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To There and Back Again: The Many Moves of John Brown’s Fort

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
October 19th, 2020

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Associate Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian

October 16, 2020, was the 161st anniversary of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry.  Over 160 years after the event, John Brown, and the people and events surrounding him, remain a powerful topic for depiction such as the new program currently airing on Showtime, “The Good Lord Bird” starring Ethan Hawke as John Brown. 

The last couple of years have seen several books published on figures that were involved in the raid including the story of an escaped enslaved person, The Untold Story of Shields Green by Louis A. Decaro, Jr., Five for Freedom: The African American Soldiers in John Brown’s Army by Eugene L. Meyer, The Zealot and the Emancipator: John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, and the Struggle for American Freedom by H.W. Brands, and of course, the book that inspired the Showtime series, James McBride’s novel, The Good Lord Bird

Portrait of John Brown

While Brown remains the subject of much interpretation, little has been said about the multiple moves of the Harpers Ferry building Brown and his men occupied on that fateful raid, the Arsenal Engine House, later to called John Brown’s Fort. 

At the time, the engine house served as the government arsenal where guns and ammunition were stored.  Brown’s plan was to capture the armory and the engine house, using the ammunition inside to supply a hoped for uprising of enslaved people he believed would join him to fight for freedom following his initial strike.  This did not happen.  Brown and his small band of men were left to fend for themselves. The following day, U.S. Marines arrived to storm the engine house, led by Col. Robert E. Lee and his aide, J.E.B. Stuart.  Brown and his surviving men were captured, tried and executed.

Sketch of the Harpers Ferry engine house, with soldiers in line in front of it

This drawing was made on the scene by David Hunter Strother, a journalist, artist and illustrator, from Martinsburg. Strother, pictured below, who used the pen name, Porte Crayon, often wrote articles and provided illustrations that frequently appeared in the pages of Harper’s Monthly magazine.

Portrait of David Hunter Strother

During the Civil War, the engine house was the only part of the armory to survive.  This stereograph card shows the tents of Union troops stationed in front.   

Stereograph card showing tents in front of the Harpers Ferry engine house

By 1885, still in its original location in downtown Harpers Ferry, the engine house was used as a tourist attraction.  The words “John Brown’s Fort”, seen here, were painted over the arches where windows were formerly. 

Harpers Ferry Engine House with the words "John Brown's Fort" painted on

First Move:

In 1891, the engine house was purchased by a group, headed by Iowan, A. J. Holmes, a former confederate soldier and congressman, with plans to make it an exhibition at the upcoming World’s Columbian Exposition, to be held in Chicago in 1893.  The fair was planned as a celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in America. 

This was to be the first move for John Brown’s fort.  Since Chicago is a long way from Harpers Ferry, the engine house was dismantled and shipped via railroad. Once it arrived in Chicago, it was reconstructed inside one of the fair buildings.  Unfortunately, it drew little attention.  Reports state that only 11 people came to view John Brown’s Fort in 10 days. 

Second Move:

Unhappy with the turnout, the second move for the building occurred when the fort was dismantled once again and moved to an empty lot where it was abandoned.

The following year, a Washington D.C. journalist, Kate Field, publisher of Kate Field’s Washington, a weekly magazine, began a fund-raising effort to save John Brown’s Fort and move it back to Harpers Ferry. 

Although, no photographs could be found documenting John Brown’s Fort as an exhibition at the Columbian World’s Fair, or dismantled and abandoned on the vacant lot, the newspaper, the Wheeling Intelligencer, reported on June 21, 1893, an article entitled “OUR STATE BUILDING,” referring to the West Virginia building constructed on fair grounds.  Each state was responsible for building a site to exhibit their state’s products and industries.  The article touted the 30th anniversary of the state and reported memorabilia on display, “There are a number of interesting relics to be found in the building, among which are the chair and safe used by Lee in writing his terms of surrender to Grant, and several John Brown relics.”  Fair goers visiting the West Virginia building could have picked up this John Brown Souvenir ticket, pictured below.   

John Brown Souvenir ticket, with portrait of John Brown

Third Move:

Things began to look up for John Brown’s Fort when a local farmer, Alexander Murphy, encouraged by Kate Fields fundraising efforts, donated five acres of his property for the site.  The Baltimore and Ohio railroad stepped in and agreed to ship the building at no charge.  In move number three, a mere two years after it was shipped to Chicago, John Brown’s Fort was successfully returned to Harpers Ferry, and reconstructed on the Murphy Farm. 

The Harpers Ferry engine house in the middle of a field
John Brown’s Fort on Murphy’s Farm, Bolivar Heights, W. Va.
Photograph approximately 1900

Although it remained on the Murphy Farm for a number of years, the building had no purpose.  Positioned out of town, it failed to serve as a tourist destination.  Things took a turn for the worse when it was used as just another farm building to store fertilizer.

The Harpers Ferry engine house in the middle of a field
Used to store fertilizer, 1909. 

Move Four:

1909 was to be an important year for yet another rescue and rehabilitation of John Brown’s Fort.  That year was the fiftieth anniversary of John Brown’s raid.  In move number four, the building was once again removed, reconstructed and renovated, this time on the campus of Storer College, also located in Harpers Ferry.  Storer College, with its roots in the Civil War, had a strong connection to the fort.  Founded by Freewill Baptists immediately following the Civil War, and dedicated to the education of African Americans, Storer College was housed in Harpers Ferry buildings that served military purposes during the war. 

Harpers Ferry engine house surrounded by trees
On the campus of Storer College
Group of African-American students in front of a tree
Storer College student group.  John Brown’s Fort is in the background.  Approximately 1940s. 
Harpers Ferry engine house in front of another building
John Brown’s Fort as it was positioned on the campus of Storer College in relation to Anthony Hall, the main building.

John Brown’s Fort was to remain on the campus of Storer College, serving as museum housing John Brown and Harpers Ferry memorabilia.   Though Storer College closed its doors as an educational institution following the passage of the landmark case, Brown vs Board of Education, in 1954, John Brown’s Fort remained on its campus.  But not for long.

Move Five:

In its fifth and final move, John Brown’s Fort was once again purchased and relocated, this time by the National Park Service, who became the owners of the Storer College campus in 1960. 

Harpers Ferry engine house being transported on the bed of a truck
John Brown’s Fort being transported back to Lower Town in 1968.
Harpers Ferry NHP Historic Photo Collection, Catalog #NHF-3155

While positioning the fort on the original site would have been ideal, it was impossible due to a railroad embankment constructed on that site 1894, when John Brown’s Fort was sitting lonely and abandoned in a field outside Chicago.  The Park Service re-sited it as close to the original site as possible, a mere 150 feet away from its first home.   

Harpers Ferry engine house
John Brown’s fort today.

And that is where John Brown’s Fort remains today, restored and open to visitors as an important historical site in one of the most important moments in West Virginia history. 

All of the books mentioned in this post and many of the photographs are available at the West Virginia and Regional History Center, open by appointment to West Virginia University affiliates only during the pandemic.


Bridge Day and New River Gorge

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
October 12th, 2020

By Nathan Kosmicki, WVRHC Graduate Assistant.

Railroad bridge across a river
Chesapeake and Ohio Bridge across the New River, Thurmond, W. Va., 1906

Fayette County reserves the third Saturday in October for an exciting and unique celebration of outdoor recreation, civil engineering, and local pride. This celebration is known around the country as Bridge Day. The New River Gorge attracts thousands of visitors annually for both outdoor recreation and its scenic views. Historically the gorge was a source of coal mining in the now abandoned town of Thurmond, West Virginia. Crossing the gorge prior to the completion of the famous New River Gorge Bridge took 45 minutes. After the completion of the bridge on October 22, 1976, crossing the New River Gorge took mere seconds. The bridge is over 800 feet tall and over 3,000 feet long. The bridge was listed to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013 thirteen years prior to the standard 50 year mark for eligibility. 

Part of a bridge construction of metal beams
New River Gorge Bridge, under construction

The bridge has become a symbol for the state, marking the back of the West Virginia state quarter from the U.S. Mint, and as a wonder of modern engineering. At the time of its construction it was the largest project the West Virginia Department of Highways had ever completed and today draws crowds from around the country to revel at not only the bridge’s amazing structural presence but also the beautiful nature surrounding the established New River Gorge National River which has been managed by the National Park Service since 1978. From the development of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad and coal mining to natural preservation and civil engineering the New River Gorge is a testament to West Virginia’s natural beauty, industrial past, and civic achievements. 

Landscape view of New River Canyon
New River Canyon Near the Gauley Bridge, Fayette County, WV

October is American Archives Month!

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
October 6th, 2020

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC

The West Virginia & Regional History Center (WVRHC) is the archives and special collections library at West Virginia University. We acquire, preserve, and provide access to materials that document the history and culture of West Virginia and central Appalachia. Each year in October, we take time to emphasize the importance of the records we collect, highlight the services we provide, and recognize the people who maintain the historical records of our state and region.  October is American Archives Month! 

Image of various types of material with the text "October is American Archives Month"

Archives are records created by people or an organization that are collected because they have continuing value.  Archives can include letters, photographs, reports, sound and video recordings, maps, newspapers and other primary sources that provide firsthand evidence and data. They can be in physical or digital form. Archives are critical resources for historical research and study.  They can be inspirational for writers and artists.  They are also important tools for teaching history and literature and many other subjects.  To learn about the archival materials at the West Virginia & Regional History Center, visit the Center’s website, particularly the Guide to Archives and Manuscripts as well as the Collections page

Rows of shelving filled with document cases
Archival boxes on storage shelves on the tenth floor of the Wise Library, the original location of the West Virginia Collection (now the WVRHC) in 1961. Image from the Center’s online photographs database, West Virginia History OnView.  

Archivists have an important role. An archivist summarized it as, “Archivists bring the past to the present. They’re records collectors and protectors, keepers of memory. They organize unique, historical materials, making them available for current and future research.” Indeed, archivists acquire materials, organize them, make sure they are preserved for the future, and provide access to them.  Archivists also teach classes, curate exhibitions, and create digital collections. The staff at the West Virginia & Regional History Center do all these things and more. They are excellent stewards of the archival materials in their care.  As Assistant Director, I wish to thank them for all their hard work.  To the staff of the Center, your efforts are very much appreciated! 

Man studying document on table
Image of a researcher using archival collections in the Manuscripts Reading Room at the WVRHC in October 2019. Photograph by the author. 

Beyond the West Virginia & Regional History Center, many other archives exist across the state.  The West Virginia State Archives in Charleston, Special Collections at Marshall University in Huntington, the Richard J. Trefry Archives at the American Public University in Charles Town, and the Archives and Special Collections at the Ohio County Public Library in Wheeling are just a few.  Many of the schools in the West Virginia state college and university system have archival collections in their libraries.  Public libraries, museums, and historical societies also hold archival collections.  There is a good chance there is an archive near you. I hope you will support them by researching, donating, and advocating.  

While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected all institutions, many are still offering services.  The WVRHC is currently open by appointment to open faculty, staff, and students at WVU.  We continue to provide limited research and reference services remotely.   

A unique opportunity to interact with Center staff, #AskAnArchivist Day, takes places tomorrow, October 7, 2020.  Archivists from the Center will take over the WVU Libraries Twitter feed and answer any question you might have about archives. We hope you will participate! 

People dancing, with text "Ain't no party like and archivist party #AskAnArchivist Day, October 7th, 10am-3pm"

Make an Archivist and Your Family Happy: Label Your Photographs

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
September 28th, 2020

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC

Recently, my cousin gave me a shoebox of family photos that belonged to his mother, my dad’s sister. I am curious about all my ancestors, but I don’t know as much about my father’s side of the family. So, these pictures are especially treasured.  The box contains images dating from ca. 1910-1994. I am grateful and very happy to have them.  There is just one problem – very few of the images are labeled.  While I recognize some people and places quickly, more than half of the images are unknown to me.  I am lucky that there are context clues and a couple family members that might help me, but there are some photos that I may never identify.  It is a simple endeavor that we often put off: labeling our photographs.  This post will give some quick tips for adding descriptive information to print photographs and digital images.  

A young man stands in a field with stacked pumpkins and shocks of corn
This is one of my newly acquired images. A young man stands in a field with stacked pumpkins and shocks of corn. This photograph was printed as a postcard. It was possibly taken at the Mayfield Farm in Wetzel County, West Virginia, ca. 1910. There is no descriptive information on the postcard, it was never mailed.  I can make the possible identification because of the existence of a similar photograph postcard of the Mayfield family making molasses. That image is available in West Virginia History OnView.

