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Friday, December 30, 2016

The Story of How Mt. Hope Got Its Name (That You Probably Never Heard)

A commonly heard story, that attempts to explain how Mount Hope got its name, that involves Judge McGinnis, Egypt, pea vines, a school, and grazing cattle, might not actually be all that accurate.  A far simpler explanation outlined in a 1936 newspaper article suggests that the town was so named because Luther Warner, the first postmaster of the Mt. Hope, had moved here from a town named Mount Hope, located in the state of Rhode Island.  Since Postmaster Warner was probably called upon to supply the official name for the post office, he may have simply given the new post office the name of the town from which his family came.


Raleigh Register, "Named for King's City", August 23, 1936, page 11.  

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Fayette Memorial Building Dedicated July 4, 1952, First Used Christmas 1951

Although not formally dedicated until July 4th, 1952, the Fayette County Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Building in Fayetteville, W.Va. had first been used for a Christmas dance in 1951 under sponsorship of the American Legion. The building had its inception with the Fayetteville Businessmen's Association, whose members felt a memorial should be erected in the county in honor of those who had sacrificed so much in the service of their county.

Fayette County Soldiers' and Sailors' Memorial Building, in Fayetteville, W.Va.

Tiny Bank at Winona Was Robbed Four Times

The little bank in Winona, W.Va., was robbed on four separate occasions during its years of operation, a statistic which probably makes it the "most robbed bank" in all of Fayette County. Most tourists passing through Winona today, on their way to Nuttallburg, would probably be amazed to learn that Winona once had a bank, or that the town's population had grown to 1,100 persons by 1910, following the opening of several nearby coal mines in the mid-1890s. Following the demise of the area's mining operations in the mid-1950s, little evidence that Winona was once a vibrant and thriving community is left today.

Winona National Bank was organized on September 17, 1910, opening for business on December 1, 1910 in an attractive, but rather small one-story brick building, trimmed with cut stone, located near the middle of Winona. The bank operated successfully until 1959, when its assets were sold to a bank in Gauley Bridge, W.Va. Unfortunately, Winona's old bank building has since been torn down.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Bank of Fayette Opened Its New Home in Fayetteville in 1923

Back in 1923, when the Bank of Fayette officially opened its new home on Court Street in Fayetteville, W.Va., over 400 visitors signed the guest register, toured the building, and and enjoyed complementary ice cream, flowers, and cigars provided courtesy of the bank's managers.  One hundred and twenty two new accounts were opened that day, with new deposits totaling over $18,000

Bank of Fayette, Fayetteville, W.Va.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Mount Hope's YMCA Building Sold to Board of Education in 1933

The Loop Creek District Young Men's Christian Association building on Main Street in Mount Hope served thousands of men and women, boys and girls during the 1920s through the 1930s. The dedication and formal opening of the "Y" took place on Wednesday evening, February 15, 1922.

An indoor swimming pool was in service in the building, with regular gymnasium classes held during the winter months and tennis, "big ball," and other games during the greater part of the year. As built, the building contained a boy's department, ladies' department, swimming pool, bowling alleys, pool room, a 60x80 gymnasium fully equipped with a stage and dressing rooms, and a seating capacity for 500 spectators; spacious lobby, 18 dormitory rooms, a banquet hall, a completely equipped kitchen, and lockers and locker rooms.

Loup Creek District Y.M.C.A>in Mount Hope, W.Va.

In 1933, the Fayette County Board of Education purchased the building for $9,000, from The New River Company.  The original cost of the structure was said to be $111,000.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Mt. Hope's Two Surviving Company Store Buildings

Two of the New River Company's former company store buildings still survive in Mount Hope, W.Va. The building that housed the last company store in town is probably the better known of the two, which is located at the corner of Stadium Drive and Main Street, which is shown in the photo below.

Former Mt. Hope Company Store Building

The Day the Satellite Landed on the Fayetteville Courthouse Lawn

Vanguard 1 satellite image courtesy NASA
By mid afternoon, on that fateful day in the spring of '58, excitement ran high as word spread that a U.S. Naval satellite had landed on the courthouse lawn in Fayetteville, W.Va. It wasn't long before a crowd of lawyers, law enforcement officers, journalists, and concerned citizens gathered in the tiny sheriff's office anxious to catch a glimpse of the satellite, and to learn more about the object assumed to have fallen from space sometime overnight.

The crowd of onlookers soon learned that only a short while before, Dana Carte, a trusty at the Fayette County Jail, had discovered the strange object on front lawn of the Fayette County Courthouse.  Carte had immediately revealed his fantastic discovery to Jack Robertson, manager of the Fayette County sheriff's office.

Soon after photographers from three area newspapers began snapping pictures of the suspected satellite, a local official began to carefully examine every inch of the grapefruit sized object and the six antennas that extended from its body with a magnifying glass, finding a marking that read "Naval Research Laboratory." 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Posh Revolving Restaurant Overlooking the New River Gorge Once Envisioned

revolving restaurant
Imagine if you will, a mountain-top
revolving restaurant on the Gorge...
An elevated revolving restaurant providing breath-taking 360º views of the scenic New River Gorge was just one of the "development" suggestions described by Dr. Warden Lane, of the State Department of Natural Resources, during an early-1963 speech made in the W.Va. Turnpike's "Glass House" restaurant in Beckley. [1]

The location of the spinning eatery was to be one of the high cliffs overlooking the New River Gorge at Hawks Nest State Park, near the community of Ansted.  At that time, Hawks Nest was said to be the most visited state park in the state.

