EARLY PARKERSBURG WV HISTORY  - mackey's antique clock repair parkersburg wv

EARLY PARKERSBURG WV HISTORY 

 

Mackey's Antiques & Clock Repair
1249 Gihon Road
Parkersburg WV 26101
 

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                                                                EARLY PARKERSBURG

progressive and looking with confidence toward a fabulous future, Parkersburg of today can well be grateful to its founders who brought it through decades of struggle to its present opportunities. The story of how this city-of-the-two-rivers started, two centuries ago, in a lone and mud-chinked cabin, is a fascinating one. This was the home of Robert Thornton, a native of Pennsylvania, who in 1773, laid claim by "tomahawk entry" to the 400 acres of land on which old residential Parkersburg stands today, rightly proud of her peerless industrial attainment.

Of the manifold legends about the founding of early Parkersburg , first called· Thorntonburg, one accredited story is that the incentive may have originated from the command Robert bring me some wood, Ive no end of baking to do today and must have a early start. this  voiced by Elizabeth Thornton to her husband Robert, may have been the impetus that culminated in building a city. It was the spring of 1773 and the Thorntons lived in a crude log cabin on the Ohio River bank where Wheeling now stands; the oven mentioned was an outdoor affair built of homemade brick.  

Probably the motive that induced Robert Thornton to loose his canoe, place his gun by his side, and drift away down stream, will never be known. It may have been the harsh tone of a tired wife who had more than the usual duties for the day ahead, it may have been the lure of the beautiful Ohio in the spring that called to an adventurous spirit, or it could have been a desire to do better by his family; nevertheless, it was three months before Thornton returned to "fetch" the wood for his wife's oven.  

Thornton may have stopped to spend the night at the cabin of Samuel and Joseph Tomlinson at the mouth of the Muskingum, on the way, but eventually he came to what must have seemed to him journey's end, the place where the Kanawha flows into the Ohio. And it was here to the confluence of the two rivers that he later returned to build his cabin at the point where the land juts out into the river, and thus laid claim to 1,000 additional acres.  

In building his cabin and cultivating the small plat of ground to make his claim valid, Thornton exemplified the determined spirit of all pioneer settlers. Without doubt, money in those days was scarce and $50 in cash looked like a fortune; consequently, Robert Thornton, after holding his land for ten years, sold his claim, in 1783, to Captain Alexander parker of Pennsylvania and gave up his dream of having a town called Thorntonburg. Thornton 's will and inventory of goods is the first listed in the record books of Wood County .

The year 1783 was undoubtedly an unprecedented one in the life of Captain Alexander Parker, for whom Parkersburg was named. It was then that his soldierly duties ended, that he purchased the land which is now Parkersburg , and that he married Rebecca Blair. To this union four children were born. The fact that the Parkers never occupied this land but continued to live in Pennsylvania , might be attributed to the hostility of the Indians on the frontier settlements. It was in Pennsylvania that Captain Parker died in 1791, at the age of 38.

Due to incomplete surveys and confused land records of Virginia, John Stokeley obtained a patent on part of the land claimed by Parker and had the land surveyed and a patent issued for it; meanwhile, he built a cabin at the "Point." Following Parker's death, Stokeley successfully contested the claim of Parker's daughter, Mrs. William Robinson, and had the title confirmed in 1800. Then he laid out the town to include both sides of the Kanawha, calling it Newport , or StokeIeyville. Around his cabin a small community grew up.

And what did the village of that day look like? Some six or eight "chinked and daubed" small one room cabins made of round logs from the forests of Virginia , clustered around the "Point." The roofs were made of clapboards, hand-cut with the once-familiar broad-ax, and weighted down with long poles. For other construction, wooden pegs were used in lieu of nails. Floors, if at all, were made' of puncheons-broad, flat pieces of roughly dressed timber; but many of the early homes and most of the first churches and school buildings had no floors. Small holes covered with paper were the windows, and the chimneys were constructed of sticks and mud, to furnish ventilation for the huge fireplace over which these busy home-makers bent to do all their cooking. And of course there was a small grocery store for trade in pelts and essential merchandise. The newly laid out streets, designated only by surveyors' markings, were still just plain dirt roads and often muddy ones at that-and all was surrounded by unbroken forests. Town people were only a small part of those settled through the locality-more took up land and lived the life of the countryman. Many early families owned hundreds of acres of land within the city's corporations today.