Labeling photographs will help your family members who inherit your pictures. It will also greatly assist archivists who might work with your family photos if they are donated to the archives.   

If you can record information about photographs separately and not write on the backs of the photographs, that is ideal.  But you must be able to keep the information connected to the image. If you are placing photographs in paper or plastic sleeve you can write descriptive information on the sleeve with a pencil or special pen as needed. Sleeves should be archival quality and care should be taken when placing or removing photographs from the sleeves.  The same goes for archival quality photograph albums. 

If you choose to write on photographs, you should always write on the back side. If the photograph back has a matte surface, you can use a pencil to very lightly write a date, location, and any other identifying information on the back of the photo.  Pencil lead will not bleed through the backing material.  Writing lightly is important.  Pressing too hard will imprint the text through to the front of the photo. 

If you have a photograph with a glossy backing, the Library of Congress recommends using a film marking pen to write on the back of the photographs. The pen must have acid free ink that dries quickly and doesn’t bleed into the photograph material. Be careful not to stack photos while the ink is still drying to prevent unwanted transfer onto other photographs.  

Instead of writing out a full description, photos can be numbered on the back with pencil or a special pen. Details about the image can be recorded on a sheet of paper or in a digital file with information corresponding to the numbers. Again, that paper or digital file must always be available to the owners of the photographs for this method to work. 

Smiling baby seated on a pony
This card mounted photograph also came in the box of family photographs.  It features a smiling baby who is sitting side saddle on a dark colored pony.  Based on the style of the card, it is likely from the era of 1890-1910.  Because my aunt kept it, I assume it is an ancestor but I don’t know for sure. I really wish this one was labeled!   

Most of our modern photographs are digital, so there are different challenges for “labeling” the images. Developing a naming system for digital images can help you to retain a minimal amount of descriptive information about the files.  You can include dates, location, and other details in the filename, but you don’t want your filenames to be too long. If you name them with a consistent pattern such as YYYY-MM-DD_Location_Name, they will be easier to search and keep organized.  You can also create a folder structure with some subject information in the folder names.  

For large collections of digital images, you might consider a photograph management program such as Adobe Lightroom or Picasa.  These programs will allow you add tags and descriptive information about your photograph files.  If you don’t want to use a program, this blog post gives an overview of adding information to digital photographs without using special software. 

I hope this post will inspire you to organize and label your photographs collection.  It will make your family and archivists happy in the future.  


Library Congress Photographs Preservation FAQ 

4 Easy Ways to Label Photographs Blog Post 

How to Add Photo Metadata without Special Software Blog Post 

Northeast Document Conservation Center Care of Photographs Preservation Leaflet 

From the Rare Book Room: Familiar Lectures on Botany, by Mrs. Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
September 21st, 2020

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Associate Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian

A woman of many talents, Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps, (July 15, 1793 – July 15, 1884) was passionately engaged in the education of young women at a time when the ideal was marriage and children.  Over the years she wrote many textbooks, but this volume, Familiar Lectures on Botany, from the West Virginia and Regional History Center rare book room, is perhaps her most popular and enduring. 

Portrait of Almira Lincoln Phelps

Familiar Lectures on Botany was her first textbook.  Designed to teach young women natural history and the science of botany, the book went through nearly 40 editions with revisions made by her daughters.

The Rare Book Room copy is the fifth edition, revised and enlarged, and it goes by the formidable title, Familiar Lectures on Botany; Practical, Elementary and Physiological, with an Appendix, containing the descriptions of the Plants of the United States and Exotics, etc. For the Use of Seminaries and Private Students. It was published in Hartford by F.J. Huntington, 1836. 

While many believe that the first edition of a text is the most important as well as the most valuable, that is not necessarily the case. The fifth edition, revised and enlarged with “many additional engravings.”  would be of greater interest due to the extra illustrations and their accompanying text. 

"Familiar Lectures on Botany" title page

Born in Connecticut, Almira Hart came from a large family, the youngest of 17 children.  Her parents strongly believed in education for young women.  One of her older sisters, Emma Willard, pictured below, was a well-known educator, who taught herself geometry as a young girl.  The Emma Willard School she founded in Troy, New York is still educating young women today.  It was Emma who would teach the intellectually inquisitive and capable Almira. 

Portrait of Emma Willard

At that time, there were few schools dedicated to educating young women.  In addition, academic institutions taught boys and girls separately at schools that were privately owned, not state supported.  These schools were frequently operated under personal ownership, mostly by the educators themselves, such as Emma Willard’s School for Young Women.    

Illustration for the description of the calyx, showing interior and exterior view of flower
Illustration for the description of the calyx. 

Another New Englander, the poet Emily Dickinson, was a student of botany at the Amherst Academy in her home town of Amherst, Massachusetts.  She would often roam the woods, gathering plants, bringing them home to press, then pasting them onto pages, creating a personal herbarium that documented the world around her. 

Dickinson’s botany textbook was Phelps’s Familiar Lectures on Botany. As her poetry was often filled with flowers, it is no surprise that her own copy of Phelps’s textbook holds a pressed flower between its pages, placed there by Dickinson herself.

Book pages with a pressed flower on one page
Emily Dickinson’s own copy of Mrs. Phelps’s Familiar Lectures on Botany, published in 1838, with a flowering plant she pressed between its pages, still retaining some faint vestiges of color. 

The original owner of the rare book room’s copy of Familiar Lectures on Botany, was Ellen Beirne, of Belmont.  Though we don’t know which state she lived in, there are three towns named Belmont in New England, we do know that she was probably the first person to own this book.  Published in 1836, the date she wrote beneath her signature, December 11, 1837, hints that she acquired it shortly after publication. 

Page with a WVU Library stamp, signature, and date

In this year, 2020, as we mark the centenary anniversary of women’s right to vote and celebrate the suffragists that made it possible, it is interesting to note that Phelps, as a passionate advocate for the education of women, was fervently against women’s suffrage.  Though she believed that women should be educated in the event that they would have to work outside the home, she spoke out against suffrage and wrote articles against it. 

The next time you take a walk and find your eye attracted to a beautiful wildflower along the way, think of Mrs. Almira Hart Lincoln Phelps and her Familiar Lectures on Botany, a book that educated an aspiring poet as well as many other young women who may not have had the opportunity to learn botany without her. 


Metal, Moisture, and Memories: How Paper Clips Can Ruin Family Papers

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
September 14th, 2020

Blog post by Linda Blake, University Librarian Emerita

Family papers are those things that we have saved because they mean something to us – they are our paper treasures – and they tell us something about ourselves, our families and our friends: how we’ve lived our lives and what we value most.

Society of California Archivists

Many of us are using this unusual amount of time at home during the COVID-19 epidemic to sort through our treasures.  This is especially true for folks like me who have a 40-50 year accumulation of stuff.  During my raid on the basement, I found boxes of photographs and family documents which I took responsibility for after my mother’s death in 1998.  This was a role expected of me since I am the librarian in the family and I am a part time employee of the West Virginia and Regional History Center.  I get to decide what to keep or what to get rid of and how to preserve records that are important to us. 

West Virginia elementary school diploma
My mother’s elementary school diploma, 1931

My job in the Center is to process papers and records of families and organizations. Every single collection I process in the Center provides me with more knowledge about how to preserve materials and how to make the information in them accessible for researchers.  Records come in a wide variety of formats and media but they are mostly paper based.  One of the collections I processed last year had obviously been stored in a non-climate-controlled area.  One sign of that was that the papers contained a large number of rusty paper clips, staples, and metal binders. 

rusty paperclip and the rust marks that it left on a piece of paper
rust marks on paper, left by a rusty staple
rusty metal binder and marks on paper
Some examples of rusted metal from a paper clips, staples, and binders

This blog post will not be dealing broadly with preservation of materials in archival collections or family documents, but will look only at metal fasteners such as staples, paper clips, and binders, with some rubber bands thrown into the metal mix.

Hand full of rusted paperclips
One workday’s worth of removed paper clips

Since the worst enemies of paper are heat, moisture, and light, metal paper clips frequently degrade on archival records and they should be removed if possible when you find them in old records, ideally before they completely adhere to the papers.  Instead, it is best to use plastic or plastic-coated clips.  Major retailers sell these as well as office supply stores.  Some archives prefer to use stainless steel paper clips, which are supposed to be rust-proof.

Plastiklips and plastic coated paperclips on top of a "Dear Taxpayer" letter
Papers from the Assessor that I want to keep

To remove rusty paper clips which are adhering to the paper, I stabilize the paper on a flat surface by holding the corner down as I insert a knife or letter opener under the open end of the paper clip keeping it parallel to the surface.  I open the paper clip while sliding the knife under the open end while continuing to stabilize the paper on a surface.  When the clip is fully open, I can remove the paper clip without damaging the paper.  Sometimes the paper is so brittle that it will crumble no matter how careful you are with getting the clip from around it.  It’s a very meticulous process requiring patience.

Rusted paperclips, all partly open
Use a knife or letter opener to open clips to remove them from fragile paper

I will mention one last commonly used fastener which will cause damage to our family papers.  Rubber bands are susceptible to the same enemies as metal fasteners: moisture, heat, and light.  Rubber bands will melt, crack, and degrade leaving their mark over time. 

According to a flyer from the National Park Service, you can use a microspatula to remove both paper clips and residue from rubber bands.  The microspatula is available online at major retailers and scientific instrument stores.  I haven’t used it, but this source has some excellent suggestions on removing fasteners.  

If you aren’t able to check your family papers for problematic fasteners now, you can buy time by storing the papers in an environment that is climate controlled, not exposed to extreme temperatures or humidity fluctuations.  That should help the fasteners degrade less rapidly.

I hope my experiences working with the documents in the West Virginia and Regional History Center will help you preserve some of your meaningful family treasures.

Additional Resources:

Society of California Archivists, “Family Papers: Preservation and Organization.”  Accessed at on July 28, 2020:

U.S. Library of Congress. “Care, Handling, and Storage of Works on Paper.” Accessed on July 28, 2020 at:

U.S. National Parks Service. “Removing Original Fasteners from Archival Documents” Conserve O Gram, July 1993, 19(5). Accessed September 1, 2020 at:

A Librarian’s Summer Reading List

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
August 24th, 2020

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Associate Curator for WV Books & Printed Resources & Rare Book Librarian

It may surprise you to learn that I read a lot of books about books over the summer.  I didn’t intend to.  It just happened that way.

As Mark Twain said, and I paraphrase, “a good book worth reading is a book worth reading again.”  I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment.  I read three of the four books on my summer reading list for a second time and I am none the worst for it.  In fact, I enjoyed reading these books again.  Most of them I read when they were first published.  One of the books I read was new to me, but had been available for a couple of years.  I’ll save that one for last.    

Given the current climate, with the many troubling realities of the ever changing news about the virus, the new sensations of working from home, the constant barrage of daily updates, and all the other things that trouble our world, I felt the need for something comforting, something I had read before and enjoyed, something that would remind me of a pleasant journey strolling through pages I had already traveled, and so, I embarked on a re-reading adventure. 

Paperback The Bookshop : A Novel Book

The first book I re-read this summer was Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop.  Fitzgerald is a British author, and her works are considered national treasures in her homeland.  Fitzgerald has written a number of novels, all appealingly brief.  The Bookshop is only 122 pages in length, and that was a point in its favor for this second go round.  The novel was first published in Britain way back in 1978, but it did not make an appearance in America until 1997, when I first read it.  Back then, I was working in a book shop downtown so I was very interested in it. 

The book may be short, but Fitzgerald packs a lot in it.  The story takes place in the 1950s, when the effects of World War II are still heavily felt in England, and there is little “extra” in everyday life.  It centers around a young widow who moves to a new town with plans to start a bookshop.  It seems a simple enough dream, and one that should bring something new and welcome to the townspeople but there are others who find her plans disruptive.  The main antagonist is an aristocratic matron.  She is so disturbed by the widow’s plans that she orchestrates other townspeople in various roles within the community to thwart the widow’s every move. 

I won’t say more about the novel, but I will say that I have only read one other work of fiction that captures this level of cruelty, through societal means and methods, against another human being.  That book is Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, a shockingly cruel novel.

In 2018, The Bookshop was made into a film starring Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, and one of my favorite British actors, Bill Nighy.  In one of those rare instances, I found the film to be better than the book.  Extraneous details were removed that were unnecessary in the novel, and new life was brought to the characters in such a way that added poignancy and drama.  Both are highly recommended.

