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Pruntytown was once known as Cross Roads and Williamsport

By Bob Stealey

Editor

Something I didn't know is that the Taylor County community of Pruntytown was once a progressing community serving as the seat of government for that county, when it was formed in January 1844. That's when the Virginia Assembly split up Harrison, Barbour and Marion counties.

In addition to its governmental buildings, it was the location of Rector College, a weekly newspaper, three blacksmith shops, three taverns, a grist mill, a tannery, a pottery, a harness and saddle shop, four general stores and three churches.

Today it is mainly a residential community, but also the site of one of two national cemeteries in the county, as well as the Pruntytown Correctional Facility. It is at the crossroads of U.S. Routes 50 and 250. In fact, in the late 1790s, it was known as Cross Roads, a name derived from the intersection of the Washington Post Road and the Fairmont-Booths Ferry Pike.

However, by 1801, Cross Roads was a progressing community that consisted of 10 dwellings, a gristmill, a harness and saddle shop and a blacksmith shop. The village was issued papers of incorporation by the Virginia Legislature in January of that year, and its name changed to Williamsport. One record states that the new name was chosen in honor of Abraham Williams, a man who resided there for a period of time before he moved West.

Although the town was named for Williams, it was not known from where the "port" part of the name was derived.

Probably the best known of the many illustrious residents of Williamsport was John Prunty. He and George Jackson represented Harrison County in 1788 at the Convention that adopted the Constitution of the United States.

According to an account in the 1986 book "A History of Taylor County West Virginia," John Prunty was a tall man of great strength whose language was quite profane.

"At one time while serving as sheriff of Harrison County, Virginia, an office he held from 1795 to 1797, he reportedly cursed the court for not paying the amount due him for summoning witnesses.

"On another occasion, he was confined to the 'public stocks' for five minutes because of his abusive language in a magistrate's office. After his release, he continued his abuse of the officials and was confined the remainder of the day in the 'public stocks.'"

Prunty was opposed to the formation of the new county of Taylor, which was ultimately responsible for his defeat for the 21st term as a member of the General Assembly. He gave as a reason for his opposition: "It's so damn small, I can stand on one edge and spit across it."

Further on in the account, it was mentioned that 15 men met in the home of Abraham Smith on April 18, 1844, for an organizational meeting of the new county.

"It was at that meeting that a motion was made to move to the Methodist Episcopal Church in order to conduct their business. This church building served the court of the new county while a new courthouse was being built."

The article about Pruntytown -- it was submitted by Edward A. Whitescarver -- also stated that one of the first offices that needed to be filled was that of clerk of the court. The names of four men were placed as candidates, but the victor was E.J. Armstrong. The second item of business was the selection of a sheriff. Two names were sent to the governor for his selection and he awarded the office to William A. Rogers.

"The first building to be constructed was a jail, the story of which is presented in the article entitled, 'Historic Pruntytown Jail.' The next building authorized to be constructed was the courthouse. The lowest bid was entered by William Primm and he was awarded the contract at a price of $3,724."

It was a year and four days after Taylor County was formed that the name of the county seat was changed to Pruntytown, to appease John Prunty.

By the late 1870s, Grafton's population had far outnumbered that of Pruntytown, and the majority of citizens voted to establish the county seat at Grafton. "With the loss of the county seat, coupled with the loss of Rector College in 1855 by fire, Pruntytown's doom was sealed as a growing and prosperous community."

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