During the storm of the Revolution few thought of settling western lands while the war clouds hung over them. The history of West Virginia in the Revolution was largely one of strife against the hostilities of the Indians on the frontiers. Raids became frequent on the borders, and the settlers built forts and made preparation for war. Fighting occurred in many places; but in most cases no British appeared, though it was generally understood that the Indians who did the fighting were armed, and in some instances paid, by the British. But with the return of peace, the restless white men began reaching out into the West. They came first as explorers and then as settlers and soon began to swell Parkersburg's population.

Mean while the Parker family continued the legal fight for their land. By 1809 they had regained title to the original tract on the north side of the river. Alexander Parker had had his land at the mouth of the Kanawha surveyed by Captain James Neal of Green County , Pennsylvania a deputy surveyor of Monongalia county whom he had known in his Revolutionary days, On completion of the survey, Captain Neal returned to his home in Pennsylvania .

This first surveyor of Parkersburg merits some attention. In the Revolutionary War, James Neal (or O'Neal) served as Captain. Having raised a company, he joined Washington at Valley Forge . He dropped the "0''' from his name to differentiate it from the name of his brother, a Colonel in the British army. For his services he was paid in Continental money, and was therefore practically a poor man. He received, indeed, a grant of 4,000 acres of land where the city of Chillicothe , Ohio , now stands, but such were his necessities that he felt constrained to sell this land for $300, stipulating that payment should be made in silver money.

In the fall of 1785, Captain Neal with a party of men started to Kentucky, in a flat boat. They descended the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers to the mouth of the Little Kanawha, and went a short distance up the river. Being well pleased with the country, they abandoned their original purpose of finding a home in Kentucky and erected a blockhouse (named Fort Neal, and afterwards known as Neal's Station). It was the first blockhouse and station in Wood County. After clearing land and making other necessary improvements, Captain Neal went back to Pennsylvania.

In the spring of 1787, he with his wife and all his children, both married and single, returned to Neal's Station for permanent settlement. In the summer of 1790, Indians crossed the Ohio below Parkersburg, for the purpose of destroying the fort and capturing Captain Neal. In another attack, in the fall of 1792, his son was killed by the Indians, about forty' miles from Neal's Station, in what is now Wirt county. the Indian wars in which most of the tribes in the Northwest Territory were engaged, ended in 1795, after the victories of General Wayne.

Captain Neal was a man of enterprise and of a generous disposition, looked up to as a leader and counselor in the settlement. He died at Neal's Station in 1822. His long line of descendants have numbered among Parkersburg 's most eminent citizens down through the years and contributed much to the town's development.

In 1811, two years after Parker's land had been awarded to the Robinsons, William Robinson and George D. Avery, a professional surveyor and engineer who was engaged in ship building at Belleville where four Scotch families had founded a settlement, laid out the town alongside and including Stokeleyville and named it Parkersburg for Mrs. Robinson's father, Captain William Parker. The Virginia Assembly passed an act establishing Parkersburg as a town, but it did not receive a charter until 1820. The public square, consisting of one and a third acres, the Robinsons gave to the town for a county court house, in May, 1811. They named the streets running parallel with the Ohio River· Ann, Juliana, Market, and Avery. The cross streets they named Kanawha, Neale, Court, Harriet, Littleton , and Washington (now First, Second, Third and Court Square, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Streets). Beyond Sixth Street. the laruer tracts were called out-lots.

By this time the number of pioneer families had increased and hewn-log houses, some of two stories, began to spring up. Because houses were small, furniture was made to utilize little of the space. Trundle beds, designed to push under the high beds, were often used for children. Bed springs were unknown; ticks filled with feathers rested on slats of wood. Comforts of hand-carded and woven woolens furnished warmth when the snow sifted through the cracks between the logs of the cabin.

Yet a very few pioneer homes had some handsome pieces of furniture in spite of the slow and difficult means of transportation of that time-the heavy, clumsy flat-boats, if the traveler came by the river; the pack mules and wagons, over the mountains. There were chairs, secretaries, sideboards, and four-poster beds. A few of the handsome old pieces are treasured still in certain appreciative families whose great-great grandmothers brought them from the old countries several centuries ago. Of course the furniture brought here by a settler, was not sufficient to supply his needs as the family grew, so the crude frontier furniture appeared. At first the made his own, but later it was done by the village carpenter or cabinet maker.

As early as 1801, John Neal kept an "ordinary," or tavern, at the corner of Ann and First Streets, called «The Rest," with a swinging sign, "Entertainment for man and Beast." However, the earliest tavern was on the south side, 1789, and was owned by Hugh Phelps, son-in-law of Captain James Neal.

