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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Dime Savings Society

Working in a bank was a pretty good job for a high school kid in the 60's. Benefits included earning minimum wage (then about $1.25 an hour), no strenuous effort, bankers’ hours 9-2:30, working indoors, great location on the river, and interesting people all around me. Such was life in 1964 at Dime Savings Society of Marietta ("Dime Savings"). Dad was on the board of trustees then - that helped me land the job.

When I started, Dime Savings best years were past. It was a pretty sleepy operation. Depositors were loyal but aged; there were few lending customers. The banking facilities were decades behind. Walking into the lobby was like entering a time warp into the 1800s - pendulum clock, wrought iron teller cages, marble surfaces, and Ebenezer Scrooge-type journals for keeping the books.

View of my workbench from the vault.

The community at the bank were wonderful, actually similar to those in the movie It's a Wonderful Life. Laurence Penrose was president - pretty low key, wry sense of humor, chain smoker. Carl Galbraith was cashier. He was 70-ish then, always telling a story, breezily greeting customers with the latest news. He knew everything about everybody. I couldn't believe it when he showed me five figure dividend checks being deposited for certain customers.

George Beebe ran the elevator - quiet but with an impish smile and crew cut. Inda Stine was the cleaning lady, animated and chatty. She showed up at 1:30 or so to begin cleaning and often brought in peach brandy. We all had a nip or two - but only after balancing for the day. Harold Cullen was a public accountant with an office upstairs who usually stopped in for a chat. I could hear his high pitched laugh from two floors up. John Rose was the pharmacist who ran the Richardson Apothecary next door and was on the board. There were others.

My day consisted of making journal entries in a huge dog-eared book the size of a volkswagen beetle. The writing implement was a fountain pen. If I made a mistake, there was no eraser, white-out, or cut-and-paste. The corrective implement was a pocket knife with a super sharp blade. The error was removed with surgical precision by lightly scraping off the top layer of paper on the journal page with the knife. My knife was well used and had to be sharpened often.

It was a pretty slow pace. I knew the name of every towboat that passed outside my window on the Ohio River. Occasionally I did odd jobs and ran errands. That included going to Peoples Bank to obtain cash (dollar bills) for the Dime Savings cash drawer. We brought back $10,000 worth of bills (the equivalent of $75,000 today) without fanfare like we were delivering groceries. Then it had to be counted. I usually had the greenish ink stains on my hands for a day or two after. The closest thing to high tech in the bank was a mechanical calculator on Mr. Penrose's desk.

Dime Savings had a distinguished history. It was incorporated on December 6, 1871 and began operation in 1872. It was organized as a mutual savings bank, meaning that depositors owned the bank. It was one of only two such banks in Ohio and the sole survivor when it converted to a commercial bank in 1972. Savings banks were considered safer than commercial banks owned by investors, presumably because the depositor/owners would take fewer risks and be more community focused. Marietta business leaders started the bank and gave it credibility.

Marietta Register advertisement May 1887 (click on image to enlarge and see fine print)

The Marietta Register carried an advertisement for The Dime Savings Society on January 18, 1872. It announced that it would open at 32 Front Street with hours of 9-12 am and 1-5 pm on week days and 7-8 pm on Saturdays. It further heralded that "Deposits from $.10 to $5,000 would be received and put on interest...expenses exceedingly light and all profits divided amount depositors...Boys, Girls, Secretaries, Mechanics, Farmers, Clerks, everybody! This Society is especially for you. Save your small earnings and put them to interest at once." Who could resist that?

First Dime Savings Society location - photo courtesy Marietta College Special Collections - Harry Fisher Collection.

The Century Review publication in 1901 quoted from a Dime Savings statement of Oct 1, 1900 that deposits had grown from $39,647 in 1882 to $642,106 today. It opined that Dime's growth is "testimony that Marietta citizens not only have confidence in the stability of this institution but have made money and acquired the habit of saving." Growth included a large increase in home mortgage loans, which were not offered by other banks during this period.

In 1902 Dime Savings was profitable enough to build a separate bank building at 114 Front Street. The lower two floors of that building formerly occupied by the Continental club, remain today including the ionic columns from the original building. In 1928 Dime Savings moved to the 5 story building at Greene and Front Streets, opposite the Hotel Lafayette. That was home for the next 43 years.

Dime Savings Society location 1902-1928. Courtesy Marietta College Special Collection - Harry Fisher Collection

The Great Depression brought challenges. Bank failures - and bank robberies - were rampant nationally. Board minutes noted that tear gas outlets were installed in the lobby as a defensive measure in case of robbery. There is no record that they were ever used. November 1931 minutes stated that deposits had declined "following suspension of business by three banks in Parkersburg." Continued loss of deposits could trigger a liquidity crisis of the type that occurred in the It's a Wonderful Life movie when Uncle Billy lost the $8,000 check. Fortunately deposits stabilized. The Bank's secretary noted that "deposits increased by $25,000 during the month of October (1932), which was taken as a point for congratulations."

Though deposits recovered, customer loan payments fell behind, necessitating expense reductions - including a 5% cut for the President. In December 1933, Ohio passed legislation allowing savings banks to join the Federal Reserve and the newly created FDIC for insurance of customer deposits. Dime Savings reorganized to take advantage of this feature, but only after a marathon debate among bank trustees because of the expense required to participate in the deposit insurance. (Yes, banks actually pay insurance premiums for FDIC insurance; it's not all government funded). After that, the Dime Savings History booklet says "the next two decades were years of smooth prosperity for the Society."

It was apparent, though, that the Dime Savings was falling behind other more progressive banks in Marietta. Growth was stagnant. There was little investment in equipment, staff additions, or marketing. Front Street declined as Putnam Street became the preferred retail area. There was no off street parking.

The Dime Savings History notes matter-of-factly that in August 1969 "a bank examiners report sparked a reorganization effort." Apparently some major problems were discovered which threatened the financial stability of Dime Savings. Within two years, the Dime Savings Society converted to a commercial bank and ceased to exist as a mutual savings bank - just short of 100 years after its formation.

