"Time Trail,
West Virginia"
May 1998 Programs


May 1, 1862: Burning of Princeton during Civil War

The ability of railroads to quickly transport troops and supplies over great distances made them invaluable during the Civil War, but it also made them vulnerable to attack. This fear was so great that federal forces were stationed along the entire line of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to protect it from Confederate raiders. Nevertheless, the B&O was damaged countless times during the war. But it wasn't the only important railroad.

The Virginia and Tennessee line was just as significant to the Confederacy as the B&O was to the Union. So when it was threatened by federal troops, Confederate commanders put up a fight. In order to gain control of the Virginia and Tennessee, Union forces needed to first move through the southern part of present-day West Virginia.

On May 1, 1862, a Union regiment commanded by future President Rutherford Hayes and including another future President William McKinley fought a 13-hour battle through Mercer County and forced Confederates to evacuate Princeton. Even though most of Princeton's residents sympathized with the South, the rebel troops under Colonel W. H. Jenifer set fire to the town. Jenifer wanted to prevent Confederate supplies from falling into Union hands. The fire destroyed nearly all of Princeton, including the Mercer County Courthouse. Only the jail and ten private homes survived.

The Union advance against Princeton was coordinated with a movement against the Greenbrier Valley. Although federal troops were delayed initially, the Confederates were defeated at the Battle of Lewisburg, three weeks after the burning of Princeton. Despite these Union successes, they never disrupted the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad. The federal forces at Princeton retreated to Flat Top Mountain, where they encamped the next two months. The troops at Lewisburg also withdrew when President Abraham Lincoln recalled most of the army from western Virginia to join the ongoing campaign to capture the Confederate capital at Richmond.

For more information:
West Virginia in the Civil War

West Virginia State Archives' The Civil War in West Virginia


May 4, 1896: Formation of the Children's Home Society of West Virginia

As West Virginia's population grew in the late 1800s so did the number of people living in poverty. In the 1870s and 1880s, the state ordered the creation of almshouses to cut down on what it viewed as families of vagrants living in the streets. Unfortunately, most counties and cities invested little money or care, leading to squalid conditions and rampant disease in the facilities. The almshouses, which came to be known as poorhouses, were also home to vast numbers of destitute and orphaned children. In the 1890s, a national reform movement to protect these forgotten youth gained support in West Virginia.

On May 4, 1896, a group of ministers met at the Charleston YMCA and formed the Children's Home Society of West Virginia. The organization was dedicated to removing children from the deplorable poorhouses and placing them with caring foster families. Despite early success, the society was soon overwhelmed by the number of children needing homes. So, in 1900, the Davis Child Shelter was opened in Charleston for children who could not be placed immediately. The shelter opened with a sizeable contribution from former U.S. Senator Henry Gassaway Davis and operated until 1961.

The Children's Home Society wasn't the first organization in the state to assist needy youth. The Catholic Church had been an early advocate for children's rights, opening several shelters in Wheeling. The West Virginia Humane Society, usually associated with the care of neglected animals, also fought to protect needy children. The Humane Society established the West Virginia Children's Home in Elkins, which is still managed by the state.

The Children's Home Society and other child care organizations have adapted to the changing social issues of the 20th century, including child labor, disease, and, more recently, drugs and child abuse. Most state, county, and municipal governments no longer provide shelters for the homeless. Child care organizations, churches, and groups like The Union Mission and Salvation Army have assumed the role of caring for those who cannot care for themselves.

For more information:
Bumgardner, Stan. The Children's Home Society of West Virginia. Children: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. Charleston, WV: Children's Home Society, 1996.

May 5, 1953: Perfection Garment Co. strike in Martinsburg

West Virginia's labor history is filled with stories of struggles to organize unions. Coal miners often clashed violently with operators, culminating in a series of bloody strikes collectively known as the West Virginia mine wars. But miners weren't the only workers fighting for the right to be represented by a union. Textile workers in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle also faced a management that was totally opposed to any sort of union activity.

The International Ladies Garment Workers Union succeeded in organizing Martinsburg's Perfection Garment Company in the early 1950s after twenty years of opposition from the company's founders. Perfection's workers were mostly women who were employed as sewers. Men worked as cutters or held supervisory or management jobs.

The union gained the confidence of the workers when it helped an unjustly fired man win back his job. Finally, the union successfully organized Perfection's plants in Martinsburg and Ranson, although it failed to organize workers at a company plant in Keyser.

