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The Wheeling-Staunton Turnpike

U.S. Route 250 rich in Mountain State history

Civil War and men of wealth on U.S. 250

U.S. 250: into the Alleghenies

U.S. Route 250 rich in Mountain State history

Editor's Note: This is part one of a three-part series by correspondent Ray Rumpler on the historic route of U.S. 250 through West Virginia. The road runs from Wheeling in the Northern Panhandle to Pocahontas County in the state's southeastern corner.


In 1769, a year before George Washington's arrival, Ebenezer Zane _ accompanied by others _fought his way through a seemingly endless forest of giant trees to the confluence of Wheeling Creek and the Ohio River.

There he lay claim to the piece of land he had chosen, little knowing he was founding what was to become the second largest city in the state of Virginia.

Using the commonly accepted method of declaring ownership, called "tomahawk law," he set about identifying the parcel of land he was claiming. With a hatchet he cut his initials on the trunk of each of the corner trees that identified the parcel he had chosen. This gave him legal title to the land, a title that would suffice until the lands could be surveyed and a title description drawn up.

He then returned to his home in Berkeley County, Va., to collect his family.

The following year, accompanied by a handful of fellow adventurers, he brought his wife and children to the site he had chosen and proceeded to set up housekeeping.

At the time, there was no permanent settlement from the source of Wheeling Creek to the Ohio River, but within five years many families joined the Zanes in settling the area.

The McMechens explored to the south and eventually settled in the area named for them. Joseph Tomlinson claimed the area he called Grave Creek, because of the Indian mounds that dotted the area. In 1798 Joseph Tomlinson Jr. subdivided the land into lots and named the settlement Elizabethtown in honor of his wife.

About 35 years later, a rival community was established to the south on the banks of the Ohio River and named Mound City. The two towns were subsequently consolidated in 1865 and christened Moundsville.

From this inauspicious beginning, Wheeling slowly but steadily grew until, by 1800, it had about 100 homes. By 1810 it had one main street, 11 stores, two potteries, a courthouse and a jail.

By 1820 the West Virginia (still Virginia at that time) section of America's first federal highway _ the National Road _ from Cumberland, Md., to Wheeling (130 miles) and points west was finished and ready to connect with Ohio. But politics interfered, so the connection was not completed until 1826.

Wheeling's first city council was elected in 1836, and its first charter was adopted in May of that year.

In 1840, Miflin Marsh began selling hand-rolled cigars to crews and passengers of the riverboats that plied the Ohio River and to the drivers of the big Conestoga wagons that traveled the National Road.

One type of cigar _ long and thin and named the "Conestoga" cigar _ originally invented by a tobacco shop owner in Washington, Pa., and emulated by Marsh, became the favorite of the colorful and sometimes flamboyant freighters who drove the massive Conestogas.

It must have been exciting to see a muscular freighter _ cigar clenched in his teeth _ astride his wheel horse or high on the wagon seat, six powerful horses under his control as he hauled his goods to market. That captured the fancy of the public, and young boys yearned for the day they would be old enough to be on that seat.

In a very short time the cigar, costing between $4 and $5.50 per thousand, became famous as the stogie. Sales boomed and Wheeling became known as "stogie town."

Discovery of industrial-grade coal in the hills around Wheeling, coupled with improved river transportation from the north, dramatically altered the industrial climate of the area.

The LaBelle Nail Company was founded in 1852, and it prospered to the point where it turned out as many as 180,000 kegs of nails during 1878. Even today the company produces 520 million nails a year. So, of course, Wheeling has also become known as "Nail City."

Wheeling was the second largest city in Virginia in 1861. But residents of the western portion of the state, who had few rights under Virginia law, were becoming restive and demands for independence were increasing.

On May 13, 1861, delegates met in Wheeling to condemn the secession movement and on June 11 declared independence from the mother state. A Senate was formed July 2, and it voted $200,000 for the war effort and the same amount for the new government.