Today, the bank office space is occupied by the Marietta Area Chamber of Commerce. Only the bank vault, board room, and vintage building stair wells offer reminders of the Dime Savings Society days.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

George Washington Was Here

Did you know that George Washington was appointed county surveyor of Culpepper County, Virginia at age 17? And that he had a lifelong interest in the lands of the upper Ohio River, including the Parkersburg/Williamstown/Marietta area? I didn't. His surveying experience and youthful ambition for military service prompted him to volunteer in the French and Indian War. In 1753, Washington, at age 21, was chosen to deliver an ultimatum from the British to the French at Fort LeBoeuf. He kept a journal of the adventure, complete with a map of the route. Publication of the journal brought international recognition to him.  

Portrait by Charles Willson Peale. Painted in 1772, it depicts Washington as colonel of the Virginia Regiment, and is his earliest known likeness.

His war service in the Virginia Regiment earned him land grants in the Ohio River valley. He explored the area in 1770 and eventually acquired substantial land holdings. He believed the area had great potential for development - and for substantial financial gains. The land grants for Virginia Regiment veterans were authorized in 1754 by Virginia but later superseded by a Royal decree prohibiting such grants west of the Allegheny mountains.

George Washington lobbied persistently on behalf of the war veterans (including him). Eventually the land grants were approved. He arranged for an expedition by canoe to identify suitable land along the Ohio River from Pittsburgh to the Kanawha River (then the "Great Kanawha").The group included Pennsylvania surveyor William Crawford and a fellow veteran Dr. James Craik, along with several servants and Indian guides.

The river junction - where the Monongahela and Allegheny form the Ohio - that became the focal point of British and French claims to the region.

Washington's own journal records his observations about the land and the trip. He carefully studied the terrain, soil quality, waterways, and tree growth - as well as other development factors such as coal and sites for mills. The "Great Kanawha Expedition," as it was called began on October 5 over land to Fort Pitt. Here are some highlights of his daily entries:

October 15: Visited a coal mine in Pennsylvania near Col. Crawford's house. "Coal seemed to be of the very best kind, burning freely and an abundance of it."

19: At Fort Pitt he met with Seneca Indian Chief White Mingo and other chiefs of the 6 Nations. They welcomed him to their country and desired that the "People of Virginia consider them as friends..." and trading partners. Washington responded in a favorable manner. 

20: Began their trip on the Ohio River. "We Imbarked in a large Canoe with sufficient store of Provision and Necessaries..." Besides Washington, William Crawford, and Dr. Craik, there were several others in the party, including 2 Indians to act as scouts and interpreters.

25: Passed Fishing Creek, south of New Martinsville: "contains some bottoms of very good Land" including "the largest Flat I have seen upon the River."

25: Camped about halfway through long reach of the Ohio River (probably near or opposite New Matamoras). Put out fishing lines at night and caught a catfish "the size of our largest River Cats, tho' it was of the smallest kind here."

26: Camped just above mouth of Little Muskingum creek. A plaque in Reno, Ohio notes this event.

27 Passed Muskingum River, "150 yards wide at the mouth,....navigable a great way into the Country for canoes."

28: Below Hocking River he visited the camp of Gayasuta, one of the 6 Nations chiefs who as a young hunter had accompanied Washington on the mission to Fort LeBoeuf in 1753. "He had expressd a satisfaction in seeing me, and treated us with great kindness; giving us a quarter of a very fine Buffalo." Gayasuta reiterated his wish (from earlier meeting at Fort Pitt) for Indians to trade with Virginia residents. Washington describes the formality of the visit as gracious but "tedious" and was anxious to move on.

30: Explored Kanawha River about 10 miles upriver from Ohio. Went hunting; killed 3 buffalo and 3 deer. "This country abounds in buffalo and wild game of all kinds." Saw birds in size between goose and swan, "the cry of these was as unusual as the Bird it self."

November 3: Began return trip up the Ohio. Marked trees (tomahawk claim) to establish claims to land along Ohio River north of the Kanawha River as part of land for Virginia Regiment veterans.  

5: Walked part of bottom land in Great Bend of the Ohio (part of Meigs County) - "the land as high, dry, and level as one could wish."    

6-16: Pages for these dates in his journal were chewed by mice and so were not reproduced. Some activities were gleaned from what was legible, notably that starting on the 8th he walked along bottom land from the Little Kanawha almost to the Muskingum River. There is a plaque in Williamstown WV noting that George Washington camped in the area. The author does not mention that in his notes about the journal. But journal does identify the party as being in that area.

Marker in Williamstown noting Washington's visit to the area

21:Reached Fort Pitt. Reached his home at Mount Vernon on December 1.

Washington believed the Ohio River and Kanawha River areas had excellent potential for future settlement. However, he notes in the journal that assembling large tracts would be difficult due to Indian settlements and claims by Virginia residents already made in some areas.

He eventually acquired for himself 10,990 acres along the south bank of the Kanawha River, 4,395 acres on the east side of the Great Bend, 2,448 acres on the current site of Ravenswood WV, and 2,314 acres near the Little Kanawha River -the tract known locally Washington Bottom. The latter land on the east side of the Ohio River extended from Blennerhassett Island to the island just north of the Little Kanawha.

George Washington never realized the development potential or price appreciation that he expected. He tried throughout the 1780s to sell or lease the land. Much of it ended up in his estate when he died in 1799.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Low Tablet, a valuable Adena artifact

Edward Low was 12 years old in 1943, playing with two friends on a sandy hill overlooking the Ohio River near Parkersburg WV. He had sneaked away from home to explore. They dug a trench to make their game of war more realistic and struck something about a foot below the surface. He unearthed a thin rectangular stone with Indian-like carvings and took it home with him. He kept his "Indian rock" in a drawer. Years passed; he married and raised a family. His children took the stone to "show and tell" sessions at school.