The town spread out and houses appeared on nearby streets. Now another hotel was built at the corner of Third and Juliana Streets, called the "Belle Tavern" because it had a bell tower on the roof-now the Stratford ; too, a few stores had been built facing the public square. Civic· pride existed then as today. A mark of this was the pole bridge across "Rifle" run, the ravine that rippled down Fifth Street , as a walkway between the tavern and the court house; and a rope ferry was operated across the Kanawha.

The oldest homes in Parkersburg yet standing are: the Tavenner home in South Parkersburg which was built by Hugh Phelps in 1790; he sold the home to Thomas Tavenner, in 1811; the next one in time is the Cook home on Murdoch Avenue and Thirteenth Street, built by Pardon Cook; earlier his father, Joseph Cook lived in a log house on this site. Paul Cook, a nephew of Pardon Cook, built Worthington Hall a few years later. Other early homes are the Stephenson home,· Oaklands, built in 1832, and Henderson Hall, near Williamstown, built in 1836.

Many of Parkersburg's streets were named to honor a person, or were given the name of the family that owned the land when the streets were surveyed: Ann Street was named in memory of Annie Alexander Parker, daughter of Alexander Parker for whom Parkersburg was named; Avery and Latrobe Streets were named for surveyors, George D. Avery who laid out the town, and Benjamin F. Latrobe who helped early settlers to construct bridges, respectively; Murdoch Avenue-Murdoch is an old family name. When the Tefft farm in east Parkersburg was laid off in to streets, eight took the name of this family and descendants: George, Hutchinson, Jeanette (Jennette), Julius, Mary, Tefft, William Streets, and Laird Avenue .  

The sale of the town of Parkersburg by William Robinson extended over a period of thirty years. The first sale was made in 1813, to Elizabeth Beeson; the last in 1843, to John Murdoch, John Jackson, John F. Snodgrass, James Stephenson, and William Gordon. The sum total of the final sales of these tracts of land was $8,000. Although the original grants included 1,350 acres, the Robinsons regained only about 700 acres.

PUBLIC UTILITIES

Telegraph

In addition to its location at the junction of two rivers and innumerable other natural advantages, Parkersburg enjoyed earlier than most cities of its size the facilities of public utilities-telegraph, telephone, electric power and fuel gas.

In 1854,three years before the coming of the railroad, Parkersburg had its first telegraph line constructed by the Western Telegraph Company. A few years later the capital stock of this company was asquired by western union telegraph company.

Telephone

The next utility to come to Parkersburg was the telephone. In 1882 a central office was first installed here. It was among the earliest to be placed in service in the country, and the second in West Virginia . The first operator, Frances Paxton, in a letter to the late Wilbur Steer, a former manager here, gives some interesting telephone history of Parkersburg , including her experiences when she first went to work for the company.

She wrote in part, "When I took charge of the office I was the first girl to take a public position in Parkersburg , and naturally we were some what prejudiced in those days. When one contrasts the one room with two chairs, a stove, a table and a switchboard, with the splendidly equipped office conveniences that the girls operate with today, there is a marked difference. The present conveniences must surely be appreciated."

There were fewer than fifty subscribers to begin with, all on one switchboard. People were slow in taking to telephone service. In 1898-16 years after the exchange was first established-there were only 250 telephones in service. Today this area, including Parkersburg , Vienna , and Williamstown is served by 20,597 telephones. The Chesapeake and Potomac , first came into existence in 1918 by the merging of other companies.

THE ELECTRIC CARS COME TO PARKERSBURG

The story of electricity in Parkersburg dates back to 1886 when the city council gave the Parkersburg Electric Light and Power Company the exclusive privilege of furnishing light and power to private consumers in the city. The company first started its services in the territory extending to Thirteenth Street and on Seventh to Latrobe Street . The next year the city changed to electric lights for its streets. From there electric service grew. In 1888 the horse-drawn car had replaced the stage coach, but by 1894 the demands for greater speed in transportation were growing. That year the council granted a 50-year franchise for a street railway system.

The cars were literally inundated and swamped by crowds of humanity. From 8 o'clock in the morning until 12 o'clock at night the cars on every trip were just literally packed, and in some instances they crowded on until it was absolutely impossible for the conductor to take up the fares, and it is estimated that at least one third of those that rode on the cars during the afternoon, rode free. On every street corner, all during the afternoon, crowds were waiting for a chance to ride, but it was impossible to get them aboard. A dozen cars would have been taxed to carry the crowd."  

