Skip Navigation
West Virginia Archives & History

Oceana Community History

Prepared by Warner Walker

The Oceana Community forms a part of the Oceana District, of Wyoming County, West Virginia. It is numbered as first of the five communities of Oceana District. It is situated in a valley on the Clear Fork of Guyandotte River amid the most charming mountain scenery. The community extends up Laurel Fork of Clear Fork to Turkey Ridge, and down the river to the district line. It is in the heart of the farming belt of Wyoming County and consequently contains some level land. The highest point in the community is Panther Knob which is located a short distance from the town of Oceana.

A large portion of the community contains immense beds of undeveloped bituminous coal. We are also fortunate in having large tracts of standing timber of poplar, ash, walnut and hard wood. With these beautiful resources the community can expect a great future. The chief industry is trucking and general farming.

First Settlers

In 1750 -the year in which Franklin made his discoveries in electricity, John Cook was born in London, England. The boy who was the son of a well to do native of London grew up among the people of the crowded streets of the city. He secured a moderate education. When fifteen years old he fell in love with a young lady and was married. In 1770 he and his wife set sail for America and landed at Norfolk, Virginia. In a short while they made their way through to Giles County, Virginia where they settled and raised a family of four boys, Thomas, John Jr., William and James.

In 1798 John Cook Sr. made his first trip to what is now Wyoming County. He found a large area of level land which now comprises the farms below Oceana, West Virginia. He returned to Giles County, Virginia and told Edward McDonald about this fine tract of land which he had seen on his trip west. McDonald secured a patent from the governor of Virginia for this tract of land and sent Cook down to take charge of it for him. John Cook Sr. with his family came to what is now Wyoming County and made the first settlement in 1802. Their log cabin, which was the first in the county, stood until the fall of 1923. It was torn down when the new village of Oceana Junction was being laid off.

But few years had elapsed when more settlements were made. The Stewarts settled in an adjoining community and intermarried with the Cook's. In 1890 two-thirds of this county were descendants of John Cook Sr. He is called the father of Oceana Community.

Immediately after the first settlement the roads were mere trails. The settlers decided to set aside certain days of the year for working the roads. By this method they were able to secure a wagon road through the entire community.

Pioneer life was not all toil for there were many hunting parties in which the men of the community took part. Fox hunting was one of the favorite sports. Deer and bear were plentiful in the early days but they gradually disappeared until at the present time we know them only through traditional history. The mother of each family manufactured the clothing for the family by the use of looms. There was only one article that had to be imported into this community during the pioneer days and that was salt.

Pioneer Education

The first schoolhouse in this community was a log cabin. The schoolhouse served two purposes; first, a place for the education of the young people, second a community center for religious services. With the first settlers came the first Bible, which was the principal book in each family.


People of Oceana were very loyal to the laws of the state of Virginia to which state this section of the country belonged. James Cook son of John Cook, Sr., was the first justice of the peace of this community.

Oceana the County Seat. (1850 - 1907)

The territory which comprised what is now Wyoming County had gradually grown in population. It became necessary in 1849 to have new county formed out of this territory which at this time belonged to Logan County, Virginia. In the autumn of 1849 James Cook, got up a petition and went through a legal procedure which resulted in the formation of a new county. Oceana was selected as the county seat.

The town of Oceana was laid off in the spring of 1850 from land owned by Mr. William Cook, a son of John Cook, Sr.

The first building in the town was the store house, of Mr. L. B. Chambers in which he conducted a successful mercantile business for many years.

The first postmaster of Oceana was Mr. Ulysses Laidley who was appointed in 1850 and kept the office in Mr. L. B. Chambers store house until 1853.

Lewis McDonald built the second business house in the spring of 1850. The third was erected in 1851 by Mr. William Roach. During the same year Mr. William Cook built the fourth building in Oceana in 1853, and in the same year Mr. L. B. Chambers completed the fifth house in town, which was opened and conducted as a hotel under the management of Mr. Patterson Bowers of Tazewell County. Besides private improvements, work on the court house and jail had been in progress and these were ready for use in 1852.

James Cook became the first sheriff of the new county by the rotation plan under the old constitution. The first prosecuting attorney appointed was Henry L. Gillespie. Judge Dunbar presided and U. S. Laidley was appointed by him clerk of the circuit court. L. B. Chambers was elected and served as the first clerk of the county court. Among the prominent attorneys present at the first term of court were Alexander Mahood, H. L. Gillespie and James H. Ferguson.


