Appalachia, Blood in West Virginia, Boone County, Charleston, Charleston Gazette, Coal River, genealogy, governor, Gretna, Hamlin, Henry H. Hardesty, history, Jacob B. Jackson, Joseph E. Chilton, Kanawha County, Kanawha Ring, Kuna and Walls, lawyer, Lincoln County, Louisiana, Mary Elizabeth Chilton, Pelican Publishing Company, politics, prosecuting attorney, teacher, West Virginia, West Virginia University, William Edwin Chilton
From “Hardesty’s History of Lincoln County, West Virginia,” published by H.H. Hardesty, we find this entry for Joseph E. Chilton, who resided at Hamlin in Lincoln County, West Virginia:
Was born at the mouth of Coal river, Kanawha county, (now) West Virginia, December 6, 1855, and came to Lincoln county in 1878. He is a son of William Edwin and Mary Elizabeth (Wilson) Chilton. Joseph E. Chilton taught in the public schools of Kanawha county, West Virginia, five years, two years of which were spent in Charleston. He read law in the office of Kuna and Walls while teaching, and at the age of twenty-one was admitted to the bar. In 1880 he was elected prosecuting attorney of the counties of Lincoln and Boone, West Virginia, which office he still holds. Mr. Chilton is a regent of West Virginia University, having been appointed by Gov. Jackson in October, 1882.
Source: The West Virginia Encyclopedia, Vol. 7 (Richwood, WV: Jim Comstock, 1974), p. 109.
NOTE: Mr. Chilton briefly appears in my book, Blood in West Virginia: Brumfield v. McCoy. For more on the very important Chilton family, follow this link: https://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/1167
317 Steak House, Alec Soth, Anthony Adams, Appalachia, Brandon Kirk, cemeteries, Chapmanville, culture, Ferrellsburg, Galen Fletcher, Harts Creek, history, In the Heart of Trump Country, John Hartford, Larissa MacFarquhar, Lincoln County, Logan, Logan County, politics, Squire Sol Adams, West Virginia
John Hartford introduced me to The New Yorker magazine in the mid-1990s. “I need to get you a subscription to The New Yorker,” he told me several times. John had become familiar with the magazine as a youth. His parents were regular subscribers to the magazine; they encouraged him to read it because, they said, it contained the absolute best writing available. John told this story several times and I could tell by the way he retold it that he believed it to be true. In fact, after reading multiple issues (mostly John’s issues at the house, but also complimentary issues I spotted in medical offices), I agreed that, yes, The New Yorker did in fact contain the best writing available. Once I discovered Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, unquestionably the greatest true crime book ever written, and learned The New Yorker had frequently printed Capote’s writing, my love for the magazine became unshakable. For these reasons, and others, I am delighted to have made a small contribution to Larissa MacFarquhar’s story, “In the Heart of Trump Country,” published by The New Yorker on October 10, 2016. The opportunity to contribute to a New Yorker story, much less to appear in The New Yorker, is an honor.
You can read Larissa’s exceptionally well-composed piece by following this link:
Prior to the story, Larissa approached me (and other locals) about her desire to write a piece at least partly involving recent political developments in Logan County, West Virginia. I agreed to assist Larissa in whatever way I could for several reasons: I wanted to welcome her to my section of Appalachia, I wanted to be helpful, I wanted her story to succeed, I wanted her readers to better understand my region, I’m always anxious to discuss my region’s rich history… Larissa and I corresponded via email about general political history in Logan County, then enjoyed a memorable two-and-a-half-hour conversation at 317 Steak House in Logan. I liked her right away. I like her more after reading her story.
Larissa is an accomplished professional writer. You can read more about her impressive credentials by following these links:
It was likewise pleasurable to meet photographer Alec Soth and his assistant, Galen Fletcher, who visited Logan, Chapmanville, Ferrellsburg, and Harts Creek, in order to capture images pertinent to Larissa’s story. Alec took a few photos of me in Ferrellsburg, one of which ultimately appeared in the story, then spent a hot evening taking a ton of photos at one of my favorite Harts Creek cemeteries (the Anthony Adams Family Cemetery) and a nearby historic log cabin (Squire Sol Adams residence).