Voters approved a bill on May 3, 1862, which required that children born of slaves after July 4, 1863, shall be free, and on June 20, 1863, West Virginia was admitted to the Union. Wheeling remained the state capital until 1870, when the capital was moved to Charleston, then returned to Wheeling in 1875. On May 1, 1885, Charleston finally become the permanent capital.

The firing of the first shot of the Civil War was in 1861, and Wheeling's strategic location to men and materials from the north and west made it a vital supply resource during the war. The road that would eventually become Route 250 was one of the most expedient ways to get supplies to the combat areas of the south.

Travel from Wheeling to Moundsville was easy enough since the road parallel to the river was relatively flat, but turning south east toward Fairmont meant turning into the hills and much more rugged conditions.

According to many sources, President Lincoln and General McClellan favored this route because it gave them a "back door" to Richmond. At the outset of hostilities, troops and supplies could be moved without alerting the main Confederate forces based along the eastern route from Washington to Richmond. Of course, Confederate forces knew of the road and were using it to move to the north.

As Route 250 leaves the river and climbs toward Limestone, Pleasant Valley and Cameron, it narrows and sharp curves became more frequent. Finally the road reaches Hundred and becomes more level. By 1852, the B&O Railroad had been completed from Cumberland, Md., to Grafton through Fairmont, Barrackville, then Hundred and Cameron.

The railroad reached Wheeling on Christmas Eve 1852. Full service was offered beginning Jan. 1, 1853. Once the railroad was in place, it became the main means of transportation. Roads were hard to maintain and travel was slow. It was much faster and infinitely more comfortable to go by train.

The town of Hundred got its name the same way as a lot of places in West Virginia received theirs _ by chance. It seems that a man named Henry Church, who was born in England in 1750, was sent to this country, along with others, to serve in the 63rd Light Infantry under Lord Cornwallis in the War of Independence.

He was captured and imprisoned. When peace was declared, he was released and after some thought, rather than return to England, decided to remain in America. Imbued with the spirit of adventure, he wandered about for some time. During his travels in Pennsylvania he met and married a young Quaker woman named Hannah Keline.

Together they hiked to the Shenandoah Valley to pay her brother a brief visit. Apparently Hannah was as "fiddle-footed" as Henry, for they moved about for several years until finally settling down in what is now a part of Wetzel County. Henry lived until the age of 109 and Hannah died at the age of 106.

In their later years, the loving and well-liked couple would sit on the front porch of their cabin across the road from the B&O tracks and wave to passengers on the passing trains.

"That's old hundred," the conductor would inform the passengers staring back at the elderly couple. It became such a common phrase that it was decided to name the community "Old Hundred." The name was later changed to "Hundred" when a post office was established there.

According to 84-year-old Ed Hixenbaugh, a great-great-great-grandson of "Old Hundred," Saturday nights _ and even some weeknights _ were pretty wild in the oil-rich town. Oil field workers were a boisterous lot who thought fighting a great sport. Enthusiasm for the sport was heightened by the abundance of illegal whiskey.

Although Hundred was a "dry" community, moonshine was easily available by those in the know. According to Hixenbaugh, one of the most inventive entrepreneurs was a milkman named Dick Anderson:

"He delivered milk carrying one of those wire baskets that held, as I recall, about eight bottles. What most folks didn't know was that Dick had painted half those bottles white. Looked just like they was full of milk, but they really held his homemade moonshine. He'd walk down the sidewalk just innocent as could be, right past the federal agents and all, and they'd pay him no mind. He was making deliveries all right, but not what they thought.

"Of course they eventually got wise. Somebody spilled the beans, I guess. At any rate, they decided to pay him a surprise visit one morning. Dick was an enterprising guy. He sold milk, raised hogs and made moonshine. He was just getting ready to put some mash (fermented corn) into the cooker when he saw them coming.

