Only six individuals have had the distinction of serving as West Virginia's Poet Laureate. The West Virginia Legislature created the position in 1927 to honor the state's leading poet. Governor Howard Gore appointed Karl Myers, who was born in Tucker County on February 2, 1899, as the state's first poet laureate. Unable to walk and weighing less than 60 pounds, Myers overcame tremendous physical difficulties to write two books of poetry.
In 1937, Governor Homer Holt replaced Myers as poet laureate with a young Beckley sports editor who had just been elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates. Roy Lee Harmon served as poet laureate three different times for a total of 38 years. In addition to writing six books, Harmon founded the West Virginia Poetry Society.
James Lowell McPherson was the youngest of West Virginia's poets laureate. In 1943, while serving in the Army, the 23-year-old McPherson won a poetry competition to earn the title. He was succeeded in 1946 by Harmon, who continued in the post until 1960. Cabell County's Vera Andrews Harvey served a brief one-year stint before Harmon's final appointment.
In 1979, Governor Jay Rockefeller gave Harmon emeritus status and appointed Louise McNeill of Marlinton as poet laureate. One of West Virginia's most recognized authors, McNeill wrote numerous books of poetry, including Gauley Mountain, Time Is Our House, Paradox Hill, and Elderberry Flood, and published her memoirs, Milkweed Ladies, in 1988.
Following McNeill's death in 1993, Governor Gaston Caperton named West Virginia Wesleyan professor Irene McKinney poet laureate. Like McNeill, McKinney's West Virginia roots inspire her poetry. The Belington resident has published several works including The Girl With the Stone in Her Lap and Six O'Clock Mine Report.
When the Civil War ended in 1865, soldiers from western Virginia came home to a new state and had to get accustomed to Wheeling as the seat of state government, instead of Richmond. Soldiers in Jefferson County not only had to get used to Wheeling as the capital of the new state of West Virginia, but Shepherdstown as the seat of county government.
In February 1865, union supporters moved the county seat from Charles Town to Shepherdstown where federal soldiers were already guarding the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. After the war, a controversy arose over where the county seat should be located. In 1866, Radical Republican legislators named Shepherdstown the permanent county seat. In part, the legislation was intended to punish many pro-southern Charles Town residents who refused to recognize the existence of West Virginia.
Supporters of Charles Town asked the legislature to return the county seat from Shepherdstown. On February 3, 1871, the House of Delegates, now controlled by Democrats who had supported the South, passed such a bill. After some opposition in the state senate, the bill was approved by a narrow margin.
That wasn't the end of the fight, however. It continued into the summer of 1871, and, at one point, the county operated under two different boards of supervisors, one meeting in Charles Town, the other in Shepherdstown. The state Supreme Court finally decided the matter, paving the move back to Charles Town after an absence of more than six years.
This controversy was indicative of lingering tensions between northern and southern sympathizers in West Virginia long after the end of the Civil War.
In the early 1970s, a decreased supply of oil and increased cost of gasoline and home heating fuels resulted in a national energy crisis. Federal authorities appealed to the nation's governors to conserve fuel and calm the public's fears. Governor Arch Moore declared a state of emergency in West Virginia and, on February 5, 1974, announced the activation of the National Guard to protect fuel delivery. Later in the month, Moore ordered that motorists could not fill up at West Virginia service stations unless they had less than a quarter of a tank of gasoline. The rule was designed to establish order at gas stations and to prevent hoarding gas.
At a press conference, Moore said he trusted West Virginians to abide by the rule:
Moore: If they have the feeling that gasoline is there -- that they can get it -- they'll run her down pretty close to empty, then they'll come in.
But there were protests. The shortage of oil had resulted in an increased demand for coal. Miners felt oil companies were holding back supply and that the quarter-tank rule hindered coal trucks from making long-distance deliveries. 20,000 southern West Virginia miners began wildcat strikes while Governor Moore defended the rule.
Moore: It's working in 48 to 49 of our counties. There's no reason why it can't work with proper supervision and proper understanding by the filling station operator himself in the remaining counties of the state.
Reporter: What about the contention that the men won't go back to work until it's lifted?
Moore: Well, that's their problem. I have to look at a million, seven hundred and sixty-odd- thousand people in the state of West Virginia. And, very, very essentially, had there been a full appreciation or understanding of the reason of the implementation of this particular approach in the state of West Virginia, I'm sure there would be overwhelming support for it.
