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The Niagara Movement in West Virginia

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 28th, 2018

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC.

In August 1906, a group of African Americans signed a register to designate their entry into John Brown’s Fort in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.  This burgeoning group, dubbed the Niagara Movement, made a special pilgrimage to the Fort during their first meeting on American soil held on the campus of Storer College. The Fort, the former U.S. Army Arsenal Engine House, was the site of Brown’s failed raid to foment a slave rebellion 1859, a precursor to the Civil War.  It had become a shrine for African Americans and many others who saw it as a symbol of freedom.  Read the rest of this entry »

Snapshots of WVU in the 1960s, Part 1, The Computer Center

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 19th, 2018

Blog post by Michael Ridderbusch, Associate Curator, WVRHC.

Not long ago the History Center received a collection of archival photographs from University Relations that contains images documenting people, activities, and events at West Virginia University from the 1960s to more recent times.  This blog will focus on photos that show the beginning of computing services at WVU.  Read the rest of this entry »

WVRHC launches George Bird Evans digital collection

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
February 15th, 2018

George Bird Evans poses with Blue and Dawn, ca. 1940. 

West Virginia University Libraries’ West Virginia and Regional History Center has launched a digital collection that chronicles more than six decades of work by acclaimed outdoorsman, author and illustrator George Bird Evans.

The George Bird Evans Collection contains sixty-five years of detailed handwritten hunting journals in which Evans meticulously recorded the results of hunting excursions, primarily in West Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains.

“George Bird Evans was one of the world’s foremost authorities on upland bird shooting and fine bird dogs,” WVRHC Director John Cuthbert said. “His eloquence and philosophical bent earned him an avid following among hunting literature enthusiasts across the nation and beyond.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Read All About It! More Historic Newspapers Available on Chronicling America

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 12th, 2018

Masthead of American Union Newspaper

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian

Woman reading newspaper

The West Virginia and Regional History Center is pleased to announce that an additional eighteen historic West Virginia newspapers have recently been uploaded to the Library of Congress Chronicling America database.  These newspapers have been digitized as part of the National Digital Newspaper Project (NDNP) grant awarded to WVU Libraries and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities in partnership with the Library of Congress. These newspapers have been digitized under the receipt of WVU’s third NDNP grant award.  All of these historic West Virginia newspapers now on Chronicling America are available free to read and download in the comfort of your own home.  Read the rest of this entry »

Selected Environmental History Archives and Manuscripts Collections at the WVRHC

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
February 5th, 2018

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC.

West Virginia is known for mountain vistas, beautiful rivers and forests, and rural scenery.  The natural beauty of the state is one of its greatest assets.  This blog post compiles a number of collections at the West Virginia & Regional History Center that document efforts to preserve the natural environment in West Virginia.  Click on the link to see the finding aid for each collection.  This list is not comprehensive – there are many more relevant sources in the Center’s holdings.  Search the Guide to Archives and Manuscripts for additional collections and review the WVRHC website to find books, photographs, maps, and printed ephemera among other resources.  Read the rest of this entry »

University Archives Update, Part 1: University Records

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
January 22nd, 2018

Blog post by Jane Metters LaBarbara, Assistant Curator, WVRHC.

In honor of WVU’s new and exciting records retention schedule, here is a little history about the University Archives and information about what we are collecting.

People working at desks on the 10th Floor of Wise Library, West Virginia University

The stacks in the old Wise Library used to be open; now they are closed and we store a lot of the University Archives here.

The West Virginia & Regional History Center is the special collections unit of WVU Libraries and the home of WVU’s university archives.  It all began in the 1920s when an ambitious WVU history professor started to seek support for preserving the state’s historical records. By 1933, we were authorized by the University as the “Division of Documents,” and in 1935 we hired our first full-time archivist Dr. Festus P. Summers.  Read the rest of this entry »

Dreaming of Spring: Historic Garden Catalogs in the West Virginia and Regional History Center

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
January 17th, 2018

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian

Long, cold winter nights are the perfect time to dream of spring.  What shall we plant in the garden this year?  Will we order plants, seeds, or some of both?  Will we have a vegetable garden or will we plant flowers?  Should we dig a new bed for those iris we’ve always wanted to plant?  This might be the year!  If you’re like me, you’ve already received garden catalogs offering heirloom seeds or the latest cultivars. I always get drawn into the beautiful images of plants, the latest introductions, and ways to use them in the home and garden.  There’s nothing like looking at garden catalogs on a snowy day to make you think of spring.  Read the rest of this entry »

WVRHC’s Latest Newsletter Features Ancella Bickley

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
January 9th, 2018

The latest issue of the West Virginia & Regional History Center’s newsletter has been released!  The feature article is “Ancella Bickley Papers Document the Life and Work of Pioneer Black Educator and Historian.” Additional articles include a celebration of the recent donation of a set of glassware of the Kennedy Presidential pattern, which was produced by the Morgantown Glass Company, and the donation of a set of historical newspapers that document key moments in history. We also honor our recently retired Coordinator of Public Services, Kevin Fredette, who helped the patrons of the Center for 10 years.

