This Week in West Virginia History

Monday through Friday, at 6:30am & 4:48pm

The West Virginia Humanities Council, publishers of e-WV, and West Virginia Public Broadcasting have created two-minute radio segments for "This Week in West Virginia History" to introduce listeners to important people, places, and events in Mountain State history. Each daily segment is keyed to the actual date in history on which it occurred. The radio scripts, drawn from the content of e-WV, were written by historian Stan Bumgardner and produced by West Virginia Public Broadcasting's Operations Director, Bob Powell. Our composer, Matt Jackfert, composed the original theme music for the program.

Author and storyteller Colleen Anderson serves as the on-air voice. "This Week" airs Monday through Friday, both morning and afternoon during the news.

e-WV is the online version of the West Virginia Encyclopedia, which became a regional bestseller following its publication in 2006. It is the go-to place for concise, authoritative information on the broad spectrum of things to do with West Virginia. The history features are generated daily from a timeline of more than 12,000 items on the e-WV website.

Visitors to the online encyclopedia may dig deeper into e-WV's 2,300 articles, interactive maps, videos, illustrations, opinion polls, and quizzes that test your "WV-IQ." Visit

February 8, 1915: Photographer Volkmar Wentzel Born in Germany

Feb 8, 2018
Volkmar Kurt Wentzel
e-West Virginia Encyclopedia / Peter Wentzel & Viola Wentzel

Photographer Volkmar Wentzel was born in Germany on February 8, 1915. He and his family immigrated to New York State when he was 11. He eventually ended up in Preston County, West Virginia, where he attended high school.

As a teenager, he joined up with some Washingtonians who’d formed an artists’ colony in the forests of Preston County. While working at the artists’ colony, Wentzel built a darkroom in a pump house and began shooting local scenery for postcards.

This Week in West Virginia History is a co-production of West Virginia Public Broadcasting and the West Virginia Humanities Council.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / e-WV

On February 7, 1913, striking miners from the Holly Grove tent encampment in Kanawha County fired on a coal company-owned ambulance and attacked a store at nearby Mucklow.

Their actions triggered one of the most notorious incidents of the bloody Paint Creek-Cabin Creek Strike.

After being captured in 1776, Lee supplied the British with plans to defeat the Americans.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

General Charles Lee was born in England on February 7, 1732. As a young man, he served with distinction in the British army before immigrating to America in the early 1770s. When the Revolutionary War began, he sided with the Americans and served as a major general in the Continental Army.

Morris Shawkey
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

Educator Morris Shawkey died on February 6, 1941, at age 72. The Pennsylvania native came to West Virginia in 1895 to teach education at West Virginia Wesleyan.

In 1906, he became superintendent of Kanawha County schools and, in 1909, began three terms as state superintendent of free schools. During this time, he launched a program to build new high schools and junior highs, establish libraries in each school, consolidate schools, bus students, and upgrade teacher standards. Under his leadership, 125 new high schools were built in the state between 1909 and 1921.

February 5, 1942: Lawman Dan Cunningham Dies at 92

Feb 5, 2018
Dan Cunningham
e-West Virginia Encyclopedia / WV State Archives

Dan Cunningham died on February 5, 1942, at age 92. The legendary lawman was involved in some of the most violent and eventful moments in West Virginia history—sometimes finding himself on both sides of the legal system.

February 2, 1895: Preacher Shirley Donnelly Born in Jackson County

Feb 2, 2018
This Week in West Virginia History.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online.

Preacher and historian Shirley Donnelly was born in Jackson County on February 2, 1895. When he was 14, he and his family moved from the village of Rock Castle to Charleston. After attending seminary in Richmond, he became an ordained Baptist minister.

e-West Virginia Encyclopedia

On February 1, 1975, 25 Catholic bishops from Appalachia released a pastoral letter called “This Land is Home to Me.” It was officially distributed from Wheeling College (now Wheeling Jesuit University). 

It was written in response to a report from the Catholic Committee of Appalachia, highlighting the region’s economic and political inequalities. For a year, committee members traveled throughout Appalachia and collected stories of hardship from individuals and from community and church groups. The committee members then folded these stories into the pastoral letter.

Jonah Edward Kelley

In the early morning hours of January 31, 1945, Army Sergeant Jonah Edward Kelley died after leading an assault on the German community of Kesternich.

Despite being wounded, Kelley had led his men on a ferocious attack the day before. That night, he refused evacuation to a field hospital and continued leading his men the next day, when he was further wounded and died.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

West Virginia’s youngest county came into existence on January 30, 1895, when the legislature created Mingo County from Logan County. When West Virginia entered the Union in 1863, it had 50 counties. Grant, Mineral, Lincoln, and Summers counties were added during the first four years of statehood.