Book cover of Easter Island

Next on my list of “read it again” titles was Easter Island by Jennifer Vanderbes, a book I first read back in 2003. I love to read first novels and this was a first that really appealed to me.  I’ve always found the conundrum of Easter Island to be interesting.  Who was responsible for the creation of the Moai – those massive stone heads spread across the island?  How did the islanders carry off such a feat with simple tools?  How were the Moai moved into place?   There were other questions too.  Why are there no trees on the island?  Why is there little vegetation at all?  How hard would it be to live there?  I wanted to know and I hoped this book would tell me and entertain me at the same time.  Reader, I am here to tell you it did!

The story interweaves two threads.  Two stories of newlyweds, separated by nearly a century, experience the same trials.  Both couples are scholars, both follow their research interests and Easter Island is at first, a haven.  Neither relationship survives intact, but the events that transpire to tear them apart are full of pathos.  Among the most compelling elements of the story to me was the discovery of the rongorongo, a type of hieroglyphic writing carved into wood fragments.  This form of writing is completely original and it was discovered on Easter Island in the 19th century.  The surviving glyphs are studied to this day.  Although many scholars have attempted to decipher them, no one has.  The rongorongo remains a mystery.

I found Vanderbes book to be exceptionally well researched and equally well written.  It did indeed answer my questions and provide an excellent read, even for the second time.  After all, 2003 was a long time ago!  If you have an interest in archaeology and enjoy historical fiction, I recommend it. 

Book cover of People of the Book

I suppose no one will be surprised that Geraldine Brooks, People of the Book, was on my re-reading list.  This is one of those books that many people have recommended to me and I’m glad they did.  First published in 2008, People of the Book was definitely worth a second read.  When the story opens, Hanna, a book conservator, has been brought to Sarajevo to examine an ancient haggedah, a Jewish text that describes the order of the Passover Seder, only this copy comes with mysterious illustrations.   

As Hanna works through the text, she discovers bits of material that represent the life of the book, the many people and places that, when researched, will reveal its travels. A fragment of a butterfly wing found only in a specific geographic location, a cat’s hair that leads to the discovery of the artist’s technique, and wine stains that point to an historic moment in time, all of these things slowly reveal the book’s journey, chapter after chapter. 

As a librarian, I have even used this book in a material culture class, where discussions center around the elements and materials that make up the book and how they point to the book’s origins, its moment in time.  The names of previous owners, a flower pressed between pages, doodles and drawings, labels and bookplates, all of these things, when examined, can illuminate the life of the book to the student and the scholar. 

The Library Book Book Cover

Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, is the one book that I read for the very first time.  You might be surprised that, since it was published in 2018, I might have had the opportunity to read it before this date, but no, I had not.  There I was, browsing the shelves in our local Barnes and Noble and the hard red cover of The Library Book jumped right out at me on the shelf.  Oh yeah, I thought, I’ve been meaning to read this.  So I bought it.

To be honest, I don’t like the hard, thick, red boards that make up the covers.  I don’t like the printed endpapers.  And usually, if I see a sticker on the book that says this is recommended by so and so’s book club, I tend to shy away from it.  I prefer to make my own reading choices and not follow the crowd.  But this was a book about library books, after all, and as a librarian I felt compelled, nay, it was my duty, to read it.  I walked right up to the counter and purchased it, along with some frivolous but highly enjoyable magazines. 

Despite all of these initial turn offs, I was engaged with this book from the get go.  Frankly, I couldn’t put it down.  Orlean is a fantastic writer.  I have read other books by her and enjoyed them, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that I would find this book so compelling.  I love a good mystery and the fire that destroys the Los Angeles public library is both tragic and fascinating. The efforts to find the arsonist, if there was one, do not come to a happy conclusion.  The biographical descriptions of the librarians, from the 19th century to the present day were nothing short of revelatory.  Each generation of librarians initiated programs and events that helped to revolutionize librarianship throughout the nation.  I loved reading these stories and felt inspired by them.

Finally, I found a twist I wasn’t expecting within these pages.  Orlean discussed book burnings of other kinds and the one that really grabbed me was the burning of comic books in the small town of Spencer, West Virginia, instigated by a school teacher, Mabel Riddle, in the 1940s.  Not only was I surprised to see a West Virginia story in the book but I was doubly surprised to read about a book burning in the state that I had never heard of!  Just saying – future blog post alert!

So, there you have it.  The books I read and re-read this summer.  I recommend all of them.  If they read as well the second time around, think how much you might enjoy them the first time.  And the best news of all, they can be found at your local library.


Mock Apple Pie

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
August 18th, 2020

Initial research and writing by Jessica Eichlin, Reference Supervisor, WVRHC; additional writing and pie making by Jane LaBarbara, Assistant Curator, WVRHC.

Today I’d like to look at mock foods.  The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America defines “mock foods” in a number of different ways[1].  A mock food can be a dish made with the substitution of a primary ingredient, a food that tastes like another, a dish that looks like another, an economical alternative, a dish with less of a key ingredient, or a dish made with vegetarian alternatives.  Mock foods can trace their roots back to the medieval period, where expert chefs would manipulate the appearance of a dish to impress or entertain eaters.  In one way or another, mock foods have persisted since the medieval period.

Curious about the presence of mock dishes in West Virginia, we turned to the collections at the West Virginia and Regional History Center.  Seven cookbooks sampled by Jessica yielded a dozen different recipes for mock cherry pie, mock apple pie, mock duck, mock oysters, and mock turtle soup.  The presence of mock dishes in these cookbooks indicates their popularity in the region, as most of the cookbooks she sampled were those with recipes submitted by community members.  Mock dishes likely appealed to cooks in West Virginia in the early 1900s who were tasked with creating familiar dishes using the resources at hand.  Resourceful cooks turned to mock dishes because the usual ingredients were either too hard to obtain or expensive.  With West Virginia’s rugged terrain, isolation often forced cooks to creatively bake with what they could get and what they could afford, not just during times of particular hardship such as war or economic downtimes. Mock foods seem like a great COVID-19 pandemic blog suject because they have a bit of a “what can I make with pantry staples without having to mask up and go to the store” vibe.

The mock food item I want to focus on today is mock apple pie.  Mock apple pie has a long history. Thanks to the Food Timeline website’s entry on mock apple pie, I found a recipe for “cracker pie” from the February 14, 1857 issue of the Saturday Evening Post: “CRACKER PIE—As apples are very scarce in many sections of the country, I think the housewife will find the following recipe for making an apple pie out of crackers, very acceptable. For a common sized baking plate, take four of the square or six of the round crackers, a teacupfull of sugar, and a teaspoonfull of tartaric acid; break the crackers into a pint of water, add the sugar and acid and finish as an apple pie.”[2]

Potentially the most well known version of mock apple pie was introduced to Americans by Nabisco in the 1930s, as a way to use their Ritz crackers when apples were perhaps out of season or too expensive. The “Mock Foods” entry in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America confirms that the Ritz recipe “evolved from mid-nineteenth-century imitation apple pies and mock mince pies, which were made with soda crackers [a.k.a. saltines], sugar, and spices. Crackers have a history of approximating apple pie in both texture and taste.”

That last sentence is where things get contentious.  When I explained to my husband that I would be making this pie and asking him to taste test it, he expressed skepticism at the idea that mock apple pie could taste similar to apple pie, or even be something worth eating.  When I suggested that apple pie doesn’t really taste like apples, and that crackers and spices could come close to the same taste, he expressed mock dismay that I didn’t remember how the apple pies that he makes actually taste like apples.

A Book of Favorite Recipes Compiled by Bruceton Mills Community, 1965, includes two recipes for mock apple pie, both made with Ritz crackers, on pages 44-45. Since the second recipe includes attribution, cinnamon, and a baking time, I decided to try that one. I’ve copied both below in case someone wants to give the first one a try.

pages from cookbook showing apple related recipes

Mock Apple Pie (no attribution)


2 c. water

1 c. sugar

1 lump butter

2 tsp. cream of tartar

23 Ritz crackers, broken in quarters. Put in a two quart saucepan

Boil together for 2 minutes. Pour this over Ritz crackers and boil 1 minute but do not stir. Put in double crust pie.

Mock Apple Pie, Mrs. Betty Casteel

3 c. sugar

4 c. water

4 tsp. cream of tartar

40 Ritz crackers

1 ½ tsp. cinnamon (or more)

Combine sugar, water, and cream of tartar and boil 5 minutes. Add to sugar mixture Ritz crackers, crumbled and cinnamon. Cook 2 minutes longer. Bake in a two crust pie at 425 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes. Serve with whipped cream or cream and sugar if desired.  Filling for 2 pies. [emphasis added]

Mock apple pie filling in unbaked pie shell
The mock apple pie filling looks almost like real apple pie filling if you don’t crumble the crackers too finely, or look too closely.

For anyone else who uses this recipe, I recommend seriously considering your pie plate size versus your filling amount. I used a 9 inch pie plate that was about 2 inches deep, and I made half the recipe, which should have been enough for one pie. The pie filling didn’t fill up the pie as much as I would have liked, leading me to wonder if pie plates were smaller in 1965.

Unbaked two-crust pie
I went ahead and baked my under-filled pie.
Two-crust pie in ceramic pie plate
The edges got very brown after 27 minutes in the oven–I should have covered them with tin foil after the first 20 minutes to protect them.
Slice of pie
If I told you it was apple pie, you would believe me, right?
Pie crust with filing attached
I took this close-up to show off the texture of the filling, which didn’t betray its Ritz-y origins.

The three people who tasted the pie for me all agreed it turned out better than expected.  The general feeling was that if someone gave you a slice after dinner and you ate it quickly, you wouldn’t question that it was apple pie. The biggest critique is the lack of chunks that would add to the real-apple feeling. I wonder if bakers could overcome this lack of chunks by using a more substantial cracker, or not crumbling the crackers before baking. Overall, I decided this mock apple pie was a satisfying substitution.

If anyone is interested in exploring mock foods at home, there are a few recipes to get you started in one of our digitized texts, Souvenir cook book compiled from the best recipes of members of the Woman’s Club of Harper’s Ferry District, 1915, 1920, which is part of the History Center’s Printed Ephemera Collection. These include mock duck, mock oysters, and mock cherry pie. If you make a mock dish, or if you have any great mock food recommendations, let us know!

[1] Olver, Lynne M. “Mock Foods.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America: Oxford University Press, 2004.

[2] “Useful Receipts.” Saturday Evening Post (1839-1885) Feb 14 1857: 4. ProQuest. Web. 18 Aug. 2020.

The Voting Rights Act Turns 55

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
August 6th, 2020

By Danielle Emerling, WVRHC

Fifty-five years ago today, on August 6, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, meant to remove racial discrimination in voting. The Act was a landmark for the civil rights movement. However, its passage was met with debate, and its legacy continues to be challenged. The Act’s path through Congress is the topic of an online exhibition from the WVRHC archives, For the Dignity of Man and the Destiny of Democracy: The Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Voting Rights Act is rooted in the Fifteenth Constitutional Amendment. Enacted in 1870, it established that the right to vote could not be denied on the basis of race. Yet African Americans, particularly those residing in southern states, continued to face significant obstacles to voting. These included bureaucratic restrictions, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, as well as intimidation and physical violence.

Political cartoon from "The Advocate" newspaper, depicting an African American man being whipped, with text such as "Jim Crow Laws", "Disenfranchisement", etc.
The Advocate. (Charleston, W. Va.), October 13, 1910. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. West Virginia & Regional History Center, Library of Congress

Little was done at the federal level to enforce Reconstruction Era laws, including the Fifteenth Amendment, until the mid-twentieth century. Even after the passage of civil rights bills, however, discriminatory practices depressed voter registration rates for African Americans living in the South. When civil rights activists, including recently deceased Congressman John Lewis, organized a voting rights campaign in Alabama in 1965, it culminated in violence on March 7 when Alabama state police brutally attacked peaceful marchers in Selma. The event galvanized an outpouring of support for a bill protecting the right to vote for all Americans. 

The President addressed a joint session of Congress on March 15, 1965, calling on them to pass a voting rights bill. He opened his speech explaining that he spoke “for the dignity of man and the destiny of democracy.”

A letter to U.S. Representative Arch Moore in support of the Civil Rights Act
Letter from Wheeling, W.Va., constituent in support of a voting rights bill, Governor Arch A. Moore Jr. papers, West Virginia & Regional History Center

The Administration sent a proposed bill to Congress two days later, and though it had strong bipartisan support, Congress spent several months debating various aspects of the legislation. Traditionally, most powers to register voters and protect the right to vote have fallen to state and local governments. Congress needed to decide whether the Federal Government should shift this balance of power. Members spent several months debating various aspects of the legislation, including poll taxes and automatic triggers. Though they were banned in federal elections, many states levied poll taxes as a prerequisite to voter registration.  Another aspect of the bill automatically “triggered” certain actions, such as outlawing literacy tests and requiring states or counties where discriminatory practices were in place to seek federal “preclearance” before establishing new voting laws.

