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Monday, July 28, 2014

Hunting and Fishing in Early Marietta

Marietta’s first settlers had to provide their own food. There were no convenience stores, supermarkets, or vending machines – only what the trees, soil, and rivers could provide. Some foodstuffs could be brought in from the east but not enough to survive on. Fortunately, there was a wealth of fish and wild game in the new territory. Compared to today, it was a hunting and fishing paradise.

Colonel Joseph Barker’s journals provide fascinating details regarding fishing and hunting. Colonel Barker was a native of New Hampshire who moved to Marietta in 1789 with his wife and father-in-law Captain William Dana. Col. Barker was an accomplished carpenter, boat builder, militia member, and judge. He kept detailed journals about life in Marietta in the early days.

There were ample fish in the rivers – catfish, pike, salmon, sturgeon, buffalo, perch, and sucker. Barker reports that Judge Gilbert Devol of Waterford fished with gig poles. The rivers then were not dredged and had shallows and pools. He found deep pools of water in the river and by randomly striking downward with the gig pole could soon fill his canoe with fish.

Barker declared the pike “the king of fish in our waters.” Judge Devol caught a pike weighing 96 pounds using his gig pole. The fish dragged on the ground when hung from the shoulder high gig pole. It was cooked for the Fourth of July community dinner which featured an oration by Judge Varnum for local residents, including General Harmar and the garrison at Fort Harmar. The pike was caught by a practice which was common on area rivers. Large fish were attracted by chum (chopped up bait and fish refuse) dumped in the water. Once spotted, the fishermen chased the target fish in a canoe up and down the river, maneuvering to keep it in the shallows, until it tired. They then landed it with gig poles or a spear. This pike was pursued by Judge Devol and his son from the mouth of the Muskingum upriver past Campus Martius then back down river where it was caught.

In 1790 James Patterson, who fished for a living, caught a 96 lb catfish. He had set out a trotline in the evening, then anchored the canoe and slept. The fish hooked itself and managed to drag the anchored canoe into deep water near an island – where Patterson found himself upon waking.

Wild game was unbelievably plentiful in the early years – until Indians and overhunting reduced the game population. Deer, turkeys, squirrels, and buffaloes were seen in large numbers. Bears, wolves, and panther were present, though in smaller numbers away from the settlements. Large numbers of game were killed to supply food for locals and trapped for pelts which were in demand in the east.

Hamilton Kerr, who hunted to provide wild meat for the garrison at Fort Harmar, would often kill 15 deer in a single day. One hunting party in 1792-3 brought in 45 deer. Kerr was a fascinating character – an accomplished backwoodsman, hunter, trapper, and fisherman – and a fearsome Indian fighter. In one encounter during a night fishing outing, he effectively brandished his barbed fishing spear to keep attacking Indians at bay. Kerr had no formal education but acquired formidable physical skills. He was considered by his peers to possess superior intellect and reasoning ability and was often a natural leader in emergency situations. He earned considerable income from hunting and trapping. In a single hunting season alone, he earned enough to by a share in the Ohio Company.

Joseph Buell, a soldier stationed at Fort Harmar, reported a buffalo kill in his journal. On March 27, 1787, he reported that hunters brought in a buffalo that was “eighteen hands high (about 6 feet) and weighed one thousand pounds.”

Some of the wildlife was too plentiful and became pests which threatened crops and livestock. A prevalence of beech trees attracted turkeys in such large numbers that they damaged corn, wheat, and oats. To protect their crops, locals killed so many turkeys that their market value as a food source became worthless. One man killed 40 in a day.

Barker was surprised at the multitude of squirrels and their ferocity in attacking crops. He reports that squirrels swarmed “by the millions…like the locust of Africa” and attacked crops of corn and hemp. Often the crops had to be harvested early to protect them from the squirrels.