"He knew he was in for it if they found the mash, so real quick he shoveled the mash into the hog feed he had mixed up earlier, and fed the evidence to the hogs. Now the feds had nothing to work with, so they left. A few minutes later Dick looked into the pig pen. His hogs were rolling in the dirt, squealing and snorting, and generally playing the fool. They loved that mash, ate all of it, and were drunker than a skunk. Dick said he didn't think he'd do that again. Grandpap really laughed when he'd tell about it."

By the time the railroad was completed, the oil fields in the Mannington and Hundred area _ as well as the surrounding acreage _had been in production for many years.

It was a time of great prosperity. Fortunes were made by a few who were either smart or guessed right. There were no unemployed, unless they were injured or chose not to work. Early each morning the main streets were lined with horses and wagons heading for the oil fields.

Gradually, however, the fields played out and the boom was over. But a few wells remained productive, and are so even up to this day.

With the completion of the suspension bridge over the Ohio River in 1849, the completion of the B&O Railroad in 1852, and the still-viable National Road from Cumberland, Wheeling was becoming an increasingly important focal point for commercial interchange with neighboring Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

It became particularly vital in 1861 with the start of the Civil War. Men and supplies would gather at Wheeling to be transported by rail south to Grafton. Some movement occurred over the primitive road which would eventually be known as Route 250, but rail travel was easier and faster. As the troop-carrying train passed, farmers and oil field workers would stop work for a moment and wave, wishing them well.

After passing through Hundred, the train came to a community named for Jacob Metz, who was given a land grant of 800 acres by King George. Descendents of Jacob who still reside there on a piece of the original parcel, a part of that which was originally called Metz's Crossing, are unsure of the date of the grant but believe it to be the early 1800s. The area was then part of Monongalia County in the state of Virginia.

The oldest living member of the family, 93-year-old Bertuf Olive Metz Bean, suffered a stroke in 1995 and has difficulty recalling details. According to her son, Sam Bean, Jacob Metz was a corpulent man, weighing in excess of 400 pounds. Apparently his three daughters were also good eaters, because they reportedly had an aggregate weight of 1,000.

About once a year Jacob would mount his horse and, following a primitive trail, ride to Morgantown for supplies. But his horse couldn't carry both him and his supplies, so they walked home together, which sometimes took several days.

Even as recently as the 1930s, educating a child who lived in the rural and sparsely populated areas such as Metz took a lot of effort and determination. Typically, as a young girl, Mrs. Bean attended an elementary school a short walk from home. But the high school was in Mannington, about six miles away, so she and most of her school mates rode the train.

The morning train arrived at 9 a.m., which made them late for the first class, but that was excused. The train for the ride home didn't arrive in Mannington until 7 p.m., about four hours after school was out.

Occasionally, if the weather was nice, they would walk home rather than wait. But generally they would sit around the depot and do their homework _ which made for a lot of similar answers. But Mrs. Bean said she didn't mind the inconvenience. There were always a lot of kids around and that made it fun.

Mannington was originally called Koontown after George and Samuel Koon, who built an inn there in the 1840s. It got its current name in 1852.

It is reported that the kids who lived in Mannington at the time did not associate readily with the children from the outlying areas. It was an oil-rich community with several big beautiful homes and fine commercial buildings. That of course, in the minds of the local kids, meant they were too sophisticated to associate with the "rural rabble."

Just east of Mannington, old Route 250 leaves the current 250 and winds its narrow, curvy way past Blackshire School, through the towns of Rachel, Farmington and on into Barrackville.

Pollock's General Store has been in business in Rachel since long before World War II. Charles Pollock bought the store from the previous owners in 1941.

Surrounded by coal mines, the store did a thriving business when mining was at its peak. It sold meat and groceries and boots and clothing _ anything that was in demand by the hard-working residents of the small community.

A pot-bellied stove sat in the middle of the room. A hole cut in the tin ceiling provided a means for the vent pipe to exhaust smoke and fumes. The stove was not just a source of warmth, it was also a focal point for bull sessions and unofficial town meetings.