You can find out more about Alec by following these links:
He even has a Wikipedia entry!
These were nice folks. If they ever visit your part of the world, welcome them.
alcohol, Appalachia, Cabell County, Democratic Party, education, Election of 1856, Enon Church, Falls of Guyan, From Youth to Old Age, history, James Buchanan, John C. Fremont, Lincoln County, politics, Republican Party, Salt Rock, Saton Rowsey, schools, Thomas H. Perry, Tylers Creek, West Virginia
About 1910, Rev. Thomas H. Perry reflected on his long life, most of which was spent in the vicinity of Tylers Creek in Cabell County, West Virginia. In this excerpt from his autobiography, Mr. Perry recalled the 1856 presidential election as it occurred near the Falls of Guyan and his early education:
When I was eleven years old I went to my first election; in 1856. James Buckhanan [sic], democrat, and John C. Fremont, republican, were the candidates for president, and as I could not vote, I did not take much interest in politics. I wanted to see how and what they did at elections.
The election was held in a store building, two miles below the falls of the Guyan river, now Lincoln county. The first thing I noticed was a barrel of whiskey standing upon a large tree, the head of the barrel being out, and large tin cups were hanging on nails that were driven into the side of the barrel. The whiskey was free for everybody and strange to say, but one out of that three or four hundred men who drank that whiskey that day, was drunk, and he thought he would die, and he began to beg the people to pray for him. Some said: “Let him died; a man that would make a dog out of himself and get drunk because the whiskey was free, was not fit to live.” But one man said: “I will pray for him.” He kneeled by the side of the drunk man and shut his eyes and raised his hand. I thought I never heard such a prayer in all my life as that man offered for the drunk man. It made me tremble to see the drunk man and hear the other men pray. During the prayer I resolved that I would never get drunk, which vow I have kept to this day. I never saw but few drunkards in my boyhood days. They were considered a low class of people, and ruled out of society. In those days the surplus peaches and apples were made into brandy, and as you could buy pure whiskey for twenty-five cents per gallon by the barrel, it was so cheap and plentiful the people did not have such a craving for it. In my neighborhood it was generally used in moderation. It was not the great evil of the day as it is now. The great evil of intemperance, in my opinion can only be overcome by freedom and moral suasion.
As I do not want to lose sight of the election: I went to the end of the store house where there was a window and a voter came to the window and took his hat off and gave his name to commissioners of the election. Commencing at the head of the ticket, one of the judges asked the voter who he would vote for, clear through the ticket. So we all knew who the voter voted for, from one end of the ticket to the other. I like that way of voting as there are less frauds in elections held that way than there are with the secret ballot. I think it was in 1856 a Mr. Howard made up a large school and taught it in Enon church. Mr. Howard had a great name as a teacher and the young people came for miles to this school.
The commissioners contracted with Mr. Howard to teach in this school the poor children of the district. This did not please some of our young people. They said this would be going to school with paupers, but when they found that the law of Virginia required the teacher who received the free school fund to teaching reading, writing, arithmetic, English, grammar, geography, state and U.S. history and the elements of physical science, and such other higher branches as the school might direct, they saw if Mr. Howard could teach all these branches he was a good scholar and they said nothing more.
Mr. Saton Rowsey was our next teacher. He was said to be a hustling teacher. In my ten years schooling before the war I had seven teachers, in the three years after the war, three teachers–ten in all. Dr. Bias taught the last school I attended. He was about twenty years old and I was about thirty. He was considered a fine instructor. He is now practicing medicine in the west. I always felt that pupils should have the greatest respect for their teachers.
Source: From Youth to Old Age by T.H. Perry, Chapter 3, p. 11-12. Note: At the time of the 1856 presidential election, Cabell County yet remained a part of Virginia.
Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, Arthur I. Boreman, Battle of Kanawha Gap, Boone County, Boone Democrat, Chapmanville District, Charleston Daily Star, Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Company, civil war, Confederacy, Democratic Party, First Wheeling Convention, Franklin Pierce, Grover Cleveland, Guyandotte Valley Railroad Company, Hardee District, Henry Clay Ragland, history, Horace Greeley, Horatio Seymour, Isaac E. McDonald, James A. Nighbert, James Buchanan, James K. Polk, James Lawson, John Bell, John Breckenridge, Lewis Cass, Logan Banner, Logan County, Logan County Banner, Logan District, Magnolia District, Martin Van Buren, Parkersburg Sentinel, Parkersburg State Journal, politics, Samuel J. Tilden, Second Wheeling Convention, slavery, Stephen Douglas, Triadelphia District, Virginia Ordinance of Secession, West Virginia, West Virginia Statehood Referendum, William H. Crawford, William Jennings Bryan, William Straton, Winfield Scott Hancock, Wyoming County
Democrats who lived in Logan County, West Virginia, prior to 1896 may best be thought of as Democrats of the Jeffersonian and particularly the Jacksonian variety. The earliest settlers and their immediate progeny likely carried popular political viewpoints across the mountains from Virginia. Logan County Democrats appear to have believed in states’ rights, although few residents owned slaves. The old Democrats of the Civil War generation guided Logan County’s political scene until the 1890s, when the national political climate shifted toward issues relating to gold/silver, imperialism, etc. Still, the Confederate veterans of the county continued activity until the 1910s, even raising the Confederate flag over the courthouse as late as 1911. The Logan County Banner (later the Logan Banner), a Democratic organ since its inception in 1889, remained silent about issues that divided the Democratic Party in the 1890s. Based on its editorials, the Banner—operated by men of the Civil War era—was more concerned about industrial progress, particularly the development of a railroad in the Guyandotte Valley, than the national political issues that emerged in the 1890s. Examination of the active participants in the railroad effort include both Democrats and Republicans, locals and outsiders…
Logan County was organized in 1824. Voting trends from 1824 until 1856 reveal a strong preference for Democratic candidates:
1824: William H. Crawford (Democratic-Republican)
1828: Andrew Jackson (Democrat, 90+ percent)
1832: Andrew Jackson (Democrat, 90+ percent)
1836: Martin Van Buren (Democrat)
1840: Martin Van Buren (Democrat)
1844: James K. Polk (Democrat)
1848: Lewis Cass (Democrat)
1852: Franklin Pierce (Democrat)
1856: James Buchanan (Democrat, 80-90 percent)
We know, based on the above presidential tallies, the county was heavily Democratic. Because the Democratic Party was closely linked to slavery during this era, it is useful to consider local slave statistics.
1850 Logan County Slave Census: 26 slave owners in Logan County; 84 slaves (largest slave owner had 10)
1860 Logan County Slave Census: 27 slave owners in Logan County; 80 slaves (largest slave owner had 7)
We know the county voted heavily for John Breckenridge in the 1860 presidential election. What is remarkable to modern residents is this: Logan Countians gave no votes to Abraham Lincoln (see below):
Logan County Presidential Election Results (1860):
John Breckenridge (Southern Democratic), 271
John Bell (Constitutional Union), 100
Stephen Douglas (Democratic), 6
Abraham Lincoln (Republican), 0
We know Logan County’s delegate to the Virginia Secession Convention favored secession. James Lawson, the delegate to the Secession Convention for Logan, Boone, and Wyoming counties, voted in favor of the Ordinance of Secession on 17 April 1861.
We know the county did not favor anti-secession political developments in Wheeling. Logan declined to send delegates to the First Wheeling Convention (May 13-15, 1861).
We know the voters of Logan County favored secession. Here are results for Logan County regarding the Secession Ordinance in Virginia (23 May 1861):
We know Logan County did not support the political gatherings in Wheeling. Logan County sent no delegates to the Second Wheeling Convention, First Session (June 11-25, 1861). Likewise, it sent no delegates to the General Assembly of the Reorganized Government of Virginia (July 1-26, 1861) or to the Second Wheeling Convention, Second Session (August 6-21, 1861).
In the mind of local people, Logan County was invaded in 1861. On 25 September 1861, Union soldiers attacked Confederates at the Battle of Kanawha Gap (Chapmanville). The battle was a Confederate loss.
