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West Virginia Archives & History

A Brief History Of Martha Community

By Charles Love

The writer will endeavor to give just a brief history of this particular part of Cabell County, known as McComas District. This district, with four other districts was formed some time during the Civil War, about 1862 or 1863. Prior to this time it was only a portion of Cabell County, Virginia, after the war it was Cabell County, West Virginia. This portion of the county was owned by just a few men. Sampson Saunders, one of the first settlers of the county owned practically all of the land in this so-called McComas District, and a large portion of the land in the other four districts. He came to this county from eastern Virginia at an early day and settled with his mother just west of what is now known as the town of Milton on the farm now known as the Jerry Ball farm. And on the hill just above the house lies the remains of the mother, daughter, and son Sampson Saunders.

Mr. Saunders, in the early forties, built the home now owned by Mr. Browning near Elmwood Church, and lived there until his death. A few years before his death he freed his negroes about forty in number, and sent them to one of the free states, Vermont I believe, by Judge Jeff Samuels and George O. Galliher, with sufficient money to buy each family forty acres of land and placed them in their new homes, from which none of them ever returned. Mr. Saunders willed his vast estate to his relatives and friends. Elmwood Church stands on land included in the estate. He willed his home to his niece Martha Killgore Morris, wife of C. K. Morris. A large portion of this land was sold during Mrs. Morris' life and the remaining portion divided among her children. The only portion of the Saunder's estate, as far as I can recall that has not paassed out of the hands of heirs, is the portion that fell to John Albert Morris from his mother. This property is still owned by John A. Morris' widow and children.

Martha Killgore Morris was a daughter of Thomas Killgore, senior, and a niece of Sampson Saunders. Sampson Saunders married Thomas Killgore's sister, which may be the reason why so much of this estate went to the Killgore heirs. Mary Killgore, wife of William Simmons, an East Virginian, received 1800 acres, from this estate, adjoining the Martha Morris estate. This land was divided between the heirs of Mary Killgore Simmons. Colonel Comswellsy Simmons, her son, received the "Horseshoe Bend" of Guyan River, and a large portion of Heath's Creek land was divided into small tracts and sold, most of which has changed hands several times. The "Horseshoe" proper remained in the hands of the Simmons for a long while.

Colonel Simmons being the oldest child of his mother's family was appointed guardian of his brother, Sampson Saunders Simmons, who was named for his uncle Sampson Saunders and made his home with Colonel Simmons until he became of age, at which time he received one- half of the "Horseshoe" for his portion of his mother's estate. The Colonel Simmon's half of this farm sold to Alvin Davis and the Sampson Simmon's half was sold to Bailey Thornburg. Later both Davis and Thornburg sold to Davidson Brother. Davidson Brothers sold to Attorney G. J. McComas, Mr. McComas sold to R. J. Armstrong and Charlie Miller. Armstrong sold to Pat Riley, the present owner.

The balance of the 1800 acres fell to the other heirs, which were: Ann A. Love, wife of Peter E. Love; Naomi, wife of George O. Galliher; Malinda, second wife of George O. Galliher; and Mary Frances, wife of Dr. B. C. Vinson; all daughters of Mary Killgore Simmons. Since the latter three sisters lived in other sections of the country they sold their interests in the remaining 1000 acres to their sister Ann A. Love. This farm was known as the Peter Love farm. The back portion of the farm was divided into small tracts and sold. The front portion which is known as "Rich Bottom" contains about 300 acres is now owned by J. J. Perry. This estate has also passed out of the hands of the Sampson Saunder's heirs. The owners of all these lands are good citizens.

The most important homesteads are the farms now owned by John W. Love and Joe Phipps. The farm of Love is one of the oldest in this community. The small stone house now standing in his yard is, perhaps, the oldest building in all this country. It was built sometime prior to 1800. A man by the name of Richey owned both the Love and Phipps farms and later sold them to Mr. Pennel, father of our Thomas Pennel who married Miss Nannie Rodgers. Later this farm passed into the hands of Major George McKendrie from whom it was purchased by J. W. and C. S. Love and was divided. C. S. Love sold his portion to Mrs. Joe Phipps. John Love's farm is now in the best state of cultivation of any farm in the community and supports a splendid dairy. John Love married Miss Kate Jackson of Boon County, Missouri, and four children were born to this union, two dying in infancy. Marie married Mr. W. R. Harrington of North Carolina and Fred married Miss Nona Alderman of Florida.