In 1971 he had moved to Columbus and took the stone to the Ohio Historical Society (OHS - now Ohio History Connection) for analysis. OHS staff were excited by his find and complimented him on protecting it and seeking a professional assessment. He donated it to OHS. The Low Tablet was a significant addition to the group of other similar Adena stone tablets. It has been researched and on display continuously at the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus.

Images of Low Tablet from Ohio Historical Society (now Ohio History Connection)

The image of the Low Tablet below right with black and white tones makes the design details more visible. The images on the left are of the Wilmington tablet which has some design similarities.

The Low Tablet became an unexpected center of controversy in 2007. Mr. Low tried to reclaim the tablet, stating that he had merely lent it to OHS. A five year legal proceeding and occasional public debate on his case ensued. The court eventually sided with the OHS position that he had donated the tablet. Edward Low died in 2010.

2008 photo WV Gazette of Edward Low with the tablet

The Adena people were a prehistoric civilization who inhabited the midwest during the Early Woodland period from about 1000 BCE to 500 CE. They were hunters, gatherers, and collectors. They were the first people in this region to settle in small villages, cultivate crops, use pottery vessels, use materials such as copper and shells to make ornaments and jewelry, and bury their honored dead in burial mounds.

Adena was the name of the estate of Thomas Worthington, sixth governor of Ohio. It was there that a mound yielded artifacts establishing the existence of the Adena culture. They are best known today as the mound builders. They built mounds for burial, as territorial markers, and effigy mounds depicting animals or symbols. The most prominent of the latter is the Serpent Mound near Peebles, OH.

Most evidence of their culture has come from excavation of mounds and village sites. Recovered artifacts include human remains, tools, jewelry, and the stone tablets, such as the Low Tablet. The purpose of the stone tablets is not entirely clear. Some researchers believe that they were used to imprint designs on cloth, animal hides, or human skin. Some tablets have been found with residue of ocher or hematite, a primitive type of paint that could have been used for imprinting. Others suggest that the stones' art works were ceremonial in nature, perhaps an image of a shaman or a mythological spiritual being.

The Low Tablet carvings include a human features, raptor images, and stylized wings which are typical designs found on other tablets. The frontal human face with more detailed features is unique, not found on other tablets. The human/raptor features been suggested by some researchers to represent shamans dressed in raptor bird costumes. This imagery is consistent with shaman costumes in other Indian cultures.

The Low Tablet is considered an excellent and valuable example of the Adena stone tablets. Robert Converse, editor of Ohio Archaeologist, appraised the tablet at Mr. Low's request and valued it at a minumum of $25,000. It could bring up to $250,000 if auctioned on the international market, he said. "It's irreplaceable."

OHS archaeologist Martha Otto concluded her Low Tablet research report in 1975 by noting that: "It is obvious that the task of interpreting the adena tablets is quite incomplete. Hopefully additional specimens will be found......In the meantime, we must be grateful for people like Mr. Edward Low who are curious enough and concerned enough to report their discoveries."

Some additional specimens have been found, including a stone tablet fragment in Washington County. See the fragment and article by Robert Converse in Ohio Archaeologist by clicking here.

The Low Tablet will be displayed at Campus Martius Museum in Marietta at their Night at the Museum fund raising event November 21, 2014 from 6:00-8:00 pm. Tickets are $50 per person and may be purchased at the Museum 740-373-3750.

Cincinnati tablet

Gaitskill clay tablet

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Augustus T. Ward, Co G, 36th Ohio Volunteer Infantry

It was 1861. Augustus Ward was “fired with indignation with the insults the (Union) flag received from the traitors of the South.” But he did not enlist on the first call of President Lincoln. His parents encouraged him to remain at home with them on the farm in Fearing Township. He was 20 years old, born in 1840, the fourth child of Robert and Lucy Ward. He described his occupation as a farmer.

When the President made a second call for 300,000 more men, he felt that “his country needed his services.” He enlisted on August 12, 1861 in a company of the 36th Ohio Volunteer Infantry being formed at Lower Salem. He was first appointed drummer of the company. Before fighting began, he was promoted to Sergeant, then First Sergeant of Company G of the 36th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

Augustus wrote a four page letter to his family dated September 25, 1862, after major actions at South Mountain and Antietam Creek in Maryland. A copy is preserved in the Marietta College Library Special Collections.

What follows are some of his observations. All quotes are from his letter. His descriptions of the countryside there and the military actions are rather matter of fact. There is only scattered detail of the military actions and the devastation on the battlefield. He says nothing about his personal situation or emotions. Perhaps this was his nature; or maybe he chose not to disturb his family with too much detail, especially regarding the danger he was exposed to. However, his passion for the Union cause and against the rebels is obvious.

Company G of the “36th” encountered the rear of confederate forces in Frederick, Maryland on September 12, 1862. They were ordered to affix bayonets and move “Forward.” There were several obstacles in their march – a rail fence, picket fence, a field of corn. Then they came upon a “gentleman’s fine residence with neat white paling (picket-type fence) around the front yard & everything nice.” The owner of the property and a young lady watched from an upstairs window as Co. G approached. “With a “rush – a shout - a hurrah for the Union - a curse on the rebels – and a tender look at a gal in the window – Co. G dashed at the fence and down it went with a crash.” His wording about the residence, the owner, and lady in the window suggests possible empathy mixed in with the bravado of troops on the march.

An example of the pastoral nature of the area in Maryland: Wise Farm at Fox Gap, one of points of conflict at Battle of South Mountain

On they went into town (Frederick or Middletown?)…” all was boisterous excitement, ladies cheering and waving kerchiefs.” Enemy had left, "having given leg tail towards Harpers Ferry.” This may have been General Lee’s deliberate splitting of his force. It was “a pretty nice town, has been in times of peace a beautiful place. It is situated on one of the most beautiful valleys I have ever seen.

