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100 Year Old Artifacts Show the History of WVU

Jane Metters LaBarbara
February 22, 2017

Blog post by Michael Ridderbusch, Associate Curator, WVRHC.


To help commemorate the 150th anniversary of the founding of West Virginia University, a historical photography exhibit featuring holdings of the West Virginia and Regional History Center is showing at the Erickson Alumni Center.


In addition to photographs, the History Center also possesses scrapbooks, letters, and other material related to the history of WVU, including what is known in the archival profession as “ephemera,” or material intended to perform a function of limited duration, such as announcements, invitations, programs, tickets, schedules, etc.  The website of the Ephemera Society of America provides an informative listing of examples on their website.  Ephemera from the History Center’s collections will be presented here to further celebrate WVU’s 150 years of service.


Mountaineer Football figures prominently in our ephemera holdings, including these antique game tickets from the 1895 and 1900 seasons:


WVU football game tickets, 1895 and 1900

WVU football game tickets, 1895 and 1900.

WVU football booster badge, 1903

WVU football booster badge, 1903.


The booster badge on exhibit from 1903 shows the pride of Mountaineer fans when their team, under head coach Harry E. Trout, achieved a 7-1 season, including their first victory over early rival Washington and Jefferson College.


Booster card for construction of WVU's old Mountaineer Stadium below Woodburn Hall, 1924

Booster card for construction of the old Mountaineer Stadium below Woodburn Hall, 1924.


A common type of ephemera item in the archives of colleges and universities is the dance card, and there are many in the collection of the History Center, including this early one from 1890, which lists items such as the “Cheerful” Polka and “Clarissa” Quadrille:


Dance card, WVU Commencement Ball, 1890

Dance card, Commencement Ball, 1890.


This 1890 social event was even covered by a major state newspaper, the Wheeling Intelligencer:


Clipping Report of WVU Commencement Ball, Wheeling Intelligencer

Report of WVU Commencement Ball, Wheeling Intelligencer, 12 June 1890.

WVU Dance Cards, 1922 and 1932

WVU Dance Cards, 1922 and 1932.


Particularly remarkable in the early days of WVU is how elaborately ornamented commencement announcements were, including these examples from 1875 and 1890:


WVU commencement program, 1875 WVU commencement program, 1890

WVU commencement programs, 1875, 1890.


If this exhibit was of interest to you, I recommend checking out the WVU historical photography exhibit at the Alumni Center for a more immersive experience in WVU history.


Sources Consulted:  Collections at the West Virginia and Regional History Center; Wikipedia for article regarding coach Harry Trout; and Chronicling America for news clipping regarding the commencement ball of 1890.



President Taft Visits Morgantown and North Central West Virginia, 1911

Jane Metters LaBarbara
February 21, 2017

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC.

In honor of President’s Day, this post takes a look back at President William Howard Taft’s visit to Morgantown in November 1911.  Taft came to town to mark the inauguration of West Virginia University’s eighth president, Thomas E. Hodges. 


William Howard Taft was elected president in 1908 – the hand-picked successor of Theodore Roosevelt. He lost re-election to Democrat Woodrow Wilson in 1912 after Roosevelt split the Republican vote by running as a third-party candidate.


Residents of Albright in Preston County, West Virginia, are elated as news of Taft’s presidential victory is received in November 1908.


President Taft and President-Elect Woodrow Wilson travel together in March 1913 for Wilson’s inauguration.


On November 1, 1911, President Taft made a special trip to Morgantown two days before Hodges’ inauguration ceremony on November 3.  Taft traveled on a special train that arrived at 3:49 a.m. in Morgantown.  He departed at 1:15 p.m. later that day.  He stayed on the presidential train car until 9:00 a.m. that day when he set out to tour the main streets of Morgantown.  He ate breakfast at Cherryhurst, the home of WVU Geography Professor and West Virginia State Geologist, I.C. White.  Cherryhurst and its grounds occupied the current site of White Hall and the Downtown Campus Library.  After breakfast, Taft addressed a crowd of approximately 2000 school children that gathered outside on Cherryhurst’s lawn.


The Morgantown Post Chronicle’s coverage of Taft’s visit on November 1, 1911.


Taft’s visit as reported by the Morgantown New Dominion on November 2, 1911.


After the breakfast and talk at the White residence, Taft traveled to Martin Hall and gave a speech on “World Wide Peace” in which he discussed universal peace and treaties negotiated by his administration.  He then had lunch with Hodges and others in the President’s home, now called Purinton House.


