This Week in West Virginia History

April 20, 1963: W.Va. Legislature Meets at the Custom House in Wheeling

7 hours ago
e-WV Encyclopedia / WV Division of Tourism via Steve Shaluta

On April 20, 1963, the West Virginia Legislature met in a special ceremonial session at the old U.S. Custom House in Wheeling.

It marked the 100th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation certifying that West Virginia would become a state.

The legislative event was a turning point for the building, which was more than a century old. During the Civil War, it’d been the capitol of the pro-Union Reorganized Government of Virginia and the location of West Virginia’s statehood debates.

April 19, 1889: Susan Dew Hoffone Licensed to Practice Medicine in W.Va.

Apr 19, 2018
Susan Dew Hoff
e-WV Encyclopedia

On April 19, 1889, Susan Dew Hoff passed the state medical exam, becoming one of the first licensed women physicians in West Virginia history.

As a youth, the Hampshire County native had moved with her family to West Milford in Harrison County, where her father was a doctor. She sometimes accompanied him on house calls.

And he encouraged her to pursue a medical career, but medical colleges were closed to women in the mid-1800s.

As Hoff raised a family of five, she self-taught herself by reading her father’s medical books and discussing medicine with him.

April 18, 1861: Federal Soldiers Set Fire to Harpers Ferry Armory

Apr 18, 2018
David Hunter Strother / Library of Congress

On April 18, 1861, U.S. Army regular soldiers and volunteers set fire to the U.S. Armory and Arsenal at Harpers Ferry. 

The day before, Virginia politicians had voted to secede from the Union and join the Confederacy. Confederates quickly targeted the Harpers Ferry Armory and Arsenal for its stockpile of guns. On April 18, 360 Virginia militiamen began a 10-mile march from Charles Town to seize the Armory.

April 13, 1870: Judge Frank Haymond Born in Marion County

Apr 13, 2018
Judge Frank Cruise Haymond
e-WV Encyclopedia

Judge Frank Haymond was born in Marion County on April 13, 1870. He practiced law in Fairmont and served as judge of the Marion County Circuit Court.

In 1945, Governor Clarence Meadows appointed the 75-year-old Haymond to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court. Haymond was elected to the court the following year and re-elected to two more 12-year terms.

When he died in 1972 at age 102, he’d served longer on the state’s high court than any past jurist.

April 12, 1912: Willard Hotel Opens in Grafton

Apr 12, 2018
e-WV Encyclopedia

On April 12, 1912, the Willard Hotel opened in Grafton with an elaborate banquet attended by state and local dignitaries and officials of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. It was built by Grafton attorney and industrialist John T. McGraw and named in honor of the B&O’s president, Daniel Willard.

April 11, 1964: Writer Pinckney Benedict Born in Lewisburg

Apr 11, 2018
Hollins University
e-WV Encyclopedia

Writer Pinckney Benedict was born in Lewisburg on April 11, 1964, and grew up on his family’s dairy farm. After graduating from Princeton University and the University of Iowa, he published his first two collections of short stories, Town Smokes and The Wrecking Yard, and the novel Dogs of God. The New York Times Book Review named all three to its Notable Books list. In 2010, after taking 14 years off from publishing, he released a new collection of short stories entitled Miracle Boy.

April 6, 1938: Civilian Conservation Corps Establish Camp Kanawha

Apr 6, 2018
Wikimedia Commons / Andrew Springer

On April 6, 1938, the Civilian Conservation Corps established Camp Kanawha at the mouth of Shrewsbury Hollow, about seven miles south of Charleston. Over the next four years, CCC workers transformed the site, which had been heavily mined and timbered, into Kanawha State Forest.

April 5, 1856: Educator Booker T. Washington Born in Franklin County, VA

Apr 5, 2018
Booker T. Washington
e-WV Encyclopedia / Library of Congress

Educator Booker T. Washington was born a slave in Franklin County, Virginia, on April 5, 1856. After the Civil War, he relocated to Malden, a few miles east of Charleston, where he attended a one-room school for blacks.

He also was tutored by Viola Ruffner, whom he later credited for instilling in him the qualities of cleanliness and hard work.

After graduating from Hampton Institute in Virginia, Washington returned to West Virginia as a teacher. In 1879, he went back to Hampton as a professor. But when school was out, he’d come home to work in West Virginia’s coal mines.

April 4, 1944: Critic John Bishop Dies at 51

Apr 4, 2018
Carl Van Vechten / Princeton University Library

Critic John Peale Bishop died in Massachusetts on April 4, 1944, at age 51. He was born at Charles Town in Jefferson County in 1892 and attended high school in Hagerstown, Maryland.

When he was 17, he experienced a temporary and unexplainable bout of blindness. That’s when he decided to become a writer. In 1912, his poem, ‘‘To a Woodland Pool,’’ was published in Harpers Weekly.

The Main Hall at West Liberty
e-WV Encyclopedia

On March 30, 1837, the Virginia legislature chartered a private academy at West Liberty, north of Wheeling.