In the Senate, a 24-day filibuster of the bill ensued. Southern senators believed the bill was unconstitutional and punitive to the South. Democrats and Republicans signed a petition for a cloture motion, and four days later, the Senate approved debate-limiting cloture, ending the filibuster. This was only the second time in its history, and the second time in two years, that the Senate had stopped debate in order to vote on a civil rights bill.

In the House, Republicans proposed a substitute bill, known as the Ford-McCulloch bill, which removed the automatic triggers. Civil rights leaders expressed strong opposition to the Ford-McCulloch bill. On July 9, 1965, the House rejected the substitute bill and passed one with automatic triggers and a ban on poll taxes in state and local elections.

Western Union telegram from Martin Luther King Jr. to U.S. Representative Arch Moore, urging the defeat of the McCulloch Amendment
Telegram from Martin Luther King Jr., Governor Arch A. Moore Jr. papers, West Virginia & Regional History Center

After a conference committee resolved the differences, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, finally fulfilling the promise of the Fifteenth Amendment.  It was tremendously successful. The disparity between white and black voting registration rates dropped from nearly 30 percentage points in the early 1960s to just 8 percentage points a decade later.

Congress has reauthorized the Act multiple times, most recently in 2006.  In 2013, however, the Supreme Court overturned a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. In Shelby County v. Holder, the Court invalidated the “coverage formula,” which determined the states and localities required to seek preclearance for changes in voting rules that could affect minorities. Following the ruling, several states began implementing photo ID laws.

For the Dignity of Man and the Destiny of Democracy: The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a digital version of an exhibit that was on display in the WVU Downtown Campus Library’s Rockefeller Gallery. Materials in the exhibit come from the Arch A. Moore Jr. congressional papers, WVRHC; the WVRHC newspaper collection; and the Center for Legislative Archives, NARA, featured in the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress’ The Great Society Congress exhibit.

Learning to Read a Book: An Account of a Rare Book Room Assistantship

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
August 3rd, 2020

Blog post by Jessica Kambara, LTAII/Rare Book Room assistant, WVRHC.

Woman between rows of bookshelves, standing on stool

During my sophomore year of college, I attended a class led by the curator of WVU’s rare book room, Stewart Plein, on Shakespeare’s Folios. Upon entering the rare book room, I thought I’d like to work there. The Rare Book room had a clean yet cozy atmosphere, and exuded an aura of history and prestige. Halfway through the class, after getting to leaf through the large folio pages of a book hundreds of years old, I was sure I wanted to work there. By the end, I had gotten a job. All it took was asking if there were any work opportunities available, and Stewart set me up with a capstone project and took me under her wing as her assistant.

The first position I ever took in the Rare Book room was effectively that of an intern; however, I was working for course credit and so had to treat it like a capstone project. My objectives were to educate myself on Rare Book room handling and terminology; to compile a portfolio of my inventory work; to create a display; and to present what I had learned. The work itself was quite straightforward. I had to sort through boxes of donated books, create an inventory, and do additional research to determine the historical and monetary value of the book. Stewart was there to guide me through the process, and often steered me if I was stumped. My most important task was to determine the value of a book—essentially data analysis.

Book value is determined by a number of factors: condition, rarity, edition, age, author, decoration, monetary value, historical significance, and educational potential. Often value was obvious—a rare, highly decorative book by a significant author in good condition was very valuable. However, there were gems within the seemingly insignificant. I took an interest in books produced during war, particularly World War II. I looked for patterns and shifts in patterns. For example, cheaply produced children’s book series are a dime a dozen—sometimes literally—but if you look at the quality and narrative structures you will find cultural shifts. Take the Buddy Series, a string of children’s books that ran for 16 years. For the most part, the majority of the series has little value; however, there is much to be learned from the editions published around World War II. Paper quality dips significantly during the war, an effect of wartime rationing; furthermore, the typical narratives of light-hearted adventures designed to teach good morals shift to tales of can collecting for the war effort and reporting your suspicious neighbor in Buddy and the Victory Club. This gives a better understanding of American wartime mentality, and how it manifested in children’s media. After all, the children taught to report their neighbors by the book, Buddy and the Victory Club, in 1943, were the same ones who grew up to partake in the paranoia of the Cold War and the second Red Scare.

Cover of book "Buddy and the Victory Club"
Garis, Howard R. Buddy and the Victory Club or a Boy and a Salvage Campaign. Cupples & Leon Company: New York. 1943.
Image source: West Virginia and Regional History Center

A book’s value can be found not only in its content and material, but also in how it recontextualizes historical periods. You can deduce a lot from what was the cultural norm by examining popular books. It is important to factor in that authors popular during their time might not have survived the modern day. Take Gene Stratton Porter—an author who still has her following, but is not nearly as recognizable as American authors like Jack London or F. Scott Fitzgerald despite being their peer. There is much to praise Gene Stratton-Porter for; she was a conservation activist, a successful American businesswoman, and a bestselling author. At the same time, there is also much to be learned from the startlingly normalized racism against people of Japanese origins in her book Her Father’s Daughter published in 1921. The casualness of how Stratton-Porter’s characters, who are meant to be likable and relatable, discriminate against Japanese people is completely normal. To many, the Japanese Concentration camps of 1942-1946, seem like an unbelievable failure of American morality. However, when contextualized with the reading material that the previous generation grew up with, the camps seem more like an inevitable product of long-standing xenophobia (in addition to being an unbelievable failure of American morality).

Cover of book "Her Father's Daughter"
Stratton-Porter, Gene. Her Father’s Daughter. New York: Grosset and Dunlap. 1921.
Image Source: West Virginia and Regional History Center

Often, historical importance can be found not just in narrative content or material—sometimes it can be in the publishers’ catalogue, which are often found at the end of the story at the back of the book. An otherwise insignificant book can tell you a lot if it also includes the publishers’ catalogue of available books. Compile enough book catalogues, and you can track shifts in advertisements that reflect cultural changes. For example, prior to World War I and II, book catalogues advertised children books as a gender-neutral category—both boys and girls could enjoy books such as The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland.  However, as war took over media, book advertisements split into boy books and girl books. Book about war were in high demand, but seen as too violent for girls, and so they were specifically advertised to boys. True to Newton’s third law, girl books went in an opposite direction and focused on things like light-hearted countryside adventures.

By the end of my semester capstone, I had compiled a detailed twenty-page portfolio of my key finds. After learning to read books in a new way and finalizing my portfolio, I then had to transform that information into a real-world tool for education. This is commonly done via displays. As part of my capstone, I set up a library exhibit on war influenced books which was displayed in the WVU library. For my final capstone requirement, I gave a public presentation on what I had learned and the significance of my project and wrote a paper on my overall work.

After I had completed my course credit, I continued to work for Stewart into my junior year as a work-study student. My tasks shifted from an educational approach to a work approach, and in a way was much more simplified while also more complicated. I was no longer expected to produce a gradable project, but I also had to do more diverse work.

My first assignment taught me the importance of organization and job creation—as poor organization had created a summer job for me. A series of unfortunate developments had left important microfilms mixed in a sea of hundreds of other microfilms (please note, this organizational job was not done by WVU staff, but by an outside source). This was the first and last time I worked with the WVU depository—or the depo. The depo is a storage site. It has a small office, and a large warehouse with a towering celling filled with high shelves full of boxes; the highest of which required an aerial platform to reach. It was similar to what you might expect in a factory warehouse, only with better temperature and humidity control. With the aid of depository staff to assist me with heavy lifting, I sorted through dozens and dozens of heavy boxes of newspaper film. Although tedious, there are lessons in blunders and this work certainty taught me the importance of organization, being conscientious of how your work can impact others, and instilled a greater appreciation for the behind the scenes work of acquiring research material.

Exterior view of brick building with the sign "Libraries' Depository"

After that assignment, my work took a return to form as I came back to the Rare Book room to compile inventories of collections—including my largest inventory of 311 Lewis and Clark related items. I also took on the occasional bit of side work, like boxing books or applying clear Brodart book cover sleeves, used to preserve dust jackets, or scanning book covers.

My next big project would be creating a Shakespeare Inventory of Rare Book room books and cross-referencing my inventory against the WVU library database to oversee updates and check for errors. Over the years, WVU’s Rare Book room has compiled one of the most impressive collections of Shakespeare’s work and related content, including an incredibly rare set of Shakespeare’s folios. The time had come when Stewart needed this impressive collection to be inventoried and I set about it. 

Each item added to the Rare Book room was naturally recorded in the WVU Library catalog database; however, shifting books and understandable cataloging mistakes can cause discrepancies. And so, to make sure our database was accurate and up to date, I began to cross-reference all the physical copies of the Shakespeare books in the Rare Book room against all the Shakespeare books in the database. At times, locating books was like being on an Easter egg hunt as things like size and value could result in atypical shelving.  When I was near the end of my inventorying, I experienced a valuable but painful lesson in backing up information. A mishap resulted in my inventory being deleted and I had to restart. In the end, I created a thirty-page inventory with 183 items.

For a nice change of pace, I also got to work with art and ventured into the libraries central storage area to make an inventory of a collection of donated artworks.

Woman standing at vertical shelves containing artwork

In the midst of working on another large inventory, I had to stop due to the minor issue of graduation, no longer qualifying as a work-study student. That is where I thought my work with WVU and Stewart would end, when I was again called upon to tackle another collection. This time I was hired as a temporary librarian assistant and tasked with organizing a vulnerable collection.

Many issues can be the unfortunate bane of a bookkeeper’s existence. Books are more sensitive than people think, and if humidity and temperature cannot be properly regulated, books may suffer, making them vulnerable to a variety of issues that can cause deterioration such as increased brittleness, mold, and insects, that can invade and spread rapidly between tightly wedged books. Certain precautions, such as masks and gloves, are a must as exposure can lead you to developing a lower tolerance to these issues in addition to other ailments.

In this case, a recently donated collection had problems. Some books were still good, and some were not. Book material is a big factor. I was working with older cloth bound books and leather—paperbacks and a lot of newer books were unaffected. I quickly went about organizing the collection, relocating fragile books to separate shelves and sorting them according to their level of vulnerability. 

Unfortunately, another type of bio-hazardous spread impacted my work halfway through sorting. Covid-19 resulted in WVU closing the libraries, and with that I began a life of remote work.

Remote work was a strange change of pace from my hands-on work. I could not inventory what I could not see, and so I took the opportunity to educate myself on book history, book care, and other topics that had long interested me. I edited audio files, wrote blog posts, and did beta work for Stewart. Now, at the close of my temp assignment, I’m completing my final task—writing a reflection.

I’m very grateful to all the WVU library staff who aided me in my work, and especially grateful to Stewart Plein for providing me with the opportunity to return again and again.

Dr. Emory Kemp: The Book Collector

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
July 27th, 2020

Blog post by Dr. Connie S. Evans, Ph.D., M.L.I.S., WVRHC AmeriCorps worker

As many people are aware, Dr. Emory Kemp was an esteemed expert in the fields of civil engineering, industrial archaeology, and the history of technology, so it will come as no surprise that he was also an avid collector of books on a wide variety of topics.  In his oral interviews with Dr. Barb Howe, he discussed at length how he developed his collection from a very young age, and how the volumes he accrued help shape his future interests and endeavors. 

Born in 1931, Dr. Kemp made the decision to be baptized into the Methodist faith at the age of ten and noted that this event sparked his curiosity to study “many things.”  As well, “the clouds of war were gathering…in Europe” in 1941, and Dr. Kemp became intrigued by the British Royal Navy and its ships, and, consequently, the general history of Britain. This interest led him to purchase his first book (which he retained throughout his life): H.M.S. His Majestie’s Ships and Their Forebears by Cecil King, which he ordered from the British Information Services in Rockefeller Plaza in New York City.

Cover of the book "HMS: His Majesty's Ships and their Forbears"
(photo in public domain)

Dr. Kemp had already been following the fortunes of the war in Europe since 1939, and developed an interest in how the hostilities had evolved from the time of the German Weimar Republic and the rise of Adolf Hitler. He was also intrigued by the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s attempt to head off the conflict at the Munich Conference with his famous “Peace in Our Time” speech.  From this interest sprang a desire to become more familiar with British history in general, and Dr. Kemp began collecting books in this genre as he was able to do so.   