Due to the absence of its men and election irregularities, Logan County did not vote heavily on the question of “West Virginia.” This was true for many counties in western Virginia: West Virginia Statehood Referendum (24 October 1861): 34 percent turnout statewide; 18,408 for statehood and only 781 opposed! We can be sure that Logan did not favor “West Virginia.” Logan County sent no delegate to the West Virginia Constitutional Convention (26 November 1861).
Logan Countians overwhelmingly enlisted to fight for the Confederacy (60-90%). According to one estimate, Logan County contributed over 780 soldiers to the Confederacy. Contributions to the Union Army were less than 60. Based on the 1890 census, the following number of Union veterans lived in Logan County:
Chapmansville District: 7
Hardee District (later Mingo County): 16
Logan District: 13
Magnolia District (later Mingo County): 9
Triadelphia District: 11
During the war, Logan sent delegates to participate in the Confederate government in Richmond. Isaac E. McDonald represented Logan, Boone, and Wyoming counties at the Confederate General Assembly from 1861 to 1863. James A. Nighbert represented Logan, Boone, and Wyoming counties at the Confederate General Assembly from 1863 to 1865.
Because Logan was known as a Confederate stronghold and recruiting station, the town was once again invaded in 1862. Union troops burned the Logan Courthouse (15 January 1862).
Logan County was one of 15 counties in WV that did NOT vote in the 1864 U.S. presidential election (most were south of the Kanawha River).
After the war, Logan Countians refused to recognize West Virginia as a legitimate state and refused to pay taxes to the new state. Guerillas and gangs were active in the county. Governor Arthur I. Boreman sent troops into the county in order to collect taxes and maintain order.
Ex-Confederate disenfranchisement was common after the war. In 1868, of 888 voters in Logan County, only 125 voted for president. In 1870, 220 voted for the Democratic candidate for governor while 70 voted for the Republican (total 290). In Logan County, it was difficult to find any men who had NOT served in the Confederacy who could hold political office (or practice law, or teach).
Maj. William Straton (namesake of Stratton Street) typified Logan County political leadership during this time.
After the war, Democrats and Republicans largely chose/maintained party identification based on their views of the war. Logan had been heavily Democratic before the war; Logan was pro-Confederate during the war; Logan was strongly Democratic after the war
Logan County in Presidential Elections After the War:
1868: Horatio Seymour (Democrat)
1872: Horace Greeley (Democrat)
1876: Samuel J. Tilden (Democrat, by 90+ percent)
1880: Winfield Scott Hancock (Democrat, by 90+ percent)
1884: Grover Cleveland (Democrat, by 90+ percent)
Winfield Scott Hancock’s victory in Logan County is somewhat noteworthy considering that he was a former Union general.
On 30 October 1886, the Parkersburg Sentinel reported: “Logan county is so intensely democratic that there are thirteen democratic candidates running for the legislature and only one republican. Nevertheless one of the thirteen democrats will be elected.”
In 1888, Logan Countians voted for Grover Cleveland (Democrat).
The Logan County Banner was established on 7 March 1889 by Henry Clay Ragland (editor) and J.A. Nighbert (business manager). On 28 March 1889, it stated:
The paper will be devoted to the best interests of the people of Logan county. To the improvement of the education and morals of its people, and to the development of its great material resources. Politically, the Banner will be Democratic. Every one connected with it is a Democrat, but at the same time it will be fair to the opposition, and will heartily accord to the Republican party due credit for any good work which it may do. In addressing the questions which may arise in the Democratic party, as to its management and its leaders, the Banner will be Independent and will acknowledge no faction or factions, but will labor earnestly and zealously for the success of the party, and not for any individual.
In 1892, it reported: “Three years ago in order to furnish the people of Logan county with a home paper, we unfurled the Banner. We expected neither money nor glory, and our expectations have been fully realized.” On 3 January 1895, Ragland stated: “When I first went into the newspaper business I had no idea of continuing on for any length of time. My only desire was to see a newspaper in Logan county which would truly reflect the character of its people and be able to defend them from the many slanders which have been heaped upon them by the outside world…”
The Banner‘s reputation as a Democratic organ was well-known. In April 1889, the Parkersburg State Journal referred to it as “Democratic to the core.” On 11 July 1889, the Charleston Daily Star said: “The Logan County Banner is being made one of the best country weeklies in the State. As long as it continues as it has begun Logan may be depended upon for her customary Democratic majority.” On 13 January 1898, the Boone Democrat said of the Banner: “We cheerfully hail it, and hope that it may long continue to wave in the vanguard of Logan Democracy.”