In March, Moore conceded to the miners' demands and suspended the quarter-tank rule. It was never reinstituted.
Three years into Cecil Underwood's first term as governor, the national press rediscovered West Virginia and its coverage wasn't very flattering. On February 6, 1960, the Saturday Evening Post got the ball rolling when it printed an article on widespread poverty in West Virginia's coalfields. Pictures of poor coal mining families were juxtaposed with photos of the wealthy at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs.
The article was called "The Strange Case of West Virginia: Poverty Amid Splendor." When asked about the article, Governor Underwood was critical:
Underwood: I feel that the story, while it's well written from a journalistic viewpoint, is not well written from an objective viewpoint in trying to present a true picture of the conditions in this state. Most of the things he says may be true, but he spends all of his time in emphasizing the dark side of West Virginia -- emphasizing our problems. There is only one way this state can avoid this kind of publicity and that's to do something about the problems which face us as a state.
This wasn't the first time national media had focused on poverty in West Virginia. An Atlantic Monthly article on poverty on Scotts Run brought First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to West Virginia during the Great Depression. She made the Monongalia County coal region a symbol of the nation's desperation. Easing the plight of the poor became the central theme of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs, many of which provided federal assistance to poverty-stricken regions of West Virginia.
In 1960, the Saturday Evening Post article and a follow-up piece by the New York Post again captured the attention of politicians. The media attention made poverty a key issue during the West Virginia Democratic primary between John Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey. Kennedy rode the momentum from his historic victory in West Virginia to win the party's nomination and eventually the White House. As president, he implemented a number of poverty relief programs which benefitted West Virginia.
Mullen, Jay Carlton. "West Virginia's Image: The 1960 Presidential Primary and the National Press." West Virginia History 32(July 1971): 215-223.
West Virginia History. Volume 53.
One of the most turbulent periods in this nation's history was set in motion when Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy spoke to a women's Republican club in Wheeling on February 9, 1950. McCarthy held up a piece of paper and announced to the world he had a list of 205 known communists working in the U.S. State Department.
Frank Desmond first reported the story in the Wheeling Intelligencer. His managing editor, Norman Yost, phoned the Associated Press office in Charleston and, by the next morning, 18 newspapers across the country had picked up the story. McCarthy's anti-communism campaign struck a chord with the nation, igniting a mass hysteria that communists had infiltrated the government, media, motion pictures, and education. Some of the nation's most famous politicians, movie stars, and sports figures were paraded before congressional committees. Many people accused of left-wing political affiliations lost their jobs and were unable to find employment due to secret blacklists.
Fairmont State College art professor Luella Mundel fell victim to this anti-communism frenzy. In 1951, Mundel publicly challenged an American Legion assertion that colleges were havens for communists. Weeks later, Thelma Loudin, a member of the state school board from Fairmont, called Mundel a "poor security risk" and the board refused to renew her contract. Mundel unsuccessfully sued Loudin for slander. The potential cost of being labeled a communist was so great that Loudin's lawyer, U.S. Senator Matthew Neely, a staunch defender of liberalism, denounced Mundel's political and religious beliefs during the trial to prove his patriotism.
In the end, McCarthy overplayed his hand when he accused Pentagon officials of circulating communist propaganda. The public also discovered many of McCarthy's previous allegations had been unfounded but not before the senator's reign of terror had ruined untold numbers of professional and personal lives.
In 1951, Harry Burdette and Fred Painter became the first men to die in West Virginia's electric chair. The two had been convicted of kicking a soft drink salesman to death in a Charleston parking lot.
Burdette and Painter would have faced the hangman's noose if the West Virginia Legislature had not passed a bill two years earlier, changing the way the state carried out executions. Many states had already reconsidered hanging as a means of executing death row inmates. In 1949, West Virginia followed suit.
On February 10, a bill favoring the electric chair over hanging was introduced in the House of Delegates. After the state senate amended the bill to exclude electrocution for inmates already awaiting death sentences, the bill passed the legislature and was signed into law by Governor Okey Patteson.
The state's first use of the electric chair was met with much publicity. Just before Burdette and Painter were to be executed at the West Virginia Penitentiary at Moundsville, the prison's warden, Orel Skeen, bucked tradition. He allowed reporters to interview the two men, who died within minutes of each other a little more than an hour later. Among those in attendance was a young Raleigh County Delegate named Robert Byrd.
