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Hope and Success in Corton

By Mack Samples
Photograph by Tyler Evert.

The town of Corton as it appeared in about 1930. The community grew up around the John J. Cornwell natural gas compressing station, visible at left.

The community of Corton, located along the banks of the Elk River approximately 27 miles northeast of Charleston, existed officially from 1927 until 1988. Once a very prosperous, bustling unincorporated community, today Corton exists only in the minds of the few inhabitants who still live there.

The year 1896 was a milestone for the region of the Elk River Valley that was to become greater Corton. The Charleston, Clendenin & Sutton Railroad Company finally completed a rail line up the south side of the Elk from Charleston to the mouth of Porters Creek. The rail line would eventually go to Gassaway and points north, but it terminated for a time at Porters Creek, a tributary of the Elk River located just east of what would become Corton.

There was a large bottom located on the south side of the Elk about a half-mile below the mouth of Porters Creek. The tract changed hands several times until it was sold during the early 1900’s to a successful Charleston businessman by the name of Henry Louis Wehrle, Sr., and his wife, Arie Mohler Wehlre. The Wehrles also bought 25 acres on the north side of the river. The Wehrles built a camp and caretaker’s house on the southern bank of the Elk.

In 1924 the Wehrles sold 10.36 acres, which included the site of their camp and caretaker’s house, to the Hope Natural Gas Company. They also sold some seven acres to the Clay Gas Company at the same time, but Hope Gas acquired that property from the Clay Gas Company the following year along with not quite an acre from R.E. “Dick” Samples. The Samples property lay just across the river from the tract Hope had purchased from the Wehrles. After the sale, the Wehrles constructed a new camp and caretaker’s house a little farther upstream at the mouth of Spread Hollow.

During the mid-1920’s the Hope Gas Company began constructing a large natural gas pumping station on the site that they acquired from the Wehrles and the Clay Gas Company. The station was completed in 1925 and was named the John J. Cornwell Station in honor of the former governor of West Virginia. Hope began pumping gas to its station at Hastings in Wetzel County. From Hastings, most of the gas went out of state.

The new Hope station became the center of the economic activity in the region, and it soon became apparent that a post office was needed to serve the growing area. So in 1927, a new post office was created just across the river from the new Hope station. The Hope officials did not want to call the new post office Cornwell because they were afraid that there would be confusion between the station and the post office itself. So they took the first three letters of the former governor’s last name (COR) and the first three letters of the last name of a high-ranking Hope official whose name was Loring Tonkin (TON), combined the two, and called the post office Corton. Those who lived on the north side of the Elk and the area surrounding the new gas pumping station began getting their mail at Corton located just inside the Kanawha County line, less than a mile from Clay County.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.