by Addie M. Gaston
December 25, 1927
West Milford was organized as a town by an act of the Virginia legislature in the year 1818.
It received its name from the "West Fork" of the Monongahela river, the "mill" built here in an early day and the much used "ford" which crossed the river a short distance below, hence the name West Milford.
The town was incorporated in the year 1880 as an old corporation receipt held by F. Roscoe Moffett bears date.
There was once a large orchard where the town is now located, as several sturdy old apple trees still standing testify. When the town lots were laid off they were not surveyed by compass but were stepped off under the influence of spirits, whether good or bad is not known.
An early settler who owned a large tract of land where Corrin Station is now located and all the farms joining same bartered it away for a barrel of whiskey and a pair of silk hose.
The mill and dam were first built by a man named Samuel Clemans but was later rebuilt and owned by several different people.
Among those who owned it were Golden and Shinn, brothers-in-law. Golden having married a sister of Mr. Shinn. The dam was known in an early day as Shinn's dam. Still other owners were Major Prichard and B. D. Rider, Wesley Post, Thomas Marion Smith and John R. Lynch. These were the pioneer millers. Mr. Post and Mr. Smith were the owners at the time of the flood on July 10. 1888 which took the mill and wooden bridge away.
Mr. Post's family who lived on the flat adjoining the mill had to be taken from the house in a boat, the water having risen to a height of five feet above the first floor.
The blacksmith shop of the late George W. Moffett which was located just opposite te Post residence was also flooded and all his books and papers were destroyed by the water.
The mill was rebuilt in 1889 by Mr. Post and John R. Lynch. The first bridge built across the river just above the ford was a wooden structure, built by J. N. Tucker in 1874. The timber for the structure was furnished by George Sheets and was framed by Benjamin Huff and his two sons, William and Austin Huff. The stone work was done by the late John Fox. The present bridge was built in 1889 to take the place of the wooden bridge carried away by the high water. It is an iron structure and will soon be replaced by a modern concrete bridge.
A steam mill once stood on the lot now owned by A. I. Sutton, which was owned by Mr. Harmon. He also had in connection with the mill a carding machine and cabinet shop which were later destroyed by fire.
Richard Perine and James Lambert each conducted a tannery where hides were brought from far and near to be tanned.
The first postoffice was located on what is now Lee street. Robert Jackson was the first postmaster. The mail was carried by A. W. Taylor from Clarksburg. He made the trip on foot.
The first store was owned by Joseph Clemans and Jefferson West. It was located in a small building which stood where the residence of W. B. Reed now stands.
Ed and Dave Criss and William Patton also conducted a store in a small building located on the lot now owned by Miss Alda Gaston. It stood near where the well is located. Joseph Prichard, Racy O'Neal and E. W. Neal were other principal merchants when the town was starting.
Among others who were prominent merchants in later years were: Captain A. F. Moffett, Joseph Perrill, Jesse Rector, B. D. Rider, William Merriman, Joseph Prichard, Ed. Prichard, J. Upton Dayton, C. B. Morrison, G. W. Morrison, John W. Gaston, J. C. Metzger, G. L. Bartlett, William Lee, G. W. Sturm and B. L. Ward.
The first church was built by the Baptist denomination in 1833. It was a frame structure nailed together with nails made by Benjamin Bartlett, the first blacksmith. Other early Smiths were J. Q. Lowther and Major Prichard. Covenant of the regular Baptist church called Elam, Harrison County, Virginia, constituted September 7, 1833 by elders, John Allen and Benjamin Holden. Thus reads the heading of a document now more than ninety-four years old, which contains the rules and regulations that governer the members of the first church in West Milford.
This same covenant governs the local church today, the name being changed from Elam Baptist church a few years after its organization to the West Milford Baptist church.
The original covenant was signed by James Coberly, Daniel Coberly, Elisha Coberly, James Knisley, Prudence Knisley, Pearson B Holden and Nancy Holden.