The inspiration for the whirling café was probably the revolving restaurant atop the "Space Needle" erected a year earlier for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair. The "hovering disk" of the Space Needle that resembled a UFO was home to two restaurants: the Eye of the Needle, and Emerald Suite. Twenty thousand visitors a day had waited more than two hours for a chance to eat in the futuristic restaurant and even Elvis ate there. [2]

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Oak Hill's "Hotel Hill" Opened in 1928

Built by brothers William H. and Claude R. Hill, the hotel known as "Hotel Hill" opened for business in the Fayette County community of Oak Hill, in November of 1928.  The establishment provided accommodations for the traveling public for about 44 years, ceasing to function as a hotel in 1977.

Hotel Hill was built on the spot formerly occupied by an old two-story log cabin, built by John Kelley (Oct. 28, 1828--July 21, 1889), one of the town's early settlers, who owned the farmlands upon which most of Oak Hill's (west-end) business district was later developed.

Former Hotel Hill Building in Oak Hill, WV
Former "Hotel Hill" building on Main Street in Oak Hill, West Virginia

Suspension Span Design Once Proposed For the New River Gorge Bridge

A suspension bridge was one of proposed design alternatives considered in 1968 for the New River Gorge Bridge. In that year, the State Road Commission of West Virginia directed the consulting firm, Michael Baker, Jr., Inc., to proceed with the design of an 11-mile-long section of highway under the Appalachian Development Highway Program and including a 3,000-foot-long bridge spanning an 850-foot deep gorge, near Fayetteville, WV, in Fayette County.

By 1970, plans were being advanced for construction of the New River Bridge envisioned as a 2,400-foot long suspension span -- depicted in the artist/illustrator's rendering below. That same year, the photo was published in the March 10 edition of the The Charleston Gazette with a brief description of the suspension bridge that would be "the highest bridge east of Mississippi River.

Proposed New River Gorge Suspension Bridge
A suspension span was proposed for the New River Gorge Bridge in 1970

Monday, August 29, 2016

Mt. Hope Lost First Game Played in New Stadium on Oct. 24, 1936

In the first game played in the newly constructed football stadium, the Mount Hope High School "Mustangs" football team lost 32 to 0 to the Greenbrier Military School's "Cadets." The game, played on Saturday evening, was Mount Hope's homecoming game.

Mount Hope Municipal Stadium

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Pax Once Had a Bank

When coal mining boomed during the early 1900s, banks sprang up in several of the smaller towns in Fayette County, offering banking services to the local mining companies and their employees.

Located in Pax, WV, the Bank of Pax operated from October 1, 1915 until September 4, 1931. Dr. A, L. Hunter was the bank's president and Otis Lively its vice-president. In 1921, the Bank of Pax moved into a handsome new building in town constructed of native sandstone, shown in the photo below.

Former Bank of Pax Building, Pax, WV
The Bank of Pax was one of several West Virginia banks closed during The Great Depression. Following the bank's closure, the Fayette County Board of Education used the building as a school house for a while.  Year later, the building briefly served as city hall.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

1950 Newspaper Reveals When Beury Monument Was Erected

Beury Monument in Quinnimont
It's time to unfurl the "Mission Accomplished" banner and to celebrate by writing another new post. For today, after being on the lookout for it for decades, I  finally stumbled upon a credible source that cites the year that the granite monument was erected in Quinnimont, WV, honoring Joseph Lawton Beury for shipping the first railroad car of coal from the New River Coalfield in 1873.

Now, with this great mystery solved, instead of saying the monument was "probably erected sometime in the 1920s" I can more precisely say it was erected "during the summer of 1921." [1]  Achieving better precision with fewer keystrokes is always a good thing, no?

But unfortunately, just as one Beury mystery was solved, another somehow managed to rear its ugly head. Let me elaborate...

When Joe Beury first came to open the coal mine at present-day Quinnimont, the area was quite literally, a wilderness. According to local legend, Beury gave the settlement that he helped forge, its name.

The story is oft' repeated that when Beury first came to the area, he and his wife lived in "a rude log cabin located on Laurel Creek" for about five years. But according to an old Shirley Donnelly newspaper column from 1962 [2], "One of the cabins that the pioneer coal operator lived in was removed in 1962 by a Huntington man, who took the cabin materials to his home at Huntington, where the cabin was rebuilt and restored."

Does one of the original Beury cabins from the 1870s still survive?  Developing...

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Insurance Salesman Among Those Killed in 1914 Eccles Mine Disaster

It was payday at the Eccles mine and an ambitious insurance salesman had been permitted to go inside the  mines to sell new life and accident policies to workers and collect payments. The agent had managed to sign several miners up for coverage before a violent explosion tore through the workings of the Eccles No. 5 mine, at about 2:30 p.m.

Freeman Linville, an agent of the Providence Life and Accident Company of Charleston, W.Va., was the first victim to be found by the rescuers. At the young age of 32, he had achieved the dubious distinction of being "the only known non-miner to die in a West Virginia mine."

Monday, August 15, 2016

"Pest House" Probably Never Existed on Red Ash Island

For decades, various local history buffs and even some National Park Service (NPS) personnel have recited accounts which usually go something like this: "When a smallpox epidemic swept through the towns of the New River Gorge during the 1890s, health officials decided the unoccupied Red Ash Island was the perfect location for a quarantine camp."

While such claims seem somewhat believable at first glance, they don't seem to stand up to scrutiny very well. There is much evidence that the "pest house" in question was not  located on Red Ash Island. Instead, the evidence points to a location near the mouth of Ephraim Creek, on the opposite side of New River across from the so-called "island."

Circa 1899 panorama showing "Red Ash Island" (view enlarged)
Photo credit: U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior/U. S. Geological Survey.