Yet in an ironic twist, Samuel Hildreth reports in “Pioneer History” that the wild game “pests” helped break a food shortage experienced by settlers. Despite the abundance of fish and game, food became scarce in the spring of 1790. The weather and delays in planting meant meager harvests from crops that year. Indians chased off or killed much of the wild game in the area. The settlers had few other sources of food. There were plenty of fish but few knew how to fish.

That summer one family in Belpre had been without meat for several days. The man in the family, not a hunter and using a weapon normally used in New England for bird hunting, went into the woods not expecting success. He happened upon a fawn which he killed. At that moment he was struck with a overwhelming sense gratitude for God’s providing food for his family. That fall, an excellent crop harvest brought back deer and turkey in such numbers that this family was gratefully reminded of God’s provision of quail to the Israelites. Thereafter the supply of food for area residents was not a problem. Wild game and fish in great abundance continued to supplement crops and livestock raised by the settlers.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Interurban Trains - a vital transportation resource in the early 20th Century

Imagine a scenario where there is mass transit throughout the Mid-Ohio Valley. Trains run frequently and on time, connecting both cities and surrounding rural areas. Ownership of cars and trucks is optional. A futuristic vision, unlikely to ever be realized? Not at all. Interurban rail systems (“interurbans”) offered reliable passenger and freight service to our area in the early 1900s. What was it like then and why did it end?

Interurbans were separate from conventional railroads. They were powered by electricity and generally used lighter equipment and were primarily for passenger traffic. They began with trolleys. Many cities began horse drawn streetcars in the 1880s. Electric powered trolleys soon became more reliable and convenient – and did not produce horse manure. City trolleys soon expanded to connect cities to each other and the surrounding countryside.

These so-called “interurban” train systems expanded rapidly. They offered frequent, convenient transportation and served rural areas bypassed by the railroads. The early interurbans were profitable, attracting passengers and investors. During the 1900-1910 decade hundreds of interurban systems were built. Ohio had one of the most extensive systems. By 1910 there were more than 15,000 miles of track in service. Interurban rail operations were reported to be the fifth largest industry in the nation.

The Parkersburg-Marietta area developed an excellent interurban system starting around 1900. Both cities began with horse drawn streetcars in the 1880’s and within a few years graduated to electric trolley cars. In Parkersburg, the electric trolleys were crowded late into the night on the first day of operation in July of 1898. 7,400 fares were collected that day. Marietta began electric trolley service in 1895. In 1899 plans were announced to build an interurban line from Parkersburg to Williamstown. And, there were bigger plans in the works – a bridge spanning the Ohio River connecting Marietta and Williamstown.

In 1901 a contract was awarded to build the bridge. Unlike today, most bridges of that period were built with private money and operated as toll bridges. The Ohio River Bridge and Ferry Company raised the money and would operate the bridge. Beman G. Dawes was the President and H. B. Foyt was Secretary. Construction began in 1900 and was finished in 1903. At the time, this bridge was the longest cantilever design span on US inland waters.

The bridge and interurban rail service required big money. The total investment for the bridge alone was reported to be about $900,000. That is over $21 Million in today’s dollars. Much of this money was available because the Marietta-Parkersburg area was thriving economically from oil and gas activity (sound familiar?) and industrial growth.

The interurban train operations were consolidated under one company, the Parkersburg Marietta Interurban Railway Company (“PM&IU”). Service to Williamstown from Parkersburg began June 25, 1902. On that day the line was swamped with traffic. In one car with 48 passenger seating capacity, 206 passengers crowded on for one round trip. In August of 1903 the bridge opened and train service from Parkersburg to Marietta began, running from 5 am to 10 pm daily.

Interurban car on Williamstown Bridge. Photo courtesy of Roger Mackey, Parkersburg WV.

In 1908 PM&IU the line was extended up the Muskingum River on the east side to Beverly. On October 14, 1910, The Beverly Dispatch reported “…Sunday the cars began running early in the morning and continued until late in the evening, leaving every two hours. All the cars were well filled Sunday as they have been ever since. …The road (rail service) is an excellent thing for people all along the line….” Beverly was the farthest extension of PM&IU up the Muskingum River. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, which owned the tracks up the west side of the Muskingum, thwarted the PM&IU goal of expanding towards Zanesville.