Elmer Brunner was the last man to be strapped into the state's electric chair which, by then, had acquired the nickname "Old Sparky." Brunner was convicted in 1957 of killing an elderly woman in Huntington. His execution was delayed for nearly two years because of appeals that twice took his case to the West Virginia Supreme Court and once to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The state began executing prisoners in 1899 because county hangings had become embarrassing public spectacles. By the time West Virginia abolished the death penalty in 1965, 85 men had been hanged by the state and 9 had died in the electric chair.
John Warren Davis emerged from the prejudices of the Deep South to become one of the nation's most distinguished educators and earliest civil rights leaders. He was born in Milledgeville, Georgia, February 11, 1888. In 1919, he became president of West Virginia Collegiate Institute in Kanawha County upon the personal recommendation of famed educator Carter G. Woodson.
During Davis' tenure, the school was one of the leading black colleges in the country in both academics and athletics. In 1927, West Virginia Collegiate Institute became the first black school in the nation to be accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. In 1929, the school's name was changed to West Virginia State College and began conferring college degrees.
In 1939, Davis received approval from the federal Civilian Aeronautics Authority to establish a Civilian Pilot Training Program at the college, the first black college in the country to do so. In the summer of 1940, West Virginia State became the first black college to enroll white trainees into their flight program, a precedent for integrating the military.
As a reflection of his involvement in the national civil rights movement, Davis was elected to the Board of Directors of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, two days after its inception in 1939. He resigned as president of West Virginia State in 1953 to become the fund's director of education. Davis worked closely with Thurgood Marshall in preparing for the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, which led to the integration of public schools nationally. He was still working as a consultant for the NAACP at the time of his death in 1980, in Englewood, New Jersey.
Duran, Elizabeth Chidester and James A. Duran, Jr. "Integration in Reverse at West Virginia State College." West Virginia History 45(1984): 61-78.
The city of Huntington was hit with the first of a series of devastating floods on February 12, 1884. The town had been incorporated in 1871 as the western terminus of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway and, almost overnight, grew into one of West Virginia's most populous cities. But Huntington's progress was temporarily stymied by the 1884 flood which ravaged the city's thriving business section and many houses.
The flood had already unleashed its fury on other Ohio River towns, including Wheeling and Parkersburg. Huntington was hit particularly hard because most of the city was built in the river's flood plain. The water reached a height of eight feet on Second Avenue near the river's edge. Families sought refuge in the city building, schoolhouses, and other public buildings out of reach of flood waters. Local merchants hastily constructed rafts and boats for transportation. Matt Noble, a local grocer and butcher, made home deliveries by boat to stranded customers.
Neighboring cities and the federal government pitched in to help Huntington recover. But the city's founder and namesake, wealthy railroad tycoon Collis P. Huntington, contributed only $500 to relief efforts.
The 1884 flood was a harbinger. A flood in 1913 inflicted even more damage. Finally, the devastating 1937 flood convinced the federal government that a flood wall was needed. The wall was built with money from the Works Progress Administration or WPA, a New Deal program designed to relieve the hard times of the Great Depression. Huntington has not experienced a serious flood since the wall was constructed.
When Mary Harris "Mother" Jones led a march to Charleston during the violent Paint Creek - Cabin Creek coal strike, she and 47 others were arrested. Jones had developed a national reputation as an ardent labor leader and made several trips to West Virginia in the early 20th century to support the United Mine Workers' efforts to organize coal miners.
Stephen Cresswell, chair of the History Department at West Virginia Wesleyan, says Mother Jones was beloved by the miners:
Cresswell: She was a fiery leader. She had a lot of charisma that made the miners really love her. They just really adored Mother Jones. And yet, despite her grandmotherly appearance and the fact that the miners called her mother, she could also cuss like a sailor.
The Paint Creek - Cabin Creek strike reached a climax in February 1913. Mine guards and sheriff's deputies shot up a tent colony at Holly Grove, killing one miner and strikers retaliated by attacking a mine guard encampment at Mucklow. Governor William Glasscock declared martial law in the strike zone and dispatched state troops to enforce it. During a mass meeting in the Fayette County town of Smithers on February 13, Mother Jones and two miners were chosen to deliver a petition to the governor, demanding the restoration of civil liberties to the strikers and the withdrawal of troops.
