This Week in West Virginia History

The Nixons and Underwoods at the Greenbrier
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

On July 25, 1960, Governor Cecil Underwood addressed the Republican National Convention in Chicago. The 37-year-old Underwood backed Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon and disparaged Nixon’s Democratic opponent, John F. Kennedy.

July 24, 1942: Actor Chris Sarandon, Jr. Born in Beckley

Jul 24, 2019
Chris Sarandon
E-WV

Actor Chris Sarandon Jr. was born in Beckley on July 24, 1942. He graduated from Beckley’s Woodrow Wilson High School and from West Virginia University with a degree in theater.

While earning his master’s degree from Catholic University, he met and married Susan Tomalin, who later became famous as actress Susan Sarandon. Since 1994, he’s been married to actress Joanna Hall Gleason.

July 23, 1900: Author Julia Davis Born in Clarksburg

Jul 23, 2019
Julia Davis lived and wrote in Jefferson County, near Media Farm, the scene of the happy childhood summers described in her book Legacy of Love.
Micheal Keller / Goldenseal

On July 23, 1900, author Julia Davis was born in Clarksburg, the daughter of distinguished lawyer and statesman John W. Davis. She began her literary career writing books for young readers.

  

Her first, The Swords of the Vikings, was followed by a biography of “Stonewall” Jackson and a narrative of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Davis also found success with adult fiction, historical and biographical writings, and drama—more than two dozen books in all—including the Shenandoah volume for the landmark Rivers of America series.

July 22, 1972: Fire in Blacksville Number One Kills Nine Miners

Jul 22, 2019
This Week in WV History
e-WV / WV Humanitites Council

On July 22, 1972, a fire broke out at the Blacksville Number 1 mine in Monongalia County. It was sparked by a continuous mining machine that came into contact with an electric wire.

The volatile Pittsburgh coal seam at Blacksville ignited quickly. At the time, 43 men were underground; 34 escaped, but nine men who were working deep in the mine died after inhaling smoke and fumes. Days later, the mine was sealed at the surface to protect rescue workers from potential explosions.

July 19, 1863: Morgan's Raiding Ends at Buffington Island

Jul 19, 2019
General John Hunt Morgan
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

On July 19, 1863, Confederate General John Hunt Morgan’s daring raid across Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio came to an end on Buffington Island, located in the Ohio River near Ravenswood in Jackson County.

Morgan’s raid was the only time a large Southern force entered Indiana or Ohio during the Civil War. His 2,400 raiders led local militias and growing numbers of Union troops on a wild chase across three states.

"Blockade of Engines at Martinsburg, West Virginia," an engraving on front cover of "Harper's Weekly, Journal of Civilization," Vol XXL, No. 1076, New York, Saturday, August 11, 1877.
Public Domain

On July 18, 1877, Governor Henry Mathews arrived in Martinsburg—on the scene of the first nationwide strike in U.S. history. Baltimore and Ohio Railroad workers had walked off the job in response to a pay cut. The strike soon spread along the rails from Baltimore to Chicago.

July 17, 1922: Sheriff and Four Miners Killed at Cliftonville

Jul 17, 2019
Clifton mine tipple, burning after strikers set fire to it
E-WV, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On July 17, 1922, a deadly battle took place between striking miners and mine guards at the Richland Coal Company mine at Cliftonville, just east of Wellsburg. While the Mine Wars are typically associated with southern West Virginia, this shootout in the Northern Panhandle was among the bloodiest of the entire period.  

The events began the night before, when some 300 to 500 striking miners—all heavily armed—gathered in nearby Avella, Pennsylvania. To keep nonunion strikebreakers out of the mine, the union men took up positions around the mine at Cliftonville.

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 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.

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