This Week in West Virginia History

Sept. 18, 1947 - Historian Minnie Kendall Lowther Dies in Harrisville

Sep 19, 2017
Minnie Kendall Lowther
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

 Historian and journalist Minnie Kendall Lowther died in Harrisville on September 18, 1947, at age 78.

Sept. 15, 1875 - Governor Henry Hatfield Born Near Matewan

Sep 15, 2017
Henry Hatfield
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Governor Henry Hatfield was born near Matewan on September 15, 1875.

While his Hatfield relatives were fighting their famous feud against the McCoys, Henry was away at college. He eventually became a coal-camp physician in McDowell County. Appalled by the lack of medical facilities, he fought to have three miners’ hospitals established in the state and served as director of the Welch hospital for 13 years.

Sept. 11, 1913 - Huntington's Ritter Park Opens to the Public

Sep 11, 2017
Ritter Park
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Huntington’s Ritter Park first opened to the public on September 11, 1913. Five years earlier, the city had purchased most of the current site for a municipal incinerator.

But neighboring residents opposed that plan, so Mayor Rufus Switzer converted the property into the city’s first major public park. It got its name from lumberman Charles Ritter, who donated an additional 20 acres, bringing the park’s total to 75 acres.

Sept. 8, 1841: Clarksburg Convention Highlights Education Inequalities

Sep 8, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On September 8, 1841, one of the most important education conventions ever held in present West Virginia convened in Clarksburg. At the time, a formal education was virtually unheard for families without money.

In 1829, the Virginia General Assembly had authorized counties to establish school systems but provided little funding. Monroe County opened a free school under this plan but soon discontinued it.

Christopher Payne
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

West Virginia’s first black legislator, Christopher Payne, was born in Monroe County on September 7, 1848. He was raised near Hinton, where he worked as a farmhand. Although he was born a free person of color, he was forced as a teenager to serve as a servant in the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

After the war, Payne attended night school in Charleston and taught school in Monroe, Mercer, and Summers counties. He became a Baptist minister and earned a doctor of divinity degree from the State University in Louisville.

Sept. 4, 1964: Businessman A.W. Cox Dies at 79

Sep 4, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Businessman A. W. Cox died on September 4, 1964. He was 79 years old.  

The Roane County native attended a one-room school through the eighth grade. And, by 17, he was operating his father’s sawmill. After a brief teaching career, he got a part-time job at a store in Clendenin in northern Kanawha County. While working there, Cox decided to make a career of retail sales. He moved to Charleston in 1914, when he was 29, and bought out a downtown department store. It became the first in a chain of 21 A. W. Cox Department Stores in West Virginia, Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky. 

Sept. 1, 1671: Explorers Set Out Westward from Petersburg, Va.

Sep 1, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Explorers Thomas Batts, Thomas Wood, and Robert Fallam set out on a momentous expedition westward from Petersburg, Virginia, on September 1, 1671. At the time, white settlers knew almost nothing about the land west of the Allegheny Mountains.

The explorers’ exact route is unknown, but they likely crossed into present West Virginia in Monroe County and then followed the New River. From there, it’s difficult to match their journal up with actual places. However, they likely made their way to the Falls of the Kanawha River at what is today Gauley Bridge in Fayette County.

August 31, 1957: Historian Charles Ambler Dies at 81

Aug 31, 2017
Charles Ambler
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Historian Charles Ambler died on August 31, 1957, at age 81. He was one of the most influential historians in West Virginia history.

August 24, 1921: Miners March to Protest Martial Law in Mingo County

Aug 24, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia / WV State Archives (WVSA), Coal Life Collection

On August 24, 1921, a group of armed miners started out on a long march southeast from Marmet near Charleston.

Their goal was to end the governor’s order of martial law in Mingo County and to wipe out the anti-union mine guard and deputy sheriff systems in Logan and Mingo counties.