There were a few slave-holders in this section, the largest being Edward McDonald who probably owned as many as forty. Some of the slaves helped to clean the land, others were used as house servants.

War Between the States

Some of the people believed that the slaves should be free, while others regarded them as a necessity. When the question of slavery was declared to be settled by war, the people of this community were about equally divided. In some families brothers fought against brothers.

There were a few skirmishes near Oceana but no battles of any note. General Floyd camped for three weeks on the farms just below Oceana. He forced men by the use of the bayonet to join his army.

At this time Mr. L. B. Cook, was forced to join the army and to serve as a guard. The army marched to Wythville when Mr. Cook was captured by the confederates. The men who captured him took him to Richmond with the intention of killing him. By the aid of a friend who happened to be in the confederate army Mr. Cook made his escape under the cover of darkness.

General James Auvil commanded in 1863 the largest army that ever marched through Oceana. There were thirty seven thousand men in his army. This was a union army and it marched to Rocky Fords in Mercer County. Prominent Citizens and Business men of Oceana 1865-1897.

Col. Jesse lrwin of North Carolina purchased in 1880 the Robert Morris grant and from that time dates his prominent connection with the industrial interests of this community. Immediately after effecting the purchase he sailed for Europe and remained abroad four years. In 1885 he returned to this community. During his residence here he discovered and opened on his property four large veins of coking coal, ranging from ten to twelve feet, four veins ranging from 7 to 10 feet and four pure bituminous veins 6 to 7 feet. Independent of all these there is what is called the "Oceana Big Vein" of 14 feet bituminous coal passing through the western portion of the state into Boone and Logan Counties.

Hon. Mitchell Cook was born within the territory now comprising the county of Wyoming on January 8, 1818. He was elected county surveyor in 1856, served for a while as Justice of the Peace, and in 1864 represented Wyoming, Raleigh, and McDowell counties in the House of delegates. In 1869 he was elected to represent the senatorial district then comprising the counties of Mercer, McDowell, Wyoming, Logan, Boone, Lincoln, Cabell, and Wayne.

Dr. W. T. Lambert was born in Tazewell county, Virginia, November 15, 1827, and in 1865 moved with his family to Oceana but finally located at Bear Branch where he established a post office, steam mill, a tannery, wheat separator, saddlery, general store, and a blacksmith shop.

Colonel Childers was a native of Cabell County. In 1855 he was admitted to the bar. Mr. Childers had a lucrative practice in the county of Wyoming and adjoining counties. When the court house was moved to Pineville Mr. Childers moved also and continued to practice in Pineville until his death.

J. O. Sanders was one of Oceanas popular merchants. He carried at all seasons a full line of general merchandise, and studied carefully the wants of the community in making his purchaser.

Luther L. Chambers was one of the leading attorneys of Oceana. He was born in Mercer County 1856, but moved to Oceana in 1383, and began to practice law there in that same year.

At Oceana Junction, one mile east of Oceana at the confluence of the Laurel and Clear Fork, Mr. J. H. Kirby owned and operated one of the best saw and grist mills in the county, and was the first steam mill ever brought to this section of the state,

Mr. W. B. McClure was one of the leading merchants of the county. Besides his establishment in Oceana Mr. McClure was interested in trade at other points in the county, and was also quite extensively engaged in timbering.

William Roach was one of Oceana's pioneers who engaged in business here. He conducted a blacksmith and wagon repair shop at his premises a mile above town.

The Mountain House at Oceana was under the management of Captain James A. Cook. It became a popular resort, and was extensively patronized by the traveling public. Knights of the "grip" were not slow in gaining information respecting hotels, and it was a well established fact that "Captain Jim" was prepared to treat the boys right.

Mr. Robert C. Cooper was Deputy Sheriff and Jailor of Wyoming County.

John L. Stafford was prosecuting attorney of Wyoming county. He was a native of Mercer County. He received his education in the free schools and at Concord Normal. He read law with Judge Johnston of Princeton and was licensed to practice in 1879' He located at Oceana and in 1880 was elected prosecuting attorney,

Mr. E. M. Senter, was a native of Grayson County, Virginia. He was born in 1853, and spent the early years of his life on his fathers farm. At the age of seventeen he went to Kansas City, Missouri where he found employment in a clothing house. After three years in the West he returned to Virginia and in 1872 came to Wyoming County and was engaged in clerking and teaching. After 1883 he was engaged in the mercantile business. When the court house was taken to Pineville Mr. Senter moved there also.