Crowds gathered in Woodburn Circle to hear President Taft speak from the porch of Martin Hall.


President Taft, front row center, on the steps of Purinton House.  Identified in the front row, left to right, are Daniel B. Purinton, Governor W. E. Glasscock, President Taft, Thomas E. Hodges and Dr. I.C. White. The men in uniform were members of the Governor’s Staff.


After his luncheon, President Taft returned to the train depot.  He traveled south to Fairmont where he stopped to deliver a 15 minute speech from a car outside of the Marion County Courthouse.


President Taft (with his back to the camera) addresses crowds in Fairmont on November 1, 1911.


A brief overview of Taft’s visit to Fairmont in The Morgantown Post-Chronicle.


After leaving Fairmont, President Taft traveled to Grafton.  He gave a brief speech on conservation of natural resources there before heading out on a special Baltimore & Ohio train back to Washington, D.C.  Newspaper accounts report that President Taft lost his hat in Grafton – it flew out of his hand while he waved at the crowds.  The cap was picked up by a laborer who turned it over to the Grafton Stationmaster who intended to preserve the hat in a glass case.


President Warren Harding appointed Taft as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1921 and he served in that position until just before his death in 1930.  WVU President Hodges was inaugurated two days after Taft’s visit to the area on November 3, 1911.  He served as University President until 1914, then Morgantown postmaster until his death in 1919.





Doherty, William T., and Festus P. Summers. West Virginia University: Symbol of Unity in a Sectionalized State. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 1982


Morgantown Post-Chronicle, November 1, 1911.


New Dominion (Morgantown, WV), November 2, 1911.



Booker T. Washington and West Virginia Salt Works

Jane Metters LaBarbara
February 7, 2017

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian

Bags of Charmco Feeds and Kanawha Salt

Along the banks of the Kanawha River lies an ancient deposit of briny saline, or salt deposits.  Their salty presence figures prominently over millennia and they have played an important role for centuries and for generations of people in West Virginia.

The Kanawha Salines, the name given to the salt fields of West Virginia, travel along both banks of the Kanawha River until the waters reach Charleston, a distance of approximately ten miles.  The origin of the region can be traced back to the earliest times, 600 million years ago, to an ocean that predates even the Atlantic, the Iapetus Ocean, so named for the father of Atlantis, whose own name was given to the Atlantic Ocean we know today.

Native people harvested salt from the region and stories report that Indian captive, Mary Draper Ingles, an early western Virginia pioneer, whose capture in 1755 in the Kanawha Valley and subsequent escape were chronicled in the bestselling book by James Alexander Thom, Follow the River, did as well. During her captivity Ingles was taught to harvest the brine as it emerged from the ground, the residue of the ancient Iapetus Ocean, and make salt.

Before this time and after, wild animals, such as the elk, bison, and deer that roamed the Kanawha Valley, were attracted to salt licks like the Kanawha Salines.  Hunters and native peoples were well aware of licks as gathering spots for wild animals and used them as hunting grounds.

As early as 1808, the Kanawha Salines were put to production and a salt making and refining industry was developed by Joseph and David Ruffner, who drilled for brine and established furnaces to process it.  This area, particularly around present day Malden, West Virginia, where the salinity was at a high point, would develop into an important resource for the meat packing industry.  By 1815, furnaces dotted the landscape, leading to the development of the area as one of the great salt manufacturing regions in the United States, as the use of salt to pack meat for shipment ensured it would arrive to destinations in good condition.

Portrait of Booker T. Washington

Following the Civil War, with its new found freedom for African Americans, this industry brought Booker T. Washington to West Virginia.  Born a slave in Franklin County, Virginia in 1856, Booker traveled with his mother, Jane, and siblings, at the young age of 9, to West Virginia in 1865 to live and work with his stepfather, Wash (short for Washington) Ferguson.  Ferguson had forwarded money to Jane to buy a wagon and horses for the trip.  Her health was deteriorating and she would have been unable to make the journey with young children to look after without some form of transportation.

The house where Booker T. Washington lived in Malden, West Virginia.

Ferguson, as his stepfather, took Booker to work with him in the salt works.  Here, Booker worked long hours, often on the job before dawn until dark as unskilled labor with the lowest pay, shoveling and packing salt into barrels to be shipped out.  Packing was the hardest part of the job as the salt had to be pounded into the barrels to meet weight requirements.  At the end of the day, Booker had nothing to show for his work as his stepfather took his pay.