After four months of attempting to negotiate a contract with the company, newly organized workers decided to strike. 85 percent of the striking workers were women.

Twenty-eight people were arrested in the first 3 days of the 12-day strike. There was sporadic violence but no one was seriously injured. The strike ended after a settlement was announced on May 5, 1953. Perfection's workers had won the right to bargain collectively.

In 1991, local and international competition forced the Perfection Garment Company to shut down after more than 90 years in Martinsburg. The company moved all operations to its plant in Columbia, South Carolina, and the former Martinsburg factories were converted to an outlet mall.

For more information:
Jenrette, Jerra. "Labor-Management Conflict in the Eastern Panhandle: Perfection Garment Company Battles the ILGWU." West Virginia History 52(1993): 109-126.

For discussion:

May 6, 1970: Student protests at WVU following Kent State incident

The deaths of 4 Kent State University students and the wounding of 11 others by Ohio National Guardsmen during a volatile anti-war demonstration in May 1970 touched off a massive wave of protests on college campuses across the country.

Protestors were upset about the Kent State shootings and felt betrayed by President Richard Nixon, who had promised to end the war in Vietnam but instead carried it into Cambodia.

Previously, there had been few anti-war demonstrations in West Virginia, but, in the days following Kent State, West Virginia University students took to the streets. On May 6, students called for WVU president James Harlow to meet with them and publicly condemn Nixon's decision to bomb Cambodia. Instead Harlow requested Governor Arch Moore to dispatch state police and National Guard troops to Morgantown.

The demonstrations ended peacefully but Harlow targeted 6 ringleaders, some of whom were not currently enrolled at the university. He tried unsuccessfully to bar them from attending WVU and to have criminal charges brought against them.

Other protests in West Virginia were less extreme. A student in the Northern Panhandle characterized a demonstration on West Liberty State College's campus as even-handed.

Student: It was a meaningful dialogue and discussion of the problem of Kent State and of our involvement in Cambodia. I don't think it was played too much by one side or the other. It was a very fair and open discussion by both viewpoints of this problem.
More than 36,000 West Virginians served in Vietnam and the fact that many students had friends and relatives in the armed forces may have contributed to the lack of a sustained anti-war movement on the state's college campuses.

For more information:
Drobney, Jeffrey A., "A Generation in Revolt: Student Dissent and Political Repression at West Virginia University," West Virginia History 54(1995): 105-22.

May 7, 1968: Rescue efforts at Hominy Falls mine disaster

The rescue of 6 men from a flooded Nicholas County mine in 1968 is one of the most dramatic stories in West Virginia's coal mining history. 25 miners were trapped in the mine owned by the Gauley Coal and Coke Company after a worker operating a continuous mining machine accidentally bored into a wall of water. The miners were working with inaccurate maps and tapped into an abandoned mine filled with acid water.

A massive recovery effort began before dawn on May 7. 15 miners were rescued after 5 days. The other 10 were feared dead. Rick Jarrett, who has been researching West Virginia mine disasters for a pictorial history, says rescuers didn't expect to find anyone else alive.

Jarrett: Of course, they just continued to pump the mine to get the bodies out. So, finally on the tenth day, the water was getting low enough to where the rescuers could get close to the end of the section where the bodies were and one of the guys was kinda crawling, or hunched over walking, and he saw a footprint in the mud. A fresh footprint. So he went back out and he said, `Guys, I think there's somebody alive.' So they brought in a crew and they went up and they found, of those ten men, six of them were still alive after ten days. And that was called the miracle of Hominy Falls.

Larry Lynch, one of those rescued, was interviewed the day he and the five others finally emerged from the mine.

Reporter: Larry, do you recall your first reaction when you came out of the opening of the mine this morning?

Lynch: Yes, sir.

Reporter: What was that?

Lynch: I fulfilled a vow to God. I told Him when I got outside that I would thank Him and give Him praise for delivering us sound and alive. Not just me but the other five men who were with me."

The survival story of those courageous miners has come to be known as the "Miracle of Hominy Falls."

For more information:
Dillon, Lacy A. They Died for King Coal. Winona, MN: Apollo Books, 1985.

STUDENT ESSAY WINNER
Written by Katelyn Liston, Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School, Buckhannon, WV

Establishment of Mother's Day

This May 10, people all over the country will be celebrating Mother's Day in honor of our mothers. Here in West Virginia, people should not only be proud of their mothers but also that Mother's Day started in Grafton in 1908.

Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mother's Day, was very close to her mother. She depended on her for support and advice. Her mother was a great influence on her all throughout her life.

Anna Jarvis taught in Grafton schools for seven years. After the death of her father, she and her family moved to Philadelphia, where her mother died in 1905.

Two years later Anna, friends, and family gathered on the second Sunday in May to commemorate her mother's death. Anna chose for everyone to wear white carnations because they represent sweetness, purity, and endurance. Plus they were her mother's favorite flower.

One year later, Anna Jarvis wrote to the officials of the Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton and asked if there could be a day to honor all mothers. The officials agreed and the first ever Mother's Day was held on May 10.

On May 8, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson signed a congressional resolution officially establishing the second Sunday in May as Mother's Day.

Anna Jarvis died on November 24, 1948, in Philadelphia. Ms. Jarvis left a legacy to all mothers that will last forever. The Andrews Episcopal Church has become the International Mother's Day shrine.


May 11, 1982: The Recht decision

West Virginia lawmakers and educators are still coming to grips with a landmark court order by an Ohio County Circuit Court judge. The Recht decision has evoked controversy ever since it was handed down on May 11, 1982, underscoring the widening division between rich and poor in West Virginia.

The West Virginia Supreme Court picked Judge Arthur Recht to hear the complaints of a group of Lincoln County parents who felt the distribution of tax money for public schools favored wealthier counties over poorer ones. Because of a constitutional requirement that all West Virginia students receive a fair and equal education, Recht ordered the state to better balance funding of the 55 county school systems. But the state argued that the ruling placed an unfair tax burden on wealthier counties by requiring them to supplement poorer school districts.

Recht, who later served briefly as a state Supreme Court justice, did not realize at the time the decision's significance:

Recht: The opinion just simply has to speak for itself. That was not my motivation at the time the opinion was written. The motivation was really, to get the case behind me, off the docket and to get on with other things. And I think any circuit judge, given the same set of circumstances, would have done exactly the same thing.
The issue of equitable school funding will not be easily resolved. Residents of counties that have experienced tremendous growth, such as Jefferson and Putnam, want their tax dollars to support local schools. Meanwhile, once-thriving southern West Virginia counties, now ravaged by the decline of the coal industry, look to the state to supplement the needs of their own schools, arguing that better education will help end the cycle of poverty. The case which resulted in the Recht decision has been reopened and another judge will hear evidence this fall.

May 12, 1921: Three Days Battle of the Tug

West Virginia's mine wars reached their violent peak in 1921 as the United Mine Workers pitched an all-out effort to organize the southern coalfields. A state of war had existed in Mingo County since the Matewan Massacre in May 1920, earning the region the name "Bloody Mingo." Governor John Cornwell had deployed the National Guard and state police, temporarily quieting the fray. When the troops were withdrawn, UMW District 17 leader Frank Keeney geared up for another organizing effort.

Vowing to shut down non-union mines, on May 12, union miners opened fire on various coal towns around Matewan. Police, mine guards, and non-union miners returned the fire, beginning the Three Days Battle of the Tug. Employing military tactics, union supporters isolated the town of Merrimac, blowing up its power plant and severing telephone and telegraph lines.

The battle raged ten miles up the Tug River, involving the towns of Blackberry City, Alden, Sprigg, New Howard, and Rawl, and even spread across the river into Kentucky. The fighting ended on the 15th when police negotiated a truce. At least 20 people were killed during the 3-day battle. Frank Keeney told a U.S. Senate investigating committee that it took eight days to bring the dead out of the woods.

After the battle, President Warren Harding debated sending in federal troops to quell tensions. However, military leaders on the scene felt the situation had been defused and advised against martial law. In August, violence again erupted when union miners marched on Blair Mountain in response to the murder of Sid Hatfield, who had become a labor hero after the Matewan Massacre. After several days of fighting, Harding finally dispatched troops to West Virginia in September, forcing the miners to lay down their weapons. Blair Mountain ended the mine wars in southern West Virginia and also halted the UMW's organization efforts. It was another 12 years before the UMW was welcomed into Logan and Mingo counties.