The Banner never failed to applaud Democratic gains. On 6 November 1890, it stated: “Glorious old Chapmansville always does her fully duty. The Democratic vote increased from 205 in 1888 to 210, and the Republican vote decreased from 28 in 1888 to 14.”
This editorial, from 15 September 1892, is one example of Banner political commentary:
We have heard that there are several so-called Democrats born and reared in the mountain fastnesses of old Logan who have avowed their intention of ‘scratching’ one or another of the nominees of our party when they ides of November shall roll around, but we hope for the credit of Logan’s ‘rock-ribbed, copper-bottomed’ democracy that such reports are false. It is but natural that bitter feelings should be engendered by the clashing of the claims of rival candidates before our conventions but the conventions have done their work now, well and conscientiously, and every true Democrat in hearty and earnest response to the bugle call of freedom must face about with his brethren and forgetting all private feuds and grievances join in the charge upon our friends the enemy. That Democrat who falters in his duty in this the crisis of our party’s need betrays the trust reposed in him by the party of the people, forfeits his claim upon the confidence and good will of his compeers and deserves to be incarcerated in the bottom-most pit of damnation. You cannot afford to let a petty desire for revenge prevent you from casting a straight Democratic ticket on the 8th day of November. If you have ever harbored such a thought, exorcise the evil spirit that has taken possession of you and come back to the fold on bended knee and ask forgiveness for the wicked thoughts of your heart. The people have spoken and ‘the voice of the people is the voice of God.’ We feel sorry for that Democrat who, when the glorious news flashes over the wires next November that Cleveland, MacCorkle, Alderson and Mahood are elected can’t forget one or more of them was scratched on his ticket. Verily, like the Judas of old, he will feel like sneaking off with down cast eyes and hanging himself to the nearest tree. Logan expects every Democrat to do his whole duty during this campaign. The eyes of friend and foe alike are turned towards the mountains of old Logan whence cometh our help. Every Republican in the county is alert, active and zealous in the support of his whole ticket, and it behooves every Democrat to see to it that he does not prove a traitor in the camp of his friends. Stop a minute, friend, and think of the issues involved in the fight that is now upon us. Do you want the robber tariff barons to keep on heaping up their multiplied millions from your hard-earned dollars? Do you want your polls to be manned by Federal soldiers or maybe negroes from Virginia or North Carolina?
In 1892, Logan Countians voted for Grover Cleveland (Democrat).
During the mid-1890s, the Banner offered more brief political commentary. Here are some examples. On 21 June 1894, it stated: “The Logan Republican club was organized last Saturday night, with 20 members.” On 9 September 1896: “There is a meeting of the W.J. Bryan club at Chapmansville next Saturday evening. Everybody is invited to attend.”
Logan Countians voted for William Jennings Bryan (Democrat) in 1896 and 1900.