You can read a PDF copy of the newsletter or contact the Center to request a print copy.  If you want to see back issues of the newsletter, they are all online and accessible through our Newsletter webpage.

Celebrating Nitro, 100 Years, 1917 to 2017

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 19th, 2017

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian

Panoramic View of Nitro

One hundred years ago this month, on December 23, 1917, ground was broken for the development of Nitro, a town born out of necessity.  Not long after the United States entered World War I it became clear that there was a critical shortage of gunpowder and production lagged far behind requirements.  According to William Wintz’s history, Nitro:  The World War I Boon Town, Congress called an emergency session, passing the “Deficiency Appropriates Act” on October 6, 1917, to address this shortfall.

Congress determined that three plants were needed to produce the necessary gunpowder.  Each plant would be capable of producing 500,000 pounds.  Locations for the plants were considered in ten states.  West Virginia became the top choice for a location, just 14 miles from Charleston with adequate water supplies, transportation, topography and access to raw materials.  Sites in Nashville, Tennessee and Louisville, Kentucky were also selected.  In the end, production was bumped up to 700,000 pounds for two plants, Nitro and Nashville.  With this level of production, the Louisville site was no longer needed.

Nitro, under construction

These photos, above and below, are from a photograph album depicting the earliest days of Nitro as it was under development.  Above, Nitro under construction.  Below, the town of Nitro as seen from a nearby hill.

Town of Nitro as seen from nearby hill

A true boom town, Nitro soon saw the influx of thousands of men and materials.  Shortly thereafter, twenty-seven 200 bed barracks were under construction.  110,000 people were employed to build the plant over an eleven month period.  This plant, known as Explosive Plant “C,” could produce 350 pounds of smokeless gunpowder a day.

A town of over 24,000 people sprung up during the same period.  The steady stream of workmen, servicemen, and their families all needed housing.  Since the area was nothing but grass and corn fields when the government purchased it, housing had to be provided.  The War Department contracted with a Huntington company, Minter Homes, founded by William E. Minter as a division of his Huntington Lumber & Supply Company in 1913.

Minter Homes, like the better known Sears & Roebuck and Aladdin homes, supplied ready-made houses that could be ordered from a catalog and delivered to the customer’s site for construction. The War Department purchased a whopping 1,724 Minter Homes for construction in Nitro from February to July 1918.   It has been said that the construction of Nitro was so rapid that a workman could leave his home in the morning and when he returned at the end of the day, another street with an entire row of houses would have been built in his absence.

Since the homes needed furnishing too, Minter Homes also provided the furniture.  Wicker was an inexpensive choice for supplying the homes.  The Nitro photograph album in the WVRHC collection shows one of these Minter Homes, including photographs of the rooms.  Interior photographs from this period are quite rare.  The following photographs below show a charming cottage in Nitro, with morning glories covering the porch, supplied by Minter Homes along with its interior views.  According to a Minter Homes brochure, this was considered an “executive’s home,” probably used in Nitro as the home of an officer.  Heating was supplied by natural gas/forced air, walls were plaster, laundry tubs were included, as were the electricity and the “ornamental” light fixtures.  Everything was new when these photos were taken. Notice that although the flowers are blooming, the front yard is nothing but bare dirt.

Minter home in Nitro, with flowers on porch and a dirt front yard

Interior of Minter home in Nitro, showing fireplace

Some of the wicker furniture supplied by Minter Homes can be seen in these photos, above and below.

Interior of Minter home in Nitro, showing wicker chair and loveseat

A beautiful dining room in the same home.

Interior of Minter home in Nitro, showing dining room

Stop by the West Virginia and Regional History Center to view this photograph album documenting the birth of Nitro as a munitions manufacturing site.  You can also read all about the history of Nitro in Nitro: The World War I Boom Town by William D. Wintz in the WVRHC collection.  Check out Nitro’s history on their website:  A silent film on Nitro, made in 1918, by the U.S. Signal Corps is available on YouTube:

WVRHC A&M 4122: Nitro photograph album circa 1918 – 1919
Banner image: West Virginia State Archives
Wintz, William D.  Nitro: The World War I Boom Town
Nitro: A Historic Past, An Exciting Future:
Nitro, West Virginia:
Minter Homes: Homes for Workmen:
Nitro Housing Layout:

West Virginia and the Vietnam War

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 12th, 2017

Blog Post by Catherine Rakowski, Administrative Associate at the WVRHC

The United States’ involvement in Vietnam (also known as French Indochina) began as early as 1950 in an effort to contain the spread of communism.  Throughout the next 25 years, the American support for the anti-communist government of South Vietnam escalated from supplying funding, military advisors and equipment to a full-scale involvement of U.S. forces fighting the war.