For more information:
Time Trail: End of the Battle of Blair Mountain

West Virginia State Archives' West Virginia's Mine Wars


May 13, 1861: First Wheeling Convention

When Virginia voted to secede from the Union at the beginning of the Civil War, many western Virginia delegates stormed from the convention. Facing death threats from angry pro-southern mobs, future West Virginia statehood leaders John Carlile and Waitman Willey barely escaped Richmond. A group of western Virginians opposed to secession met in Clarksburg to discuss the formation of a pro-Union government for Virginia. The Clarksburg Convention authorized northwestern Virginia counties to elect representatives to meet in Wheeling.

West Virginia's statehood movement began at Wheeling's Washington Hall at 11:00 a.m. on May 13, 1861. The delegation did not truly represent of the future state of West Virginia. Of the 436 delegates in attendance, over one-third resided in the Northern Panhandle. And, of the 27 counties represented, the southernmost was Wayne. There are several misconceptions about the early statehood movement. Most delegates at the First Wheeling Convention initially opposed forming a new state or even a pro- union government of Virginia. Virginia voters had not yet approved secession, making a second state government unconstitutional. Another misinterpretation is that statehood was thrust upon Eastern Panhandle citizens totally against their will. Although most of the Eastern Panhandle backed the Confederacy, many residents remained loyal to the Union and eventually supported the new state of West Virginia. On the same day the statehood leaders convened in Wheeling, a mass meeting of Berkeley County residents vowed to vote against Virginia's secession and pledged support for the Union. In addition, Eastern Panhandle counties were represented at all statehood conventions.

Very little was achieved at the First Wheeling Convention, long remembered as the foundation of the statehood movement. Delegates adjourned after two days of heated arguments and agreed to return to Wheeling a month later. After Virginia voters formally approved secession, western Virginia delegates met again at what would become known as the Second Wheeling Convention. Here they formed the pro-Union Reorganized Government of Virginia and laid the groundwork for the new state of West Virginia.

For more information:
Time Trail: John Carlile & ratification of the 1st statehood ordinance; Lincoln approves the statehood bill; and West Virginia statehood referendum

West Virginia State Archives' History of Statehood

For Discussion:

May 14, 1940: Defeat of U.S. Senator Rush Holt

On May 14, 1940, U.S. Senator Rush Holt was defeated in the state Democratic primary by Harley Kilgore, ending the brief career of one of West Virginia's most promising politicians. In 1933, Holt had gained a reputation in the House of Delegates as a liberal supporter of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs. A vociferous advocate for labor rights, Holt attracted the attention of United Mine Workers District 17 President Van Bittner. Riding the Roosevelt bandwagon, the UMW had shifted its allegiances from the Republican to the Democratic party and encouraged Holt to challenge Henry Hatfield for his U.S. Senate seat.

Holt swept through the 1934 Democratic primary and defeated Hatfield in the November general election. At age 29, Holt was the youngest person ever elected to the U.S. Senate. Earning the nickname, "Boy Senator," he couldn't take office until his 30th birthday, nearly 6 months into the 74th congressional session. Once in the Senate, Holt turned his back on his liberal base. He voted against several key bills endorsed by the UMW and alienated the state's other Senator Matthew Neely, the power broker of West Virginia's Democratic party. Despite occasional support for labor, as in the case of the Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster, the UMW considered Holt's actions "treasonous" and vowed to bring him down.

In Holt's 1940 reelection bid, the union threw its support behind Raleigh County judge Harley Kilgore, a virtually unknown politician. Kilgore trounced Holt and former Governor Guy Kump in the primary and won the November general election. Kilgore served in the Senate until his death in 1956. Bitter at Neely and the UMW, Holt dropped out of politics for 12 years, attempting a comeback as a Republican in the 1952 gubernatorial election. He lost to Attorney General William Marland, the new rising star on West Virginia's political scene. Ironically, Marland also lost the support of his backers, dashing his political aspirations after one term as governor. Rush Holt died of cancer in 1955 at the age of 49.

For more information:
Coffey, William E. "Isolationism and Pacifism: Senator Rush D. Holt and American Foreign Policy." West Virginia History 51(1992): 1-14.

May 15, 1880: First telephone exchange in West Virginia

When West Virginia became a state in 1863, the state's population was widely dispersed. Most people lived in isolated areas and found it difficult to communicate efficiently with friends and neighbors. Effective communication was also necessary for the economic growth of Ohio and Kanawha valley towns in the late 1800s.