Mother Jones and the other protestors were arrested and tried by a military court at Pratt for conspiracy to kill a mine guard. This was the first time civilians had been tried by the military since the Civil War. Jones was held under house arrest for three months despite suffering from pneumonia. This incident sparked a congressional investigation of the strike.
Glasscock's successor, Governor Henry Hatfield, released Jones from house arrest the following May under pressure from the national press and Congress. Mother Jones continued to campaign across the country for workers' rights and to eliminate child labor until her death in 1930.
Scholten, Pat Creech. "The Old Mother and Her Army: Agitated Strategies of Mary Harris Jones." West Virginia History 40(Summer 1979): 365-374.
Steel, Edward, ed. The Speeches and Writings of Mother Jones. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1988.
Sullivan, Ken, ed. The Goldenseal Book of the West Virginia Mine Wars. Charleston: Pictorial Histories Publishing, 1991.
West Virginia State Archives' West Virginia's Mine Wars
In the early twentieth century, the deadly lung disease tuberculosis reached epidemic proportions in remote sections of West Virginia, particularly the southern coalfields. Unsanitary conditions in coal towns as well as contaminated meat and dairy products helped to spread this highly contagious disease. There were no medical facilities to treat tuberculosis in West Virginia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries so patients were sent to institutions out of state.
In 1913, West Virginia opened a tuberculosis sanitarium for white patients at Hopemont in Preston County. Four years later, on February 16, 1917, the legislature approved the establishment of a similar facility for African Americans. The West Virginia Board of Control purchased 185 acres of land and several buildings at Denmar in Pocahontas County from the Maryland Lumber Company. Both Hopemont and Denmar were chosen for their high altitudes, which were beneficial to those with lung diseases.
In January 1919, the West Virginia Colored Tuberculosis Sanitarium at Denmar admitted its first patients. However, the hospital accepted only those who could pay for their own care, creating hardships for many tuberculosis sufferers. Some patients arrived at the sanitariums by order of city or county governments, which were trying to contain the disease. The West Virginia Penitentiary also sent prisoners to the sanitariums to avoid infecting other inmates.
The number of patients at Denmar grew quickly and forced the state to add children's dormitories and a school . To alleviate overcrowding, the legislature funded a new building in 1937. Medical science gradually developed more effective means to diagnose and treat tuberculosis. In 1957, the state converted Denmar to a hospital for the chronically ill and moved the remaining tuberculosis patients to the newly integrated Hopemont facility. In 1965, the Hopemont Sanitarium also became a hospital for the chronically ill but continued to admit tuberculosis patients. The Denmar State Hospital closed in 1990 and was converted to a correctional facility in 1993.
"Deaths at the West Virginia Colored Tuberculosis Sanitarium at Denmar." West Virginia History 56(1997): 88-121.
A Welshman is often cited as the first settler within the boundaries of what is now West Virginia. But the distinction is debatable.
Morgan Morgan originally settled in Delaware after immigrating from Wales. He built his home in present-day Berkeley County after acquiring a tract of land near the present town of Bunker Hill. It was accepted for years that Morgan established a permanent residence there in 1726. Records of the time are scarce but more recent research indicates Morgan didn't settle in the area until at least 1731. By that time, a settlement had already been established at present-day Shepherdstown.
Even if Morgan's status as West Virginia's first settler is questionable, he is credited with many other firsts. A report by the Morgan Monument Commission says he was the first civil officer in what is now West Virginia. He was also the region's first road engineer, first licensed tavern keeper, and first commissioned military officer. On February 17, 1735, Colonel Morgan organized a militia company which evolved into the first unit of the state's National Guard. This company is one of the oldest continuously active military units in the country.
Morgan Morgan was the father of Morgantown founder Zackquill Morgan and a direct ancestor of West Virginia's sixteenth governor Ephraim Morgan. It was under Governor Morgan's administration that a monument was dedicated to Morgan Morgan. Two other monuments commemorating the contributions of the Morgan family stand in West Virginia. One in Marion County honors David Morgan, a renowned Indian fighter, and one in Wetzel County pays tribute to Levi Morgan, a soldier and scout.
