This Week in West Virginia History

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On July 21, 1924, actor Don Knotts was born in Morgantown, where his mother ran a boarding house. During World War II, he honed his comedic skills entertaining troops in the Army.

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  College founder Nathan Brackett died on July 20, 1910, at age 73. The native of Maine was a minister in the Free Will Baptist Church. In 1864, he joined the U.S. Christian Commission, which was providing assistance to Union and Confederate soldiers and to freed slaves in the Shenandoah Valley.

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On July 17, 1861, Confederates won one of their first victories of the Civil War at the Battle of Scary Creek in Putnam County. Union forces had been dispatched to dislodge Confederates, who had controlled the Kanawha Valley since the war began three months earlier. On July 17, about 1,300 Union troops under the direct command of Colonel John Lowe clashed at the mouth of Scary Creek with about 900 Confederates under Colonel George S. Patton of Charleston. Patton was the grandfather of General George S. Patton of World War II fame.

William "Big Bill" Lias Arrested, September 26, 1952
collections of the Ohio County Public Library Archives.

Gangster “Big Bill” Lias was born on July 14, 1900 in either Greece or Wheeling. The uncertainty over his birthplace would later derail the government’s efforts to deport him.

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Physician Jesse Bennet was born in Pennsylvania on July 10, 1769. He studied medicine in Philadelphia under Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. In the early 1790s, Bennet settled in Rockingham County, Virginia. In 1794, he successfully performed a Caesarean section on his wife—the first operation of its kind in U.S. history. The emergency procedure, although primitive by today’s standards, saved the lives of both his wife and infant daughter.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

The Battle of Laurel Hill, also known as the Battle of Laurel Mountain or Belington, began on July 7, 1861. A month earlier, Southern troops had retreated south after their loss at the Battle of Philippi. Confederate commander General Robert S. Garnett had seized a key mountain pass and set up his defenses at the foot of Laurel Mountain, located in eastern Barbour County. Beginning on July 7, Union troops under General Thomas Morris attacked Garnett’s men in a series of skirmishes. The two sides fought for the next five days. In the end, the Confederates were overrun. 

July 6, 1934: Coal Operator Sam Dixon Dies at 77

Jul 6, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Coal operator Sam Dixon died in Raleigh County on July 6, 1934, at age 77. A native of England, Dixon emigrated to Fayette County in the 1870s and worked for a while in his uncle’s coal mine. In 1893, he and a partner opened their own mine in Fayette County, quickly followed by several other mines.

WV Division of Tourism (WVDT) / David Fattaleh

July 3, 1863, was a pivotal day in the Civil War. On that day, the Union Army scored a key victory in the Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg, and Confederates offered their surrender at Vicksburg, Mississippi. The Battle of Gettysburg ended the Confederates’ last major invasion of the North and is viewed by some as the war’s turning point. The Confederate loss of Vicksburg was perhaps more important because it opened the way for the North to seize control of the entire Mississippi River, cutting the Confederacy in half.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On June 30, 1904, the Kelly Axe and Tool Company acquired 53 acres of land along the Kanawha River on the West End of Charleston. It eventually became home to the world’s largest axe factory.

The company was founded in 1874 by William C. Kelly, who established his first factory in Kentucky before relocating to Indiana and then West Virginia. Kelly was attracted to the Kanawha Valley by the availability of abundant natural gas and good access to river and rail transportation.

June 29, 1919: West Virginia State Police Established

Jun 29, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

The West Virginia State Police was established on June 29, 1919. Governor John Jacob Cornwell had pushed to form the unit in response to the mine wars, which were rocking southern West Virginia. Cornwell had grown frustrated with ineffective sheriffs and constables who had to face reelection and, at the same time, tended to take sides in labor struggles. Also, coal companies were hiring some deputies to serve as private security guards, and coal company guards were being sworn in as deputies—all of which angered miners.

