Turning a Mole Hill Into a Mountain

Parkersburg News
October 17, 1999

Mountain Or Mole Hill?

Some residents ready to change town name back after 50 years

By Ron Hendricks
Special to The News

Among all the many mountains of West Virginia, any community named Mountain is something like Pineville, Ga., or Snowtown, Alaska. Just a bit redundant, wouldn't you say? But, regardless, there's not even a mountain within sight of Mountain, W. Va.

It's been 50 years since this Ritchie County hamlet had a unique and truly memorable name - Mole Hill - and lost that name to what some would call a bad joke. Yes, it was on July 2, 1949, that advertising professionals from New York - with the help of a very well known and probably well-meaning client in need of publicity, the Borden Milk Co. - perpe a Mole Hill."

I recently paid a visit to Mole Hill - Mountain, I mean - to ask what it's been like, living with this joke for 50 years. I thought I'd get some cute answers, some funny stories, maybe another joke or two; an elaboration on the old and tired (if sometimes still appropriate) saying. But, no. What I got, instead, was mostly a sense of regret. Regret that "the Borden people" did not live up to certain promises some Mole Hill residents certainly believed were made. Regret that some degree of perhaps useful popularity, or even a certain notoriety, failed to come about. Regret that no one, not in 50 years, has knocked on a front door to ask where the Mountain is. And now, since 1996, there isn't even a post office by either name; not Mountain, and not Mole Hill.

We Interrupt This Commercial...

It all started as a publicity stunt. In 1949, "Borden's County Fair" was big on the CBS Radio network. An executive from Kenyon & Eckhardt Advertising in New York visited Mole Hill in late spring or early summer of 1949 to obtain support for the agency's name-changing idea on behalf of its client, Borden. "Progressive" Mole Hillers were won over, mostly on the strength of the promise (or at least the understanding) that the community would get a new road in return for its friendly cooperation. (Route 74 from Pennsboro to Mole Hill was described as being, in 1949, "a narrow snake path." Except for a short concrete section just outside of Pennsboro, it was a dirt road with gravel and with "nary a bridge" across Brush Run. An article in The Pennsboro News early on declared, "Foremost in the minds of the people of Mole Hill is the improvement of their road.")

Several "key" local folks, chiefly members of the Mole Hill Farm Women's Club, Florence Haymond, president, got behind the idea and were encouraged, it seems, by The Pennsboro News and, before long, radio station WPAR in Parkersburg. This "get out the vote" effort soon went really big- time, with the advent of no less than Life magazine on the scene, to take pictures and conduct interviews. A date of June 15 was set for the "County Fair" program to announce the fabulous, fun event when Mole Hill would be transformed into Mountain. A program contestant was chosen to ask the residents of Mole Hill to sign a petition to the U.S. Post Office to grant the name change.

The governor of West Virginia, Okey Patterson, was scheduled into Mole Hill on the big day, along with U.S. Senator Harley Kilgore. Congressman Cleve Bailey, numerous other dignitaries and "hay- makers."

The Mole Hill Post Office was "swamped" with requests for last-day cancellations at Mole Hill. first- day cancellations at Mountain.

the people speak listens? The Pennsboro News was able to report, in early June, that "over 100 people from the Mole Hill community" had signed the petition approving the name change. Then came delay - blamed mostly, wouldn't you know it, on the post office - and the event was put off until the first of July. On June 23. the Pennsboro paper reported that "postal authorities moved with the speed of a 90-year-old snail with the gout in both feet, if it had feet." In the same issue, the newspaper let it be known that Life magazine would be in Mole Hill on Friday, July 1, at 2 p.m. at the post office to take pictures of "as many local people as possible." The U.S. Post Office came through, apparently in the ninth hour, and the name of the Mole Hill Post Office was changed to Mountain the very next day.

Here's what The Pennsboro News had to say, finally, of the big event itself: "On July 2, 1949, it happened. The clouds parted, the heavens smiled, and the sun bedazzled; indicating the approval of Mother Nature of making a Mountain out of Mole Hill, W.Va. Standing on a hay wagon in front of Harve Haymond's post office at Mole Hill (Mountain), Governor Patterson legally proclaimed the change. Senator Kilgore explained, and Congressman Bailey declaimed while the merry crowd exclaimed in exultation."

A good time was had by all ...

