June 30, 1904: Kelly Axe & Tool Co. Acquires Land to Become World's Largest Axe Factory
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.
The Charleston plant opened in January 1905 and later expanded to some 50 buildings. By 1921, Kelly Axe employed about 1,000 men and women, including many Polish and Russian immigrants.
Over the years, the company’s name changed with corporate mergers—first to American Fork and Hoe and then True Temper. Most Charlestonians, though, continued to call it Kelly Axe.
The decline of domestic manufacturing in the late 20th century hit tool making particularly hard. Production was downscaled in the 1960s, and the old Kelly Axe Factory closed for good in 1982, marking the end of nearly 80 years in business.