D. West Moffett, the present clerk of the church has possession of the original covenant together with an unbroken record of all transactions of the church from its organization nearly a century ago to the present time.
The exact date of the organization of the Methodist Episcopal church is not known. According to an old record Rev. A. A. Reger was preacher in charge and Rev. G. I. Nixon, junior preacher in the years 1847 and 1848.
There has been a resident pastor here since 1847. It is interesting to note the number of appointments and salary of the pioneer ministers.
The first ministers on this circuit served nineteen churches located as follows: West Milford, Bethel, Mount Morris, Greenbrier, Westfalls, McWhorter, Thornhills, Nuttersburg, Mt. Carmel, Horeb, Wolfe's Smiths Crisleps, Flatwoods, Balls, Birds, Pattersons Chapel, Ebenezer and Bennett.
One will observe these are located in different parts of Harrison, Lewis and Braxton counties. The ministers traveled on foot or horseback.
The salary paid Rev. Reger in 1847-48 was $286. Rev. Nixon, the junior preacher, received a salary of $105 per year. At present the local circuitis composed of four churches, West Milford, Bethel, Tichenal and Sycamore. The pastor, Rev. J. D. Engle, receives a salary of $1700 per year; is furnished a modernly equipped parsonage, owns an automobile and has hard surfaced roads to all his appointments.
It is not definitely known when the local M. E. church, South, was organized, but about the same time as the organization of the M. E. church, North. Elizabeth Johnson was the first member of which there is any record. She took the vows of the church in 1846. Other pioneer members were Harvey Hefner and wife, Julia Maxwell, Annie S. Stevens.
Worship was held in the old town hall until the erection of the church in 1869. It was called Sommerville Chapel in honor of James Sommerville, who was an ardent worker and contributed liberally.
The first trustees of the church were James Sommerville, Joseph Prichard, Harvey Hefner, James Lambert and Duncan Ward.
Rev. George Warner was pastor in 1852. Others who followed were: Rev. Samuel Black, Rev. Rider, Rev. W. Gaines Miller, Rev. Switzer, Rev. T. S. Wade. Rev. Wade was also twice presiding elder of this district. First in 1872 and again in 1895.
Among some who were prominent in the church were the Lees Sheets, Hefners, Prichards, Maxwells, Sommervilles, Steuarts, Ramages, Davises, and Goldsboros.
The church services were discontinued in 1910 owing to the decrease in membership by death and removal and the fact that the church was put on another circuit and it became unable to meet its obligations. However the building is rented and the money derived from same is given for the work of the church.
The Methodist Protestant church was organized as a class in 1848. The charter members were W. M. Parrill and wife, Isaac Perine and wife, Clark W. Helmick and wife, Mrs. Elias J. Lowther, Mrs. Maxwell, Mr. and Mrs. Waldeck, D. L. Perine and wife and Susan Sheets. Services were held in the old town hall until they were able to build a church. In 1849 a lot was bought from Elias J. Lowther for thirty dollars, the deed bearing date October 5, 1849. When was [sic] was declared in 1861 all church building enterprises ceased and the local church was not completed until 1873. Among pioneer pastors were Rev. Samuel Clawson, Rev. Daniel R. Helmick, Rev. George Nestor, Rev. M. L. Barnett, Rev. B. B. Stout and Rev. J. I. Vincent. Following is a list of some of the family names represented among the membership; Helmick, Morrison, Sommerville, Mudy, Gaston, Stout Lynch, Bell and Hickman.
The first school was taught by James Harduay. Mrs. Ollie Bartlett was the second teacher and taught in her own home. The old town hall which was located on the lot now owned by H. E. Neely later served as a school house. This was before the free school system was established and only subscription schools were taught.
About the year 1867 a two room school building was erected which served the needs till the establishment of a high school in 1911, when the old building was razed and the present modern building erected.