Alton S. Isaacs, assessor, Bill Brewster, Bill Turley, Bird Dingess, board of education, Bob Barker Jr., C.C. Chambers, C.L. Williams, Carl Kane, Carlos Lowe, Charlie Staton, Chris Holt, circuit clerk, Claude A. Joyce, Cole Blair, constable, Curtis B. Trent Jr., Democrat Party, E.R. Hall, Earl Hager, Edward R. Chapman, Elbert Mounts, Election of 1952, Eugene Chapman, Floyd Crook Murphy, Floyd Dingess, Frank Adams, Frank L. Chambers, Frank Workman, Glenn Jackson, Greenway Christian, Grover Lowe, H.T. Elliott, Harvey D. Dingess, history, Jack Johnson, James C. Ferrell, Jim Toney, Jimmie Singleton, John Asbury, John C. Barber, John Edward Estep, John Vance, justice of the peace, Lee Collins, Logan County, Lon McCoy, Martin L. White, politics, prosecuting attorney, R.F. Hill, Ray Ellis, Ray McCloud, Ray Porter, Ray Watts, Roy L. Hatcher, sheriff, surveyor, Tony Tiolo, Vernon Dingess, Virgil Belcher, Virgil Farley, W.E. Flannery, Wallace Bryant, Wallace E. Ferrell, West Virginia
Harley M. Kilgore, 9985
J. Horner Davis, 3583
Dallas Arthur Tickle, 542
Congressman, 6th District
Robert C. Byrd, 6944
Dale G. Casto, 2545
Ned H. Ragland, 1959
Lewis A. Hatcher, 800
Garland F. Wilkinson, 312
John M. Eckard, 245
Dr. E.H. Hedrick, 9018
William C. Marland, 4666
Cyrus S. Kump, 2564
Everett Ray Shafer, 267
Secretary of State
Sam B. Chilton, 4112
D. Pitt O’Brien, 3289
Fred D. Wolfe, 2226
Superintendent of Schools
W.W. Trent, 7895
Homer H. May, 1911
J. Alfred Poe, 1458
Edgar B. Sims, 5599
James M. Hatch, 4071
William H. Ansel, Jr., 6559
Chauncey Browning, 12,042
W.C. Haythe, 1399
Commissioner of Agriculture
James Blaine McLaughin, 4306
V.L. Martin, 4014
Judge of the Supreme Court
W.T. Lovins, 6783
Frank C. Haymond, 5190
State Senator, 7th District
Glenn Jackson, 6527
Harvey D. Dingess, 4096
John Edward Estep, 1976
Judge of Circuit Court, 7th Judicial Circuit
C.C. Chambers, 10,151
Ray Watts, 9576
Floyd (Crook) Murphy, 8406
Claude A. Joyce, 8180
Curtis B. Trent, Jr., 6587
House of Delegates
W.E. Flannery, 5817
C.L. Williams, 3939
Earl Hager, 3784
Carl Kane, 3141
H.T. Elliott, M.D., 3107
Frank L. Chambers, 3104
Virgil Belcher, 2856
R.A. “Bob” Barker, Jr., 2852
Alton S. Isaacs, 2848
R.A. “Jack” Jackson, 2512
James C. Ferrell, 2323
Chris Holt, 2276
John Asbury, 1979
Bevley Burks, 1889
Rasha “Barber” Smith, 1362
Charlie Staton, 1303
Greenway Christian, 1171
Ray Porter, 1016
Mrs. Simon Dingess, ___
Grover Lowe, 2335
Tony Tiolo, 2153
Floyd Dingess, 5128
Jim Toney, 4614
W.C. “Bill” Turley, 4248
John C. “Dutch” Barber, 3945
Wallace E. Ferrell, 3696
J.A. “Jimmie” Singleton, 3130
Roy L. Hatcher, 2696
Vernon Dingess, 1564
E.R. Hall, 5885
Justice of the Peace, Precincts 1-11 (Chapmanville area)
Frank Workman, 598
Ray Ellis, 407
Carlos Lowe, 381
Frank Adams, 352
Edward R. Chapman, 305
Bird Dingess, 284
Martin L. White, 239
Cole Blair, 193
R.F. Hill, 169
Constable, Precincts 1-11 (Chapmanville area)
Wallace Bryant, 553
John Vance, 560
Virgil Farley, 500
Lee Collins, 435
Eugene Chapman, 329
Lon McCoy, 190
Elbert Mounts, 176
Ray McCloud, 142
Bill Brewster, 63
Board of Education
Woodrow Gordon, 5014
M.C. Totten, 4227
Grady E. Yeager, 2645
J.E. “Ed” Dingess, 2060
W.M. Webb, 1521
Raymond E. Hatfield, 1246
Charles Harris, 1210
Charles E. Price, 1090
David Chapman, 793
Aaron Darnell, 158
Should voting machines be used in Logan County?