According to Pollock, and his son and partner, Anthony, such gatherings may have diminished efficiency and probably would not today be permitted in more modern stores. But they didn't mind; in fact, most of the time they enjoyed it. It was a way of doing business alien to today's operations. Many of their customers, who were also friends, frequently stopped to make a purchase and wound up spending an hour participating in the local gossip.

According to the Pollocks, one of the most popular subjects was the latest activity of the local Black Hand, a Mafia-type organization.

The old road is currently macadamized, and to see it now one would never know that it was once paved with brick, with streetcar tracks alongside. The trolley ran from Clarksburg and points south to Fairmont and points north. Folks who can recall those days say the trolley was a fast and efficient way to get around. The automobile and the roads were primitive and undependable, but the street cars were always on time.

Following the curvy, narrow old road _ barely more than a single lane in places _ one occasionally passes long abandoned and deteriorating mine buildings. In contrast there are many attractive homes in set-back and wooded settings. Some experts say that this disparity is typical of West Virginia, a group of communities in transition from a rural to an urban state. (A prelude to zoning).

Continuing on its curvy course, the old road soon leads travelers to Farmington. Originally a busy trading center, it was laid out by William Willey and called Willeytown. The new and old Route 250 still run parallel to each other at this point, but are kept apart by the river.

A matter of minutes and the covered bridge over Buffalo Creek at Barrackville appears. Built in 1853 by Lemuel and Eli Chenoweth, it has deteriorated and is much in need of promised renovation.

Retreating Confederate troops, led by General Jones, nearly destroyed it during the Civil War, but it was saved by the Ice family, who were local mill owners and southern sympathizers. They pointed out to the general that pursuers could cross on the nearby dam and that destroying the bridge would serve no purpose.

Updated January 28, 1997
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Civil War and men of wealth on U.S. 250

Editor's Note: This is part two of a three-part series by correspondent Ray Rumpler on the historic route of U.S. 250 through West Virginia. The road runs from Wheeling in the Northern Panhandle to Pocahontas County in the state's southeastern corner.


Fairmont, home of Fairmont State College, is the most populous city on Route 250 between Moundsville and Elkins. The city rose to prosperity primarily because of an abundance of minerals _ oil, gas and coal.

Among those who benefited the most was coal baron James Watson, whose home _ Highgate _ is the most fabulous residence in Fairmont. Still in excellent repair, it is presently occupied by a funeral home. Once threatened by commercialization, the home was saved by a local civic group that fought to preserve it.

Pruntytown, a few miles southeast of Fairmont, was settled by John and David Prunty about 1798. It was the Taylor County seat from 1844 to 1878. Pruntytown was the birthplace of John Barton Payne, who served as secretary of the interior under President Wilson and head of the American Red Cross.

The importance of the B&O Railroad was the primary reason the Taylor County seat was moved from Pruntytown to Grafton in 1878.

There were a great deal of hostility and divided loyalties in the area during the Civil War. The railroad's presence in Grafton was of vital importance to both sides, so much so that control of the town changed sides 56 times. From this point south, all travel toward Richmond was overland by foot or horseback, but mostly foot.

General McClellan had moved south from Wheeling to the Grafton area, and it is reported that he requested and received permission to use the Granville Jarvis home at Webster as his quarters. The home faced the road leading from Wheeling to Staunton, Va., (present Route 250) and put him in a position to supervise troop movements. The home today is well-known as a memorial to Ann Marie Jarvis, the inspiration for Mother's Day.

In the early 1800s, demand was increasing for a direct route to the Ohio River. Although there were primitive roads _ actually little more than trails _ that went that way in an erratic fashion, there was no dependable and fast way to get to the river from Staunton. So in the 1830s the state of Virginia commissioned Col. Claude Crozet to engineer an all-weather highway to the Ohio River.

By the time the War Between the States began, the turnpikes to Parkersburg and Wheeling had been completed, although they were hardly high-speed, especially in wet weather.