Federal soldiers in Middletown MD marching to the South Mountain battlefield, courtesy

They camped the night of September 13, 1862, by a creek. On Sept 14 they received orders to pile knapsacks and leave the sick men to guard them. “This we took as an omen of the coming fight.” The 36th marched out at 6 am. He observed that an large wheat crop was being sown, fields having been cleaned and plowed. He also noted that fruit was in abundance – apples, peaches, pears, and quinces. “I expect I get more apples here than at home.” His notation of the farming and fruit likely reflects his interest from farming at home – and could be his way of expressing homesickness. They marched on National Pike, then diverged to the left to South Mountain “which the enemy has possession of.”

Order was given to "charge bayonet"! “It would have done you good or scared you to death to hear the yell we gave as we charged up the hill. As we came up the brow of the hill, they fired a volley at us and wounded 20 or so - and then (they) fled precipitously. They could not bear the idea of cold steel so near their persons.” He also mentions that two Union soldiers in his division "turned tail like an ignoble hound."

“We got possession of the mountain and placed batteries on it. The enemy made two charges but were repulsed with loss. Started at 4 pm, lasted an hour. 100 rebels killed. Our boys lay on the edge of the woods. Enemy came within 75 yds, but our fire was so hot that they could get no access. When the fight was over, we went to look over the field. The carnage - for so small an action - was fearful.” That ended the Battle of South Mountain, a prelude to the Battle of Antietam. See another first hand account of South Mountain fighting at

Fighting at Crampton’s Gap during the Battle of South Mountain (Harper’s Weekly, October 25, 1862; A. R. Ward, artist; NPS History Collection

The 36th next faced the rebels on September 17 at Antietam Creek and “took a stone bridge after severe loss and crossed over a made a charge.” His one line mention of the battle at Antietam vastly understated the ferocity and human cost of the contest. September 17 has been reckoned the bloodiest day in American military history. Augustus reported in his letter that after the battle “the enemy has retreated into Va. again.”

”Battle of Antietam,” lithograph by Kurz and Allison, 1888, showing the fighting around Burnside Bridge (Library of Congress)

He served 4 years, having been promoted several times, serving as captain when he was discharged July 31, 1865. I admire Augustus for serving the full duration of the war. His service besides South Mountain and Antietam included actions at Lewisburg, Hoover’s Gap, Chickamauga, Mission Ridge, Cloyd’s Mountain, Berryville, Fisher’s Hill, Cedar Creek.

He was fortunate to have lived through the experience, apparently without disabling injury. The casualty (killed, wounded, captured, or missing), rate for active duty Union soldiers was about 1 in 3. Many more died of illness, disease, and poor nutrition. A total of 620,000 died in active duty from all sources on both sides. Union and Confederate soldiers alike endured difficult conditions from battle, disease, lack of pay, sometimes inadequate clothing and equipment, short rations, bad weather, separation from loved ones, and long periods of boredom in camp between military actions. Many soldiers on both sides deserted or did not reenlist. Those who persevered, including Augustus Ward, deserve credit for their bravery and sacrifice.

Augustus records the end of his service in a postwar autobiographical summary: "After his discharge he retired at once to farm in his native township."

Well done, Capt. Ward.

Monday, October 13, 2014

1964 Flood in Marietta

My future wife Suzanne and I launched a canoe near the Red Cross office on Wooster Street. The river level was that high in March of 1964; water covered the downtown. The canoe was an old birchbark canoe - could have belonged to Rufus Putnam - probably not fit for flood water exploration. But we were young and decided to suspend the use of common sense for this outing.

It was exciting on the open water drifting past flooded buildings, traffic lights, and vehicles. It was also eerily quiet. The first stop was the Monument to the Start Westward in Muskingum Park. I was a photo bug and editor of the Marietta High School yearbook that year. The quest was to capture the monument, which included a boat, as if it were afloat. Clever, huh? Click, click. Done.

Next we cruised down front street and took more pictures. Water lapped at the Post Office steps. The river had crested and was starting to fall. We discovered the hydrological effect of this when we passed Butler Street. A strong current of receding water pushed us alarmingly to the right toward the buildings. Quick! - Row hard, real hard! Whew, past the intersection, the current subsided.

We reached Greene Street and hit more strong current. In a panic, we realized (duh: blinding flash of the obvious) that we were near open water with no immediate shelter from the current. The canoe lurched to the right as we tried to turn the corner to head east on Greene. Adrenaline surged - how can we escape this angry river. A long unscheduled trip downriver seemed quite likely. But at the right time we neared a parking meter. I grabbed that meter head and managed to swing the canoe around enough so that we could get away from the current. We dodged behind some buildings and breathed a sigh of relief. The rest of the trip was boring by comparison.

The flood was the highest in some time. It flooded my parents jewelry store on Putnam Street, Baker & Baker Jewelers. I saw first hand the elaborate system which many downtown businesses had for coping with periodic "high water," the term locals use for floods. In the store, all of the display cases could be wheeled out. Wall shelving was unbolted from the walls and removed. Walls and floor were smooth concrete - easier to clean up when the water receded. No basement to contend with - it was filled in. The store was a three story building. Upper floors were used to store the inventory, displays and shelving. An electric lift moved the larger stuff up to the third floor. Dad hired a couple of strong (that left me out) high school kids for the heavy lifting. There were also family and friends who helped.

These photos show the street, the electric lift, and interior on the 3rd floor

Volunteers include my brother Joe's buddies Bill LaBarre, Jim Lallathin, and an unidentified person pretending to be busy.

Left photo is exterior view, on right is view from inside of third floor. Worker is Dave(?) Wilcoxen, then from Belpre.

Many local businesses had similar systems to allow for quick removal of inventory and fixtures. Prior to flood control reservoir systems, implemented mid-20th century, serious flooding was a frequent occurance. Floods created havoc even in Marietta's early days. Thomas Walcutt records a flood episode in his journal in February, 1790: On February 17, he observed that "the rivers continue to rise exceedingly fast." The next day water rose so quickly that "before we could get our breakfast done,the water rose so fast that the floor was afloat and we stood in water up to our buckles..."