A precocious learner who had skipped a grade in primary school, Dr. Kemp entered a five-year program at University of Illinois Laboratory High School (otherwise known as Uni High) under the auspices of the University of Illinois in 1943 at the age of eleven; he went on to graduate from the school in 1948.  While there, he became part of the school’s War Discussion Group which met once a week, and recalled that he “gave a couple of lectures on [his] understanding of the war itself,” no doubt as an outgrowth of his voracious reading on the subject. However, as Dr. Kemp self-deprecatingly noted, the lectures were never recorded so he was unable to quote from them. 

As a young man, Dr. Kemp did not have a great deal of money at his disposal to purchase the books he wanted, and routinely devoted his weekly allowance and the sums he earned from babysitting his younger brother to their acquisition.  His wish to buy more books for his collection led him to take a summer job at the Dick Burwash Farm near Champaign, Illinois, where he was hired to de-tassel corn.   

The process of de-tasseling corn was aimed at increasing the production of hybrid corn, and it required stripping the tassels from corn by hand, in alternate rows, to prevent self-pollination.  Dr. Kemp recalled that the work was difficult, as it was hot in the fields and the corn itself caused rashes on exposed skin.  Both boys and girls were hired for the work, and paid equally, although, as Dr. Kemp ruefully noted, the girls were allowed to work from a platform attached to a tractor, while the boys walked the fields.   

Dr. Kemp observed that he was never “very much interested in clothes or toys,” so he “haunted bookstores,” and purchased a variety of tomes with his summer earnings, many of which eventually found their way into the collection that he donated to the West Virginia and Regional History Center at the West Virginia University Libraries in October, 2016.   

While a student at Uni High, Dr. Kemp met faculty members at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who proved to be instrumental in the expansion of his book collection.  Arthur Davis, an engineering professor, gave Dr. Kemp a number of books on the history of World War I; Dr. Davis, teasing Dr. Kemp, told him that, “I hope we never have war with Germany, because you’ll be incarcerated.”  Christmas presents from Dr. Davis were often in the form of more books for Dr. Kemp’s collection.  Indeed, his wife, Fern, gave Dr. Kemp one of his favorite books as a Christmas present: the annual edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships by Francis E. McMurtrie, which was a detailed listing of all of the British Navy’s military ships then on the line. 

Cover of book "Jane's Fighting Ships"
(photo in public domain)

As a student at Uni High, Dr. Kemp was also afforded the use of a University of Illinois library card.  Dr. Kemp stated that he “haunted” the university library, and “made very good use” of his library card, at a time when the free run of its stacks was very much an exceptional privilege.  He was also able to avail himself of its Interlibrary Loan service in order to get access to materials not held in the library. Today, a corridor of the library contains a collection of bronze plaques that laud outstanding graduates of the university, and Dr. Kemp proudly noted that his name can be found among that group. 

Through his interest in the war, and the Royal Navy in particular, Dr. Kemp drew inspiration from the drawings in Jane’s Fighting Ships to expand on an earlier hobby of constructing small-scale models from scratch; one of those was of the HMS King George V.  His process was to make drawings, from which he then made the models, with an emphasis on the ships’ armaments.  His collection eventually included military ships from the Royal Canadian Navy as well. Indeed, Dr. Kemp gleefully recalled that, on a recent visit to Canada, he had been able to ride in a British Army artillery tractor, and had promptly pulled out a model that he had made as a boy to “refurbish” upon his return home.

Model ship, likely HMS King George V
(Photo courtesy of Dr. Barb Howe)
Dr. Emory Kemp standing next to a British Army artillery tractor
British Army artillery tractor
(photo courtesy of Dr. Janet Kemp)

Dr. Kemp’s interest in the British Royal Navy led him to explore its origins and development from Elizabethan times forward, as he believed that the Navy, as an instrument of state, had its beginnings in the late sixteenth century.  His research revealed that the government began to build its own ships after the Glorious Revolution in 1688, when James II was forced to abdicate in favor of his daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange. Dr. Kemp said that he began to get very interested in the details and strategy of the Royal Navy as the British Empire expanded; he was also subsequently drawn into Irish history by James II’s attempt there to regain his throne.   

Dr. Kemp also read widely about the history of the conflict in Northern Ireland due to his friendship with Fred McAdams, whose father had marched with the Orange Order (the Protestants).  This group formed the basis of the Ulster Division (later the Ulster Volunteer Force), which would go on to fight in the First World War at the Battle of the Somme; Dr. Kemp noted that his research revealed that the division was almost wiped out in this one battle, thus decimating their geographic region at home.  As a result, Dr. Kemp’s research in this subject came to shape some of his views of war and military engagement. 

Moving on from history, Dr. Kemp also acquired a large collection of engineering and mathematics books, many of them in the area of the history of technology and, more narrowly, the development of the steam engine.  He learned a great deal of technical information from Henry L. Dickenson’s A Short History of the Steam Engine, which is part of his donated collection.  Dr. Kemp also read widely in the areas of thermodynamics, the manufacturing of textiles, British engineers working on harbors, and the British railway system.  Dr. Kemp remarked that several of the textbooks he had used when he was a student at the University of Illinois were donated to the university, but that he retained five shelves of books on twentieth-century engineering. Dr. Kemp’s engineering and technology interests meant that he also acquired a number of books on mathematics, and he said that he has passed on several of these volumes to his grandson, Dr. Paul Anderson, also a civil engineer.   

While Dr. Kemp was serving in the army during the Korean Conflict, he was assigned to the Engineering Research and Development Lab in Virginia.  He began to take courses at George Washington University, where a class in differential equations with Dr. James Henry Taylor sparked a new interest—and a new area for book collecting—for him. Dr. Kemp playfully recalled that he had told a WVU provost that an educated person must have “a familiarity with calculus.” 

When Dr. Kemp received a Fulbright Fellowship to study in England in 1953, he shipped some of his books to England, but managed to acquire a significant number of volumes while he was there, thanks to a book allotment that was part of the scholarship grant.  He was particularly partial to two bookstores in London: one that was in the South Kensington Underground station, and the other, more famous one, Foyle’s, in Charing Cross Road.  Dr. Kemp said that the books he purchased at that time were inexpensive, and that he developed a relationship with the bookseller, who put him in contact with publishing houses so he could buy books at a discount.  Through the bookseller, he was able to purchase the seven-volume set of The Royal Navy: A History – From Earliest Times to 1900.  Dr. Kemp emphasized that establishing a good working relationship with a bookseller is one of the keys to the development of a good book collection. 

Row of book spines of the set "The Royal Navy, A History"
(photo in public domain)

When the time came for his return to the United States, Dr. Kemp was faced with the somewhat herculean task of getting his books back home.  He had taken a job at Ove Arup and Partners, one of the leading engineering firms in London, and was part of a team working on the Sydney Opera House. One of his friends in London, Felix Winkler, a refugee from Czechoslovakia, had shipped all of his belongings to London in big wooden crates he had made at a sawmill.  Dr. Kemp took the empty crates and rebuilt them to accommodate his book collection and other belongings; he then shipped them to Chicago via Liverpool, where the emptied crates stood for “many years” in the parking lot of the complex in which he and his wife had their first apartment.  Dr. Kemp recalled that they were eventually broken up for firewood, but stated, “I regret not keeping those things.”    

Among Dr. Kemp’s favorite volumes was the series of The Cambridge Modern History of Britain, planned by Lord John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton. Dr. Kemp admired Acton’s abilities as a historian, but admitted he had not read any of Acton’s other works; however, he said that he had read this series cover to cover several times, and that the essays in the volumes were written by “really good people.”  Dr. Kemp regarded Acton as a “minor hero” since Acton planned the series and solicited the authors.

Portrait photo of Lord John Dalberg-Acton
Lord John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton
(photo in public domain)

 One of Dr. Kemp’s goals as a professor and as an engineer was to create a contextual work for the history of technology—“real background material for engineers” as he put it—which then did not exist.  He also hoped that this area of history would be incorporated into general history survey classes but did not achieve that goal. However, as Dr. Kemp pointed out, history of technology classes are now in the engineering curriculum at WVU, but only as part of the general education requirements. Many of his books on historic structures that date from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were used as part of the effort to incorporate this class into the curriculum.  They were also used by Dr. Kemp when he worked on the restoration of the Wheeling Custom House, also known as the West Virginia Independence Hall. 

Upon the retirement of Roland P. Davis, Dean of the College of Engineering at WVU, Dr. Kemp acquired some of his published works, as Dean Davis was a noted bridge engineer, and had been an instrumental part of creating the West Virginia State Road Commission in 1919. While many of Dean Davis’ works are in the WVU Library, it only holds two volumes from his personal collection of engineering books; Dr. Kemp has one, as well.  It was the practice of the Department of Engineering that, upon the retirement of a faculty member, the books they left behind were put into a big box in the hallway and anyone could choose ones that they wanted—Dr. Kemp said that was how he acquired the works of Dean Davis.  Dr. Kemp felt that modern engineers had no use for dated works, but he believed they still had a great deal of value. 

The history of religion and theology forms the last section of Dr. Kemp’s collection.  Although he donated many of his books in 2016, the donation did not include these volumes, since he was a certified lay speaker in the United Methodist Church and used these books for reference in writing sermons. The donation of his collection to the library, Dr. Kemp felt, was “painful,” as it was almost like “giving yourself away.”  While he continued to use many of his remaining books for reference, he regretfully acknowledged that there probably wouldn’t be very many people interested in the books in his donated collection.   

Sadly, Dr. Kemp passed away on January 20, 2020, but his recollections as recorded in this oral history will continue to remain a valuable resource for all of us.  The books Kemp donated , as well as the oral histories, are part of his collection of papers at the WVRHC.

Farmers’ Repository and Virginia Free Press and Farmers’ Repository

Posted by Jessica McMillen.
July 20th, 2020

By: Rachael Barbara Nicholas, WVRHC

A flourishing newsprint culture bloomed in the streets of Charles Town, West Virginia, before the Civil War. The Virginia Free Press and Farmers’ Repository (VFP&FR), one of several antebellum newspapers, devoted itself to a series of political topics, including slavery, congressional representation, and internal improvements. Richard Williams and William Brown edited its predecessor, the Farmers’ Repository, from April 1, 1808, to February 28, 1827, before merging it with the Virginia Free Press in March. The new editors, John S. Gallaher and J. T. Daugherty, opposed the incumbent president, Democrat Andrew Jackson, and promoted the National Republican Party.

Gallaher was professionally and politically qualified to oversee the newspaper. He had previously edited the Virginia Free Press and the Ladies’ Garland, an early example of a women’s magazine. Gallaher assumed full control of the paper after Daugherty “disposed of his interest” on October 6, 1830.[1] Just two weeks later, Gallaher won a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates with Edward Lucas, a future superintendent of the Harpers Ferry arsenal. The paper quietly mentioned Gallaher’s political victory, noting the number of votes awarded without highlighting his role as editor. [2] Astute readers understood the connection, and they accepted the paper as Gallaher’s official mouthpiece. Within its pages, Gallaher shared his opinions on presidential candidates and internal improvements, advocating for the expansion of the railroad through Charles Town. The routing of railroads through the Eastern Panhandle would influence the county’s subsequent inclusion in West Virginia.

Another issue that facilitated divisions between eastern and western Virginia was congressional representation. The paper was at its peak in 1830 when Virginia was revising its state constitution. Two concerns dominated the proceedings of the Constitutional Convention: representation and suffrage. Western delegates petitioned for apportionment in the General Assembly on a white basis; they opposed a system of “federal numbers” that included slaves as three-fifths a person, thereby granting additional representation to the eastern slaveholding counties. A “common man” writing for the VFP&FR deemed the system unjust. It is “the wish of the majority for representation to be uniform, according to the white population of the whole State, and not with regard to wealth,” he wrote. “In other words, not for slaves, who, as property, can be considered no more than so many cattle to give a man, where slaves are possessed, greater preponderance in the scale of politics, than one where there is little or no slavery.”[3]

John S. Gallaher
John S. Gallaher, politician and newspaper editor, 1796-1877. Image courtesy of, November 20, 2018.

Although that was true for western delegates, the rest disagreed. Apportionment according to the total white population failed by two votes, as did universal white male suffrage.[4] Two western delegates, John R. Cooke and Richard H. Henderson, received backlash for voting against western interests. As late as 1910, historian Charles Ambler accused Cooke and Henderson of “disloyalty, approaching treason” for supporting the Gordon compromise, which gave the east a 24-person majority in the House of Delegates.[5] Cooke countered similar claims in a series of letters reprinted in the VFP&FR. He argued “that Gen. Gordon’s plan, adopted on the 19th of December… was the successful rival of the plan of white population and federal numbers, instead of being the plan itself,” adding that he “supported the plan of representation now submitted to you, because I thought it the nearest approximation to the ‘white basis’” in a second letter.[6] Gallaher and Daugherty did not challenge Cooke’s assertions, indicating some level of agreement. They thought the new constitution was better than its predecessor, even though it did not “give the West all which we were justly entitled.”[7]

Alexander Campbell in the Virginia Constitutional Convention, 1829-1830
“Alexander Campbell in the Virginia Constitutional Convention, 1829-1830,” painted by George Catlin, West Virginia and Regional History Center, West Virginia History OnView.