Despite hostile reactions from the United Mine Workers' national leaders, rank-and-file union members formed the Black Lung Association in late 1968 to seek compensation benefits for victims of the disease. On February 18, 1969, miners began a 23-day black lung strike and held a series of demonstrations at the capitol. Governor Arch Moore appeared at one such demonstration.
Moore: I have not faulted you for coming here and expressing yourself because I believe, under our system of government, you have that right. I have said that I know something of miners' families and, that I know that every day that you're here, some necessity and something that is needed by a wife, children, or yourself is lost as a result of not working. But having made that observation, I have also said that I am ready -- and have been -- and have urged for my consideration legislation that the legislature would present to me in the area which would make black lung compensable. And I have urged their consideration of the same. I can go really no further in that regard because I am like you. I have no vote in the legislative halls of this capitol. But I have urged publicly -- I have urged in presentation to the joint houses -- that these legislators give attention to the problem of black lung, the problem of making the same compensable, and, certainly in every sense of the word, attempting to make the life of a miner in the state of West Virginia better than it is today.
On March 11, Governor Moore signed the first legislation in the country recognizing black lung as a compensable occupational disease.
The Black Lung Association, or BLA, wasn't finished at the state level. Its leaders persuaded Congress to pass the 1969 federal Mine Safety and Health Act. Finally, the BLA's leaders joined other reformers to organize the Miners' for Democracy, which challenged the UMW's corrupt leadership. The movement culminated in the election of BLA activist and West Virginia native Arnold Miller as UMW president in 1972.
When striking miners in West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky ratified a new contract with Pittston Coal on February 19, 1990, they ended a unique strike which had employed civil disobedience tactics. But they couldn't avoid strike-related violence which led to 71 injuries.
The United Mine Workers' strike against Pittston lasted 10 months. It attracted attention worldwide and sparked wildcat strikes across the nation. Federal mediator William Usury, who was appointed by Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole, helped negotiate an end to the dispute.
The union won concessions from Pittston on miners' pensions and health benefits. Pittston won the right to operate its mines around the clock. After they ratified the contract, miners had mixed feelings.
Miner 1: There might be some -- a little bit of hard feelings -- but I think with time it'll all pass.
Miner 2: I'm sure there'll be some hard feelings but I think everybody wants to mine coal. That's the bottom line and I think we can all work it out -- what problems we got -- because we're all up there to make a living.
Miner 3: I could say that I'm glad everything happened the way it happened, you know, and I'm going to be took care of and stuff. The thing of it is, whoever voted for it, voted my job away.
The miners went back to work just three days after approving the new contract.
Miner 4: A man's going to be rusty for a day or two until he gets back in the groove. Then we'll start producing coal and going on with our lives.
Miner 5: It's a rough day on the first one. After laying around 10 months getting fat and watching "Lost in Space," it's . . . first day back's rough.
Women struggled for more than 20 years to gain admittance to West Virginia University. During the school's early years, women could attend a class as long as that course was not offered at another Morgantown school. However, women could not earn degrees from the university.
Not everyone thought women could compete academically or intellectually with men. Faculty, administrators, students, and the state government were deeply divided over the issue. Lingering regional tensions fueled the controversy. Most faculty members from the North supported coeducation while southern faculty opposed it.
Coeducation opponents argued the university lacked suitable housing and that WVU's stated mission to provide agricultural, mechanical, and military training excluded women. Meanwhile, supporters wanted to admit women to bolster declining enrollment.
The West Virginia Legislature first addressed the issue in 1881 and rejected coeducation. As WVU's enrollment dropped to 96 students in the 1883-84 school year, coeducation supporters again approached the legislature. In 1885, the state senate approved a bill admitting women to WVU but, on February 20, the House of Delegates defeated it by just three votes.
The legislature again rejected the idea in 1889 but a pivotal event that year paved the way for women to attend WVU. Fire destroyed the Morgantown Female Seminary. The fire, coupled with the need to boost enrollment at the university, forced coeducation opponents to concede. The state Board of Regents voted 7 to 4 to admit women to WVU.
Ten women attended the university during the 1889 school year, despite open hostility from some male students and faculty. Two years later, Harriet Lyon became the first woman to graduate from WVU. She transferred to the university from Vassar College because her father, Franklin, a former WVU professor, had been one of the early proponents of coeducation.
WVU Women's Centenary Project, WVU Women: The First Century.
