This Week in West Virginia History

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 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 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 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.

On May 13, 1941, Fairmont State College President Joseph Rosier was seated in the U.S. Senate, ending one of the state’s most bizarre political tussles. He was succeeding Democratic powerbroker Matthew Neely, who’d stepped down as senator to become West Virginia’s 21st governor.

May 6, 1968: Incident at Hominy Falls Traps 25 Miners for Days

May 6, 2019

 On May 6, 1968, a continuous miner machine cut into an unmapped coal mine at Hominy Falls in Nicholas County. The incident unleashed a torrent of water from the old abandoned mine into the Gauley Coal & Coke Saxsewell No. 8 mine. Most miners made it out unharmed, but 25 were cut off from the entrance. The next 10 days were filled with tension and, often, despair.

May 5, 1923: Fire Destroys Luna Park in Charleston

May 5, 2019
Luna-Park
e-WV Encyclopedia

On May 5, 1923, an accidental fire started by welders destroyed most of Luna Park on Charleston’s West Side. The seven-acre amusement park had been built in 1912 on a former three-hole golf course.

Illustration of the Diamond Department Store at the corner of Capitol and Washington Streets in Charleston
e-WV Encyclopedia

On May 3, 1960, Charleston’s Diamond Department Store integrated its lunch counters. The Diamond was the largest department store of its kind in Charleston and one of the leading stores in the state. For years, it barred African-Americans from eating at its popular lunch counter.

April 30, 1774: Family of Chief Logan Slaughtered in Hancock County

Apr 30, 2019
Chief Logan Statue at Chief Logan State Park.
e-WV, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / WV Division of Tourism, Steve Shaluta

On April 30, 1774, one of the worst atrocities of the frontier era occurred in present-day Hancock County. A band of frontiersmen led by Daniel Greathouse slaughtered a group of Indians, including the family of Logan. Logan was chief of the Mingo Indians, a multi-tribal confederation allied to the Six Nations. During the four years he’d lived in the area, he had consistently tried to maintain peace.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / WV Humanities Council, Heidi Perov

On April 29, 1863, the largest Civil War battle in present northern West Virginia occurred at Fairmont. It was part of the Jones-Imboden Raid. In the previous five days, Confederate cavalry under General William “Grumble” Jones had fought battles in Hardy and Preston counties. On April 28, Jones raided Morgantown. Ironically, one of the Confederate raiders was William Lyne Wilson, who would later return to Morgantown as president of West Virginia University

April 26, 1816: General Alexander Welch Reynolds Born in Lewisburg

Apr 26, 2019
Alexander Welch Reynolds
e-WV Encyclopedia

General Alexander Welch Reynolds was born in Lewisburg on April 26, 1816. After graduating from West Point in 1838, he served as an army officer in the Seminole War, the Mexican War, and in the West. 

When the Civil War began in 1861, Reynolds joined the Confederate army and saw considerable combat. 

In September 1861, he led a regiment at the Battle of Carnifex Ferry in Nicholas County. The battle, which was fought on the banks of the Gauley River, left him with the nickname “Old Gauley.”

April 25, 1923: Labor Leader Arnold Miller Born in Kanawha County

Apr 25, 2019
E- WV Encyclopedia / Rick Lee via Goldenseal magazine

Labor leader Arnold Miller was born in Kanawha County on April 25, 1923. The son and grandson of coal miners, Miller quit school at age 16 to become a miner himself. 

April 19, 1889: Susan Dew Hoffone Licensed to Practice Medicine in W.Va.

Apr 19, 2019
Susan Dew Hoff
e-WV Encyclopedia

On April 19, 1889, Susan Dew Hoff passed the state medical exam, becoming one of the first licensed women physicians in West Virginia history.

As a youth, the Hampshire County native had moved with her family to West Milford in Harrison County, where her father was a doctor. She sometimes accompanied him on house calls.

And he encouraged her to pursue a medical career, but medical colleges were closed to women in the mid-1800s.

As Hoff raised a family of five, she self-taught herself by reading her father’s medical books and discussing medicine with him.

April 18, 1861: Federal Soldiers Set Fire to Harpers Ferry Armory

Apr 18, 2019
David Hunter Strother / Library of Congress

On April 18, 1861, U.S. Army regular soldiers and volunteers set fire to the U.S. Armory and Arsenal at Harpers Ferry. 

The day before, Virginia politicians had voted to secede from the Union and join the Confederacy. Confederates quickly targeted the Harpers Ferry Armory and Arsenal for its stockpile of guns. On April 18, 360 Virginia militiamen began a 10-mile march from Charles Town to seize the Armory.

April 16, 1923: Governor Arch Moore Born in Moundsville

Apr 16, 2019
Arch Moore
U.S. Government Printing Office / wikimedia Commons

Arch Moore was born in Moundsville on April 16, 1923. During World War II, he was severely wounded in the face and had to learn to talk again during his long hospital recovery. The Republican was elected to the state legislature in 1952 and to Congress four years later.

April 15, 1861: President Lincoln Calls for Volunteer Troops

Apr 15, 2019
BotMultichillT / wikimedia Commons

On April 15, 1861, three days after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter in South Carolina, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteer troops. At the time, the U.S. Army had only about 16,000 soldiers. While most historians point to Fort Sumter as the beginning of the war, some suggest the war didn’t really begin until Lincoln’s call for troops. His action spurred four of the “holdout” states—Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas—to secede from the Union and join the Confederacy.