Collage of Images of the Salt Industry

Collage Images of the Salt Industry: These pictures are believed to be made before 1898.  Photo in upper left corner shows salt piled on drain boards after being lifted by hand from the crystallizing vats. Upper right picture shows salt being packed in barrels for shipment. Middle scene is in cooper shop. ‘All salt at that time was shipped in barrels.’ Lower left scene shows barrels of salt on a platform ready to lower down an incline to load on barges. All salt was shipped by barge or taken across Kanawha River and loaded on railroad at South Malden.  AM 2112, J.Q. Dickinson Collection.

Unable to read or write, Booker’s life at this time was one of extreme poverty, hard work, and no hope for the education he longed for.  The first thing he learned to read was the number assigned to the barrels that were designated as the work of Wash Ferguson.  Each of these barrels was labeled with the number 18 and the young Booker recognized that this number was important.  Later, Booker would be allowed to begin his education while he worked with his stepfather at the salt works.  His struggle to balance work and school in West Virginia set the stage for Booker T. Washington’s lifelong desire for education.

As an educator himself, Booker T. Washington was able to instill in others a desire, coupled with the opportunity, for education when he founded the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama after attending Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University) and Wayland Seminary in Washington, D.C. (now Virginia Union University).  Washington channeled the desire he felt as a young man working in the salt works in West Virginia into his future role as educator and as a national leader for the promotion of African American education.

You can visit the West Virginia and Regional History Center to see books written by and about Booker T. Washington, as well as books and photographs on the Kanawha Salines.




Skiing in West Virginia

Jane Metters LaBarbara
January 31, 2017

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Assistant Director, WVRHC.

With the arrival of winter weather, many are heading to the slopes to enjoy one of West Virginia’s most popular outdoor activities – skiing. The ski industry is a major part of the state’s economy that contributes over $250 million dollars annually and supplies more than 5000 jobs.

The first downhill ski area in West Virginia (also the first commercial ski area south of the Mason-Dixon line) came after members of the Washington Ski Club installed a rope tow on Weiss Knob in Canaan Valley, Tucker County in 1953.  This area is now part of the Canaan Valley State Park ski complex that opened in 1971. 

The ski industry continued to grow in the 1970s and 1980s.  Snowshoe Mountain Resort on Cheat Mountain in Pocahontas County was founded in 1974.  It is West Virginia’s largest ski resort and is unusual in that most of the ski facilities are at the top of the mountain.  Winterplace in Raleigh County opened in 1983.  Timberline Four Seasons in Canaan Valley launched in 1987.  Oglebay Park in Wheeling maintains a ski area as well.

Cross country skiing is another winter pastime in West Virginia.  White Grass in Tucker County, Elk River Touring Center in Pocahontas County, and a number of West Virginia’s state parks and forests provide miles of trails in scenic wilderness areas.

Boy skiing in Lewisburg, ca. 1935

Boy skiing in Lewisburg, ca. 1935

Cross Country skier on Cheat Mountain, ca. 1940

Cross Country skier on Cheat Mountain, ca. 1940.

Skiers on Cabin Mountain, Canaan Valley, ca. 1963.

Skiers on Cabin Mountain, Canaan Valley, ca. 1963.

Chestnut Ridge Ski Run, Monongalia County, 1965.

Chestnut Ridge Ski Run, Monongalia County, 1965.

Cup Run at Snowshoe, undated

Cup Run at Snowshoe, undated.


200,000 Pages of West Virginia Newspapers Digitized

Jane Metters LaBarbara
January 23, 2017

Blog post by Michael Ridderbusch, Associate Curator, WVRHC.

The West Virginia and Regional History Center, in collaboration with the Library of Virginia, has been digitizing its newspaper collection for the Library of Congress website Chronicling America.  This 200,000 page collection of West Virginia newspapers is easily accessible through character string searching, and therefore offers extraordinary access to a treasure trove of primary historical resource material.  More specifically, this collection covers the period 1836-1922; the titles currently available are listed on the website, including mainly papers from Charles Town, Clarksburg, Fairmont, and Wheeling.  This digital collection will take a quantum leap forward in August 2017 when an additional 100,000 pages go online!


Having recently encountered on the internet news of the plans to restore the historic Robinson Grand Theater located in Clarksburg, West Virginia (which is scheduled to open in Spring 2018), I thought I would test the search engine by looking up the early history of the theater.  I was immediately rewarded with a wealth of easily accessible information regarding events connected with the topic.  In reviewing this snapshot of early entertainment history at the Robinson Grand we sometimes also encounter broader themes of national history that were concerning Americans at that time.