Life is definitely disrupted with flooding, but people recover and move on - stiff upper lip and all that. Such is is life along the rivers.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

W. P. Snyder Jr Sternwheeler leaves for Louisville

It was a blustery, cold morning on October 4 as the W P Snyder, Jr. Sternwheel rested at her moorings waiting for transport to Louisville. There she will be part of the Festival of Riverboats. See for more information. Thousands of attendees will have a chance to see and tour the W. P. Snyder Jr., the last surviving sternwheel workboat.

Ready for move. Notice retracted smokestack

From 1918 to 1954, she functioned as a towboat, mainly moving barges of coal for Crucible Steel (and other previous owners) in the Pittsburgh area. In 1955 the Snyder was donated to the Ohio Historical Society to be moored at the Ohio River Museum. On September 16, 1955 the W. P. Snyder, Jr arrived at Marietta under her own power, smoke billowing from the stacks and the steam whistle echoing through the valley.

W. P. Snyder, Jr. with coal barges in the Pittsburgh area in the late 1940s

On this morning in 2014, the Snyder is being readied for the move. The crew of the towing company secure bulkhead doors, retract the smokestacks and flagpole, and loosen the spar poles anchoring the boat to the shore. A few dozen onlookers watch, chat quietly, and take lots of photos and videos.

Soon the towboat Dale Taylor edges up to the Snyder's towing knees - the support structures on the bow where barges were pushed by the Snyder in her operational days. She is secured to the Dale Taylor towboat and soon they are under way.

Moving the Snyder requires careful orchestration of details, including monitoring the weather, river conditions, and the turning of the Historic Harmar Bridge. Huh? Turning a bridge? Yes, and here is the background.

The Historic Harmar Bridge (HHB) is a railroad bridge originally built in 1873, replacing a covered bridge on the same piers. Below is a drawing showing the spans and a photo of the bridge. The span on the right with the circular base in the middle of the span is the swing span. It can be moved 90 degrees to allow boats to pass through. The span is turned by a hand operated crank. The HHB is the last railroad bridge in the country with an operating swing span.

The HHB had to be rebuilt more than once due to flood damage. The most recent was the 1913 flood which destroyed spans 1,2,and 3. The swing span survived. The bridge was rebuilt and was used for trains until 1962 when the railroad line was abandoned. In 1987, the bridge was modified with a pedestrian walkway. Pedestrians use the bridge and enjoy a more direct route between Harmar Village and Marietta downtown, not to mention the scenic views of the rivers.

Historic Harmar Bridge - Swing span in foreground in closed position.

Swing span is opened for the W. P. Snyder and towboat Dale Taylor to pass underneath

Moving the Snyder requires opening the swing span on the HHB. It takes 10-12 strong people to open and close the span. As the Snyder approaches the Putnam Bridge, the last of the volunteers scurries onto the bridge swing span to help with the turn. They begin pushing the turn lever and span responds. Soon it is fully open. A stiff, gusty wind and rain squall suddenly blows up, complicating the maneuvering process.

The Dale Taylor pilot skillfully navigates the W. P. Snyder, Jr. through the narrow opening, blows the whistle, and powers up. The locals assembled clap and cheer, seeing that the Snyder is safely through and on its way.

The start of this voyage highlighted two valuable historic assets in Marietta - the
W P Snyder, Jr. sternwheel towboat and the Historic Harmar Bridge. Today they worked together.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Every Child Deserves a Chance: the look back at the Washington County Children's Home

Suzanne and I, and our Old English Sheepdog Abby, were breathing hard after the steep ascent of the hill behind the old Children’s Home buildings in Marietta. We lived at the time on nearby Rathbone Terrace. On top, it is a serene setting. There are views up the Muskingum River valley. A stand of tall oaks offers shade.

We noticed a mowed clearing with a chain link fence around it. A bronze plaque explained that the area was a burial ground for 77 children who died while residents of the Children’s Home. The plaque had been erected in 1982 by the Washington County Children Services Board.

It was a poignant reminder for me of what the Children’s Home did in decades past- and what Washington County Children Services does today - providing a good home to neglected, abused, or orphaned kids. “Every Child Deserves a Chance” is the tag line for the current levy campaign to fund prevention efforts for at-risk children.

The tradition was begun by Catharine A. (Fay) Ewing (1822 - 1897). She was born in Westboro, Massachusetts, and in 1835 moved with her parents to Marietta. Catharine attended the Marietta Female Seminary and at age of 20 became a missionary among the Choctaw Indians in the west. While there, she learned that an orphan child died from being thrown down stairs during an alcohol fueled domestic argument. “The distress of mind I suffered over this sad affair so affected my health, that I was obliged to leave my work among the Indians, and return home; but the desire and purpose had arisen in my heart to have a home where I might care for such orphaned and homeless children. After this every effort was directed toward that object, every dollar laid up with miserly care.”

She moved to Kentucky to teach and save money for her project. After two years, she returned to Washington County and with savings and a modest inheritance purchased several acres of land in Lawrence Township near Moss Run. There was a two room cottage on the property which became the first “Children’s Home.” She convinced the infirmary trustees to provide $1.00 per week for expenses, pay half the medical expenses, buy new clothes for each child, and pay burial expenses when needed. She pledged to take care of the rest. On April 1, 1858, she took in 9 children under 10 years of age who had been housed in the county infirmary alongside alcoholics and mentally unstable adults.

Her initial efforts were applauded by many. But others, especially neighbors, were suspicious and even hostile. Some believed that her “charity” was simply a money-making scheme. Others did not want “paupers” and presumed misfits mingling with their kids. This prejudice lead to threats and vandalism at the home.