In 1898 it was decided that the light and power company and the electric railway company were so nearly alike that the combination of the two was feasible; thus the Parkersburg Power and Street Railway Company was formed. By some half-dozen combinations and consolidations of electric companies throughout the years, the Monongahela Valley Traction Company acquired the Parkersburg-Marietta properties in 1917. Then in 1945 the name was changed to the Monongahela Power Company.  

Acquisition of the Parkersburg-Marietta system started an expansion program that developed into a broad integrated system that served customers. Lines started to reach out into rural areas. In 1926 the company built lines to Cairo , Harrisville, Ellenboro, and Pennsboro; the next year to Elizabeth, Grantsville, and Spencer. The expansion of this power company has been little short of sensational since V-J Day. Growing by leaps and bounds to meet the increasing demands for power,

 The Willow .Island generating plant, completed earlyin1949,was the first major step in this expansion program. A principal area development effort of Monongahela over the past 30 years has been toward farm electrification. In this period approximately 50,000 rural families have received service. Within a short time, probably in 1953, electric service will be available to any who wants it.

Hope Natural Gas Company

Gas was used in Parkersburg as a fuel very early due to the enormous production of gas near the city. This was supplied by the Mountain State Gas Company from 1894 to 1910. This company then sold the gas distributing facilities and obligations in Parkersburg to the Hope Gas Company.

The Hope Gas Company was incorporated in 1898. The original capital consisted of $200,000, a small number of oil and gas leases, five or six gas wells, several miles of line, and a few customers. Constant in the belief that natural gas is one of nature's best fuels, Hope's production, distribution, and transportation systems have grown steadily until they are now a vital factor in the industrial and community life of Parkersburg , providing comforts and conveniences.

THE INDUSTRIES

The story of the material development of Parkersburg may lack some of the romantic interest which clings around the pioneer, cut for all that it's a wonderful story. The cutting and marketing of millions of feet of timber that have gone out from the forests along the banks of the Ohio and the Little Kanawha, the log rafts floating down the rivers-these were familiar sights in the 1870's.

General prosperity began with the development of natural resources in the area. The petroleum industry originated near Parkersburg ; the discovery and utilization of natural gas was a mile-stone in the industrial develop ment of the town. After the 1880's when rich gas fields east of the city were tapped and industrial plants began using natural gas instead of coal as a manufacturing fuel, Parkersburg 's development as an industrial city greatly increased.

numerable natural advantages that lure industry are available here. Land may be had in small amounts or by hundreds of acres; coal, natural gas, and an abundance of water are near at hand. Of transportation facilities no industry could ask for more-railroads, river, road, and air all provide services. If personnel is the question, both men and women are available, and they are intelligent and cooperative. As a result industries have been attracted to Parkersburg for more than a hundred years. Today Parkersburg has more than fifty highly diversified industries. While the town has the advantages of employment and general prosperity that industry brings, it is spared the congestion, smoke, and disorder of many Indutrial cities. Most Parkersburg plants are grouped at the southern approach to the city along the Kanawha; and some extend northward along the Ohio . Parkersburg 's active Board of Commerce and the Junior Chamber of Commerce of 100 business and professional young men, are receptive to industry coming into the area. They look forward to an extended development III the Ohio Valley centering around Parkersburg .  

Smoot Advertising Company

In the last half century a score of gigantic factories have been built on each side of the Ohio River , on level acres that until recent years were planted in crops. Doubtless a factor in the decision of these industries to locate near Parkersburg , was the portrayal of the advantages of the Ohio Valley as depicted by the huge outdoor signs of the Smoot Advertising Company, lining the highways throughout the Central Ohio Valley . Outdoor advertising was a vision of the Smoot Brothers away back in 1902; and their dream of the future is now becoming a reality.

Down through the years Parkersburg has been the home of the Smoot Advertising Company, and the Central Ohio Valley has been its area of Outdoor Advertising operation. The indebtedness of Parkersburg to these promoters of visual commercial language is two-fold: by its outside display sit has helped bring a bout industrial development; and of primary interest to Parkersburg is the attention that is focused on the town as the "home base" of the company.  

Parkersburg Rig and Reel

Many of Parkersburg's "early industries manufactured oil well equipment, for West Virginia oil fields depended upon Parkersburg for supplies during the boom days. In the late 19th and early 20th century Parkersburg continued to be a center of oil field operations. In Wood County alone there were rich oil wells at Murphytown, Willow Island , Waverly, and Williamstown, and later the Big Injun field. Likewise Parkersburg continued to be the center for the manufacturing and selling of oil field supplies. To keep oil fields supplied was the idea of the late John M. Crawford when he founded the Rig & Reel. Mr. Crawford was later joined in his endeavor by his brother, the late David B. Crawford. Another inducement was the abundant supply of hardwood timber in the forest along the Little Kanawha.  