The integral nature of slavery to political representation may have influenced Gallaher’s stance on another critical issue: colonization. Americans like Gallaher who promoted colonization believed the settlement of slaves in Africa could eliminate the problems associated with American slavery, including political representation. It was not uncommon for writers to denounce the violence of slaveholders or even slavery itself in the VFP&FR. One correspondent did not mince words when he said the “Eastern gentlemen… should hail with pleasure the arrival of the period when Virginia should get rid of the evil of slavery.”[8] Such powerful words, recalling Jefferson’s own objections to slavery, did not suggest any real love for racial equality. Advocates of colonization were keenly interested in the removal of slaves and free African Americans. Hoping for a whiter society, Gallaher offered his solution: “Let the State provide ways and means for transportation to Liberia, of all negroes who were entitled to freedom previous to 1806… And let it be made the duty, by law, of all persons who hereafter emancipate slaves, to provide the means of their removal from the commonwealth.”[9] Gallaher’s advice complied with the 1806 law that mandated the emigration of freepersons within a year of their manumission. Although seemingly calculated to assist African Americans, his declaration betrayed a greater desire to help white Virginians than emancipated slaves. Gallaher and likeminded men hoped their fellow citizens would support the American Colonization Society after Nat Turner’s rebellion in Southampton, a topic that received much attention in the VFR&FR.[10] The slaughter of slaveholding families probably bolstered Gallaher’s belief that slavery was a threat to white Americans that could only be alleviated through colonization.

Gallaher continued to promote colonization in the pages of the VFR&FR until May 1832, when he announced impending changes for the paper. “We desire, about the first of October next, to make an addition to our form, and some general improvement in the appearance of the paper,” Gallaher wrote. “This improvement is contemplated, in order to keep pace with the increasing patronage extended to the FREE PRESS, and to give it a character worthy of competition with any weekly paper in Virginia.”[11] He was wrong in but one respect. Within two months, the Virginia Free Press and Farmers’ Repository had become the Virginia Free Press, beginning a new chapter in Gallaher’s publishing history.[12]

     [1] J. T. Daugherty, “The Free Press,” The Virginia Free Press and Farmers’ Repository, Charles Town, West Virginia, October 6, 1830, p. 3.

     [2] John S. Gallaher, “Jefferson Election,” The Virginia Free Press and Farmers’ Repository, Charles Town, West Virginia, October 20, 1830, p. 3.

     [3] A Common Man, “For the Virginia Free Press,” The Virginia Free Press and Farmers’ Repository, Charles Town, West Virginia, February, 3, 1830, p. 1.

    [4] Ronald L. Heinemann, Old Dominion, New Commonwealth: A History of Virginia, 1607-2007 (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008), 173-174.

     [5] Charles Henry Ambler, Sectionalism in Virginia from 1776 to 1861 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1910), 166, 163.

     [6] John R. Cooke, “The New Constitution,” The Virginia Free Press and Farmers’ Repository, Charles Town, West Virginia, February, 3, 1830, p. 2; John R. Cooke, “The New Constitution,” The Virginia Free Press and Farmers’ Repository, Charles Town, West Virginia, February, 10, 1830, p. 2.

     [7] J. T. Daugherty and John S. Gallaher, “The Free Press,” The Virginia Free Press and Farmers’ Repository, Charles Town, West Virginia, February 17, 1830, p. 3.

     [8] Correspondent, “The Legislature,” The Virginia Free Press and Farmers’ Repository, Charles Town, West Virginia, December 22, 1831, p. 2.

     [9 ] John S. Gallaher, “The Free Press,” The Virginia Free Press and Farmers’ Repository, Charles Town, West Virginia, October 27, 1831, p. 3.

     [10] Unknown author, “Colonization Society,” reprinted in The Virginia Free Press and Farmers’ Repository, Charles Town, West Virginia, September 22, 1831, p. 1.

     [11] John S. Gallaher, “Virginia Free Press,” The Virginia Free Press and Farmers’ Repository, Charles Town, West Virginia, May 3, 1832, p. 1.

     [12] John S. Gallaher, The Virginia Free Press, Charles Town, West Virginia, July 19, 1832, p. 1.

The Constitutionalist

Posted by Jessica McMillen.
July 13th, 2020

By: Rachael Barbara Nicholas, WVRHC

The bustling armory town of Harpers Ferry welcomed a new political paper in spring 1839. The proud editors, James R. Hayman and William S. Smith, offered a prospectus in subsequent volumes, describing their intentions: “As a political paper THE COSTITUTIONALIST will advocate the principles of the present [Democratic] Administration,” those of President Martin Van Buren, “and lend its support to carry out the various measures of political economy advanced by it.” Both Hayman and Smith revered the Constitution, “believing that ‘all powers not clearly granted to the General Government are reserved to the grantors,’” and they named their paper accordingly. As strict constructionists, they opposed any liberal interpretations or “latitudinous constructions of the Constitution as detrimental to State sovereignty.”[1] The debate between loose or strict constructions of the Constitution had shaped political discourse since the Constitution came into existence. The ghosts of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton lingered on, with Democrats claiming Jefferson as their muse.

Opposition to Hamilton’s legacy manifested in hostility towards a national bank. The Constitutionalist regularly berated the “Bank Aristocracy” and praised Andrew Jackson, “the sage of the Hermitage,” for denouncing the Second Bank of the United States.[2] Although Jackson won the “Bank War” by vetoing its recharter bill, debates for and against a national bank did not abate. Democrats and Whigs continued to clash in their respective newspapers throughout the Jacksonian Era. The Constitutionalist’s Jacksonian politics and its hatred for national banks fueled its dedication to covering local and national elections.

The most important election to occur during the Constitutionalist’s existence was the Election of 1840. The presidential election pitted Jacksonian darling, Martin Van Buren, against William Henry Harrison, a Whig. The Constitutionalist took an immense interest in the election, replacing the poems and light literature that traditionally occupied its front pages with political commentary.[3] It not only condemned Harrison for being a Whig, and, by association, a moneyed power in league with banking interests, but also an abolitionist sympathizer.[4] In an era of building sectionalism, the word “abolitionism” crackled across party lines, sparking heated debates. Democrats who patronized newspapers like the Constitutionalist believed it was on the rise. “The abolitionists are not dead—they only sleep,” they warned. “Their stillness is of that awful kind which announces the forthcoming of some mighty evulsion of nature.”[5] The nomination of Harrison for the Whig Party seemed to confirm their suspicions. 

subscription notice
A subscription notice for the Constitutionalist, printed on January 8, 1840, in Volume 1, no. 38. Picture taken by Rachael Barbara Nicholas.

William Lucas, a U.S. congressman, certainly thought so. Shortly before the election, Lucas had shown “beyond the possibility of a doubt, that the [Whig] party were playing into the hands of the Abolitionists”—or so the Constitutionalist claimed.[6] Hayman had other reasons to report favorably on Lucas’s speech, which were decidedly local. Lucas’s brother, Edward, was the civilian superintendent of the Harpers Ferry armory.[7] As superintendent, Lucas dismissed competent Whig armorers and replaced them with fellow Democrats.[8] Angry employees accused him of “Loco-Foco tyranny” and establishing a partisan newspaper, the Constitutionalist, while providing its editors with free public housing.[9] Whether he funded it or not, the Constitutionalist definitely favored Lucas’s interests. Hayman and Smith printed toasts in his name, supported his brother, and censured his opponents.[10]

Harper's Ferry Arsenal
“Drawing of Harpers Ferry Arsenal, Captured by John Brown,” unknown artist. Edward Lucas was the superintendent of the Harpers Ferry armory from 1837 to 1841. Image courtesy of the West Virginia and Regional History Center, West Virginia History OnView.

On one memorable occasion, they reprinted an address from Richard Barton, dated October 16, 1830, in which Barton denounced the “JACKSON MEN” who were “directly or indirectly concerned in the INFAMOUS attempt to SULLY MY HONOR” when he ran for state senator. Hayman and Smith responded tersely: “Comment on the above is useless; it will go to the reflections of all [intelligible] and democracy will stand appalled at the idea of supporting a man who could utter such sentiments.”[11] The editors added that Barton had been campaigning against Hierome L. Opie, but they failed to mention the Democratic candidate for the House of Delegates: Edward Lucas.[12] It was not a coincidence that Hayman and Smith used Barton’s speech against Edward’s party to support William’s bid for the House of Representatives in 1839. Local readers would have implicitly understood the connection between Barton and the two Lucases.

William Henry Harrison
“William Henry Harrison,” painted by A.G. Hoit, engraved by O. Pelton and D. Kimberly. William Henry Harrison was the first Whig to win the presidency. He died one month into his term because of pneumonia. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

They probably understood why Hayman shuttered the Constitutionalist, as well. The newspaper lasted two years before its closure in 1841. The presidential victory of William Henry Harrison had facilitated Lucas’s removal from the armory as superintendent, and Henry K. Craig, a military superintendent, took his place in April 1841.[13] Hayman put his Shenandoah Street home and the newspaper press up for sale in March and May, just as Lucas was preparing to leave.[14] Without Lucas’s patronage, Hayman must have recognized the tides of political change. This may have cemented his decision to leave Harpers Ferry, especially in the absence of William Smith, who had ceased to be a contributing editor between June 12 and September 11, 1839.[15] With Hayman’s departure, the Constitutionalist finished its brief but influential run. 

     [1] James R. Hayman and William S. Smith, “Prospectus of the Constitutionalist,” The Constitutionalist, Harpers Ferry, Virginia, May 1, 1839.

     [2] “Truth is Mighty and Will Prevail,” The Constitutionalist, Harpers Ferry, Virginia, May 23, 1839.

     [3] Compare Volume I, no. XXXVIII (January 8, 1840) to Volume I, no. II (May 1, 1839).

     [4] “Harrison and Abolitionism: The Maine Election,” The Constitutionalist, Harpers Ferry, Virginia, September 24, 1840.

     [5] “Abolitionism,” The Constitutionalist, Harpers Ferry, Virginia, June 12, 1839.

     [6] “Shepherdstown Address,” The Constitutionalist, Harpers Ferry, Virginia, September 24, 1840.

     [7] Merritt Roe Smith, Harpers Ferry Armory and the New Technology: The Challenge of Change (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977), 262.

     [8] Ibid., 261.

     [9] Ibid., 262.

     [10] “Democratic Dinner,” The Constitutionalist, Harpers Ferry, Virginia, June 5, 1839.

     [11] “Virginia Elections,” The Richmond Enquirer, Richmond, Virginia, October 26, 1830.

     [12] “Democrats Read,” The Constitutionalist, Harpers Ferry, Virginia, May 23, 1839.

     [13] Smith, Harpers Ferry Armory and the New Technology, 268.

     [14] Jill Y. Halchin, ed., Archaeological Views of the Upper Wager Block, a Domestic and Commercial Neighborhood in Harpers Ferry (Washington, DC: National Park Service, 1994), 2.10.

     [15] Smith’s name had been dropped from the acknowledgments in the intervening months.

#ChronAmParty: Nurses

Posted by Jessica McMillen.
July 6th, 2020

Blog post by Rachael Nicholas, WVRHC.

Earlier this year, May 6-12, we celebrated #NationalNursesWeek. To further that celebration, we examined the pages of historic West Virginia newspapers in Chronicling America, the historic newspaper project, #ChronAm, for nursing stories.