Since the formation of West Virginia, women have struggled to obtain many of the basic rights men have taken for granted. In the late 1800s, women could not vote or work in most industries. In addition, their right to own property was restricted. These societal limitations created a world in which women were dependent on men for support.
By the 20th century, traditional family structure had changed dramatically. Jobs created by the booming coal, oil, and gas industries forced men to move frequently, leaving their families behind. These same industries claimed the lives of many workers and women were left to raise families without a source of income. Women were forced to seek work outside the home and care for their children at the same time.
In the first two decades of the 1900s, a tide of progressivism swept across the nation. Congress and state governments enacted reforms to protect the well being of women and children. On February 23, 1917, West Virginia became the 30th state to adopt a Mother's Pension law to provide up to $45 a month to women who had been widowed or abandoned by their husbands. These laws marked the first time states assumed some responsibility for providing income to needy families.
The legislation placed stringent conditions on applicants. County courts judged a woman's physical, mental, and moral fitness to receive aid. These same judges could also elect to place children in poorhouses or orphanages if they felt the children had been neglected at home.
Lawmakers were pressured into paying more attention to family issues after women won the right to vote in 1920. The first major women's legal reforms in West Virginia occurred when the legislature updated the state Code in 1931. However, most judges continued to rule in favor of men until the 1960s, when women gained a more noticeable presence in politics and law. The Mother's Pension Fund was replaced in 1936 by provisions of the Public Welfare Law, which expanded the state's public assistance programs.
Jefferson County was included in West Virginia when the state was admitted to the Union in 1863 despite the fact most of its people sympathized with the South. The decision was based on northern military strategy to control the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, two vital means of wartime transportation. Most of Jefferson County's soldiers enlisted in the Confederate army. The county contributed ten military companies and about 1,600 soldiers to the Confederacy.
One of these Jefferson Countians was John Yates Beall. Beall died during the war, not as a soldier, but as a spy. He was given a medical discharge from the army as a result of wounds suffered early in the war during a skirmish at Bolivar Heights near Harpers Ferry. The Confederate government authorized Beall, now a civilian, to raid union supply ships on Chesapeake Bay. He was captured during one of these raids and imprisoned for several months before being turned over to Confederate authorities.
In September 1864, Beall carried out an elaborate plan to free Confederate prisoners from Johnson's Island in Lake Erie. He seized two Union ships, however the failure to capture a third ship foiled the scheme. After trying unsuccessfully to commandeer a military train on the New York and Erie Railroad, Beall was arrested in Niagara, New York. He was believed to be an escaped prisoner and charged with being a Confederate spy. Beall was executed at Governors Island, New York, on February 24, 1865, shortly before the end of the war. According to one account, President Abraham Lincoln's refusal to issue a pardon greatly angered John Wilkes Booth, a friend of Beall's, and perhaps contributed toward Booth's motives in assassinating the president seven weeks later.
Ephraim Morgan holds the distinction of being the first West Virginia governor to reside in the executive mansion that stands on the capitol grounds in Charleston. But he lived there less than a week. When construction of the mansion was completed in 1925, Morgan's term as West Virginia's 16th governor was coming to a close. On February 25, 1925, he moved into the mansion. During his brief stay, Morgan held a reception for his successor Howard Gore.
When Morgan became governor in 1921, the state had just lost its capitol building in downtown Charleston to a devastating fire. During the regular legislative session that year, lawmakers imposed a sales tax to generate money to build a new capitol and a new governor's mansion on Charleston's East End. Since 1893, West Virginia's governors had resided in a house on Capitol Street acquired from businessmen Gustave and William Jelenko.
Cass Gilbert, an architect with an international reputation, was commissioned to design the new capitol. A relatively unknown young Charleston architect named Walter Martens was hired to design the governor's mansion. Martens was interviewed for a film former First Lady Opal Barron made about the mansion in the 1960s. He said he was surprised he got the job.
Martens: It was early in July 1923 when I received the most unexpected telephone call from Governor Morgan, asking me whether I would be interested in designing the new governor's mansion. I had no idea that I was being considered, since I was a young architect, just getting started in my practice. But I did not hesitate to accept the commitment without questioning the governor's judgment.
Martens said he visited the White House to get ideas for West Virginia's governor's mansion and even traveled to New York to see Cass Gilbert.