The first 65 students met for classes the following year. In 1857, public-spirited citizens completed the red-brick Academy Hall, which survived until the mid-1970s.

March 29, 1973: Educator Fannie Cobb Carter Dies in Charleston

Mar 29, 2018
Educator Fannie Cobb Carter (1872-1973)
e-WV Encyclopedia / WV State Archives (WVSA)

African-American educator Fannie Cobb Carter died on March 29, 1973, six months after her 100th birthday.

She was born in Charleston in 1872, just months before the state’s new constitution prohibited black children and white children from attending school together.

After earning a teaching degree from Storer College in Harpers Ferry, Cobb returned home to teach in Kanawha County’s public schools. In 1908, she organized the teacher-training department at West Virginia Colored Institute, which is now West Virginia State University.

March 28, 1868: Eli ‘‘Rimfire’’ Hamrick Born in Webster County

Mar 28, 2018
WV Division of Culture and History / Michael Keller

Eli ‘‘Rimfire’’ Hamrick was born at Bergoo in Webster County on March 28, 1868. Considered one of the best woodsmen of his time, he often led coal and lumber barons on hunting expeditions.

In 1907, he was hired by the Webster Springs Hotel as a guide and handyman. One of his jobs was to kill and dress chickens for the hotel kitchen.

That’s when Rimfire supposedly acquired his nickname. When asked how he killed the chickens for the hotel, he replied, ‘‘With a rimfire rifle, by God.’’

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Statesman Cyrus Vance was born in Clarksburg on March 27, 1917. After serving as a navy gunnery officer during World War II, he became an attorney in New York City.

His first government post was as a special counsel to then-Senator Lyndon Johnson’s committee on space and aeronautics. In this role, he helped write the law that created NASA.

March 23, 1803: Pioneer Joseph Ruffner Dies in Charleston

Mar 23, 2018
Joseph Ruffner
Jan Smith Richardson

Pioneer Joseph Ruffner died in Charleston on March 23, 1803. Nine years earlier, the Shenandoah Valley native had purchased some 500 acres in Kanawha County from John Dickinson, including lands rich in salt deposits.

By the close of the 18th century, Ruffner had acquired much of present Charleston and had settled on what’s now the town’s East End.

Benjamin L. Rosenbloom
e-WV Encyclopedia

Former Congressman Benjamin Rosenbloom died in Cleveland on March 22, 1965, at age 84. Rosenbloom, the only Jewish congressman in West Virginia history, was born in Pennsylvania and attended West Virginia University, where he played football in 1901 and 1902.

He went on to study law at WVU and was admitted to the state bar in 1904. He was a practicing lawyer in Wheeling until his retirement in 1951.

e-WV Encyclopedia / Chris Dorst/The Charleston Gazette

The first state boys’ high school basketball tournament began in Buckhannon on March 21, 1914. The event was hosted by West Virginia Wesleyan College, which had West Virginia’s largest and finest gymnasium. Elkins High School took that first state title.

The tournament grew quickly in popularity. In 1922, a field of 64 teams was broken into ‘‘A’’ and ‘‘B’’ divisions, classified based on team strength rather than school size. In 1933, the tournament was reorganized with sectional winners advancing to eight regional tournaments.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Musician Frank Hutchison was born in Raleigh County on March 20, 1897. As a child, he moved to Logan County, where he encountered blacks who had migrated from the Deep South to work in the southern West Virginia coalfields. After listening to the music all around him, Hutchison started merging the blues with traditional Appalachian mountain music. He also developed a distinct style, featuring his slide guitar and high-pitched vocals.

March 16, 1971: Industrialist J. G. Bradley Dies at 89

Mar 16, 2018
e-WV Encyclopedia

Industrialist J. G. Bradley died on March 16, 1971, at age 89. The New Jersey native moved to West Virginia in 1904 and soon became president of the Elk River Coal & Lumber Company.

The company’s landholdings in central West Virginia were so significant that the county of Clay couldn’t meet its financial obligations until the company paid its taxes each year.

March 15, 1988: Reformer Mary Behner Christopher Dies at 81

Mar 15, 2018
e-WV Encyclopedia / Bettijane Burger

Reformer Mary Behner Christopher died in Morgantown on March 15, 1988, at age 81. The Ohio native came to West Virginia in the 1920s as a missionary for the Presbyterian church. From 1928 to 1937, she worked in the impoverished coal communities along Scotts Run, outside of Morgantown.

This once-prosperous region had fallen on hard times after the coal market plummeted in the ‘20s. Thousands of families, including numerous immigrants and African-Americans, were stranded by the economic depression.

March 14, 1974: Dr. I. E. Buff Dies at 65

Mar 14, 2018
Dr. I. E. Buff
University of Virginia Library

Dr. I. E. Buff died in Charleston on March 14, 1974, at age 65. Buff was the first physician to protest publicly that many coal miners’ deaths were inaccurately being labeled as heart attacks.

He argued that the coronaries were being caused by a widespread disease known commonly as black lung. He suggested that as many as half of West Virginia’s 40,000 miners suffered from black lung.

