This Week in West Virginia History

July 16, 1891: General Benjamin Kelley Dies

Jul 16, 2019

Civil War General Benjamin Kelley died in Maryland on July 16, 1891, at age 84. The New Hampshire native had moved to Wheeling in 1836, working as a merchant there for more than two decades. In 1851, he became freight agent for the newly arrived Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

July 15, 1915: West Virginia Folklore Society Founded in Morgantown

Jul 15, 2019
The West Virginia Folklife Center at Fairmont State University
E-WV, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

The West Virginia Folklore Society was founded in Morgantown on July 15, 1915, by John Harrington Cox and Robert Allen Armstrong of West Virginia University and Walter Barnes of Fairmont State.

One of the earliest state folklore societies in the nation, it remained active for only two years. However, during this time, the society collected traditional ballads and songs that were later published in Cox’s classic book Folk-Songs of the South.

July 11, 1902: Historian John P. Hale Dies

Jul 11, 2019
Hale started the first mechanized brick-making in the Kanawha Valley, helped found a bank, and formed Charleston’s first gas company and steam ferry.
E-WV

Historian, physician, and businessman John P. Hale died on July 11, 1902, at age 78. The great-grandson of the legendary Mary Draper Ingles, Hale was born in present Virginia before moving to the Kanawha Valley in 1840.

  

He earned a medical degree but decided that medicine wasn’t as lucrative as the booming salt business. By 1860, his salt works, located between Charleston and Malden, was possibly the largest in North America.

July 10, 1889: Historian Boyd Stutler Born in Gilmer County

Jul 10, 2019
Boyd Stutler
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

Historian Boyd Stutler was born in Gilmer County on July 10, 1889. At 18, he became the owner, editor, and publisher of the Grantsville News in neighboring Calhoun County. Three years later, Stutler was elected mayor of Grantsville.

During World War I, he rose to the rank of sergeant. Throughout his life, Stutler remained active in veterans’ affairs. He served as managing editor of the American Legion magazine for 18 years. And, as a war correspondent in the Pacific, he witnessed the official Japanese surrender ending World War II.

July 9, 1923: Singer Molly O'Day Born in Pike County KY

Jul 9, 2019

Singer Molly O’Day was born in Pike County, Kentucky, on July 9, 1923. She played guitar and sang, while accompanied by her brothers “Skeets” and “Duke” Williamson.

While just a teenager, Molly played with Skeets on radio stations in Charleston, Williamson, Beckley, and Bluefield, where she met bandleader “Lynn” Davis. After getting married, O’Day and Davis moved frequently. Although they performed duets, it was Molly’s solo numbers that made her one of the pioneer female singers in country music. She signed with Columbia Records in 1946 and cut 36 recordings.

July 8, 1972: Bill Withers' 'Lean on Me' Tops Billboard

Jul 8, 2019
E-WV

On July 8, 1972, Bill Withers’s song “Lean on Me” topped the Billboard charts for the first time. Rolling Stone magazine later ranked “Lean on Me” as the 205th greatest song of all time.

The Raleigh County native wrote the tune while thinking about the close community ties he experienced in Beckley and in the nearby mining camp of Slab Fork. It was in Beckley where Withers first honed his skills by singing gospel music.

July 5, 1950: Pvt. Kenneth Shadrick Killed in Action in Korea

Jul 5, 2019
Pvt. Kenneth Shadrick
Wikipedia

On July 5, 1950, Army private Kenneth Shadrick of Wyoming County was killed in action, becoming one of the first U.S. servicemen killed in action during the Korean War.

He was brought down by North Korean machine-gun fire in the opening days of the conflict. Shortly thereafter, Time magazine ran a profile of Shadrick, claiming he was the first U.S. military casualty of the war. However, it’s now believed that other Americans died earlier on that same day.

July 4, 1930: Wertz Field Opens at Institute

Jul 4, 2019
This Week in West Virginia History.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online.