In 1879, just 3 years after Alexander Graham Bell first demonstrated the telephone, the Behrens brothers established the state's first telephone line, connecting two of their grocery stores in Wheeling. A year later, on May 15, 1880, the city established one of the first telephone exchanges in the country. A switchboard was set up in the basement of the People's Bank to serve 25 subscribers. Wheeling's original telephone technology only allowed customers to make local calls. Subscribers couldn't place a call to nearby Pittsburgh until a long distance line was strung in 1883.

During the early 1880s, switchboards and lines were installed in Parkersburg, Moundsville, and Clarksburg. By the turn of the century, much of northern West Virginia had been linked to the major cities of surrounding states.

Telephone technology developed more slowly in southern West Virginia. Although Charleston and Huntington had telephone exchanges by the early 1880s, long distance service did not begin until 1897. To accommodate southern West Virginia's growing population and expanding industry, Charleston became the hub of the state's communication services in the early 1900s. The spread of telephone service has played a vital role in the state's social and economic development, bringing West Virginians closer to one another and to the rest of the world.

For more information:
Matheney, Jeri. "Women at Work: Veteran Telephone Operators Look Back." Goldenseal 14(Winter 1988): 40-45.

Prichard, Arthur C. "'Are You in the Book?'" Early Telephone Service in a West Virginia Town." Goldenseal 9(Fall 1983): 9-14.

For Discussion:
By the early 1900s, women had replaced men as telephone operators at most exchanges. Review the Mother's Pension Fund and the WV Federation of Women's Clubs shows.

May 18, 1966: Jimmy G. Stewart earns Medal of Honor

In 1966, the Congressional Medal of Honor was posthumously awarded to U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Jimmy G. Stewart, the first West Virginian to receive the medal for service in Vietnam. A native of West Columbia, Mason County, the 23-year-old Stewart was killed in action on May 18.

Company B of the 1st Cavalry Division was manning a defensive perimeter when it was attacked by a North Vietnamese platoon. Five of the men in Stewart's 6-man squad were wounded, leaving Stewart alone to defend his position and those injured.

Stewart was described as fighting "like a man possessed," holding off 3 enemy assaults in 4 hours. Exhausting his own ammunition, Stewart kept the North Vietnamese at bay by recovering enemy grenades and throwing them back. The wounded were evacuated from the battlefield after reinforcements arrived, but Stewart was killed in the ensuing counterattack.

Stewart's body was returned to West Columbia where he was buried, with full military honors, during the Memorial Day weekend. He was one of 9 West Virginians to be awarded the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War.

West Virginians have long prided themselves on the sacrifices they have made in military service. But the state paid an especially high price in Vietnam. Some 36,000 West Virginians served in Vietnam and more than 700 were killed, the highest death rate per capita of any state. The lack of employment opportunities in West Virginia led many young people to join the service. Many others were drafted and, since the war's end, much has been made of the fact that the poor were more likely to be drafted than the affluent. While draftees made up only one-fourth of the entire army, they accounted for two-thirds of all battle deaths.

For more information:
West Virginia Veterans Memorial

PBS' American Experience -- Vietnam


May 19, 1920: Matewan Massacre

The spring of 1920 was a troubled time in the West Virginia coalfields. A nationwide coal strike settled during the winter had won unionized miners a 27 percent wage increase. Unfortunately, the settlement didn't help most miners in southern West Virginia, the largest non-unionized coal region in the country. When the United Mine Workers (UMW) stepped up its campaign to organize Logan, Mingo, and McDowell counties, coal operators retaliated by hiring private detectives to quash all union activity. Miners who joined the UMW were fired and thrown out of their company-owned houses.

Despite the risks, thousands defied the coal operators and joined the UMW. Tensions between the two sides exploded into violence on May 19, when 13 Baldwin-Felts detectives arrived in Matewan to evict union miners from houses owned by the Stone Mountain Coal Company. Matewan chief of police Sid Hatfield intervened on behalf of the evicted families. A native of the Tug River Valley, Sid Hatfield supported the miners' attempts to organize. He was also known throughout Mingo County as a man who was not afraid of a fight.

After carrying out several evictions, the detectives ate dinner at the Urias Hotel then walked to the depot to catch the five o'clock train back to Bluefield, Virginia. They were intercepted by Hatfield, who claimed to have arrest warrants from the county sheriff. Detective Albert Felts produced a warrant for Hatfield's arrest, which Matewan mayor C. C. Testerman claimed to be a fake. The detectives didn't know they had been surrounded by armed miners, who watched intently from windows and doorways along Mate Street and, while Felts, Hatfield, and Testerman, faced off, a shot rang out. The ensuing gun battle left 7 detectives and 4 townspeople dead, including Felts and Testerman.