By the end of America’s most controversial war in 1975, more than 3 million Americans had served and 58,220 had died.  The state of West Virginia sent 36,578 troops of which 1,182 died. West Virginia suffered the highest casualty rate in the nation.

The West Virginia and Regional History Center is now displaying through December 2017, in the Rockefeller Gallery (2nd floor of the Wise Library) the exhibit, “West Virginia and the Vietnam War.” It includes political papers, maps, photographs, correspondence, artifacts, ephemera and the stories of individuals involved in the war on the front lines and at home. The photographs in this blog are from that exhibit.  Read the rest of this entry »

Mirroring the LOC: Mirror Images in the Collection of the WVRHC

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
December 4th, 2017

Blog Post by Jessica Eichlin, Photographs Manager and Preservationist

One of my favorite parts of my job as an archivist is seeing what other museums and archives around the world are doing through social media.

The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division uses a blog to let people see their collections online. I love seeing their posts about the items they have, the projects they are working on with the public, and their new acquisitions. The newest post on their “Picture This” blog, “Double Take: Mirror Images,” was especially intriguing, as I knew the WVRHC had a number of photographs of mirrors in our own collections. Photographs of mirrors can be particularly fascinating due to the images captured, deliberately or unintentionally, in the mirror itself.

Check out the original post here, then keep scrolling to see some of the WVRHC mirror photos!  Read the rest of this entry »

Our Apple Heritage

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
November 29th, 2017

Blog post by Jane Metters LaBarbara, Assistant Curator, WVRHC.

Fun fact of the day: apple trees are a member of the rose family, and are not native to North America—they spread from Asia through Europe and colonists brought them to this continent in the 1600s.

Two African-American men with apple sacks, in front of an apple bin in an orchard

Apple Pickers, 1975

There were once 1000 to 1600 varieties of apples grown in the southern and central Appalachian region, which is pretty astounding considering that they aren’t native and that Wikipedia tells us there are over 7500 cultivars of apple.  As of 2011, one study suggested there were still over 600 distinct varieties grown in the region.  At least two of these cultivars are special West Virginia contributions. Read the rest of this entry »

Rahall Collection now open to the public

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
November 29th, 2017

Thousands of archival records and digital photographs from the Congressman Nick Joe Rahall II papers are now open for research at West Virginia University Libraries’ West Virginia & Regional History Center.

In 1976, Nick Rahall II, a 27-year-old native of Beckley, WV, won the race for the West Virginia Fourth Congressional District and went on to win re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives for another eighteen terms (1977-2015), making him the longest serving congressman in West Virginia history.

Congressman Rahall with senators Jennings and Byrd

Before he was elected to Congress, Nick Rahall worked in the office of then U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd and as assistant to the Majority Secretary of the Senate. He is pictured with senators Jennings Randolph, Mike Mansfield and Byrd in June 1976. Read the rest of this entry »

Talking Turkey: Celebrating Thanksgiving in West Virginia

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
November 20th, 2017

Group of turkeys on snowy ground

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian

Many people would argue that Thanksgiving is just not complete without a turkey as the centerpiece of a loaded dinner table surrounded by loved ones.  Every other dish, no matter how elaborately prepared or presented, seems to be relegated to side dish status once the turkey comes out of the oven.  But there’s more to talking turkey on Thanksgiving than the meal of the day, there’s the way we celebrate, from turkey calls, to hunting wild game, to watching parades, and cooking the bird.  It’s all part of that most American of holidays, Thanksgiving.  Read the rest of this entry »

Preserving the History of WVU’s First African-American Graduates

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
November 13th, 2017

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC.

The West Virginia & Regional History Center collects materials that document the history and culture of our state and region – including records that document the history of WVU.  This post examines the history of some of WVU’s first African-American graduates and the collections that tell their stories.  Read the rest of this entry »

West Virginia’s Own World War I Flying Ace: Louis Bennett, 1894-1918

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
October 23rd, 2017

Top of statue showing man in aviator cap/goggles

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian


Lt. Louis Bennett, Jr. and his dog standing in front of a SE5a biplane

Lt. Louis Bennett, Jr. and his dog standing in front of a SE5a biplane


This year, 2017, marks the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I.  While war had raged in Europe since 1914, President Woodrow Wilson was making every effort to keep America from committing soldiers and joining the war effort.  However, the tide turned in support of the war and America joined forces with Europe in April 1917.   Following that declaration, the U.S. then declared war on Austria-Hungary in December with troops arriving on the Western Front the following year, 1918.