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On March 13, 1756, the beleaguered Sandy Creek Expedition came to a halt. The French and Indian War campaign had been initiated by Virginia’s governor in response to Indian raids in the New, Greenbrier, and Tygart valleys.

In the most famous of these raids, Shawnee Indians kidnapped Mary Draper Ingles, who later escaped captivity and walked hundreds of miles back home.

In retaliation, the Virginians planned to attack Shawnee villages in Ohio. Major Andrew Lewis amassed more than 300 men, including nearly 100 Cherokee Indians.

March 9, 1832: Politician George Latham Born in Prince William County

Mar 9, 2018
e-WV Encyclopedia / Library of Congress

George Latham was born on March 9, 1832, in Prince William County, Virginia, on what would later become the Bull Run Battlefield.

He moved to Taylor County in 1849 and taught in local schools while studying to become a lawyer. He opened his legal practice in Grafton in 1860.

When the Civil War began the next year, Latham transformed his law office into a military recruiting station for Northern troops. He formed Company B of the 2nd Virginia Infantry and detained them in Grafton long enough to vote against Virginia’s secession from the Union.

West Virginia State Flag
Lulla / Dollar Photo Club

On March 8, 1963, the West Virginia Legislature adopted blue and “old gold” as the official state colors.

Many West Virginians think that blue and “old gold” have always been the state colors, but it didn’t occur officially until West Virginia’s Centennial celebration in 1963.

Prior to that, the state often used blue and gold in ceremonies because those were the official colors of West Virginia University. So, when the legislature adopted blue and “old gold,” it came as a surprise to many West Virginians that we didn’t already have official colors.

e-WV Encyclopedia / Library of Congress

On March 7, 1942, aviator “Spanky” Roberts completed his training at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, becoming one of the first five Tuskegee Airmen.

Roberts, a native of London in eastern Kanawha County, moved to Fairmont as a child. He graduated from Fairmont’s segregated Dunbar High School before earning a degree in mechanical arts from West Virginia State College (now University). He went through the college’s Civilian Pilot Training Program and became the first black licensed pilot in the state.

March 1, 1925: New River Pocahontas Coal Company Acquires Kaymoor

Mar 1, 2018
Kaymoor
Jet Lowe, HAER staff photographer / Library of Congress

On March 1, 1925, the New River Pocahontas Coal Company acquired the Fayette County town of Kaymoor and its mining operations.

The new owner, a huge international company, began shipping coal from Kaymoor to the Atlantic Coast in Virginia, where the coal was used to fuel naval and merchant marine vessels.

Lydia Boggs Shepherd
e-WV Encyclopedia

Society hostess Lydia Boggs Shepherd Cruger was born in present Berkeley County on February 26, 1766. Her family moved near Wheeling in 1774.

Lydia and her husband, Moses Shepherd, became wealthy landowners in the Wheeling area. Their magnificent home, Shepherd Hall, hosted six U.S. presidents. One of the most famous stories about Lydia involves a visit from Senator Henry Clay.

February 23, 1884: Writer Mary Meek Atkeson Born in Putnam County

Feb 23, 2018
Wikimedia Commons / West Virginia University

Writer Mary Meek Atkeson was born at Buffalo in Putnam County on February 23, 1884. She earned a bachelor's degree and a master's degree from West Virginia University. Her master's thesis catalogued the works of 87 writers in what is now West Virginia dating back to colonial times. She later earned a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University and taught at WVU.

February 22, 1963: Athlete Ira "Rat" Rodgers Dies at 67

Feb 22, 2018
Athlete Ira Rodgers
e-WV Encyclopedia

Ira Rodgers died on February 22, 1963, at age 67. "Rat," a nickname adapted from his middle name of Erret, was one of West Virginia University's greatest football players. The Bethany native was named to Walter Camp’s All-American team three times: in 1916, ‘17, and ‘19—the first of WVU's All-Americans. In 1919, Rodgers led the nation in scoring with 147 points—49 of them coming in one game. Sportswriter Grantland Rice wrote that “there was no greater all-around football player in the land.”

Wikimedia Commons / User Fir0002

On February 20, 1995, the Golden Delicious apple was officially named the state fruit of West Virginia. It’s one of two popular apples that originated in the Mountain State. The first was the Grimes Golden, discovered in the early 1800s on the Brooke County farm of Thomas Grimes.

Legend has it that the Grimes Golden tree grew from a seed planted by John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed. The original Grimes Golden tree blew down in 1905, after bearing fruit for a century.

February 19, 1908: The Eccentric Orval Brown Born in Clay County

Feb 19, 2018
e-WV Encyclopedia

An eccentric who would become known as the Clay County Wild Man was born near Lizemores on February 19, 1908. Orval Brown grew up fairly conventionally. He lived on his family's farm, went to school through eighth grade, loved to read, and played outdoors. But, even from an early age, he didn’t like to wear many clothes.

By the time he was 20, Brown had become a local legend. Stories spread about a Tarzan-like man who dressed in a loin cloth and lived in a cave. People paid him a quarter to have their picture taken with him. And he'd sell photos of himself at carnivals and fairs.

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