by Bob Stealey
Located on Taylor County Route 11 just south of the community of Belgium is Wendel, a village that was settled around 1825 by the Yates family. How do I know that? I pulled from my cabinet a copy of "A History of Taylor County, West Virginia," which was compiled and published by the Taylor County Historical and Genealogical Society, Inc.
The book, published in 1986, is the property of Ocean Pearl Felton, a long-time Taylor County resident, and was conveyed to me by my friend from Webster, Teresa Morris, quite a few months ago.
The growth of Wendel didn't begin until the Yates family sold farmland to the Maryland Coal Company back in 1903. Shortly afterward, the railroad spur from Whitehair Crossing to Wendel was built and an increase in horse and buggy activity was seen on the dirt trails.
Homes were quickly constructed, many of which were large, two-storied houses. Labor was imported, many directly from the "old country," to work the mines. The book estimated that the number of families and miners totaled, 1,000. They would come, they'd stay for a while and some would remain, 'though their descendants have added to Taylor County and the United States.
"A large, three-storied company store was built; this later burned and a smaller one built. Joe Manno and a brother supplied this store with supplies from the Simpson train depot by horse and wagon. A large office was built to handle the business of two tipples which handled the enormous coal output."
It was later used as a home, and a large hotel was also built "for the young bachelors coming in." According to the account, the last family to operate the hotel was the Golf Hess family of the Buckhannon area.
The account continued: "George Brackett, of Pottstown, Pa., was hired as their superintendent from 1905 to 1912, after which he was hired in Flemington to run the huge Pittsvein Coal operation. They had their own doctors, midwives, carpenters, and needed persons to make a complete village. Also, the company store received some competition through small businessmen with stores including Gerards, Benda's, Sorbella's, Olivito and others."
In later years, Gateway Fuel, operated by the Fleming family, would be the only business in action. Although a three-room school was constructed, a church was never built in Wendel. But a Satterfield man from Simpson community did come on Sundays and taught Sunday school classes in the schoolhouse. The Catholics had St. Joseph's of Sand Lick.
Union organizers arrived early in the 20th century, and there was immediately trouble, as they had success. A large union hall was built, remembered for its union rallies and parties. Eventually, church services were held there. One report filed told of a Sidney Commecer as being "the strongest and ablest of speakers for the miners' cause." He attracted an overflowing crowd from surrounding area.s
It was in 1924 that farmers, laborers and others joined in collecting rock and building a road from the Simpson underpass to just past the two tipples, the history account shows. Cars increased in number and bus services was opened in the '30s .
"The summer of 1936, with $36,000 federal funds and Works Progress Administration of West Virginia labor, a road was built from the underpass to Route 50, using the old rock foundation, which was still in good shape. Now the area had a shortcut to all areas; the population was averaging between 500 and 600 that year."
Alas, work began to slow down, and a once-booming Wendel began to slip away. Although Gordon E. Bailey, a prosperous coal and oil man, bought out the company and attempted to make a comeback, gradually the business ran out. By the '60s, as the account has it, Wendel was isolated, not for lack of an outlet, but for lack of work and people. What houses stand today are privately owned. Very few have been built since the days of Wendel's glory.
Thanks again to Ms. Felton and to Mrs. Morris for lending me the volume.