Hatfield became a local hero and was eventually acquitted of murder charges for his part in the "Matewan Massacre." But in the summer of 1921, Hatfield and an associate, Ed Chambers, were shot dead by Baldwin-Felts detectives on the steps of the McDowell County Courthouse, where they were to stand trial for a shooting in a nearby coal camp. Their murders galvanized thousands of union miners, who planned to march on Logan County. The march ended with the Battle of Blair Mountain, in which state and federal troops defeated the miners and halted the UMW's campaign in southern West Virginia. Most of the southern coalfields remained non-union until 1933.

For more information:
Time Trail Scripts: Battle of Blair Mountain, Sid Hatfield's murder trial, Three-Days Battle of the Tug

West Virginia State Archives' West Virginia's Mine Wars


May 20, 1931: News of Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster first published

One of this nation's worst industrial disasters claimed the lives of at least 476 workers in West Virginia. More than 5,000 men, desperate for jobs during the Great Depression, bored through Gauley Mountain in Fayette County to create the engineering marvel that is the Hawks Nest Tunnel. The workers, many of whom were migrant African Americans from the South, died of the lung disease silicosis. A large number of the dead were reportedly buried in unmarked graves in a Nicholas County cornfield to cover up the immensity of the tragedy. However, recent studies suggest the death toll from exposure to silica dust may have exceeded 700.

The tunnel was part of a project to supply hydroelectric power to the Electro Metallurgical Company, a subsidiary of the Union Carbide Corporation. The excavation work was contracted to the firm of Rinehart and Dennis of Charlottesville, Virginia, which received much of the blame for failing to take proper precautions after it was found that workers were blasting through silica rock.

On May 20, 1931, the Fayette Tribune published the first reports of unsafe working conditions in the tunnel, but confirmation was impossible due to a "gag rule." After he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1934, Rush Holt brought the plight of the Hawks Nest workers into the national limelight.

Holt: Congress has just started to investigate the building of Hawks Nest Tunnel, known as the village of death. I personally believe that two thousand men are doomed to die as a result of ruthless destruction of life by American industry.

In 1936, West Virginia Congressman Jennings Randolph sat on a Senate subcommittee investigating the catastrophe. The subcommittee's report lambasted conditions at Hawks Nest but failed to take further action. Despite the controversy surrounding the project, the tunnel was completed in 1935 and has performed its intended purpose ever since. The Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster eventually resulted in the designation of silicosis as an occupational disease with compensation for workers.

For more information:
Cherniak, Martin. The Hawk's Nest Incident: America's Worst Industrial Disaster. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1986.

Deitz, Dennis. "'I Think We've Struck a Gold Mine': A Chemist's View of Hawks Nest." Goldenseal 16(Fall 1990): 42-47.

For Discussion:
Many of the workers who died of silicosis were buried in unmarked graves.

STUDENT ESSAY WINNER
Written by Nina Vasan, Jackson Junior High School, Vienna, WV

State capital relocated to Wheeling

West Virginia became the 35th state of the United States of America on June 20, 1863. One of the new state's first responsibilities was choosing its capital.

West Virginia's first state capitol was the Linsly Institute in Wheeling. It remained there for seven years. In 1870, the West Virginia State Legislature voted to make Charleston the state's new capital. The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway was being built, and the government felt that Charleston would quickly become a center of business, so it seemed right to build the capitol there.

In 1875, the legislature decided to restore the site of the capital to Wheeling. The state's officials went back up the river to Wheeling on May 21. It wasn't until late August, however, that the state records reached Wheeling. This delay caused the government to halt work for three months.

By 1877, there continued to be debate over where the capital city should be located. Finally, the legislators decided to have the citizens of West Virginia vote on which city should be the permanent capital. The three possible locations were Charleston, Martinsburg, and Clarksburg. On August 7, Charleston was chosen as the capital by receiving 53 percent of the votes.

In May 1885, the state's officials and records went back down the Ohio and Kanawha rivers to the permanent capital city of Charleston. This, however, wasn't the end of the capital's problems.

On January 3, 1921, the Charleston capitol building burned down in a fire. A temporary capitol was built in 42 days. It served West Virginia for six years, until its destruction due to yet another fire.