January 29, 1876: W. Va. Senate Removes Treasurer Burdett From Office

Jan 29, 2018
Senate Chambers
e-West Virginia Encyclopedia

On January 29, 1876, the West Virginia State Senate removed state Treasurer John Burdett from office. Burdett had been accused of pilfering funds in a scheme with his son and offering to deposit state funds in certain banks for a personal kickback on the interest.

Burdett’s impeachment was something of a shock given his background. The Taylor County native was one of West Virginia’s founders. At the outset of the Civil War, he’d served in the Richmond Convention and voted against Virginia’s secession from the Union.

January 26, 1850: Virginia General Assembly Creates Wyoming County

Jan 26, 2018
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On January 26, 1850, the Virginia General Assembly created Wyoming County from part of Logan County. The original county seat was located at Oceana but was moved to Pineville in 1907.

The county’s first major industry was timbering, which began on a large scale about 1889. Before the arrival of railroads, logs had to be floated down the Guyandotte River to the Ohio River at Huntington.

January 25, 1715: Thomas Walker Born in King and Queen County

Jan 25, 2018
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Thomas Walker was born in King and Queen County, Virginia, on January 25, 1715. He was a widely respected physician, farmer, merchant, and legislator.

He also was an investor, agent, and surveyor for the Loyal Company of Virginia, which promoted settlement in present southern West Virginia, southwestern Virginia, and southeastern Kentucky.

This was a particularly active period in the Mine Wars—a violent time that pitted miners against coal operators.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

Labor leader Fred Mooney was born in Kanawha County on January 23, 1888. At age 13, he began working in coal mines as a trapper boy. 

Six years later, at the young age of 19, he became secretary-treasurer of District 17 of the United Mine Workers of America.

January 22, 1810: State Founder Daniel Lamb Born in Pennsylvania

Jan 22, 2018
Daniel Lamb
West Virginia State Archives

State founder Daniel Lamb was born in Pennsylvania on January 22, 1810. Lamb’s family moved to Wheeling when he was 13. He was elected city clerk at age 21 and worked for two Wheeling banks and an insurance company.

When the Civil War began and Virginia cast its lot with the Confederacy, Daniel Lamb became a leading pro-Union figure in Wheeling. He was a member of the West Virginia Constitutional Convention and the state’s first legislature. The first codification of West Virginia’s laws, known as the Lamb Code, was begun by Lamb but finished by James H. Ferguson.

January 19, 1818: Virginia General Assembly Creates Preston County

Jan 19, 2018
Preston County
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / WV Humanities Council

On January 19, 1818, the Virginia General Assembly created Preston County from the eastern part of Monongalia County.

Industry in Preston County began to take off in the 1830s with the completion of the Northwestern Turnpike, which connected Winchester, Virginia, with the Ohio River. Over such roads, teamsters hauled away Preston’s agricultural products and brought back commercial goods. Today, U.S. 50 follows the route of the turnpike.

January 18, 1937: Homer Holt Becomes W.Va.'s 20th Governor

Jan 18, 2018
Governor Homer Holt (1898-1976).
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / WV State Archives (WVSA)

On January 18, 1937, Democrat Homer Holt became the state’s 20th governor. Just four years earlier, the Lewisburg native had been swept into statewide office as attorney general in a Democratic wave that ended the Republicans’ long-standing domination of West Virginia politics. He was only 34 at the time.

Becoming attorney general during the darkest days of the Great Depression, he worked with Governor H. Guy Kump to shore up the state’s finances.

In November 1918, just as Nitro was nearing completion, World War I ended.
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

On January 17, 1918, the U.S. War Department hired a New York engineering firm to build a nitrocellulose plant along the Kanawha-Putnam county border. The DuPont Company had previously chosen the site to manufacture munitions for World War I.

However, there were political objections to one company receiving such a large contract, so DuPont abandoned its plans, and the federal government picked up the task.

In later years, he was involved in an automobile dealership and a real estate addition in the Spring Hill section of South Charleston
e-WV / WV Humanities Council

Labor lawyer Harold Houston died in Florida on January 17, 1947, at age 74. When he was young, his parents moved from Ohio to Jackson County and then to Charleston.

In 1901, after getting a law degree from West Virginia University, Houston opened a legal practice in Parkersburg.

 Sumner was the first school for African American children in present-day West Virginia and south of the Mason-Dixon Line.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

Robert Simmons died at his Parkersburg home on January 16, 1892. A free black man during the days of slavery, he moved to Parkersburg in 1841 and earned a living as a barber. He and his wife Sarah worried that their nine children wouldn’t receive a proper education.

So, in 1862, he and other free black men established Sumner School in Parkersburg. Sumner was the first school for African American children in present-day West Virginia and south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

January 15, 2012: Former Governor Hulett Smith Dies in Arizona

Jan 15, 2018
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Former Governor Hulett Smith died in Arizona on January 15, 2012, at age 93. Born in Beckley, Smith was surrounded by business and politics during his youth. His father, Joe L. Smith, was a newspaper publisher, bank president, mayor of Beckley, state senator, congressman, and state Democratic Party chairman.