It was, by all reports, then and now, a festive occasion. More than 4.000 persons were said to have attended, funneling into the "old" Mole Hill, situated for the most part in a low-lying dale alongside the North Fork of the Hughes River, 12 miles northeast of Pennsboro. Many of those on hand were former Mole Hillers, and friends of Mole Hillers, specially invited to this different kind of homecoming. There was a parade led by the Pennsboro High School Marching Band and veterans organizations in full uniform. There was food and frolic; a merry-go-round for the kids and other county fair-type attractions; square dancing by two local fiddlers, Bob Wilson and Bob Drain. The Mole Hill Glass Factory, run by Mr. and Mrs. Albert Burg, had an exhibit. "Bub" Riggs drove a four-mule team and wagon in which to carry the visiting dignitaries. There was a flag-draped grandstand near the post office. No less a luminary than Congressman Ken Heckhler personally hung a sign displaying the new post office name. The day was hot, and after, perhaps during, the speech-making, several persons went swimming in the North Fork. The fiddles played into the night.

The "Borden's County Fair" radio program "came to Mountain for the day," Saturday, July 2, 1949, and was broadcast "coast-to-coast." A "national broadcast" was heard a week later, July 9, over all CBS stations, including the Parkersburg affiliate, WPAR. And someone wrote a song, which was sung to the fiddle tune "She'll Be Comin 'Round the Mountain" during the first of these broadcasts:

We Love Mountain, It's A West Virginia Town.

It was Mole Hill till we changed the name around.
Everyone is out and shoutin'
Let's change Mole Hill into Mountain.
We love Mountain, it's a West Virginia town.

We love Mountain, it's a West Virginia town.
Come on down to Mountain - take a look around.
It was Mole Hill, but that's ended.
As a Mountain, it's so splendid.
We love Mountain, it's a West Virginia town.

Room For Misunderstanding?

Did some local politicians make promises they couldn't keep? It seems that perhaps they did, and that they, too, or even instead of the Borden Co., promised a better road for Mole Hill. The list of the politicians at the all-day event that hot first Saturday in July included: Judge Max DeBerry; State Senator Harry E. Moats; Ritchie County Sheriff Horace Britton, former sheriff, W.C. Taylor; the Honorable John Marsh, former member of the West Virginia Legislature; the Honorable Harold Zinn, then a present member of the West Virginia Legislature; plus postmasters from Parkersburg, Clarksburg, West Union and Highland, Ritchie County.

Winn Elliott, master of ceremonies for the CBS radio network broadcast, served in that same capacity. Also in attendance were radio singer Bob Faulk; the associate editor of Newsweek, Betty Forsling; United Press writer, Leo Turner; reporter, Frances Fisher of The Parkershurg News; and George Clinton of WPAR.

The June 16, 1999, issue of The Pennsboro News quotes a current Pennsboro resident, Edythe Doak: "They misled the people. They told them it would only be for one day and then the name would be changed back to Mole Hill. We were supposed to get a blacktopped road out of it. But when the road was paved it was years later. I doubt if it had anything to do with the name change."

A former Mole Hill postmaster, Helen McCullough agrees with Mrs. Doak: "I always heard our representative in Congress promised a new road. But it was at least 10 years before the road was ever paved. It had nothing to do with the name of the community."

Now for some history

Mole Hill had its beginning in 1817 - one of the oldest communities in Ritchie County. It was called Federal Hill by the first settler, Daniel Haymond, who moved into what was still Wood County at that time from Simpson Creek, in Harrison County. A son of William Haymond, Daniel Haymond went on to become a United Stales Senator from Virginia; and the Haymonds have played prominent roles in the life of Federal Hill/Mole Hill/Mountain ever since.

The 1850 Census shows Federal Hill with a population of 200, the settlement having grown to encompass farms and smaller homesteads along Brush Run, Marsh Run, Burton Run, Lizzie's Roost Run, Straight Run and Willis Run - all tributaries of the North Fork of the Hughes River. Jacob Lantz (born at Blacksville. Va., 1814) came to Mole Hill in 1838 after his marriage to Miss Minerva Miner, also of Blacksville. It is Jacob Lantz that Minnie Kendall Lowther, in her 1896 "History of Ritchie County," credits with the re-naming of Federal Hill - to Mole Hill - reason or reasons unknown. A later writer, Hadsel Rowe, in "The History of Ritchie County, West Virginia, to 1980," says that Jacob Lantz established a post office on Nov. 28, 1857, naming both post office and village Mole Hill.