Albert W. Cook was postmaster at Oceana. He was from childhood a citizen of this county. At the age of nineteen he entered a store as clerk. He clerked, kept books and taught up to the date of his appointment as postmaster . Upon his appointment in 1888 Mr. Cook immediately erected a building especially designed and fitted up as a post office with an elegant patent lock-box cabinet,

The postoffice business of Oceana was of no small importance in 1888. There were two daily mails, one from the Norfolk and Western Railroad at Elkhorn and one from the Chesapeake and Ohio at Quinnimont, besides one tri-weekly and three semi-weekly locals routes.

I.E. Christian was born in Logan County in 1855. He came to Oceana in 1883 and was engaged as a clerk in the store of I. B. Cook and Company. Finally he opened a grocery store of his own.

W. B. Shannon was editor of the Wyoming News. He was born at his parental hoime near the mouth of Clear Fork in 1831, and always resided in this county. In 1858 he was elected and served as Justice of the peace until the beginning of the war. Immediately after the declaration he enlisted in the Federal cause and served two years in Captain William Miller's Company.

At the close of the war Squire Shannon was reappointed as Justice and. later served as County Surveyer, Commissioner of School Lands, Clerk of Board of Supervisors and Postmaster. In 1884 he was elected Sheriff, and two years later he moved to Ocoana and opened the Shannon House.

Dr. O. J. Woods came to Oceana in 1885 from Mercer County where he was previously engaged in the practice of medicine. He was born in Giles County, Virginia 1856 and was educated at the Green Valley Academy. He later graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Baltimore. In 1888 he erected a drugstore. He was thoroughly educated as a physician and surgeon and his success was well merited.

Fieldon Clarke Cook was one of the most prominent teachers of the county. He received his education from the free schools of the county and Concord Normal.

John J. Vandevort was a native of Pennsylvania, He was born in 1835 and before coming to West Virginia was a citizen of Ohio. Mr. Vandevort served three years and eight months in the United States Army, was twice wounded, once a prisoner of war, and honorably discharged from the service. Mr. Vandevort was fully identified with the interests of the county.

Millard F. Cook was an experienced teacher of established reputation. He was born in 1859 at Oceana and always resided in this county. Mr. Cook followed teaching as a profession for several years, but devoted a portion of his time to hewing wealth from the giant monarchs of the forest.


The offices of the county in 1889 were filled as follows:

Judge of Circuit Court - R. C. McClaugherty. Prosecuting Attorney - J. L. Stafford; Clerk of Court - F. P. Roach; County Commissioners - John C. Tilby, President, G. D. Cook, and Michael Cline. Sheriff - J. S. Lambert; Deputies - R. C. Cooper, B. P. Cook and Jordan McKinney. Superintendent of Free Schools - James Cook; surveyor - W. D. .Conley; Assessor - Joseph Short; Commissioner of School Lands - W. B. McClure; Justices, Oceana District - Wm. Canterbury and George W. Stewart

Decline in Sale of Real Estate 1889 - 1907

The real estate owners of Oceana refused to sell land. There were no new business establishments made, and the community seemed hopeless in the increase of population for no new settlers came to the community. The vast tracts of level land were under cultivation instead of being laid out in town lots. People who were interested in Oceana could not buy property, therefore were forced to stay away.

Development in other Sections

The coal towns were growing rapidly in the upper end of the county. Mullens was in a very progressive state with its population rapidly increasing. Coal operations were being opened up throughout Barker's Ridge and Slab Fork Districts.

The Question of Court House Removed

There was a question in the minds of the people as to whether the Court House should remain at Oceana or be moved to the upper end of the county. In 1907 a vote was taken and the majority of the people voted to move it to Pinevile. In March 1907 the records were moved to Pineville.

Disastrous Fire

On the evening of Nov. 20, 1907 while the business of the day was slowly coming to a close a very disastrous fire occured which wiped out of existence almost the entire business block.. The fire originated in the Kelly Hotel and in a short while was uncontrollable. Seventeen houses were burned. This was a blow to the town from which it has never recovered.


A bond election was held at Oceana in 1909 to establish a District High School at Oceana. In 1910 a frame building was constructed. School opened for a. nine months session in September 1910 with L. S. Hutchins as principal and M. L. Jones as assistant principal. The enrollment for the first year was more than a hundred. Students came from all parts of the county to attend High School in Oceana. The school progressed nicely until 1916 when the enrollment was very small. In 1920 H. G. Farmer became principal, and was instrumental in placing the school on a progressive basis once more.

Community Histories Index

West Virginia Archives and History