January 12, 1880: W.Va. National Guard Puts Down the First Coal Strike

Jan 12, 2018
Photo of coal miners in West Virginia, 1908
Wikimedia commons

On January 12, 1880, West Virginia National Guard troops arrived at Hawks Nest in Fayette County to put down one of the state’s first coal strikes. The strike started at Montgomery when coal operators told their union miners that nonunion competition from the nearby Hawks Nest mines was hurting business.

Kromer attended Marshall College (now University) for brief periods in the late ‘20s before crisscrossing the country, often hopping freight trains.
e-WV / WV Humanities Council

Novelist and short story writer Tom Kromer died in Huntington on January 10, 1969, at age 62. During his childhood, his family moved frequently—living in Huntington, Fairmont, Kingwood, and Williamstown—wherever his father could find work in the coal or glass industries.

In 1979, Governor Jay Rockefeller named her state poet laureate.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

West Virginia Poet Laureate Louise McNeill was born on her family’s Pocahontas County farm on January 9, 1911. Her first book, Gauley Mountain, was published in 1939. In it, she peppered her poems with the speech and dialect she’d grown up with.

With its rich tapestry of stories and characters, Gauley Mountain is still hailed as a classic work of American poetry.

Over the next few decades, she taught college English but didn’t publish another major collection until 1972.

January 5, 1810: Village of Guyandotte Established

Jan 5, 2018
wikimedia Commons / JaGa

On January 5, 1810, the Virginia General Assembly established the village of Guyandotte at the confluence of the Guyandotte and Ohio rivers in Cabell County.

By the late 1830s, Guyandotte was a popular Ohio River port and a busy stagecoach stop on the James River and Kanawha Turnpike. The town’s gristmill was supposedly the largest between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

In November 1861, Confederate troops won a battle at Guyandotte. The next day, Northern troops took back control of the town. Incensed by local support for the Confederacy, the soldiers set fire to the town.

WVU Tech Old Main Building, Montgomery, WV
E-WV / WV Humanities Council

The first classes at Montgomery Preparatory School in Fayette County began on January 4, 1897. It was established due to the lack of high schools in the area. Previously, most students in that region had to end their formal educations after eighth grade, or even earlier.

By World War I, there was less need for a preparatory school since many high schools had been recently established. In 1917, an attempt at converting it to a vocational school failed.

In 1958, voters sent Byrd to the U.S. Senate, where he would remain from 1959 until his death in 2010 at age 92.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / Sen. Robert C. Byrd, US Senate, 1964 Civil Rights Act, Senate Appropriations Committee

On January 3, 1959, Democrat Robert C. Byrd was sworn in as a member of the U.S. Senate—in the presence of three future presidents: then-Vice President Richard Nixon and Senators John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

Byrd was assigned to the powerful Appropriations Committee. He used his political skills to become Democratic majority whip in 1971, upsetting the incumbent, Ted Kennedy. Byrd’s mastery of the rules and popularity among fellow senators helped him defeat Hubert Humphrey to become majority leader in 1976.

In this Jan. 2, 2007 file photo, crosses, wreaths and a candle lay at the Sago miners' memorial in Sago, W.Va., on the one-year anniversary of the mine explosion that trapped and killed 12 miners near Buckhannon.
Jeff Gentner / Associated Press

An explosion at the Sago mine in Upshur County killed 12 men on January 2, 2006. The initial methane blast at 6:30 a.m. killed one worker. Twelve men sought refuge from the carbon monoxide fumes, but 11 men were dead by the time rescuers reached them 41 hours later.

Jack Rollins
e-WV / WV Humanities Council

Songwriter Jack Rollins died on New Year’s Day 1973 at age 66. The prolific composer wrote more than 500 songs but will always be remembered for two holiday favorites.

December 29, 1970: "Take Me Home, Country Roads" Is Complete

Dec 29, 2017
John Denver
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On December 29, 1970, songwriters Bill Danoff, Taffy Nivert, and John Denver finished writing what would become one of the most popular tunes in history and one of West Virginia’s official state songs. “Take Me Home, Country Roads” also branded the Mountain State with its most recognizable slogan: “almost heaven.”

December 28, 1879: Brigadier General Billy Mitchell Born in France

Dec 28, 2017
Brigadier General William "Billy" Mitchell
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / United States Air Force

Brigadier General Billy Mitchell was born in France on December 28, 1879. By 1921, he’d become chief of the Army Air Service. After seeing the potential military impact of aircraft during World War I, he wanted to demonstrate how planes could be used to quell civil unrest at home.