Wertz Field opened at Institute in Kanawha County on July 4, 1930. Named for Charleston’s mayor, it was the first airport in the Kanawha Valley to offer scheduled airline service.

In 1933, American Airlines began passenger service between Washington and Chicago via Wertz Field, and, in 1935, more flights and air freight service were added.

Passengers could wait for flights in a small but modern administration building. Wertz had three grass runways, each just long enough to accommodate an early Douglas DC-3 but inadequate for most larger planes of the 1930s.

July 3, 1989: Governor Okey Patteson Dies

Jul 3, 2019
Okey Patteson
E-WV

On July 3, 1989, West Virginia’s 23rd Governor Okey Patteson died at age 90. As a child, the Mingo County native had moved with his family to Mount Hope in Fayette County, where he later sold cars and real estate.

June 29, 1919: West Virginia State Police Established

Jun 29, 2019
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

The West Virginia State Police was established on June 29, 1919. Governor John Jacob Cornwell had pushed to form the unit in response to the mine wars, which were rocking southern West Virginia. Cornwell had grown frustrated with ineffective sheriffs and constables who had to face reelection and, at the same time, tended to take sides in labor struggles. Also, coal companies were hiring some deputies to serve as private security guards, and coal company guards were being sworn in as deputies—all of which angered miners.

June 28, 1943: Bishop Matthew Wesley Clair, Senior Dies

Jun 28, 2019
This Week in West Virginia History.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online.

Bishop Matthew Wesley Clair Sr. died in Covington, Kentucky, on June 28, 1943, at age 77. He was born in Monroe County to former slaves just months after the Civil War ended.

His family moved to Charleston, where Clair joined Simpson Methodist Episcopal Church. He graduated from college in 1889 and began a four-stint leading the Methodist Episcopal Church in Harpers Ferry.

June 27, 1929: Shott Brothers Launch WHIS-AM Bluefield

Jun 27, 2019
WHIS AM Bluefield
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

On June 27, 1929, one of West Virginia’s pioneer radio stations, WHIS, hit the airwaves in Bluefield, featuring a performance by the local Lions Club quartet.

The station was the brainchild of Hugh and Jim Shott, the sons of local newspaper owner and future congressman Hugh Ike Shott. During its first two decades, WHIS expanded from 100 watts to 5,000. In 1939, WHIS became affiliated with NBC, but local programming remained important.

June 26, 1936: NBA Hall of Famer Hal Greer Born in Huntington

Jun 26, 2019
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Basketball hall of famer Hal Greer was born in Huntington on June 26, 1936. In the early ’50s, he was a standout guard at Huntington’s segregated Frederick Douglass High School. Coaching legend Cam Henderson recruited Greer to play for Marshall College—now Marshall University.

June 25, 1980: Two Women Murdered Traveling to Rainbow Gathering

Jun 25, 2019
Joseph Paul Franklin, a white supremacist and serial killer, confessed to the murders.
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

On June 25, 1980, Nancy Santomero and Vicki Durian, who were apparently hitchhiking to the Rainbow Family reunion in Webster County, were murdered on Droop Mountain, in southern Pocahontas County.

The Rainbow Family is a loosely organized group, variously characterized as hippies and drifters, or as peaceful nature lovers and ecologists.

The annual gatherings, first held in Aspen, Colorado, grew from popular social, political, and cultural movements of the 1960s and early 1970s. The name “rainbow” signifies the diversity of people involved.

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.

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 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.

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, Alderson Muncy of Bradshaw in McDowell County received the first food stamps in the nation. Muncy, 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.

Labor spy C. E. Lively died in Huntington on May 28, 1962, at age 75. Lively first came to Matewan in Mingo County in 1920 and joined the union during the drive to organize Tug Fork miners. He also befriended Sid Hatfield, the police chief of Matewan, who became a hero to miners after the 1920 Matewan Massacre.

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.

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.

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