August 21, 1915: Jazz Singer Ann Baker Born

Aug 21, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Jazz singer Ann Baker was born on August 21, 1915. She got her start performing in Pittsburgh jazz clubs and made her Broadway debut with Louis Armstrong’s band in the early 1940s.

She later joined the bands of Lionel Hampton and Count Basie. 

In 1946, she landed her signature gig, replacing Sarah Vaughan in Billy Eckstine’s band, which included, at different times, jazz legends Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Art Blakey, and Dexter Gordon.

August 18, 1823: Greenbrier County Pioneer John Stuart Dies at 74

Aug 18, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Greenbrier County pioneer John Stuart died on August 18, 1823, at age 74.

As a young man, he helped survey the Greenbrier Valley and, in 1770, built the county’s first known mill —in the community of Frankford. He was given command of Fort Spring, which became a place of refuge for early settlers in the event of Indian attacks.

August 17, 1944: Heroic Actions Earns Fayete Co. Native Medal of Honor

Aug 17, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Stanley Bender’s heroic actions on August 17, 1944, would earn him the Medal of Honor. Bender was born in Fayette County in 1909, the son of a coal miner and Russian immigrant. His family moved to Chicago in 1930, and Bender enlisted in the Army in 1939.

August 14, 1894: Entertainer Ada 'Bricktop' Smith Born in Alderson

Aug 14, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

  On August 14, 1894, entertainer Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith was born at Alderson. At age five, Ada made her stage debut in Chicago, appearing in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. By age 16, she was performing on the vaudeville circuit. Soon afterward, a New York saloon keeper gave her the nickname ‘‘Bricktop’’ for her blazing red hair, unusual for an African-American.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On August 11, 1958, the Congress of Racial Equality—or CORE—launched a sit-in movement at several Charleston lunch counters. Prior to this time, African-Americans in Charleston could order takeout food at many white-owned diners but were not allowed to sit down and eat.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

General “Pete” Everest was born in Fairmont on August 10, 1920. A pioneer pilot of rocket planes, Everest once earned the nickname of “the fastest man alive.”

During World War II, he first flew in the European Theater, completing 94 combat missions. Everest later flew 67 combat missions in the China-Burma-India region. During this time, he destroyed four Japanese aircraft before being shot down in May 1945.

He spent the last few months of the war as a Japanese prisoner of war.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

In a referendum on August 7, 1877, West Virginia voters chose Charleston to be the permanent state capital. The capital’s location had become a running joke, as government records had been moved from Wheeling to Charleston and then back to Wheeling again, all in 14 years.The capital was on the move so much on West Virginia riverboats, it earned the nickname of “the floating capital.”

August 3, 1977: Coal Operator W. P. Tams Dies at 94

Aug 3, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Coal operator W. P. Tams died on August 3, 1977, at age 94. Tams studied engineering at Virginia Tech before going to work in 1904 for coal operator Sam Dixon in the southern West Virginia coalfields. Four years later, Tams launched his own company, known as Gulf Smokeless Coal in the new Winding Gulf Coalfield. He founded the Raleigh County town of Tams as his company’s headquarters and later acquired another coal operation in neighboring Wyoming County.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

  Labor leader Bill Blizzard died on July 31, 1958, at age 65. The Kanawha County native was the son of two passionate union activists.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

The Wheeling Suspension Bridge over the Ohio River reopened to the public on July 28, 1860. The bridge had originally opened to much fanfare in 1849. At the time, it was the longest clear span in the world and helped usher in an era of great American bridge building.

Most significantly for the northern panhandle, the bridge boosted Wheeling’s economic fortunes. Three major transportation routes converged in Wheeling. In addition to the heavily traveled Ohio River and Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the bridge now extended the National Road westward into Ohio.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Coach Dyke Raese was born in Tucker County on July 27, 1909. He played all sports at Davis High School, and later coached the school’s basketball team. Between 1938 and ’42, he coached West Virginia University’s basketball team to a 55-29 record.

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