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

 State founder Peter G. Van Winkle died in Parkersburg on April 15, 1872, at age 63. The native of New York City had moved to Parkersburg in 1835 to practice law. Through his wife’s family, he became a key player in the region’s oil industry. He also helped organize and serve as president of the Northwestern Virginia Railroad.

April 12, 1912: Willard Hotel Opens in Grafton

Apr 12, 2019
e-WV Encyclopedia

On April 12, 1912, the Willard Hotel opened in Grafton with an elaborate banquet attended by state and local dignitaries and officials of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. It was built by Grafton attorney and industrialist John T. McGraw and named in honor of the B&O’s president, Daniel Willard.

April 11, 1964: Writer Pinckney Benedict Born in Lewisburg

Apr 11, 2019
Hollins University
e-WV Encyclopedia

Writer Pinckney Benedict was born in Lewisburg on April 11, 1964, and grew up on his family’s dairy farm. After graduating from Princeton University and the University of Iowa, he published his first two collections of short stories, Town Smokes and The Wrecking Yard, and the novel Dogs of God. The New York Times Book Review named all three to its Notable Books list. In 2010, after taking 14 years off from publishing, he released a new collection of short stories entitled Miracle Boy.

April 10, 1931: Braxton County Rune Stone Found

Apr 10, 2019
The piece of sandstone—measuring about a square foot—has inscriptions similar to a stone found in the Grave Creek Mound in Moundsville in 1838.
E-WV / The Humanities Council

The Braxton County Rune Stone—also known as the Wilson Stone and Braxton County Tablet—was found by Blaine Wilson on April 10, 1931, about eight miles west of Gassaway.

The piece of sandstone—measuring about a square foot—has inscriptions similar to a stone found in the Grave Creek Mound in Moundsville in 1838. Nearly a century earlier, the Grave Creek Tablet had become the center of an archaeological controversy, with one eminent ethnographer believing it had been carved by Celts from ancient Spain or Britain, rather than by early Indians.

April 9, 1872: West Virginia Constitutional Convention Adjourns

Apr 9, 2019
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

The 1872 West Virginia Constitutional Convention adjourned on April 9, 1872. The day was chosen specifically because it was the seventh anniversary of Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. The convention had selected former Confederates to all offices, including the convention president, who had been the lieutenant governor of secessionist Virginia.

April 8, 1979: Writer Breece D'J Pancake Commits Suicide

Apr 8, 2019
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

  Writer Breece D’J Pancake died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on April 8, 1979. The South Charleston native grew up in Milton, which became the fictionalized setting for many of his short stories.

A graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan and Marshall, Pancake taught at two military schools in Virginia before entering the University of Virginia’s Creative Writing Program, where he was influenced by authors James Alan McPherson, Peter Taylor, and Mary Lee Settle. He began writing human interest stories for a Milton newspaper and working on a series of short stories. His big breakthrough came in 1977, when the Atlantic Monthly published his story “Trilobites.”

April 6, 1938: Civilian Conservation Corps Establish Camp Kanawha

Apr 6, 2019
Wikimedia Commons / Andrew Springer

On April 6, 1938, the Civilian Conservation Corps established Camp Kanawha at the mouth of Shrewsbury Hollow, about seven miles south of Charleston. Over the next four years, CCC workers transformed the site, which had been heavily mined and timbered, into Kanawha State Forest.

April 5, 1856: Educator Booker T. Washington Born in Franklin County, VA

Apr 5, 2019
Booker T. Washington
e-WV Encyclopedia / Library of Congress

Educator Booker T. Washington was born a slave in Franklin County, Virginia, on April 5, 1856. After the Civil War, he relocated to Malden, a few miles east of Charleston, where he attended a one-room school for blacks.

He also was tutored by Viola Ruffner, whom he later credited for instilling in him the qualities of cleanliness and hard work.

After graduating from Hampton Institute in Virginia, Washington returned to West Virginia as a teacher. In 1879, he went back to Hampton as a professor. But when school was out, he’d come home to work in West Virginia’s coal mines.

April 4, 1944: Critic John Bishop Dies at 51

Apr 4, 2019
Carl Van Vechten / Princeton University Library

Critic John Peale Bishop died in Massachusetts on April 4, 1944, at age 51. He was born at Charles Town in Jefferson County in 1892 and attended high school in Hagerstown, Maryland.

When he was 17, he experienced a temporary and unexplainable bout of blindness. That’s when he decided to become a writer. In 1912, his poem, ‘‘To a Woodland Pool,’’ was published in Harpers Weekly.

April 2, 2002: Legendary Basketball Coach Jennings Boyd Dies

Apr 2, 2019
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Jennings Boyd died on April 2, 2002, at age 68. He was one of the legendary coaches in West Virginia history.

  In 1966, two significant events happened in Northfork. First, racial segregation ended in that part of McDowell County, as Northfork merged with the historically black Elkhorn High. Second, Jennings Boyd was hired as head basketball coach. Boyd’s teams would become known for their up-tempo styles, fast breaks, and transition offense.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / Courtesy of E. I du Pont de Nemours & Company, Belle

  On April 1, 1926, the DuPont plant at Belle produced North America’s first ammonia made from a high-pressure process. A few years before, chemical giant E. I. DuPont had decided to build an ammonia plant, using technology developed by Germany during World War I. The technology consisted of giant mechanical compressors, called ‘‘hypers,’’ which generated up to 15,000 pounds of pressure per square inch. In 1925, DuPont started construction of its new hyper-pressure plant in the eastern Kanawha County town of Belle.

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