June 26, 1936: NBA Hall of Famer Hal Greer Born in Huntington

Jun 26, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Basketball hall of famer Hal Greer was born in Huntington on June 26, 1936. In the early ’50s, he was a standout guard at Huntington’s segregated Frederick Douglass High School. Coaching legend Cam Henderson recruited Greer to play for Marshall College—now Marshall University.

June 23, 1944: 103 People Die in State's Deadliest Tornado Outbreak

Jun 23, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On June 23, 1944, the deadliest tornado outbreak in West Virginia history nearly destroyed the Harrison County community of Shinnston. Sixty-six people died in and around the town, with victims ranging in age from 85 years to only 6 days. Overall, the outbreak killed 103 West Virginians and seriously injured another 430.

June 22, 1926: Earl Olgebay Dies at 77

Jun 22, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Earl Oglebay died on June 22, 1926, at age 77. The son of a wealthy Wheeling businessman, he became head of his father’s bank at age 28, making him the nation’s youngest bank president. In the late 1800s, Oglebay partnered with John D. Rockefeller in a Cleveland iron business. He amassed a small fortune in 1901, when he sold his iron interests to U.S. Steel.

June 19, 1786: Indian Ambush Changes Lewis Wetzel's Life

Jun 19, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On June 19, 1786, a tragic hunting trip changed pioneer Lewis Wetzel’s life forever. Wetzel, his father, and two brothers ventured out from their home near Wheeling and were ambushed by Indians. The attackers killed his father and one brother and badly wounded the other brother.

June 16, 1900: Naturalist Maurice Brooks Born in Upshur County

Jun 16, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

West Virginia’s greatest naturalist, Maurice Brooks, was born at French Creek in Upshur County on June 16, 1900. The Brooks family name is synonymous with natural history in West Virginia. His father Fred was an entomologist, uncle A. B. was a legendary naturalist at Wheeling’s Oglebay Park, and uncle Earle wrote numerous articles on birds and folklore.

June 8, 2004: Judge Elizabeth Hallanan Dies at 79

Jun 15, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Judge Elizabeth Hallanan died on June 8, 2004. She was 79 years old.

June 12, 1771: Frontiersman Patrick Gass Born in Pennsylvania

Jun 15, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On June 12, 1771, frontiersman Patrick Gass was born near present Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. In the 1790s, he was stationed as a ranger at Yellow Creek, Ohio, and later across the Ohio River at Bennett’s Fort on Wheeling Creek. His job was to guard the frontier against Indian attacks. By 1797, Patrick Gass and his family were living in Brooke County. He joined the army two years later and was dispatched to Kaskaskia in the Illinois Territory.

June 9, 1957: Pastor T.D. Jakes Born in South Charleston

Jun 15, 2017
e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On June 9, 1957, pastor T. D. Jakes was born in South Charleston. He developed an avid interest in the ministry as a young boy, preaching to imaginary congregations. After graduating from West Virginia State College, he started his first church. The Greater Emmanuel Temple of Faith opened in a Montgomery storefront in 1980 with a congregation of 10. Two years later, the Union Carbide plant where Jakes worked closed, and he pursued the ministry full time.

June 15, 1963: First Passengers Board Train at Cass Scenic Railroad

Jun 15, 2017
Cass Railroad

On June 15, 1963, the first passengers climbed aboard a train at Cass Scenic Railroad. The railroad was dedicated five days before West Virginia’s Centennial as a state.

This popular excursion railroad takes visitors on a trip back in time. It’s the last remnant of a once vast rail network, started in 1900, to harvest red spruce on Cheat and Back Allegheny mountains. The red spruce, which grew up to 100 feet in height, was used to supply a pulp mill in Covington, Virginia, and the lumber mill in Cass.

Winter in Dolly Sods Wilderness
Adobe Stock

On June 5, the Big Frost of 1859—as it’s remembered—hit what would soon become the new state of West Virginia. The unseasonable cold snap killed wheat crops and fruit trees, leading farmers in higher elevations to begin planting hardier crops, like potatoes. The late-season frost even inspired Preston County farmers to start sowing a resilient crop that would become their staple: buckwheat.

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