Driving southeast on Route 250 past the Anna Jarvis residence at Webster just south of Grafton, one passes the covered bridge at Phillipi and the Barbour County Museum. Both suffered considerable damage in the flood of 1985 but have been restored, thanks in part to private donations. This bridge saw considerable traffic during the Civil War, but due to its unique construction has held up very well.

Next is Elkins, named for Stephen Benton Elkins, an entrepreneur and U.S. senator who became rich by buying up countless acres of coal and timber at very low prices. He also was part of a group responsible for bringing the railroad into the area. With the ability to ship, his holdings became worth many times his acquisition price.

In 1841, he built a grand home high on a hill overlooking the town named for him. He called the mansion Halliehurst in honor of his daughter. She later married Henry Gassaway Davis, also a U.S. senator. Henry and Hallie built an equally spacious home adjoining Halliehurst and named it Graceland. The entire property was eventually donated to Davis & Elkins College.

Updated January 29, 1997
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U.S. 250: into the Alleghenies

Editor's Note: This is part three of a three-part series by correspondent Ray Rumpler on the historic route of U.S. 250 through West Virginia. The road runs from Wheeling in the Northern Panhandle to Pocahontas County in the state's southeastern corner.


U.S. Route 250's ties to the Civil War continue in a small town just south of Elkins. Beverly, in Randolph County, was the site of several Civil War battles.

On June 3, 1861, troops stationed in Beverly learned of two tragedies in one day: Their highly respected Col. Kelly had been killed and the Honorable Stephen A. Douglas had died in Chicago.

The first really big hill to be climbed after leaving Beverly is Cheat Mountain, elevation 3,802 feet, and the first of many to come. One can see for miles in all directions from the crest. One of the disadvantages of going up a mountain is going down a mountain; so many twists and turns. Adding to the thrill is that so often there is a river at the foot.

There might be a tendency to relax after descending Cheat Mountain, but there are more mountains to climb: 3,280-foot Allegheny, 3,077-foot Frank, 4,101-foot Top of Allegheny and 3,822-foot Lantz Mountain.

Now the road enters Virginia and levels out at an average altitude of 3,000 feet while passing through the one-store intersection called Hightown and on into Highland County's largest city, Monterey.

Monterey is also the county seat and boasts a population of 250, about 10 percent of the total population of 2,650 in the entire county.

This is not a small county in area, though. It's larger than any in West Virginia and boasts 3 million acres of national forestlands. The county has fresh air, filtered by its large forests, and its streams run clear. Deer abound. Raising sheep is the main agricultural pursuit, with cattle a close second.

Lodging is more than adequate, with the historic Highland Inn _ built about 1904 _ heading the list. The inn is an outstanding example of Victorian charm and character, created by existing for more than 90 years. It offers 17 guest rooms, each with private bath. The dining room and tavern provide everything needed to satisfy the inner person.

There is an abundance of accommodations in the area offering almost anything one could want. Twelve miles west of Staunton is the Buckhorn Inn, located in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, within George Washington National State Forest. Built in the early 1800s, it has quite a history. The area was well-known for its mineral springs, and the Buckhorn was a popular stopover. It was originally called The Dudley House.

In the mid 1800s, the Buckhorn Inn played host for several days to Stonewall Jackson and his wife, Elinor. It's also reported that General Irwin Rommel was a guest here during the 1930s while he studied the military tactics of Jackson.

The inn has won awards for its cuisine, and it offers six guest rooms, each with private bath. Steeped in history, the inn and surrounding area are highly recommended to nature lovers or anyone desiring a relaxing weekend.

Although Route 250 continues on into Richmond, this tour concludes in Staunton (Virginians pronounce it "Stanton"), a very attractive city steeped in history. It offers many attractions, including the Museum of American Frontier Culture.

The word museum may conjure up the wrong image. It is actually four working farms reflecting life in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries in early America, and in their native land, by people of English, Germany and Northern Ireland. Each farm has costumed interpreters who demonstrate methods and answer questions.

The museum is a unique display put together by the Commonwealth of Virginia and the non-profit American Frontier Culture Foundation.

Updated January 30, 1997
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