Among the results of my research, I found a front page report regarding a public reception occurring on February 6, the day before the theater opened on February 7: 


Snapshot of headlines on the Clarksburg Daily Telegram on Feb 6, 1913

News of Robinson Grand Theater Reception, 6 February 1913.


In the paper of February 8, there is a review of the first drama to be staged at the theater the previous day, “The Case of Becky”:

Excerpt of review of "The Case of Becky," 8 February 1913

Excerpt of review of “The Case of Becky,” 8 February 1913.


The same February 8 issue also announced the first musical to be staged at the theater, “Seven Hours in New York”:


First part of news clipping announcement of "Seven Hours in New York" 8 February 1913

Second part of news clipping announcement of "Seven Hours in New York" 8 February 1913

Announcement of “Seven Hours in New York” 8 February 1913.

Ad for "Seven Hours in New York" 8 February 1913

Announcement of “Seven Hours in New York” 8 February 1913.


Later that same year, in November 1913, the touring blockbuster “Ben Hur” was staged at the Robinson Grand.  In a blog by Cait Miller of the Library of Congress, we learn that “Ben-Hur opened at New York City’s Broadway Theater on November 29, 1899,” and that this “theatrical extravaganza thrilled audiences with its amazing chariot race scene.”  “Real horses, trained to run on treadmills, seemed to hurtle toward the spectators as a cyclorama rotated in the background, creating the illusion of moving scenery.  The mega-hit ran for 6000 performances over twenty-one years, and was estimated to have been seen by more than 20 million people.”


Newspaper ad for Ben Hur

Announcement of “Ben Hur” 29 October 1913.


The conductor for this staged production, Gustav Hinrichs, preserved the score, which is now at the Library of Congress.  When it closed in 1921, filmed versions followed in 1925, 1959, and 2016.


“Ten Nights in a Bar Room” exhibited at the Robinson Grand in October 1914.  Based on the second most popular book of the 19th century, “Ten Nights in a Bar-Room and What I Saw There” of 1854 (outsold by Uncle Tom’s Cabin), this adaptation of the novel, among others for the stage and screen, was designed to advocate temperance.  Prohibition, of course, was around the corner, with the Volstead Act of 1919.


Newspaper ad for "Ten Nights" at the Robinson Grand

Announcement for “Ten Nights” at the Robinson Grand, 8 October 1914.


In that same month of 1914, a motion picture of the dance team of Irene and Vernon Castle was screened at the Robinson Grand, showing the reach of these New York based trend-setters.  Irene is credited with popularizing the short haircut known as the “bob.”  They also toured with an African-American orchestra led by James Reese Europe, whom musical luminary Eubie Blake characterized as the “Martin Luther King of music.”  The music they danced to was a rhythmically energetic ragtime, which has been authentically reconstructed with original arrangements by the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra in such numbers as “Castle House Rag” and “The Castle Walk,” among others.


October 1914 announcement for motion pictures at the Robinson Grand, including one featuring Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Castle

October 1914 announcement for motion pictures at the Robinson Grand,
including one featuring the Castles.
This was likely the newsreel “Social and Theatrical Dancing” of 1914.


For a final example of the early history of bookings at the Robinson Grand, it should be mentioned that a performance of Irving Berlin’s first musical, “Watch Your Step,” was staged on December 15, 1916 by a touring company after the original production of 1914.  The score was written for the Castles by Berlin.  A piano transcription of the overture performed by Frederick Hodges, currently available online, effectively renders the music.


Irene Castle in costume for "Watch Your Step", 1914. (photograph from Wikipedia)

Irene Castle in costume for “Watch Your Step”, 1914.
(photograph from Wikipedia)

Newspaper ad for "Watch Your Step" at the Robinson Grand

Announcement for “Watch Your Step,” 10 December 1916.


In conducting this research project, the Chronicling America site proved to be an effective and efficient method for uncovering detailed information regarding early 20th century American history specific to West Virginia.  A similar test could be conducted with 19th century topics.  I highly recommend sampling the Chronicling America site to discover its research potential.


Sources Consulted:


Wikipedia articles on Jame Reese Europe, Prohibition in the United States, Ten Nights in a Bar-Room and What I Saw There, and Vernon and Irene Castle; and Library of Congress Blog by Cait Miller on Ben-Hur and Music to Race Chariots By.