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 www.wvencyclopedia.org

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / via Earl Benton

  On February 26, 1972, a coal mining dam collapsed at the head of Buffalo Creek in Logan County. Over the next three hours, 132-million gallons of black water raged down the hollow. The deluge obliterated or badly damaged 17 communities and claimed the lives of 125 people, including entire families. The disaster also injured 1000 people and left 80 percent of Buffalo Creek’s residents homeless.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / via Doug Chadwick / Goldenseal

  Newspaperman Jim Comstock was born in Richwood on February 25, 1911. After serving in the Navy during World War II, he returned to his hometown and established the Richwood News Leader. Then, in 1957, he founded the legendary West Virginia Hillbilly newspaper. The Hillbilly became a forum for Comstock’s conservative politics and wry wit.

A consummate practical joker, Comstock once injected ramp juice into his ink as a nod to Richwood’s annual Feast of the Ramson. After the pungent newspapers were mailed to subscribers, Comstock was reprimanded by the U.S. postmaster general for sending the offensive-smelling ink through the mail. And he founded the University of Hard Knocks, an honorary society for successful individuals who never completed college.

Comstock also published the book Pa and Ma and Mr. Kennedy and the 50-volume West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia. 

Cecelia Mason / Shepherd University

Author Homer Hickam Jr. was born in Coalwood on February 19, 1943. After serving in Vietnam, he worked for NASA for 17 years as an aerospace engineer. During this time, he wrote his first book, Torpedo Junction. His second book, published in 1998, brought Hickam international acclaim.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / West Virginia Humanities Council

United Mine Workers President John L. Lewis
E-WV

Union leader John L. Lewis was born on February 12, 1880. Although he never lived in West Virginia, he had a profound impact on the Mountain State.

In 1920, Lewis became president of the United Mine Workers of America, known as the UMWA. It was in the midst of the West Virginia Mine Wars—a period of violent conflict between coal operators and miners. After the Mine Wars ended, UMWA membership declined rapidly in West Virginia. By the end of the ’20s, the union had fewer than 1000 dues-paying members in the state.

Thomas Bennett, Corporal, United States ArmyMedal of Honor Recipient
E-WV

On February 11, 1969, medic Tom Bennett was killed in action in Vietnam. As a conscientious objector, he was perhaps the Vietnam War’s most unlikely recipient of the nation’s Medal of Honor.

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.

Henderson played the tournament with only eight players due to budget restrictions on travel.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

For years after Haley’s death, stories circulated about the fiddler’s remarkable talent.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

Legendary fiddler “Blind Ed” Haley died in Ashland, Kentucky, on February 4, 1951. The Logan County native never made any commercial recordings during his lifetime because he feared that record companies would cheat a blind musician.

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

More than 7,000 men—including many African Americans—laid track through the New River Gorge and cut tunnels through the mountains between Hinton and Covington, Virginia.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

He also managed to pull down 32 rebounds. His Burnsville team routed the Widen squad 173 to 43.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

On January 26, 1960, 17-year-old guard Danny Heater of Burnsville High School scored a record-breaking 135 points in a basketball game against Widen High School. He easily shattered the previous state high school record of 74 and the national record of 120.

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.

In 1857, he graduated first in his class at the Virginia Military Institute and returned a year later to teach mathematics.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

Confederate Brigadier General John McCausland died at his Mason County home on January 22, 1927. He was 90 years old and the next-to-the-last living Confederate general. He was survived by a little more than a year by Felix Robertson.

When he started on the Coal & Coke, all but 107 miles of the track between Elkins and Charleston already existed as part of other railroads.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

 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.

Meanwhile, the sitting governor, E. Willis Wilson, refused to leave office until the dispute could be resolved.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

However, Underwood was able to pass measures to provide emergency benefits to unemployed miners and to create a new economic development agency.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

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.

For instance, community organizers in Mingo County and other parts of southern West Virginia fought to clean up their local governments. In the process, they drew the wrath of powerful politicians.
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia online. / WV Humanities Council

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