Finally, the state legislature approved a $10 million plan for a marble capitol to be built on the banks of the Kanawha River by the famous architect Cass Gilbert. Today, that building still stands and will hopefully stay with us for years to come.

For more information:
The West Virginia Capitol: A Commemorative History

May 22, 1880: Birth of U.S. Representative Joe L. Smith of Beckley

In 1928, prior to the onset of the Great Depression, national politics was dominated by the Republican party. West Virginia was no exception. All but one of the state's 6 Congressmen were Republican. In the 1928 general election, Joe Smith of Beckley pulled off a startling upset, defeating incumbent Republican E. T. England. Smith's 228-vote victory kicked off a resurgence of the state's Democratic party.

Joe Smith was born at Marshes in the Trap Hill section of Raleigh County on May 22, 1880. He served as the Raleigh Register's editor, publisher, and owner before becoming president of the Beckley National Bank in 1914. At various times, Smith was also a realtor, state senator, and chair of the state Democratic party. He served several terms on Beckley's city council and was elected to four terms as the city's mayor.

Smith was one of only 3 Democratic newcomers in the 71st Congress. Representing the nation's top coal-producing congressional district, Smith chaired the House Committee on Mines and Mining. After 8 consecutive terms in Congress, Smith stepped down in 1944, having never lost an election.

Smith was the first Congressman ever elected from Raleigh County. Since his retirement, Raleigh Countians have served in every session of Congress. Smith and his wife Christine Carlson Smith had two sons--Joe Jr., who became a Beckley radio mogul and Hulett, who served as West Virginia's 27th governor from 1965 to 1969. Joe Smith Sr. died in Beckley in 1962 at age 82.

For Discussion:
The Smiths are one of West Virginia's most prominent political families.

May 25, 1862: Gen. John Fremont evacuates the town of Franklin

In May 1862 Confederate general Thomas J."Stonewall" Jackson struck fear in the hearts of Northerners with his daring Valley Campaign. Jackson's forces wreaked havoc throughout the entire Shenandoah Valley, advancing as far as Harpers Ferry before retreating back up the valley. President Abraham Lincoln diverted Union troops into the valley to pursue Jackson. Greatly outnumbered, Jackson realized his only hope was to prevent the Union armies of Nathaniel Banks and John Fremont from converging.

Jackson's army met a detachment of Fremont's army at McDowell in Highland County and drove the Union forces west into Pendleton County in present-day West Virginia. Fremont expected another confrontation with Stonewall and set up defenses around Franklin. Fremont had gained a reputation for incompetence and had no idea that Jackson had followed him to within 2 miles of the town. Jackson was prepared to annihilate Fremont's forces but feared he would lose his window of opportunity to escape Banks's army.

Jackson's decision to return to the valley spared Franklin from becoming a battleground, but Fremont's troops plundered many of its homes. The town's only church and other unoccupied buildings had been turned into makeshift hospitals to treat Union soldiers wounded at McDowell. On May 25, 1862, after about 2 weeks, Fremont and his troops left Franklin, much to the relief of the townspeople. When a small Confederate force arrived on the heels of the departing Federals, many Franklin residents willingly turned over the meager supplies they had hidden from the Union soldiers.

Fremont blundered his way up the Shenandoah Valley, suffering defeats at Cross Keys and Port Republic and allowing Jackson to escape. Franklin has since become a forgotten footnote to one of the greatest military campaigns in history.


May 26, 1895: Birth of WVU football standout & coach Ira "Rat" Rodgers

In 1917, Ira "Rat" Rodgers became the first of West Virginia University's football All-Americans. Rodgers was born May 26, 1895, at Bethany. As a teenager, he was allowed to play football for Bethany College because there were no local high school teams. He began his WVU career as a quarterback and fullback in 1915 and achieved All-American status two years later. World War I military service postponed his senior season, but in 1919, he was back in top form with the greatest single season in WVU history. Rodgers led the nation in scoring with 147 points, 49 of them in one game. Rodgers was named captain of Walter Camp's All-American team. Legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice said of Rodgers that "there was no greater all-around football player in the land." Rodgers graduated with a chemistry degree in 1920 and, in 1953, became the first WVU player elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. He still holds the WVU records for most touchdowns in a game, season, and career.

