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Railroad and oil greatest stimuli to West Union's growth in 180

BOB'N'ALONG by Bob Stealey

EDITOR

Perhaps you recall Bob'n'Along Monday, when I began a "mini-series" based on a late 19th century newspaper account of the history of West Union, the seat of Doddridge County government. I mentioned that I obtained my information from the Tyler Gazette Industrial--Doddridge County, circa 1898. My resource was courtesy of Mr. Bill Calhoun, chairman of the Doddridge County Historical Society.

The first part of the series was about early settlers in the town. Today, I will touch more upon the industries that were responsible for the progress, at the time, of West Union. In different parts of Doddridge County, oil developments were going on, and two important oil well supply houses were in West Union.

The account read as follows: "West Union is the first town, in size, in Doddridge County, having a population of 800. It is located on the south bank of Middle Island Creek, being 32812 miles from Baltimore, Md., 150 miles from Pittsburgh, Pa., and 250 miles from Cincinnati, Ohio. The main line of the B&O railroad passes through the town, giving it an outlet to the markets of the world. It is in the center of a rich gas territory, and has natural gas in abundance at a reasonable price. West Union is a supply point for a vast oil territory. It is only a few miles from productive oil fields, both to the north and south."

The item further stated that, in common with nearly every town, West Union had been "retarded in growth" by fires -- two disastrous ones having visited the place -- one in 1850, the other two years later. I now quote again from the article:

"The advent of the railroad, which was in 1856, naturally acted as a stimulus to the town, since which time its growth has been a steady one. It, however, has more especially increased in size since 1892-93, during which years oil was developed for the first time in paying quantities. Previously it had derived its support from the farmer, cattlemen and timbermen.

"The town now contains a goodly number of neat and attractive residences and has some substantially-built business houses. Its school building ... would be a credit to a much larger place, and its courthouse and jail buildings ... are creditable structures. The topography of the town site is an undulating plateau, surrounded by hills broken by narrow valleys, through which flow streams that never dry up."

I'll have more about West Union in Friday's Bob'n'Along.

------

A reader who asked that her name not be published mentioned that she believed Harrison County has, over the years, been the hometown of four presidential Cabinet members. She mentioned their names as Cyrus Vance, who many of us recall was secretary of state under President Jimmy Carter; Col. Louis A. Johnson, who was a secretary of defense; Howard Gore, who she believed was a secretary of agriculture, and Judge Nathan Goff.

If you have any further information, you can send it to me either by regular mail or e-mail, and I'll use it in an upcoming Bob'n'Along column.

Editor Bob Stealey can be reached by phone at (304) 626-1438, or by e-mail at rstealey@exponent-telegram.com.

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