Why was Federal Hill not still an acceptable name? Perhaps because of the national or Federal conflict aroused between Unionists and dis-Unionists, leading to the Civil War? If so, then perhaps there were spies -"moles" - who lived in the community and could be expected to aid and abet one side or another - hence Mole Hill?)

Visiting Mountain Today

Annabelle Haymond. widow of Harvey Haymond Jr., lives on that too-long-in-coming blacktopped road, Route 74, just before you drive into Mountain. Hers is the pleasant red brick, ranch-style house with the big Mail Pouch-emblazoned barn sitting low in behind it. On the day I stopped by, she was being visited by her sister, Mary Reed, from Maryland. They were busy playing Scrabble. (The only other Haymond residing at Mountain today is a second cousin of Harvey Haymond's - Chris Haymond, who lives "right at Mole Hill.")

Someone has told me that Mrs. Haymond will welcome my visit, will be glad to talk with me about Mole Hill. I see right away that this is true. "All my friends call me Annie," she says. We sit at one end of the table, and I ask what it was like, that day 50 years ago, when Mole Hill became Mountain.

"It was a lot of fun," she says, a gleam in her eye. She remembers the "carnival atmosphere," a bright, sunny day. "Lots of fun." But then her look grows serious. "I must say, though - I still regret it."

Regret? I hadn't expected that. Smiling, Annie Haymond goes on to recall the fun, the special excitement the day held for many Mole Hill residents. Then she adds: "Maybe we just didn't expect it to turn out the way it did."

Tabling regret for a moment, I ask Annie if, in all of the 50 years gone by, she has ever had anyone knock on the front door to ask of Mole Hill? Or even Mountain, for that matter?

"No, not that I recall" she says, some regret still sounding in her voice. "I've only had, in recent years, photographers stopping to take pictures of the Mail Pouch sign on the barn. It's not as old as they think, but they still like to take pictures of it."

Can Mole Hill Be Revived?

Before I get around to asking this question - thinking that since there is no longer a post office, maybe the old name could easily be restored -Annie Haymond mentions that she and her late husband lived for a while in California. I don't choose to ask her if the name change had anything to do with the move; and she hurries on to say, "We didn't stay too long. We came back in 1967."

There is a lull. Annie Haymond's sister, sitting patiently at the Scrabble board, asks: "Don't most of the residents still call the community Mole Hill?" She asks this of Annie, but she looks at me, a wise and knowing look.

"They do!" Annie exclaims. "They, myself included, all think of the place as Mole Hill. We've always thought of it as Mole Hill. We always will."

Mary offers me gum drops from a dish sitting alongside the waiting Scrabble game. I take one, then say to Annie; "Is there something else you've recalled?" And for a moment I am sure that I have been presumptuous. Annie Haymond smiles a bright, but still a quizzical smile. One that seems to say: "How did you know that I had anything more to say?"

mole hill still matters What Annie Haymond had to say was this: That some time in the late 1960s - "at least 30 years ago" - she had tried to get the name of the community changed back to Mole Hill. Had got up her own petition for friends, relatives and neighbors to sign. Had sent it to the Postmaster General of the United States, "with nearly everyone's name on it." But she never received any response whatsoever.

"None at all?" I said, incredulous.

"None at all," Annie repeated. "Not even an acknowledgement."

I said that it seemed to me that if she was to try again to get the name of Mole Hill brought back, it wouldn't be a matter for the Post Office to decide upon - only a state, or maybe even a county, matter. "If all the residents want it, I'd think it could be done. Possibly even without a lawyer." (Now I was being really optimistic.)

Annie Haymond agreed, but I am not sure if she intends to try again. Perhaps she doesn't feel she should ask the signers of that petition of hers of 30 years ago. as well as the few new residents, to take up the matter once more. Leaving it at that, I thank Annie and Mary for their hospitality. Then, just before saying goodbye. I try to say that I hope my article might somehow prove helpful in restoring Mole Hill's name - its rightful name. as it seems to me.

I see Annie Haymond's eyes light up again. "Wouldn't that be wonderful!" she says. and waves.

Postscript: The News has been informed that Annie Haymond, influenced, she says by this article, has written to Gov. Cecil Underwood - "after all, he grew up only a few miles from here" - asking if a process can be initiated for getting back "Mole Hill" as the official name of the little Ritchie County country village that "fell for a bad joke" back in 1949.


West Virginia Archives and History