Rodgers also excelled at other sports. His senior year, he was elected captain of WVU's baseball, basketball, and football teams. In 1929, Rodgers won the West Virginia State Amateur Golf Tournament, a remarkable feat considering he had played the game less than two years. His baseball skills led to a professional offer from Connie Mack, the long-time manager of the Philadelphia Athletics. But Rodgers chose instead to remain at WVU to teach and coach. He was WVU's baseball coach for 23 years, the golf coach for 13, and twice served as head football coach.

Ira Rodgers died of cancer in 1963 at the age of 67.


May 27, 1977: First Vandalia Gathering

West Virginia celebrates its mountain heritage each spring at the State Capitol in Charleston. Musicians, storytellers, quilters, dancers, and craftspeople have assembled at the State Capitol since the first Vandalia Gathering began May 27, 1977. The festival spotlights West Virginia's old- time music, introducing musicians like Braxton County fiddler Melvin Wine to new generations of listeners.

Melvin Wine was the recipient of the 1981 Vandalia Award, West Virginia's highest folklife honor. In 1991, Wine and legendary bluesman B. B. King were among the winners of National Heritage Fellowships awarded through the National Endowment for the Arts.

Melvin Wine was joined by 70 other musicians at the first Vandalia. One of them was banjo player Aunt Jennie Wilson of Peach Creek in Logan County, a longtime Vandalia favorite. She was joined by singer David Morris of Clay County.

The Vandalia Gathering has grown into one of the largest folklife celebrations in the eastern United States, attracting thousands to the grounds of the State Capitol each Memorial Day weekend.

For more information:
Leffler, Susan. "Melvin Wine." Goldenseal 17(Summer 1991): 9-16.

Spence, Robert. "'I Grew Up With Music': The Memories of Aunt Jennie Wilson." Goldenseal 10(Spring 1984): 9-14.


STUDENT ESSAY WINNER
Written by Suzanna Rhodes, Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School, Buckhannon, WV

Arthur Boreman elected West Virginia's first governor

After being president of the Second Wheeling Convention, Arthur Ingram Boreman was elected the first governor of West Virginia, by the people, on May 28, 1863.

In front of a huge crowd at the temporary capitol at Linsly Institute in Wheeling, he gave his inaugural address on June 20. He reminded them of their problems with taxes and how eastern Virginia did not build many railways or canals in the west. He also promised to aid federal authorities in each and every way possible to bring an early end to the Civil War.

Boreman was elected governor two times after this. He resigned five days before the end of his third term to become a United States senator. He became a Radical Republican in the senate and succeeded Peter G. Van Winkle. Here he served as the chairman of the important Committee on Territories.

When he completed his term as senator and returned home to Parkersburg, he was elected a circuit judge and held this position until he died. It must have been a real honor for Arthur Ingram Boreman to be elected the first governor of West Virginia.

For more information:
West Virginia State Archives' Biography of Arthur Ingram Boreman

May 29, 1961: Federal food stamp program inaugurated in West Virginia

Federal food assistance programs have helped feed millions of hungry Americans over the years. Most of these programs, like the now familiar food stamp program, grew out of the lean years of the Great Depression. During the 1930s, the government distributed surplus food to those in need. But the program ended during World War II, as surplus food supplies dwindled and the demands of the war effort put many Americans back to work.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy established a pilot food stamp program and the first food stamps in the nation were distributed at a small grocery store in the McDowell County seat of Welch. Kennedy had a particular interest in inaugurating the program in West Virginia because his victory in the state during the 1960 presidential primary had been crucial to his success in the November elections.

Robert Byrd, who was serving his first term in the U.S. Senate, was among the politicians and reporters from across the country who were on hand when the first stamps were issued. Byrd said the program would help the country's economy.

Byrd: And when we remember that with each additional dollar this is infused into the economy, that dollar is turned over and over and is spent with the grocery man and he spends it with the wholesaler and he spends it with the barber, the baker, and the candlestick maker and its turned over and over . . . .
Elderson Muncie of Bradshaw, an unemployed McDowell County coal miner and father of 15 children, received the first stamps on May 29, 1961. By the fall of 1964, the program was assisting more than 350,000 people in 43 states. That same year, Congress passed the Food Stamp Act, making the program permanent. West Virginia was the first to expand the program statewide and, in 1970, the first to mail food stamps to recipients. Today, the federal food stamp program continues to aid millions of Americans.

"Time Trail, West Virginia" May 1998 Schedule

West Virginia History Center West Virginia History Center