A young man from Weston, Louis Bennet, Jr., couldn’t wait.  Bennett was the son of Louis Bennett Sr., a prominent Lewis County politician, and Sallie Maxwell Bennett.  Born September 22, 1894, Bennett attended preparatory schools in Pennsylvania, then enrolled at Yale in 1913, graduating in 1917.

While at Yale, Bennett began to envisage a West Virginia Flying Corps.  He left Yale briefly to return to West Virginia in order to put his idea for a flying corps into practice.  Once back in his home state, Bennett pursued his dream, fully developing a flying corps and situating it in Beech Bottom, a small town in Brooke County near Weirton.  Bennett established the corps with a full complement of pilots, crew and its own airfield.  With the attention of the governor, Bennett received a commission as the unit’s captain.  Read the rest of this entry »

WVRHC Staff Favorites

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
October 16th, 2017

American Archives Month & West Virginia Archives Month

Blog post compiled by Jessica Eichlin, Photographs Manager and Preservationist

October is American Archives Month and West Virginia Archives Month!  To celebrate, this post will look at some staff “favorites” from the collections at the WVRHC.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

 My favorite book that we have at the West Virginia and Regional History Center is found in the rare book room. It is an 1885 printing of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. It is one of my favorite books of all time, and Twain is my favorite author so it was really neat to see one of the first printings of the book.

Submitted by Savannah Rose, Graduate Assistant  Read the rest of this entry »

WVU History Exhibit Now Online

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
October 4th, 2017

Blog post by Jane Metters LaBarbara, Assistant Curator, WVRHC; online exhibit by Savannah Rose, Graduate Assistant.

In celebration of WVU’s 150th anniversary, the WVRHC unveiled a new exhibit, Flowing Outward and Beyond: West Virginia University, on West Virginia Day.  The exhibit showcases WVU history through records and artifacts found in the Center’s collections, featuring WVU’s early days, student life, arts, sports, and more.

For those who cannot visit us in person, one of the WVRHC’s fantastic graduate assistants has created a digital exhibit that brings the story of the objects, text, and videos we have on display to a wider audience. We encourage you to check it out at

When I worked on my first exhibit at the Center, I saw how much effort and creativity my coworkers put into our yearly exhibits, and I wanted to be able to share the finished product with people far and wide (including my family members living over 1000 miles away).   Now, we have PDF versions of our previous 5 exhibits available, which you can find on our WV Day Exhibits webpage:  Savannah tried something new this year, going beyond PDF slides to a web-based design.  I hope you all enjoy the upgrade as much as I do!

If this year’s digital exhibit whets your appetite, the exhibit can still be viewed in person at the WVRHC (in the back of the 6th floor, Downtown Campus Library); it will remain on display through May 2018.

Preview of WVRHC's 2017 WV Day poster

This year’s commemorative poster was a beautiful painting, and is one of my favorites!

The Dark Side of Butterflies: The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail in William Henry Edwards Butterflies of North America

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
September 26th, 2017

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian

The great West Virginia coal magnate, William Henry Edwards, was a butterfly lover at heart.  Edwards lived in Coalburg, a small town outside Charleston, and he is credited as the first to open the Southern Coalfields.  When coal shipments were threatened by the events of the Civil War, Edwards found a way to get his coal to market, shipping it by boat.  He was the first to ship coal for export to the North by water.  He was also the first to document the life cycle of butterflies throughout North America and his three volume set of books on butterflies is still considered to be the reigning masterwork on the subject.  Read the rest of this entry »

Conversations with Curators: Preserving the history of WVU’s first African-American graduates

Posted by Monte Maxwell.
September 21st, 2017
Jack Hodge

Jack Hodge, WVU’s first African-American graduate (Journalism, 1954) interviewing Thomas Fulton, head of Social Work Department, for The Daily Athenaeum.

The West Virginia University Libraries’ West Virginia & Regional History Center will host a discussion on preserving the history of WVU’s first African-American graduates on October 3 at 4 p.m. in the WVRHC in the Downtown Campus Library.

WVRHC Curator and Assistant Director Lori Hostuttler will highlight the archival materials documenting graduates Jack Hodge (first bachelor degree, 1954), Annette Chandler Broome (first female bachelor’s degree, 1957), Victorine Louistall Monroe (first master’s degree) and John Reuben Sheeler (first PhD.) who are part of the current exhibit Flowing Outward and Beyond: WVU 1867-2017.

Annette Broome

In 1957, Annette Broome (on the right) became the first known African-American woman to receive an undergraduate degree from WVU. She was the granddaughter of John Hunt. (L to R: Ruth Barnett, Lennie Wiley and Annette Chandler Broome)

Read the rest of this entry »