Beside the teachers already named, other pioneer teachers were: Thomas J. West, Rufus Holden, Coleman Williams, Marcellus Sheets, Thomas Ramage, Benjamin F. Ramage, Jacob Sheets, Ellsworth Kelley, Alice Kelley, Johnson Knight, Wirt Lowther, Mrs. Delia Criss, Mrs. Lina Lee and J. M. Holmes.
West Milford is noted for the large number of teachers it has furnished for this profession. It was not uncommon a few years ago for whole families to fit themselves for the teaching profession. Following is a list of some of the eariy settlers whose entire family in many instances were teachers: Mr. and Mrs. Herman Ladwig, five, Mr. and Mrs. Calvin Bartlett, three; Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Thornberry, four; Mr. and Mrs. J. M. Holmes, four; Mr. and Mrs. G. W. Moffett, six; Mr. and Mrs. John Ed Highland, five; Mr. and Mrs. Coleman Williams, two; Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Young, two; Mr. and Mrs. William Price, two; Mr. and Mrs. J. B. West, two; Mr. and Mrs. Mason Lee, two. It can be conservatively estimated during the past twenty-five years two hundred boys and girls from here have entered the teaching profession.
Among other professional men and women who received their early training in our local public school and are being of service to humanity are preachers, doctors, dentists, lawyers, bankers, electricians, engineers, agriculturists and stenographers.
As Hackers Creek was an old land mark in the early settlement of this section of the West Fork it is but courteous to state that it derived its name from John Hacker who settled there in 1768. He was a meritorious pioneer, figured prominently in the Indian wars and served as colonel during Clark's campaign in 1778.
William, son of Robert Lowther came with his father to Hackers creek in 1772, and became conspicuous in this section. His private virtues and public actions endeared him to every individual in the community.
During the war of 1774 and subsequently he was an active and efficient defender against the savage foe. He was the first justice of the peace in his district and the first sheriff of Harrison county. His military merits carried him to a colonel.
Archibald Morrison cams here from Ireland in 1773. Clearing enough land to build him a home in what is known as the Lowther settlement he engaged in farming. He became the father of twenty-three children. His first wife was carried away by the Indians. The Morrisons were sturdy straightforward and honest and played a great part in the settlement and development of this section of the county. Some of the land owned by him is still in possession of his descendants.
In April 1778, Isaac Washburn, having been to mill at Hackers creek was shot and killed by the Indians on his return home, as he was crossing the river a short distance below the fort. His gun found in the river twenty years later on being unbreached the powder was found dry and readily ignited, uckskin [sic] packing having been a perfect protection. His descendants today are attending our public and high school.
The Wests were an early and influential family of pioneers and did heroic work in the settling and defense of the country. Wests fort was located on Hackers creek. Fort Richards stood near where the residence of E. J. West now stands. This was a very desirable place for a fort since a remarkably copious spring flows nearby. Human bones have often been unearthed where excavating was done in this section The Wests were the direct descendants of Thomas West of England, who became known to history as Lord Deleware, or De la Warr as originally spelled. In America he is forever identified with the history of Virginia. He has left a name to one of our great rivers (West Fork) also to a very interesting group of Indians and to one of the smallest states of the union (West Virginia). Their descendants have played a large part in making the schools of this section what they are today.
Today we have a first class high and graded school with a teaching force of fourteen, college trained men and women well qualified to instruct the more than two hundred and fifty boys and girls who attend it. We have school property, buildings and grounds valued at approximately $60,000. Schools have been consolidated and we have a school bus which carries the children from the rural communities thus giving the advantage of a more thorough training.
West Milford is located on the state highway route No. 19, which makes it accessible to the larger towns and cities. We have a scheduled taxi service which is quite a convenience to the traveling public. We have three wide awake churches also a number of fraternal and civic organizations. In consideration of the beautiful location and the energetic disposition of the people in and adjacent to the town makes it a most attractive locality in which to reside.