School officials tried to block her from sending her kids to the local schoolhouse. When she brought the children the first time, the teacher sent them home. Later a group of men blocked their entrance. They feared for the safety of the other students and objected to the local school having to bear the cost of educating orphans from the entire county. She finally succeeded in enrolling the children but the next year hired a teacher to educate the children at the home, a practice which continued until 1962.

The first few years were difficult. Finances were strained. She had limited help to manage the kids. In 1858 Construction was finished on a new house for the children. They rejoiced at having sufficient living space. Several times illness swept through the house – diphtheria, scarlet fever, influenza. Several of the children died from illness.

The diphtheria outbreak in June of 1860 was particularly challenging and lasted for 5 months. She became ill first and could not care for the kids. Her two hired women left. No others would work there for fear of contagion. Catharine herself explains: “All the help I had in caring for these 23 children, 8 of them sick, was the aid the children themselves could give me, though Mrs. Clogston, a neighbor, did the washing and ironing for me as a favor.” The hardest time came one evening when she thought one of the sick children might not survive the night. One of the boys sought help from a neighbor who refused, saying Catharine “was paid for taking care of the children” and should do it herself. Despondent, she was comforted by one of the children who hugged her and said “God can take care of us.” Their prayers were answered when a short time later Dr. Beckwith and his wife appeared to help out.

She credits the Lord who she says "wonderfully provided for us" and "helped me through with it all, and gave me strength according to my day. Many kind friends He raised up for me, who by gifts of money, donations of clothing, and provisions helped me to supply our wants." Help often came just when things looked the darkest for her - in the form of volunteer help, donations, encouragement, and advice.

Following the Civil War, many additional children of soldiers killed while in service were in need of support. She soon had 35 such orphans at her home. This increased expenses beyond the resources that were available. She realized that additional government funding was critical. She also wanted the Children’s Home to be separate from the County Infirmary, so it could focus solely on the children’s welfare. And she explained: “So many of (the children), too, were soldiers’ children, and these I felt deserved something better of their country than what had been provided.”

Catharine worked with government officials to address the situation. Due to her initiatives, the Ohio legislature passed a law in 1866 providing for the public support of homes for orphaned children in Ohio. It is said to have been the first legislation of its kind in the United States. Catharine later observed: "…the plan which had thought of only as a relief for our own Children's Home, became in God's good providence the means by which such institutions have been multiplied all over our state." She could have added “and all over the country,” as other states adopted similar laws and public Children’s Homes.

Washington County took the lead in establishing a true public Children’s Home. William R. Putnam was elected chairman of the newly appointed trustees. A new Washington County Children's Home building was constructed on a 100 acre farm just outside Marietta on Muskingum Drive. In 1867 33 orphans from Catharine's home were transferred to the new facility.

Photos circa 1900

Ironically, Catharine herself was not involved with the new home. She had been offered the position of manager but balked when the trustees refused to hire her husband Archibald Ewing to manage the farm. Ann Guthrie Brown became the first superintendent of the Children Home. Catharine and her husband moved to Marietta, where they operated a boarding house for college students. Still interested in aiding the needy, Catharine led the effort to establish the Washington County Woman's Home, a facility that provided a home for aging females. Catharine died on April 4, 1897, and was buried in Oak Grove Cemetery.

Over the years successive Children’s Home superintendents, staff members, and trustees provided a safe home environment for “their” kids. Goals for each child went beyond basic care and included education and becoming useful citizens. The Century Review of Marietta publication noted: "...the entire premises are made as home-like as possible. Homes to good families are found for the children as fast as practicable and constant watch is kept over each to insure their proper treatment to the end that they may grow up to be useful citizens. The managers have constantly in view the real objects of the home and endeavor to make the children feel that this is a large family and true home...this home is an honor to the state and one in which the people of Washington County take pride." This may not have been a totally objective assessment, but it expressed the good intentions and reputation of the Children's Home over the generations.

Photo circa 1900

Later reports suggest that the home had as many as 100 residents at one point. There was also success in finding good homes for other children. A 1966 report stated that over 3,100 children had resided in the home since its inception in 1867.

The home closed in 1976 when placing children directly into foster homes or adoption became a preferred method for serving these children. But the tradition of supporting children in need continues through dedicated work of Washington County Children Services agency. Aunt Katie Fay, as she was known, would gratefully approve of progress since her first home and agree that “Every Child Deserves a Chance.”

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Capt. James Selby

The story of Capt. Selby is a poignant, stark reminder of the hardship of war. It is told simply in the Campus Martius Museum exhibit “Touched by Conflict: Southeastern Ohio & the Civil War.” The photos, displays, artifacts are on loan from noted Civil War collector Larry Strayer.

As I viewed Capt. Selby’s exhibit, I was touched by his bravery, perseverance, and calm acceptance of his impending death. Here is part of his story from the exhibit:

Captain James C. Selby

Enlisted at Lowell and was mustered in as 2nd Lieutenant, Co. A, 36th Ohio under Capt.Hiram Devol and 1st Lieutenant James Gage Barker. After Battle of Antietam he was promoted to Capt of Co. K.

On November 25, 1863, he lost his right arm at the battle of Mission Ridge. After a short recuperation, Selby returned to his company with a modified sword and left-handed script.

At the battle of Berrysville, Virginia, on Sept 3, 1864, he received a wound to his right thigh, severing the vein and shattering the bone. When informed he would not survive, he calmly sent for the chaplain to make final disposition of his property and instructed his lieutenant to prepare the monthly returns. Death came eleven days later.

Below are photos of the exhibit, which includes his field desk and other items. The morphine box offers mute testimony to the pain he endured from the arm amputation – and yet he returned to duty after that.

If any readers have more information about Capt Selby, let your author know.

Photo taken after loss of his right arm

Morphine box is at right of his hat

Monday, September 1, 2014

Williamstown and the Tomahawk Claim

When the first Marietta settlers landed on a dreary 7th of April in 1788, Isaac and Rebecca Williams were already settled across the Ohio River in what was then Virginia. Their settlement, which would become Williamstown, is a story of two fascinating people whose families who explored this area separately as early as 1770.