Adams Branch, basketball, Beecher Avenue, Ben Walker, Billy Adkins, Bob Adkins, Bob Mullins Cemetery, Brumfield Avenue, Buck Fork, Bulwark Branch, Charles Brumfield, Crawley Creek Mountain, CSX Railroad, Ed Haley, Eden Park, genealogy, Guyandotte Valley, Hannah Baptist Church, Harts, Harts Creek, Harts High School, Heartland, Henderson Branch, history, Hoover Church of the General Assembly, Hoover Fork, Huntington, Ivy Branch, John Hartford, Kiahs Creek, Lambert Branch, Lincoln County, Logan County, McCloud Branch, Mingo County, Mount Era Baptist Church, Mountaineer Missionary Baptist Church, Pilgrims Rest Church, politics, Railroad Avenue, Republican, Rockhouse Fork, Route 10, Sand Creek, Smokehouse Fork, Trace Fork, Trace Old Reguarl Baptist Church, Twelve Pole Creek, Upper Trace Fork School, Ward Avenue, Wayne County, West Fork, Whirlwind, Workman Branch, writing
The community of Harts sits indiscreetly in the narrow section of the Guyandotte Valley on land that makes up the northernmost region of the Logan County coalfield and what was once “feud country.” Located some ten miles from a four-lane federal corridor linking the state capital to eastern Kentucky and fifty miles up a two-lane rural highway from Huntington, the second largest city in West Virginia, it is a settlement just on the cusp of modernization. It is a treasure trove of hidden history, quickly disappearing even in the minds of its locals, who have little if any recollection of its booming timber era or the exciting times of the railroad hey-day. It’s really the kind of place you might drive through without noticing much — or never have a reason to drive through at all.
Basically, Harts is an old timber town divided in the center by a lazy muddy river and intersected by a two-lane highway, Route 10. On the west side of the river — site of the old Brumfield business headquarters — is an empty store, a tavern-turned-church-turned-beauty shop, a garage, and a brick tabernacle. On the east side is an old brick general store, a nice video rental establishment, a state highways headquarters, an old wooden general store, a small brick post office, a fire department, a grocery store, a hardware store, a general merchandise store, a Victorian general store-turned-restaurant, and a new brick Head Start center. Running between those buildings on the east side is a track owned by CSX (formerly C&O) Railroad. Just behind the businesses are a few dozen houses of all vintages: brick, wooden, single-story, two-story… There are no street signs or traffic lights or even stop signs.
Route 10 connects Harts with the city of Huntington to the north and with the Logan coalfields to the south. From town, Big Harts Creek Road heads west up the creek to West Fork or Smokehouse Fork, while a little unnamed road diverges north past the tracks toward extinct post offices named Eden Park and Sand Creek. The four streets in town are paved but very few locals even know their proper names, which are Railroad, Beecher, Ward, and Brumfield Avenues. Just down the river is a brick house-turned-bank, a rural health clinic, a brick construction company headquarters, a new coalmine development area called Heartland, and a mechanic shop/gas station (owned incidentally by one Charles Brumfield).
Culturally, Harts might be thought of as an inconspicuous Harlequin romance and Wild West show gone wild, at least in its not-so-distant past. Many of the rabble rousers and roustabouts are long since dead. Actually, somewhat to my disappointment, a lot of the old families are gone completely from the area and no one really feuds any more. Many residents seem to work as schoolteachers or run small stores or work in the coalmines or draw government relief. People are nice and treat each other well. Most are related or at least seem to be. They watch TV or go to church or tend their yards or hunt or fish or ride four-wheelers or hop on the four-lane at Chapmanville and drive to Wal-Mart some 45 miles away. Old-timers are quick to say that Harts has a bad reputation for no reason — the only two murders within town limits occurred almost a century ago. There are no parks, museums or movie theatres — and only a few registered Republicans. It’s the kind of place where you can leave your doors unlocked at night or if you’re gone all day…and feel safe about it.
