with troops under General Jacob Cox.

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 21, 1971: Historian Festus Summers Dies at 76

May 21, 2019
WV Regional and History Collection

One of West Virginia’s foremost historians, Festus Summers, died on May 21, 1971, at age 76. The Nicholas County native started his teaching career in a one-room Clay County school and later taught in Fayette and Mercer counties. He also served as superintendent of schools in Jane Lew. In 1928, he became a professor of history and political science at Morris Harvey College (now University of Charleston), which was then located in Barboursville.

May 20, 1983: Basketball Coach, Author Clair Bee Dies at 87

May 20, 2019

On May 20, 1983, basketball coach and author Clair Bee died at age 87. He was a native of Pennsboro in Ritchie County but grew up in Grafton.

He became a coaching legend at Long Island University in the 1930s. Bee led the Blackbirds to 43 straight wins, two undefeated seasons, and National Invitational Tournament titles in 1939 and ’41. He resigned in 1951 after a point-shaving scandal implicated three of his players. During his career, Bee won nearly 83 percent of his games—still an NCAA Division I record. He also developed the 1-3-1 zone.

e-WV Encyclopedia / WV State Archives (WVSA), Marion County Historical Society Collection.

On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Brown v. Board of Education that segregated schools are unconstitutional, leading eventually to the integration of all schools across the country.

May 16, 1778: Wyandot and Mingo Indians Attack the Fort Randolph

May 16, 2019
e-WV Encyclopedia

On May 16, 1778, about 300 Wyandot and Mingo Indians attacked the garrison at Fort Randolph in Point Pleasant. Located at the confluence of the Ohio and Kanawha rivers, Fort Randolph was one of the most important military outposts in Western Virginia during the Revolutionary War.

Michael Keller / West Virginia Humanities Council

On May 15, 1880, West Virginia’s first telephone exchange was placed in service in Wheeling with about 25 subscribers. Actually, the state’s first telephone line was strung in Wheeling the year before, connecting two grocery stores owned by the Behrens brothers. At first, only local calls were possible, but long-distance service was started between Wheeling and Pittsburgh in 1883.

May 14, 1910: Businessman W. D. Thurmond Dies in Fayette County

May 14, 2019

Businessman W. D. Thurmond died in Fayette County on May 14, 1910, at age 89. He was born in Virginia and came to Fayette County as a young man with his family in 1845.

During the Civil War, he served as a captain with Thurmond’s Rangers—a Confederate guerrilla force commanded by his brother Philip, who was killed in Putnam County in 1864. According to his family, W. D. Thurmond remained an “unreconstructed Rebel” the rest of his long life.

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