The resolution of the founders from the very beginning was to build nothing but the best equipment and to back every product with a guarantee of satisfaction. It was away back in 1897 when the Rig &; Reel started, housed in a frame building covered with sheet iron, at the corner of Second and Green Streets. This was destroyed by fire in 1913; then the plant moved to its present location, 620 Depot Street .

Surviving many recessions and depressions in the oil industry, the Parkersburg Rig &; Reel has gradually expanded its facilities for production, including the latest inventions in equipment, and at the same time has established new branches in all sections of the nation. During the war years, the Parkersburg plant devoted all its facilities and manpower to the production of war materials. It won the highest awards the Army and Navy had to bestow upon America 's production workers. The reputation of the Parkersburg products grew. Today from the export office in New York , products go to all parts of the world; probably the biggest sales are in South America . The current personnel averages 1,500 to 2,000.  

American Viscose Corporation

Of the many and varied industries in Parkersburg , one of the largest is the Parkersburg plant of the American Viscose Corporation that started operations here in 1927. It is the fifth of eight plants owned by the American Viscose Corpora tion which has headquarters in Philadelphia . In 1932 the operating site of the local plant was doubled, and further expansion was made in 1935. Manufacturing in Parkersburg involves both chemical and textile operations. There have been continual changes in the type of production to keep up with improved technological and market requirements.

During World War II this plant operated a small project for machine parts, and another for the manufacture of rayon cord for use in automobile and truck tires. In peace time the plant produces rayon synthetic fibre which is shipped largely to the Southern and New England States. Inducements luring the American Viscose Corporation to come to Parkersburg included an advantageous location, central to raw materials, adequate to receive materials and supplies, railroad facilities, water, fuel (coal}, and a good supply 'Of personnel to 'Operate the plant. The normal employment ranges between 2,000 and 2,500 persons.  

E. I. DuPont De Nemours Company

One of the more recent industries to come to Parkersburg is the E. 1. duPont de Nemours Company, Inc., at Washington , six miles below town. The plant started operarions early in 1948. It manufactures nylon filaments used for bristles in brushes and medical sutures; also, it makes nylon molding powder From which other manufacturers make combs, plates, etc. Alathon molding powder also is manufactured here, and the 'Only Teflon in the world is produced at the local plant. Gasket manufacturers use it as a molding powder because of its resistance to corrosive attacks, and it is unique in that there is no known solvent for it.  

In 1945, the duPont Company purchased 400 acres of land once owned by George Washington, for a plant site. It is intended that the plant will expand and will eventually make many new interesting plastics which research will bring through the years. This expansion should provide employment for more people. Currently the plant employs over 600 persons. Inducements bearing upon the choice of location included the large tract of level land available, a river large enough to give an abundance of water and to take care of waste disposal; nearness to coal and raw materials, and to the center of population of the country; and an excellent supply of high-grade personnel.  

O. Ames Company

And speaking of plants: Parkersburg has the largest shovel plant in the world. This is the O. Ames Company which first came here in 1910 as Baldwin Tool Works. Later ,after a merger, it became Ames Baldwin Wyoming Co. Last year the name was changed to O. Ames Company. (The O. Ames Company has another plant in North Easton , Massachusetts .) In addition to shovel plants, the company has handle plants where the finest of second growth as his turned into shovel handles. The O. Ames Company produces hundreds of brands of shovels, many carrying jobber's brands and other .factory brands. Among the most famous of the factory brands are the " Ames ," "Ram," "Wyoming Red," and others. Some of these brands are more popular in one section than the other. For instance, in the coal mining region, the "Wyoming Red Edge" is the most popular shovel.

O. Ames Company not only produces the major portion of shovels made in  America , but manufactures a complete line of steel goods-forks, hoes, and rakes. There are more Ames shovels sold than any other make and they are recognized as the finests hovels that can be made. Ames shovels are shipped to all parts of the world, and there is hardly an industry or a country in which these famous shovels are not used. The o. Ames Company had its humble beginning two years before the Declaration of Independence, when Captain John Ames, a sturdy blacksmith of West Bridgewater , Massachusetts , began the manufacture of shovels. From his hand forge came the first Ames shovels. At Bunker Hill, through out the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and on down to World Wars I and II, Ames shovels played an important part. Not only in war but in peace, when a nation was in the making, railroads forging their way across the country, cities being built and great areas of land being cleared-the genuine O. Ames did its part. It is" the shovel that built America."