Adjoining the Phipps farm is the farm owned by the heirs of Jahne Rodgers. Miss Nannie Rodgers was a daughter of Squire William S. Rodgers, who purchased the Dusenberry mill and owned it until his death. Mr. Rodgers was a very popular man, always elected to any office for which he asked. He was married three times and reared excellent families. His first wife was Miss Bias, daughter of Robin Bias. To this union were born four children, Wilson, George, Tom, and Fenton. Fenton was the father of Squire Tom Rodgers of Huntington. His second wife was Miss Nancy Childress, daughter of Riland Childress. To this union was born Robert, deceased, and Nancy, wife of Thomas Pennell. The third wife was the widow of Mike Wentz. To this union was born one child, the late Jahne Rodgers. Mrs. Wentz Rodgers was the mother of Morris, William, and J. T. Wentz. Morris Wentz was a fine fiddler. William Wentz went west. J. T. Wentz married Miss Joanna Dolan, daughter of George and Lethia Dolan. To this union were born seven children, Mike, George, Bailey, Robert, Hal, Mollie, and Myrtle.

I might say here that land in the early days was very cheap. Good timber land could be bought for eight and ten dollars per acre. It is said that a small farm on Heath's Creek was traded for a rifle gun. In fact it was the cheap land that attracted the smaller farmers. The virgin soil as well as timber could not be excelled. Corn was the principal crop and the market for it was the timber haulers. Great quantities of timber were marketed in that day and the price ranged from fifty cents to one dollar per tree.

Charles Louis Rolf was a large land holder in McComas District, he owned about all the Tom's Creek land including a good portion of Fudge and Cyrus creeks. His possessions were cut up into small farms and sold for homes, and then sub-divided until there are throngs of people living on this once large tract of land owned by this one man. Neither one of these large land holders were noted, so far as the writer has ever heard, for their enthusiasm for building churches or schools. Accumulation of land seemed to be their chief aim. C. L. Rolf died a poor man as he lost his possessions during the Civil War but he was a very honorable and good man. His wife, was a Miss Ruffner of Charleston, West Virginia, a daughter of Colonel Charles Ruffner. Mr. And Mrs. Rolf raised a family of five daughters and one son. This son, Charles Rolf, lives in Huntington, also several of the daughters. Mr. Rolf owned and lived on the farm now owned by Mr. Joe Mays. His nice home was burned with all its contents. He had a store and sold a great deal of merchandise. He also raised great flocks of sheep which he pastured on both sides of the county road from Squire Clay's to Barboursville, including the McKendrie and Charlie Moore farms, as well as the McKendrie farm now owned by C. O. Harrison.

Mr. Rolf had a shepherd, a German whom he called Davis Morrison, who, with his two shepherd dogs, took care of the sheep and kept them at night in a large barn that stood in Squire Clay's orchard near the county road.

The Dusenberry family was another very prominent family in this Elmwood or McComas District. They came from New York and settled near the mouth of Millbranch on the parcel of land on which Bailey Wentz now lives. This property belonged to Sampson Saunders and he built what was known as the Saunder's Mill on it. Mr. Dusenberry purchased this mill and since the mill has been torn down, the site is known by the older people of the community as the Dusenberry Dam. The mill was located just below the bridge across Guyan River. A dam was built at this point which caught sufficient water to run the mill by means of a turbine wheel. Upon several occasions this wheel was hindered frum running by large cat fish getting in at night through the water race or channel. The writer saw one that came out of the wheel that weighed 98 pounds. Two men were carrying it on a pole run through its gills.

Guyan River was locked and dammed in the early fifties by the United States Government for navigation purposes. Two steamboats plied this river from Guyandotte to the falls of Guyan near the mouth of Four-mile Creek where the town of Hadley now stands. Coal and farm products were shipped by these boats, to Major and Louisa. How the geese and ducks paddled for the bank when the boats passed! The Civil War stopped this traffic which was never resumed. Later the push boat took the place of the steam boats. These boats did a great business for years until the Guyandotte Valley Railroad was built. During the push-boat period a small steamer by the name of "Fannie Dugan", owned and operated by Captain J. T. Wentz plied the river, sold goods, and traded in produce.

The timber business on this river was great, thousands of rafts were run every year. The dams became a nuisance and were blasted out by the state.