Beverly OH car barn. Photo courtesy of Roger Mackey, Parkersburg WV

The interurban became part of the fabric of life in our area. People rode trains for shopping, town visits, family visits, commuting to work, or for nightlife exploits. One local lady recalls fondly riding the trains to visit family in Parkersburg. Ted Bauer, former Marietta Times City Editor and local history buff, remembers the trains well. He rode the train out to Masonic Park which was “quite a gathering place” at the time. He and his wife Ruth rode the train to Boaz (WV) to the Rose Bowl dance club – a favorite stop for young people of the area.

The Ferncliff Pavilion was built by the PM&IU Company around 1906 to attract riders to Ferncliff, then at the end of the train line. It became a popular location for organizational and family outings.

Copy of S. Durward Hoag article in the Marietta Times.

At Ferncliff Pavilion north of Marietta. Photo courtesy of Roger Mackey, Parkersburg WV

Parkersburg had at least two attractions that drew train riders. The first was Terrapin Park, built in 1899 near Dudley Avenue and 25th Street in Parkersburg. It had a cigar store, café, and a 2,000 seat auditorium that drew large crowds for plays, live music, and vaudeville shows. It was destroyed in 1917.

Terrapin Park, Parkersburg WV. Photo courtesy of Roger Mackey, Parkersburg WV

In the 1930’s Sherman Dils turned the second floor of his Motormart Ford dealership into a dance floor which he called “The Coliseum.” Big name dance bands like Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller drew people from miles around, often riding on the Parkersburg Marietta interurban trains. Marietta College students of that period, including my mother, often frequented those dances via the train.

People also used the trains in the 1920s and 30s to reach bars or night spots that served alcohol. Some localities voted to prohibit alcohol sales. People could easily ride the train to their favorite drinking establishments outside of the dry zones.

Life was good for communities served by interurbans. However, by the early 1920s growing car and truck use initiated the decline of interurbans, accelerated further by the Great Depression in the 1930s. By 1929 the from Marietta to Beverly line was abandoned as ridership and freight service dwindled. Marietta's trolley system closed in 1934. Parts of the Parkersburg trolleys gradually phased out. But the train service from Parkersburg to Marietta continued until 1947, far longer than most other systems.

Today be alert for evidence of the former train system. You will see former rail beds along area roads, embedded rails in Putnam Street, the curved lines of Rathbone Road and the Tiber Way building on Butler Street, former car barns in Norwood and in Beverly, and trestle sites such as at Big Run above Lowell along state route 60 and just below Boaz on WV 14. These are reminders of how extensive and important the once-thriving interurbans were to our area and much of the nation.

If you have memories, facts, or commentary about the interurban trains, please let me know. My e-mail address is

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Nahum Ward and the Fawn Hoof Mummy

“At eight in the morning I left the house in the company with my guides, taking with us two large lamps, a compass, and something for refreshment and entered the cave.” So begins Nahum Ward’s 1815 exploration of Mammoth Cave in Kentucky in search of a mummy. His exhausting tour lasted 19 hours straight ending at 3 am the following morning.

Publication of his grandiose cave exploration account titled "The Wonders of Nature” brought national attention to him, Mammoth Cave, and the mummy discovered there. The storyline is a fascinating mix of natural history, controversy, and good intentions gone awry.

Many readers may know that Nahum Ward was a prominent early Mariettan, owner at various times of 100,000 acres of land and of a showcase home in Marietta. The Marquis de Lafayette was a guest at his home. He was also a dedicated family man and civic leader.

A business connection brought Nahum Ward to Charles Wilkins’ Lexington, KY general store in November of 1815. Wilkins told Ward about Mammoth Cave and the mummy. Ward was hooked. He had to see that mummy, and visited Mammoth Cave shortly after that.