I have to admit, after several visits to Harts, I loved it. On one visit, I learned from Billy Adkins that the old Ben Walker farm was for sale…and seriously considered buying it. (I passed on the idea when I realized that my wife would never forgive me for it.) Harts, then, would remain a place to “see.” I began telling folks out on the road that it was “my Ireland.” It represented a desire on my part to get back to the kind of places where (at least in my romantic imagination) a lot of fiddle playing originated. A lot of my friends were from these kind of places. For them, when they wanted to tap into that ancestral ancient tone, they thought of Ireland, whether they were Irish or not. For me, coming from St. Louis, Harts was the closest I could ever hope to get to that. Such places are at the heart of the music I love.
Venturing up Harts Creek, the first thing you really notice is Harts High School, a forty-some-year-old two-and-a-half-story yellow brick structure near the mouth of West Fork with a gymnasium, annex building, and a baseball field, all situated on what was a prison camp during the early fifties and, a little further back in time, the upper reaches of the Al Brumfield property (and, a little further still, an Indian camp). In many ways, this school is the lifeblood of the community — at least in the lower section of the creek. In the mid-sixties, just as Harts began to turn away from its violent past, the high school basketball team won a state championship and began building a program known regionally for its successes. Today, basketball is what this community is best known for — not the murders or moonshining traditions of years past — with crooked politics maybe finishing a close second.
A little further up the creek, just below the Logan County line, a few miles past an old country store, a little restaurant, another baseball field, and a place of worship named the Cole Branch Church of Jesus Christ of the First Born. From there, the road forks left onto the Smoke House Fork of Big Harts Creek, location of the Hugh Dingess Elementary School and Dingess, Butcher, Farley and Conley country; or the road forks right into the head of Harts Creek to “Ed Haley country.” Of course, no one calls it that. People think of it as “Adams country” or “Mullins country” and really, that’s about all there ever was in that section. Ed himself is often identified with the Mullins family — his mother’s people. The adults in this part of Harts Creek vote in Logan County — not Lincoln — and send their kids on buses over Crawley Creek Mountain to Chapmanville High School. This section of the creek — where gunshots once rang out regularly and where moonshine was so readily found — is now remarkably quiet and low-key outside of the occasional marijuana bust. Unfortunately, it seems to have lost its musical tradition as well.
Trace Fork, the site of Ed Haley’s birth, is attributed by Ivy Branch in its head, Adams Branch, and Boardtree Branch toward its middle and Jonas and Dry House Branch toward its mouth. There are several small family cemeteries on Trace, with the maroon-bricked Mountaineer Missionary Baptist Church at its mouth. In previous days, the Upper Trace Fork School (now Trace Old Regular Baptist Church) sat in its headwaters, where the Logan-Lincoln-Mingo county line meets. As a matter of fact, Ivy Branch heads near Kiah’s Creek at the Wayne-Mingo County line, while Boardtree Branch heads at McCloud Branch of Twelve Pole Creek in Mingo County. Adams Branch heads at Rockhouse Fork in Lincoln County.
A little further up the main creek is Buck Fork, an extensive tributary comparable to West Fork or Smokehouse in size. It is the ancestral home of the Mullins, Bryant, and Hensley families whose names still dominate the mailbox landscape. In previous decades, it was the location of the Hensley School and Mt. Era Church. Just below Buck Fork on main Harts Creek is a large Adams family cemetery, while just above it is the equally large Bob Mullins family cemetery.
Continuing up Harts Creek is Hoover Fork, home of the Mullins, Adams, and Carter families as well as the Hoover Church of the General Assembly. Henderson Branch, home seat for Tomblins and Mullinses is the next tributary, followed by Lambert Branch (at Whirlwind) and Workman Branch. Bulwark Branch follows (populated by Carters and Workmans), trailed by Brier Branch (Smiths) and Tomblin Branch. In the headwaters of Harts Creek are Tomblins, Daltons, and Blairs, as well as the Pilgrims Rest Church and Hannah Baptist Church.
In all sections of Harts, gossip reigns supreme as a source of local entertainment. (This in spite of Bob Adkins’ warning that people should “tend to their own business.”) Maybe that’s why we hear so much about a 100-year-old murder when we ask about it and a bunch of other things we don’t ask about. Genealogy is super important. When you sit down to talk with someone, the first thing they want to know is how you fit into the community pedigree. It’s a way of squaring you up.