This Dusenberry family were strong Baptists and built the first church house in Martha Community. In 1853 or 1854 Bloomingdale Baptist church was organized. The writer's father and mother were in this organization. This church house stood on the hill in a cluster of cedar trees about three hundred yards from the Dusenberry home, which is now owned by Baily Wentz. This organization went down during the Civil War. After the war the church was re-organized and moved to the forks of Heath's Creek at which place it still remains a Baptist Church.

In 1890 twenty-two or twenty-three members of Bloomingdale, by consent of the church, organized Elmwood church and built the house they now occupy on a lot given by Martha Morris, who with her family belonged to the organization. Only a few who were in this organization are living.

Martha is among the better communities in the state. The first school taught in this neighborhood was in a small house near the railroad station at Martha where Boyd Williams now lives, by William Bramlet about 1858. Later in the sixties a school house was built at the mouth of Swamp Branch. The first teacher there was William Algoe, father of our William Algoe who lives on the Turner farm. Later the Bootens Creek and Mill Branch houses were built. A steady growth of population has continued until we have a densely populated community of energetic, high minded, enthusiastic people, capable of supporting schools, churches and hard-surfaced roads, and of owning good homes and automobiles. Our community is improving every year and is becoming in every respect an up-to-date community.

During the Civil War a small skirmish occurred here. The Confederate forces were on the hill opposite the store at Martha Station and the Federal soldiers in the road near Dusenberry's mill. The house, recently repaired by Mr. Wentz showed some bullet holes in the weather boarding made by Confederate bullets, but no one was hurt. Adjoining this Dusenberry land on the south was the Thompson farm of about three hundred acres. It passed into the hands of J. S. Brady from Ireland, who married Miss Lou Moore, daughter of Wilson Moore, who came from Virginia. To this union was born seven children, all of whom live in Barboursville. This farm is now owned by Captain W,. Turner.

The land on the south of this farm was owned by the Peyton and Swann families. These lands have passed into other hands. Daniel Swann, one of the heirs lives on a portion of this land. Also Robert and Edgar Swann live in the neighborhood and are good men and have raised good families. Oliver Peyton and sisters, Mrs. John Hash and Mrs. Fred Lambert, live on portions of the Peyton estate. The mother, Mrs. Elisha Peyton is living with or near her children. She is a good woman and has raised a splendid family, all of whom are progressive citizens. Adjoining these farms lies the Beverly Johnson farm. He lived in Virginia, and sold his farm of 1200 acres to John Morris, the writer's great grandfather, sometime in the fifties. Later William C. Miller, father of J. W. Miller of Barboursville purchased and lived on this farm. The Miller family were prominent in the county, some of whom filled important offices in the state. J. W. Miller is the only son living. This farm was sold to the Malcolms, who still own it.

The Guyan Valley Railroad runs through or near all the farms that have been mentioned, which makes this a very important part of Cabell County.

I would not leave the impression that we have all the good things now and had none in the good old days of our fathers and grandfathers. I can well remember the herds of fine Shorthorn cattle that grazed on the majestic hills and fertile valleys, smothering as it were in their fat. Also fine fat hogs that could scarcely walk. Southdown and Merino sheep were seen on nearly every farm with their heavy well-matured fleeces. In the spring of the year it was great to see the farmer boys corraling the sheep near a stream and washing them so the fleeces would be clean when they were sheared. Then would come the good old wool picking times when the housewives would meet at each other's homes and pick wool and chat so merrily over their good times and good things to eat. And this is not all. After the wool was picked it was then sent to Dusenberry's mill or carding machine and made into rolls. All? O, no! The rolls were brought home and the spinning wheels were harnessed and the farmer's daughters would spin the yarn. No man ever beheld a more beautiful sight than these pretty girls dressed in neat calico or linsey dresses without paint on their cheeks or lips except the beautiful that nature gave them.

It is hard to show the old people that we are living in a better day amid high cost of living and staggering high taxes. Those were good old days with granaries full of wheat, cribs full of corn, meat houses full of good old hog meat, river full of fish, woods full of game, plenty to eat, and plenty to wear; a county of brave men and pretty women. We have got to go some if we beat those good old times.

If we leave off our conveniences we must take off our hats to our grand-parents' time. If they had had the railroad, the bridge at Elmwood, the hard road, and the home and farm equipment that we now have, they would have had us "skinned a block."

It is hoped by the writer that this history while incomplete and fragmentary may serve to inspire some more gifted historian to prepare a more adequate and comprehensive history of our community.

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