The American Civil War marked a period of significant strife for nurses. The unprecedented times facilitated the enlistment of female nurses, both Union and Confederate, to care for the sick and wounded. They oversaw diets and food distribution, managed supplies provided by the United States Sanitary and Christian Commissions, and offered emotional and spiritual care.[1] Nurses regularly encountered sick men within the ranks. Soldiers suffered from acute diarrhea, typhoid, dysentery, small pox, measles, and scarlet fever.[2] Two out of three soldiers died from disease instead of wounds. Nurses and surgeons treated 400,000 wounds in comparison to 6,000,000 cases of sickness.[3]

Nurses put themselves at risk whenever they helped an ailing soldier or civilian. They lived in a time and place that did not recognize germ theory; doctors preferred “humoral theory,” cutting into infected areas to let “tainted blood” flow out.[4] A poor understanding of germs and disease rendered nurses vulnerable but not defenseless. Nurses who recognized the link between “malarial miasmas” and sickness pursued an assiduous sanitation policy to restrict the spread of disease.[5] Cornelia Hancock, a nurse present at Gettysburg, labored tirelessly to keep her ward clean—so much so that she was accused of secreting additional supplies. “There is one woman here who has the clothes department. They call her ‘General Duncan;’ she is the terror of the whole camp,” Hancock wrote. “She came and blew me up sky high for having my ward so clean, said I must get more than my share of clothes. I answered her very politely and held my tongue. I can get along with her if anyone can.”[6] Hancock did not allow petty disputes to interfere with her diligence. The battles nurses waged against disease could become literal. After the First Battle of Winchester, a Confederate victory, Union nurses succumbed to a human enemy—not germs. One Daniel J. Martin, writing from New Creek, [West] Virginia, informed the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer that Dr. Peale, the head surgeon at Winchester’s Union hospital, “and five nurses belonging to the same establishment were made prisoners at the recent defeat of Banks.” Even “the humane old [hospital] steward Dideren was shot dead.” Martin felt melancholy at the news, which “causes many of us great inquietude,” but he continued his work. His hospital in New

Creek was expecting “three hundred sick and wounded, this day, from Petersburg.” Martin and his men had to “do their utmost endeavors to take care of them kindly and properly.”[7] The Civil War permitted little rest for those who healed the living and buried the dead.

Tents in rows with town in background
Camp of the 22nd Pennsylvania Cavalry, Union Army, in New Creek (Keyser), West Virginia, circa 1865. You can see the town in the background. Daniel Martin wrote of his travails from New Creek’s hospital in 1862. Image courtesy of West Virginia History OnView, West Virginia & Regional History Center, Morgantown, West Virginia.

     [1] Daniel John Hoisington, introduction to Our Army Nurses: Stories from Women in the Civil War, by Mary Gardner Holland (Roseville: Edinborough Press, 1998), v.

     [2] Gordon Dammann, Pictorial Encyclopedia of Civil War Medical Instruments and Equipment (Missoula, Montana: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1983), 44.

     [3] George Worthington Adams, Doctors in Blue: The Medical History of the Union Army in the Civil War (Dayton, Ohio: Press of Morningside, 1985), 194.

     [4] Dammann, Pictorial Encyclopedia of Civil War Medical Instruments and Equipment, 35.

     [5] Ibid., 197.

     [6] Cornelia Hancock, South after Gettysburg: Letters of Cornelia Hancock, 1863-1868, ed. Henrietta Stratton Jaquette (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1937), 23-24.

  [7] Daniel J. Martin, “From New Creek,” The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, Wheeling, [West] Virginia, June 5, 1862, p. 3.

Henry Clay Furnace at Coopers Rock

Posted by Jessica McMillen.
June 29th, 2020

Blog post by Lee Maddex, Archives Processing Assistant, WVRHC.

The Henry Clay Furnace hike is one of the most popular hikes taken on Coopers Rock State Forest. It is a relatively short hike, about one mile to the furnace and it is rated as a moderate hike, not too easy, not too difficult. On any given day, numerous hikers can be found along the trail or at the furnace. I have made the hike to Henry Clay Furnace perhaps thirty-five or forty times since the late 1980s and have explored forest adjacent to the trail and furnace many times, as well. During these adventures, I have found the numerous remains of the iron industry. This blog post provides a hiking guide to the vestiges or remnants of the iron industry to see along the trail to the furnace. First a brief history of the Henry Clay Furnace.

Henry Clay Iron Furnace hiking trail sign

Brief History

Leonard Lamb constructed the Henry Clay Iron Furnace in 1834 for the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania firm of Tassey, Morrison and Semple. Lamb presumably named the furnace Henry Clay after the Kentucky senator Henry Clay, who was a great proponent of the American iron industry. Interestingly, Lamb also named his third son Henry Clay, as well (born December 22, 1834). The Henry Clay Furnace was the first steampowered iron furnace in Western Virginia and operated until 1848. It was abandoned after its iron ore supply was depleted.

The Henry Clay Furnace was part of a larger ironworks complex. At its height in the late 1840s, this industrial complex (known as the Monongalia Iron Works), included not only the Henry Clay Furnace, but two additional iron furnaces, the Woodgrove and Anna furnaces; and a cut nail factory, a stove works, a rolling mill, puddling furnaces, sawmill, and grist mill located at Ices Ferry; plus some 14,000 acres of timber and iron ore lands in Monongalia and Preston counties. Interestingly, the footprint of Coopers Rock State Forest sits virtually on top of the footprint of this historic ironmaking tract.

hikers at furnace
Henry Clay Furnace was a popular destination for hikers well before the creation of Coopers Rock State Forest in 1936. Shown here are hikers at the furnace in 1890.

Remnants of the Iron Industry

The Henry Clay Furnace is the most recognizable remnant of the ironmaking industry that once flourished on the present-day Coopers Rock State Forest. What follows is a guide to the less oblivious remains of this iron industry and takes the form of a travel log starting at the Henry Clay Furnace parking lot.

The road to the Henry Clay Furnace (aka Clay Furnace Trail) is a less than oblivious vestige of the iron industry. Today this road is just one of many forest trails, connecting with several other forest trails, but it predates the building of the Henry Clay Furnace. The road’s construction dates to the early nineteenth century, and historically it led east to the crossroads at Hopewell Church and west to a point on the early road across Chestnut Ridge. Like real estate, where location is key, iron furnaces needed to be near its raw materials (iron ore, timber for charcoal and limestone), making its location crucial. Leonard Lamb chose a site that was ideal for an iron furnace. Not only was the furnace site near its raw materials, but the road facilitated the construction of the Henry Clay Furnace. It permitted relatively easy access for the stone masons to quarry and transport stone to the site, and after its completion, transporting of the product of the furnace, pig iron, to Ices Ferry. Just imagine hauling a huge steam engine to the furnace site over this road!

As you leave the Henry Clay Furnace parking lot on the way to the furnace, the road will initially be rocky and rough. After about 0.25 miles, the road will start to level out. Look to the right and you will notice a trace of trail running diagonally down into the woods. This is not a trail, but the remnant of a tramroad. This tramroad was a horse drawn railroad, that was used to haul iron ore to the furnace from the nearby iron ore mines.

Several additional miles of tramroads were built on the forest in the 1840s and 50s. The tramroad shown here dates to the 1850s. Note the use of wooden rails.

Continue down the road. After a short distance, about 150 feet, look to the right and you will notice several deep holes below the road. These are iron ore mines, where iron ore for the Henry Clay Furnace was mined. Iron ore was mined by excavating the soil and rock layer above the iron ore. Once uncovered the iron ore was broken up with sledgehammers and hauled to the furnace on the adjacent tramroad. These mines take the form of pits and trenches and are extensive on this side of the road. These “ore banks,” as they were known in the nineteenth century, are the earliest iron mines associated with the Henry Clay Furnace.

iron ore pit
Iron Ore Pit

Continue down the road, perhaps another 0.10 miles. On left above the road are more iron ore mines. These are trenches (once the iron ore was located, it was mined by following the contours of the land). You will have to scramble up the bank to see these trenches (just be careful climbing up and down the bank; it can be a little treacherous). If you check around the base of trees near these trenches, you will see “spoils,” bits of shale excavated in the mining process, and generally you see fragments of iron ore as well. The iron ore is dense and heavy for its size and will be red and/or red and black. It will vary in size from fragments to sometimes large pieces. Historically, the miners called these ores, the “Red Belt Ores,” and are same ores mined on the other side of the road. These are also the earliest mines associated with the Henry Clay Furnace.

Iron Ore Trench
Iron Ore Trench

Not everything to see on your hike to the furnace relates to the iron industry. There are natural features too. As you near the furnace, the trail becomes a little rougher again. The bank is steep on the left and the hillside drops away on the right. Look to the right for a boulder, a piece of Connoquenessing sandstone. From up the trail it looks like another rock, in a landscape full of rocks and boulders, but continue down the road another ten feet or so, past the boulder and look back up at it. It may take a moment or two to find the right perspective, but you will see a boulder that has the distinct shape of a fish. You can make out the mouth, the eye, a fin, and the tail. The tail makes a fine seat too if you need to take a break.

fish-shaped boulder
Fish-Shaped Boulder

When you arrive at the junction of the Henry Clay Furnace road and the Advanced Ski Trail, take a moment to stop and look at the back of the furnace. This level ground was where the furnace was charged with its blend of iron ore, limestone, and charcoal used in the smelting process (no longer extant, but there was a bridge that connected this area with the furnace). Notice the ground is black from the charcoal. Also note how the bank behind the furnace has been eroded by mountain bikers riding down the hillside. This is a fun ride I am sure, but this activity is extremely bad for the furnace remains.

As you resume your hike toward the furnace, the road bends to the right and it becomes rather rough again. This part of the road was paved using slag. Slag is the glassy byproduct of iron smelting process. Slag is ubiquitous around the furnace with “slag heaps,” or piles of slag everywhere within a quarter mile of the furnace. There is even a slag island in Clay Run.

Henry Clay Iron Furnace
The Henry Clay Furnace in the fall of 2019. The steam engine sat to the right of the furnace and the molten iron was run out into a sand bed in front of the furnace. The dendritic pattern formed by the iron being cast resembled piglets suckling at the mother sow, thus the name “pig iron.”

When you arrive at the furnace, take some time to closely look at it. The furnace is in remarkable condition for a structure that is nearly two hundred years old. Look at the stonework. Each stone was hand cut and placed without the use of power tools or other modern construction equipment. Also notice the care taken to add texture or rustication to each stone block.

close-up of stonework
Close up of the stonework

This concludes your tour to the Henry Clay Furnace. From here you can return the way you came or venture on one of the forest trails that connect at the furnace. Most of all enjoy your time at Coopers Rock State Forest!

The Grateful Dead in Morgantown in 1983

Posted by Jessica McMillen.
June 22nd, 2020

Blog post by Lee Maddex, Archives Processing Assistant, WVRHC.

On April 10, 1983, the legendary San Francisco rock group, the Grateful Dead, played the West Virginia University Coliseum to much ado. Formed in 1965, the Dead forged their own musical path over the next thirty years, playing well over 2,300 concerts. Often perceived as a 1960s psychedelic throw-back band, the Grateful Dead had their roots in folk and jug band music and jazz and played a sophisticated blend of rock and roll, jazz, country and blues (now is known as roots music or Americana). The group disbanded in 1995 following the death of lead guitarist Jerry Garcia. This blog post touches briefly on the actual concert, but mostly examines the local and student reaction to the Grateful Dead and their followers coming to Morgantown.

Now nearly four decades later, it is easy to forget how popular the Grateful Dead once were, but in the early 1980s, the Grateful Dead were extremely popular with college students on campuses across the United States. WVU was no exception and our campus had a couple hundred ardent Dead fans known as Dead Heads. Not an overwhelming number but we had our fair share. In fact, when the local Grateful Dead cover band Nexus played downtown at the Underground Railroad (now 123 Pleasant Street), it was always packed with students and locals alike, dancing to the songs of the Dead until closing time. So, when the WVU Pop Arts Committee announced that the Grateful Dead were to play the WVU Coliseum on April 10 there was excitement both on campus and around the state. Tickets went on sale at the Coliseum on Sunday March 13 at 1:00pm. A sizeable crowd of students and fans camped out inline starting late Saturday night to get the best tickets when the box office opened the next day.

Invitation to Grateful Dead concert
The Go Go’s, Flock of Seagulls, Pat Benatar, Kenny Rogers, and the Oak Ridge Boys all played the WVU Coliseum during the 1982-83 academic year.

However, this excitement for the Grateful Dead concert was not shared by the local law enforcement. Morgantown Chief of Police John Cease was not very sanguine about the Grateful Dead coming to campus and was clearly in near panic over the concert. In a Dominion Post article dated Friday April 8, 1983, Cease said that the Grateful Dead were “notorious for its almost “cult-like followers” and that “we are anticipating we will probably have some motorcycle guys in here Sunday.” Cease went on to say “come Sunday, there will be an influx of persons into Morgantown [and] typically, Grateful Dead followers camp out rather than lodge in hotels…and that there have been “situations where people camp out on public grounds, private buildings and vacant buildings without much regard to those whose property they were on.” He concluded “It is the group activities before and after the concert that have presented the most direct threat to communities.” Fortunately, not all the local officials were in a state of panic. Cease acknowledged that the “university officials” stated that they are “well attuned to planning for the concert.” Cease’s near hysteria was remarkable considering on any given home football weekend, Morgantown experienced a huge influx of sports fans, many rowdy and law enforcement had no trouble handling the football crowd.