The initial settlement land was set aside by a tomahawk claim. At the time, a person could claim 400 acres of land on the frontier by girdling a few trees to create a clearing and placing their initials on a prominent tree. That’s what Samuel Tomlinson did in 1773. He also claimed an additional 1,000 acres adjacent to the tomahawk claim through what was called a preemption claim. We’ll see how this claim became a town as we learn more about Isaac and Rebecca.

Isaac Williams was born in West Chester, PA on July 16, 1737. His family moved to Winchester VA, then a frontier town, while he was a boy. He acquired hunting and frontier skills as he grew up. At age 18 he was employed by the colonial government as a ranger to monitor the movements of Indians. He served briefly in the army of General Braddock and in the party that delivered the first provisions to Fort Duquesne after its capture by the British. Isaac was a very proficient hunter and trapper and made several expeditions to the Ohio River region. Wild game on the frontier of those days was extremely plentiful – a hunter’s dream.

On returning from one of these trips, he and two companions were trapped by a huge snow storm and extreme cold. They were confined to camp and soon depleted their food rations. The snow made hunting impossible and difficult to find enough fuel for fires to keep warm. One of their party died from illness compounded by the cold and starvation. Isaac’s other companion lost toes and parts of his feet from frostbite. He was unable to walk for about a month. Isaac courageously stayed with him until he was able to walk well enough to get home. Their only “food” was a broth of boiled skins from the pelts they had mixed with melted snow. It took Isaac months to regain his strength from this ordeal. But it did not diminish his zeal for the life of a hunter.

Isaac settled along Buffalo Creek in 1769 near present day West Liberty WV in Brooke County. Further hunting expeditions took him clear to the mouth of the Ohio River and along the Mississippi River north to the Missouri River. He brought back a wealth of beaver pelts on these ventures.

While hunting and trapping, he made numerous tomahawk land claims along the Ohio and tributaries. This was opportunistic – almost none of this vast area was settled, so he could be the first to claim the best land parcels as he came upon them. He was then able to sell them to later settlers who wanted prime lands but were too late to make claims of their own.

In 1774 Isaac returned to military service and was with Lord Dunmore as he sailed down the Ohio River on his expedition against the Shawnees. Williams was present when Chief Cornstalk signed the peace treaty at Chillicothe.

It was during this period that he met Rebecca Tomlinson Martin, a young widow at Grave Creek. Her husband was a trader who had been killed by Indians on the Hocking River in 1770. She was born at Will's Creek on the Potomac in Maryland on February 14, 1754. She moved with her two brothers to a cabin on Grave Creek (near Moundsville WV) in 1771 and was their housekeeper. She lived for weeks at a time alone while the brothers were out on hunting tours.

Historian Samuel Hildreth described her as "full of life and activity and as fearless of danger as the man who chose her to be his companion." Her fearlessness was particularly evident on one trip as she struck out alone from their home at Grave Creek (near Moundsville WV) to visit her sister who lived some 50 miles north near Yellow Creek. She planned the return trip by canoe on the Ohio River. Her trip began in the afternoon. At dark she stopped and waited until the moon came up to continue the trip at night. As the moon rose, she retrieved the canoe and pushed it out into deeper water. Her bare foot recoiled as she stepped on the dead, cold body of an Indian, lying in the shallow water. He had been killed a short time before she came on shore. She coolly stepped into the canoe and began paddling, thinking to herself how lucky she was that he was dead. She arrived home without further incident.

Rebecca also was skilled at treating wounds with home remedies. Hildreth recounts one episode where she assisted in caring for a Thomas Mills who had been wounded by rifle fire in fourteen places. One arm and one leg were broken. Using her remedies, including slippery elm bark, they nursed Mills back to health. That he lived - and did not require amputations - was considered miraculous at the time.

Rebecca’s brothers made the tomahawk claim of 400 acres of land opposite the Muskingum River for her. They cleared a small plot of land, planted corn, and built a cabin in 1773. Joseph Tomlinson a few years later worked to legally validate this initial tomahawk claim. There was an extensive process of application to the Virginia Commonwealth, payment of a fee, completion of surveys, along with patience and sometimes luck. In 1781 the 400 acres were finally deeded to Isaac Williams on Rebecca’s behalf. Continued Indian raids near their home at Grave Creek prompted them to consider moving to the Williamstown property. Isaac made two additional trips to clear the land again and prepare it for settlement.

Joseph Buell, a soldier at Fort Harmar, recorded an entry in his journal dated March 24, 1787: “Isaac Williams arrived with his family to settle on the opposite (Virginia/West Virginia) side of the river. Several others have joined him which makes our situation in the wilderness more agreeable.” There were about 10 families which comprised the initial settlement at what was then called Williams Station or Williamsport.

Painting of Williamstown circa 1840 by Christopher Busta-Peck. From Williamstown WV History Facebook page

Isaac and Rebecca settled into their new home on the Ohio. Shortly after that, Rebecca gave birth to their only child, Drusilla. Isaac gave up hunting full time but still made occasional hunting trips - especially for beaver trapping, a favorite activity of his. He became involved in managing his plantation and civic affairs.

During this time, his remarkable combination of personality traits, skills, and interests became evident. He was a proficient and courageous hunter, yet mild mannered and not given to the crude behavior of typical frontiersmen. He was charitable, enjoyed social interaction, possessed a strong business sense, and became active in civic affairs. Isaac was involved in the formation of a new county in Virginia - Wood County, necessitated by the growing population in the area. Later he became the long time operator of the ferry service which operated between Marietta and Williamstown.

Rebecca was occupied with raising Drusilla and an orphan niece. She continued using her self-taught nursing skills, as described in the Williamstown history book Fruitful Valley, “Mrs. Williams made salves and lotions for weary bruised pioneers…and nursed the sick and put in place the broken bones of unfortunate woodsmen.” She was also enjoyed reading.