Quotes that follow are from Ward’s own narrative. He and two guides started into Mammoth Cave at 8 am. The first natural landmark he describes is chief city – a vast area within the cave. He is awed by what he sees: “…when I reached this immense area (chief city), which contains eight acres, without a single pillar to support the arch, which is entire over the whole, I was struck dumb with astonishment. I can give you but a faint idea of this chief city. Nothing under heaven can be so sublimely grand than this place…”

Navigation in the cave was a challenge since there were no existing maps. After one frustrating stretch, Ward explains, “…we were very much bewildered, and once completely lost for fifteen or twenty minutes. At length we found our way, and, weary and faint, entered the chief city at 10 at night. However, as much fatigued as I was, I determined to explore the cave as long as my lights held out.”

Even after 14 hours, he pressed on. They encountered bats – “numerous, continually in our faces … like so many imps they tormented us….” He admits that he himself provoked the bats by trying to clear them from the roof of the cave with his walking stick.

Nahum Ward finally reached the mummy. He described it as a female about 6 feet tall and weighing only 20 pounds. The owner of Mammoth Cave, Charles Wilkins, reported that it was originally found in nearby Short Cave and relocated into Mammoth Cave for preservation. This and other mummies found in area caves were preserved because the cave atmosphere prevented decay.

Image of the mummy as discovered and of Nahum Ward's map of Mammoth Cave from American Engraving

Undated photo of Fawn Hoof mummy at

Charles Wilkins in a letter describes the mummy: “It was found at a depth of about 10 feet from the surface of the Cave, …in a sitting posture, incased in broad stones, standing on their edges, with a flat stone covering the whole. It was enveloped in coarse clothes, …wrapped in deer skins....enclosed in the stone coffin were the working utensils, beads, feathers, and other ornaments of dress, which belonged to her.”

The mummy became known as the "Mammoth Cave Mummy" and was later named "Fawn Hoof" by Nathaniel Parker Willis in 1852. The mummy and Mammoth Cave would soon “go viral” after publication of Ward’s Mammoth Cave narrative in May of 1816. It was boosted by popular interest at the time in artifacts, fossils, exotic novelties - especially such items from the unexplored west. The "west" at that time referred to anything west of the 13 colonies.

Over time, a mummy melodrama developed - with Nahum Ward both the hero and villain.Ward the villain took the mummy under false pretenses, profited by exhibiting it as a sideshow, allowed it to deteriorate, reneged on his promise to give the mummy to the American Antiquarian Society (“AAS”), tried to sell it, and gave up the mummy only when threatened by legal action.

Nahum Ward the hero/good guy rescued the mummy from likely decay (Wilkins thought the mummy had no value to anyone), spent time and money to transport it, earnestly tried to donate it to AAS, donated money earned from exhibitions to charity, and suffered damage to his reputation. Ironically, AAS thought the mummy was a hoax and refused it, only to realize their mistake and pursue legal action against the same person (Ward) who had tried so hard to give them the mummy.

History supports Nahum Ward's version of events. Yet all of this was an agonizing experience for him. His intentions were good, but ultimately he gave up the mummy to AAS in 1817. He expressed his great frustration at the unfairness of the accusations against him in letters to his father. It was quite a learning experience – and unique addition to his resume’ - for a young Nahum Ward, who was 32 at the time he gave up the mummy.

Fawn Hoof the mummy, meanwhile, continued in the public eye at the AAS. It was later exhibited at World’s Fairs of 1876 and 1893 as the Mammoth Cave Mummy. After 1876, it was turned over to the Smithsonian Institution. Eventually it was dismembered and the bones stored in a box under accession number 4789. Researcher Angelo George claims in his book (Angelo I. George, Mummies, Catacombs, and Mammoth Cave, George Publishing Company, 1994) that “Fawn Hoof is still doing well at her old box number in the Smithsonian,” a silent reminder of her earlier celebrity life and of her connection to Mariettan Nahum Ward.