The Pop Arts Committee was the student-elected group tasked with bringing concerts to campus. Starting in the mid-1970s, they brought many big-name musical acts to the Coliseum, such as Fleetwood Mac, Billy Joel, America, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, the Doobie Brothers, Boston, and many others. However, by 1980 the Pop Arts Committee struggled to bring in national touring bands because of the restriction prohibiting hanging equipment from the Coliseum’s dome. It was believed that the weight of this equipment would structurally compromise the Coliseum. Eventually it was determined that it was safe to hang lights and speakers from the dome. The Grateful Dead were one of the first bands permitted to hang their equipment hung from the dome.

The rumor on campus after the show, was that the Grateful Dead caught wind of this story (likely from the student stagehands, who worked the show) and that the Dead, ever the pranksters, wanted to test the structural soundness of the Coliseum. To that end, they opened the show with Samson and Delilah, a loud, rocking song that had the chorus “If I had my way, I would tear this old building down.” The Dead tried their best to tear down the Coliseum, but they, thankfully, failed.

Bob Weir
Rhythm Guitarist Bob Weir. Weir is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and is still on the road performing Grateful Dead music

The Dead, however, did succeed in getting the audience up and dancing for the entire show! And by the end of the concert, the Coliseum crowd had enjoyed a typical early 1980s Grateful Dead concert. From the Samson and Delilah opener to the U.S. Blues encore, the setlist included songs ranging from their earliest days with Me and My Uncle to the 1970s with Uncle John’s Band and Sugar Magnolia to newer songs like Althea and My Brother Esau to the future top twenty hit Touch of Grey, that opened the second set. The concert was fair to middling musically, nothing too stellar, just some well-played “good old Grateful Dead.” However, without a doubt, everyone left the Coliseum with a smile on their face.

Local and student reaction to the concert was a mixed depending on who was commenting. The Dominion Post reporter, who clearly did not attend the show reported the next day “An influx of dead heads into Morgantown during the weekend to attend a rock concert turned a lot of heads, but for the most part passed without incident.” The reporter went on to say that only one concert goer had been arrested by the end of the show “for public indecency and intoxication.” (Oddly enough, this arrest occurred right in front of this author.) Police Chief John Cease, whose dire predictions did not come to pass, noted “Sunday…night passed without incident.”

The Daily Athenaeum sent student reporter Rich Gaw to the concert. His “jottings of a roving eye reporter” as he called them were published in the DA on Monday. It was clear that he did not get the Dead or the Dead Heads. Although the concert was a novel experience for Gaw (Dead Heads would disagree and say each show was a unique experience, a compelling reason to see more shows), he unwittingly captured the essence of the Grateful Dead concert experience. Gaw writes: “Outside the Coliseum, hordes of flowery vans flanked by gypsies are lined up in the parking lot. Lots of babies…Middle-aged women with long skirts parade in the blue entrance gate selling buttons, t-shirts, and tie-dye shirts.” He goes on “Concert starts. Coliseum transformed into traveling road show. Jerry’s harem weaving fluidly in the aisles, silhouetted against the exit gates. Going to Dead show is more a novelty than anything else. Like saying you’ve been to World Series…I watch some young man run up the aisles without clothing…I concluded that acid at a Dead Show is like hotdogs at a Yankee game…”

Jerry Garcia
Lead Guitarist Jerry Garcia. The song writing duo of Jerry Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter produced a canon of music that was superb with its beautiful melodies and timeless lyrics.

Laura Chiodo a contributor to the 1983 Monticola (WVU yearbook) had, for the most part, a better understanding of the Grateful Dead and their fans. She noted in the Monticola: “April 10, a rock and roll institution stopped in Morgantown. The Grateful Dead, followed by Dead Heads from across the nation, took concert attenders back to the days of peace, love and understanding. On the seats, in the aisles and with each other, Dead Heads danced throughout the two and a half-hour show. Guitarist extraordinaire, Jerry Garcia, laid down licks which proved why the Dead is such a mainstay in rock and roll history. Although many students did not attend, faithful Dead followers kept ticket sales from suffering…”

When it was all said and done, Morgantown survived the Grateful Dead and the Dead Heads. While there was one arrest, the Dead Heads did not run wild through the streets of Morgantown, destroying public property and the bikers never descended on the University City. The band and touring fans had the next day off, but they did not linger. Everyone moved on, heading to the next show in Binghamton, New York. And while Morgantown looked a little different in the Monday morning light, ultimately, the Grateful Dead left behind only memories and a few dozen of Grateful Dead related stickers on signs all around town.

Please note the Dominion Post and Daily Athenaeum newspapers and the Monticola yearbooks are available for use at the West Virginia Regional History Center.

There were multiple live recordings of the April 10, 1983 WVU Coliseum show available for your listening pleasure at

The Labor Movement and The Wheeling Majority Newspaper

Posted by Jessica McMillen.
June 15th, 2020

By Nathan Kosmicki, WVRHC Graduate Assistant

Wheeling, West Virginia was a bustling town by the beginning of the Twentieth Century. It was the largest city in West Virginia and home to many industries including; steel, glass, pottery, breweries, and tobacco works. The period (roughly) between 1890 and 1920 has been called the Progressive Era for a number of reasons; the activism of several social movements, governmental intervention in public health and industrial matters, and societal shifts in the name of “progress”. Some of these were the famous trust busting of Theodore Roosevelt, the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration, the Temperance Movement, and the Labor Movement.

The Labor Movement was a social movement to address the vast gaps in economic equality which plagued the working classes of the United States. This labor movement was present in Wheeling, and in fact was very active during the first decades of the Twentieth Century. The Wheeling Majority was a socialist newspaper which circulated on a weekly basis in the city. Beneath the banner read the words “For those who plod with plow, pick, or pen”, suggesting that this publication was for all members of the working class.The Wheeling Majority featured articles and columns from noted labor leaders such as Eugene V. Debs and Mother Jones. Mother Jones was famous for her efforts with the United Mine Workers of America to unionize the coal miners in West Virginia. In addition to this, articles regarding women’s suffrage and boycotts of certain businesses would be posted. Wheeling was a hotbed of socialist activism for the state due to the aforementioned industrial presence but also because of the Ohio Valley Trades and Labor Assembly. This organization made the dissemination of materials easier and brought together more than forty individual unions in the Ohio Valley area.

Mother Jones
A photograph of Mother (Mary) Jones, a prominent advocate for both labor and women’s rights in the Progressive Era.

Online West Virginia Day program to spotlight state’s contribution to Suffrage

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
June 12th, 2020
Group picture of Women's Suffrage League
Women’s Suffrage League, WVU, ca 1920

One hundred years ago, West Virginia legislators met at the State Capitol in Charleston to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which extended voting rights to women. West Virginia University Libraries and the West Virginia and Regional History Center will mark the milestone with an online West Virginia Day program on Saturday, June 20, at 10 a.m.

A link to the webinar is available at

Read the rest of this entry »

Coopers Rock in Historic Photographs

Posted by Jessica McMillen.
June 8th, 2020

By McKayla Herron, WVRHC Graduate Assistant

Being originally from Utah, distinctive rocks and mountains feel like home to me, so I’ve enjoyed visiting Coopers Rock during my time as a student in Morgantown. Following one of my visits, I was interested to see how many photographs the WVRHC has of Coopers Rock. My search on West Virginia History OnView did not disappoint! Below is a sampling of historic photographs of this local landmark, spanning about 70 years. The view hasn’t changed much, but fashion definitely has!

Visitors at Cooper's Rock
Visitors at Cooper’s Rock, circa 1890 (
Group at Cooper's Rocks
Group at Cooper’s Rock, 1905 (
Friends Take in the View at Coopers Rock
Friends Take in the View at Coopers Rock, circa 1910 (
Two Girls on Graffiti Covered Rock
Two Girls on Graffiti Covered Rock, Coopers Rock State Forest, circa 1920 (
Civilian Conservation Corps Member John Cortez
Civilian Conservation Corps Member John Cortez at Cooper’s Rock, circa 1940 (
Family at Coopers Rock
Family at Coopers Rock, 1941 (
Young Couple Enjoying the View from the Overlook
Young Couple Enjoying the View from the Overlook at Cooper’s Rock State Park, circa 1950 (

Enjoying the View at Coopers Rock, 1951 (
Tourists at Cooper's Rock,
Tourists at Cooper’s Rock, 1961 (

Sampling a New Collection: More Historical Postcards from the Edward Utz Collection

Posted by Jessica McMillen.
June 1st, 2020

Blog post by Michael Ridderbusch, Associate Curator, WVRHC.

In a previous blog regarding the Utz postcard collection I brought attention to historical images of railroad depots in the state of West Virginia.  For my History Center blog this month I will continue to survey this collection on a new topic, the town of Petersburg, West Virginia in Grant County.  Founded in 1745 by Jacob Peterson, Petersburg lies in a valley on the South Branch of the Potomac River with a present day population of about 2600 citizens

Hermitage Inn, Petersburg, West Virginia
Hermitage Inn, Petersburg, West Virginia; ca. 1910-1920.
(from the Edward Utz collection, A&M 4458,
West Virginia and Regional History Center)

Two of the postcards document historic landmarks that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  One them is of the Hermitage Inn.  Built in 1840 along the main local highway, it was converted into a hotel in 1881 and it’s been in operation ever since.  According to the National Register nomination form, which includes historical narrative, we are informed that the building was erected with bricks by local slaves who fired them on the site, and that during the Civil War Union troops lodged here during campaigns in the valley.

Dining room of the Hermitage Inn, Petersburg, West Virginia
Dining room of the Hermitage Inn, Petersburg, West Virginia; ca. 1940-1950.
(from the Edward Utz collection, A&M 4458, WVRHC)
Grant County Court House
Grant County Court House, Petersburg, West Virginia; ca. 1905-1908.
(from the Edward Utz collection, A&M 4458, WVRHC)

Like the Hermitage Inn, the County Court House has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Built in 1878-1879, it was later expanded in 1909.  This view of the building shows how it looked about 10 years before its 1909 expansion.

Sawmill, Petersburg, West Virginia; undated.
(from the Edward Utz collection, A&M 4458, WVRHC)

According to the West Virginia Encyclopedia, early settlers in the region used man-powered whip-saws and water-powered sawmills, so this postcard of an early sawmill,  photographed some time in the early 20th century, documents a significant historical landmark from the frontier past.

First Train to Petersburg on the Hampshire Southern Railroad
First Train to Petersburg on the Hampshire Southern Railroad,
Petersburg, West Virginia; 1910.
(from the Edward Utz collection, A&M 4458, WVRHC)

When one learns about the history of efforts to build a railroad line into the valley of the South Branch of the Potomac River, linking southward from Green Spring, West Virginia to Petersburg, a distance of nearly 60 miles, then the significance and sense of occasion manifest in this photograph comes into focus.  It had taken 35 years, and several railroad companies, before the line was completed, from the initial investment of Kanawha County businessmen in 1875, until the final success in 1910 by the Hampshire Southern Railroad Company.  Petersburg had been waiting years for the completion of a rail link to their town, so it seems fitting that a photographer was there to document the arrival of the first train.  The crowd we can see in the resulting photograph have come out to witness the first train’s appearance, likely in the expectation of better days to come through the economic opportunities and convenience it would afford them.

"Horse and Buggy Days, Petersburg Gap"
“Horse and Buggy Days, Petersburg Gap”; 1902
(from the Edward Utz collection, A&M 4458, WVRHC)

The “Horse and Buggy Days” postcard, likely published sometime in the period 1915-1920, shows a scene of local residents gathering at Petersburg Gap, a favorite recreational retreat for locals situated about two and one-half miles from the town of Petersburg on the South Branch of the Potomac River.  The cliff in the background rises to a height of 800 feet and is known as “Picture Rock” since the outlines of a fox and ox can apparently be seen in the rock formations.  This site is still popular, and is now managed by Grant County as “Welton Park.”

offline sources consulted:

digitized postcards from the Edward Utz collection, A&M 4458 (WVU Libraries, West Virginia and Regional History Center)

online sources consulted:

“Historic Properties Inventory Form, Hermitage Inn”


“National Register of Historic Places, Inventory-Nomination Form, Grant County Court House” (

“Sawmills” (

“Grant County, Parks and Recreation” (


“Petersburg, West Virginia”

“Hermitage Motor Inn”

“Grant County Court House (West Virginia)”

“South Branch Valley Railroad”

For other recent History Center blog posts related to new acquisitions, see:

Collection Highlight: A Souvenir of the 1893 World’s Columbian ExpositionSampling a New Collection: Historical Postcards of Railroad Depots