Isaac and Rebecca were charitable. He provided food to the settlers in Belpre and Marietta when they experienced a critical food shortage in 1789. They also opened their home to river travelers who became ill. They eventually emancipated their slaves; Isaac left tokens of his appreciation to them in his will.

Isaac and Rebecca’s latter years also brought challenges. There were numerous law suits regarding the land claims. Those were costly to defend and a stressful distraction to them. Drusilla married John Henderson in 1805. But she bore two or three children but each died in infancy. She herself died prematurely a few years later in 1810, leaving a lasting void in the Williams' lives.

Isaac died in 1820. Rebecca passed away a few years later in 1825. They left behind an admirable legacy and thriving community - that began with a humble tomahawk claim.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Riding the Doodlebug

From 1933-53, thousands of area residents enjoyed riding the Doodlebug. Doodlebug? It was not a kid's toy or amusement park ride. The Doodlebug was a self-propelled gasoline powered 40 passenger train car. It ran on the B&O tracks along the west side of the Muskingum River daily serving Zanesville, Marietta, Belpre, Parkersburg, and many points in between.

Doodlebug approaches Waterford station, Photo courtesy of Roger Mackey, Parkersburg WV

People loved the convenience and the adventure of riding the Doodlebug train. It ran often, had multiple stops for pickups and drop offs, and was generally on time. It was truly a passenger-friendly operation. The Doodlebug would stop for anyone, anywhere, and for almost any purpose along the line. Stories abounded.

Eldon Young, historian for the OL&K railroad group, recalls that the train stopped at one lady’s home where she served the crew lunch. He also said that local residents used the trains as a delivery service for letters to persons along the train line. One Belpre resident sent letters this way to an acquaintance in Zanesville who then responded with a note returned to Belpre via the doodlebug the next day. That was pretty quick turnaround compared to the mail then and now.

Another Belpre area resident reportedly stopped the train and handed the conductor a shopping list. The conductor then purchased the items in Parkersburg and left a full shopping bag sitting near the tracks on the return trip.

Then there was a hunter who tried to flag down train going into Malta so he could ride to other side of town. Hunter waved at the train with his gun up in the air; the engineer kept going. The hunter hitched a ride into town where train was stopped. He asked the engineer: Didn’t you see me standing there waving at you for a ride? Engineer: I saw you there. Hunter: Why didn't you stop? Engineer: You were waving a gun up in the air. Would you stop for someone waving a gun at you? Hunter, hesitating: I guess not...

He also told the story of a conductor who noticed that the passenger count exceeded the tickets sold by one. Someone was riding free. He ordered the engineer to stop in the middle of a large trestle. He then sternly announced his finding that a passenger had not paid and said when the person was identified he or she would be put off the train right there on the trestle. The offending passenger immediately confessed and paid up.

Gene Heldman, local barber and source of community news, recalls fondly riding the train with his mother as a youth. They boarded in Oak Grove for shopping in downtown Marietta. Conductor Bud Parsons would invite young Gene to sit in the operator's seat and "drive" the train down to Harmar. Parsons then took the helm and backed the train over the Harmar bridge to Union Depot, then located along Second Street in Marietta. The Heldmans did their shopping and errands and returned home to Oak Grove on a later train.

A Marietta resident fondly recalls riding the Doodlebug from Stockport to visit family and for doctor appointments in Parkersburg. She explained something that was common in the time period. Her family had a car, but it was used only on Sunday for church or for special occasions. Most of the time it sat in the garage. So, the train was essential for her and many others to get from place to place.

The doodlebug self propelled train cars first appeared around 1904. General Electric engineers identified the practical uses for self propelled railcars. The early ones were gasoline powered and much more economical to operate than a conventional train. There was no need for electric power as with interurbans and trolleys. They became popular for service on lightly used branch lines. Manufacturers included GE and Electro-Motive Corporation based in Cleveland (later acquired by General Motors). They used car bodies built by Pullman Standard, Brill, and St. Louis Car Company.

Derivation of the Doodlebug term is not clear. The term "doodlebug" was given to the first successful rail motor car, the Union Pacific #1 McKeen Motor Car, built in late 1904 to March 1905. When that motor car first arrived for service in Kearney, Nebraska, the switchman looked at the Maroon colored, flat front car body and proclaimed, "Look at the potato bug." The doodlebug term was coined sometime later. The term may also have described the bug-like appearance of a single rail car, viewed from a distance, meandering across open country. Eldon Young said the name stuck because it “doodled” along at its own pace.

The doodlebug cars began service locally in 1933, about 35 years after the original rail line from Marietta to Zanesville was built. That line was initiated in 1884 by Col. Albert Boone, a promoter identified in a 1953 Marietta Times article as a “sharp dresser, smooth talker, and master salesman.” His plan was greeted with skepticism from locals who recalled an earlier failed effort which cost area investors $500,000. Boone’s plan was more practical – he wanted only free right of way from property owners – in exchange for free passes on the train for five years. He obtained commitments of capital from eastern investors, though some local community financial help was also provided. Construction began in 1886. On June 30, 1888, the first passenger train arrived in Harmar from Zanesville, greeted by jubilant crowds, cannons firing, flags waving, and dignitaries speaking.

In July, 1953 crowds again turned out for a more somber occasion – the final run of the doodlebug train and the end of passenger rail service. Passenger use here and across the country had dropped off as the car became the preferred mode of transport after World War II. Freight service had mostly moved to trucks. Only local opposition to abandonment requests staved off earlier shutdown of the line.

Front page of Marietta Daily Times reporting the last run of the Doodlebug train in 1953

The train cars were packed with passengers who rode the train on the final round trip run from Zanesville to Parkersburg and back. Among the passengers was Elizabeth Boone, daughter of the original rail line’s founder. Crowds gathered at the stops to wave their final goodbye to the local doodlebug.

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.