Martens: While on the Pullman, I sketched a design of the principal exterior entrance elevations following the Georgian Colonial type of architecture which had been mentioned as the appropriate one for the mansion. Upon arrival, Mr. Gilbert inquired as to my suggestions for the exterior, whereupon, I showed him my sketch. Seeing this, he expressed great satisfaction and, reaching into his desk drawer, he produced a design sketch which he had made almost identical to mine. He stated that never before had he had such an experience where designs by two individuals were so thoroughly in agreement.
The mansion Martens designed has been home to every West Virginia governor since Ephraim Morgan. The old executive mansion was torn down to extend Washington St. from Capitol to Summers.*According to the February 26, 1925, issue of the Charleston Gazette, Morgan would not move into the mansion until February 27.
In the early 1970s, more than 5,000 people lived in various small coal towns along Buffalo Creek in Logan County. That was before a wall of water twenty to thirty feet high destroyed virtually everything in the hollow. 118 people were killed February 26th, 1972, when a Pittston Coal Company dam failed, sending flood waters down the narrow Buffalo Creek valley. Hundreds more were injured and more than 500 homes were destroyed. Thousands were left homeless. Seven were never found.
One man who had lived along Buffalo Creek since 1927 told a reporter just after the flood that what he had long feared had come to pass.
Resident 1: I've been a thinkin' that for years -- ever since they backed that water up in there -- they backed it up there with slate, and I figured if it ever got up far enough to come over the top of it, just a least bit, why, it'd just keep eatin' down on it and come on out.
Reporter: Your family got out okay then?
Resident 1: I don't know. Didn't have enough get up about me to move on out of this holler.
It had rained for several days before the water broke through the dam. The last of the flood water reached the confluence of Buffalo Creek and the Guyandotte River at Man in less then three hours, leaving tragedy in its wake.
When the waters receded, one woman, whose mother had been missing, said people banded together for mutual aid.
Resident 2: Everybody was helping everybody. That's all there was to it. Everybody was grabbin' clothing from everywhere they could find it. People were helping other people get in houses. That's just it.
Pittston officials initially called the disaster an act of God. But a Buffalo Creek Citizens Commission and a commission appointed by Governor Arch Moore determined otherwise. They rejected the act of God explanation and blamed the flood on the dam, which was improperly built with coal waste from strip mining.
However, three days before Moore left office in 1977, he settled the state's $100 million dollar lawsuit against Pittston for only a million dollars. In 1988, the state agreed to pay the Army Corps of Engineers $9.5 million for cleanup costs and interest. In the largest class action suit against Pittston, flood victims received an average of only $13,000 a piece after legal costs.
Erikson, Kai T. Everything in Its Path: Destruction of Community in the Buffalo Creek Flood. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1976.
"Time Trail, West Virginia." Former Gov. Moore testifies about the Buffalo Creek lawsuit
West Virginia State Archives' Buffalo Creek Flood
Legend has it that railroad magnate Collis Huntington founded the Cabell County city which bears his name after being cited in neighboring Guyandotte for riding his horse on the sidewalk. A more plausible explanation is that Huntington seized an opportunity to acquire inexpensive farmland at Holderby's Landing, just west of Guyandotte. In choosing this site for the western terminus of his Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, Huntington guaranteed himself control of the area's economic development. The city of Huntington grew rapidly as travelers used the C&O as a jumping-off point for trips further west. Huntington was incorporated by the West Virginia Legislature on February 27, 1871.
In addition to the sprawling pastureland, there was one landmark already in existence at the site of Huntington -- Marshall College. In 1867, four years to the day before the legislature incorporated Huntington, the governor approved another piece of legislation establishing a normal school at Marshall to train teachers. This greatly expanded the role of Marshall, which had been originally created as an academy in 1837, one of the earliest educational institutions in the region.
Attracted by the railroad and Marshall's normal school, people poured into Huntington. By 1873, Huntington's population had already eclipsed that of nearby Guyandotte, which it eventually annexed. The railroad not only catapulted a new city into existence, it led to the development of southern West Virginia's coalfields in the late 1800s.
Smith, Deborah B. "From Academy to University: Marshall Turns 150." Goldenseal 13(Spring 1987): 58-64.
"Time Trail, West Virginia." Completion of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway
"Time Trail, West Virginia." Floods devastate Huntington
Collis P. Huntington carefully oversaw the early development of the town of Huntington.
"Time Trail, West Virginia" February 1998 Schedule
West Virginia History Center