(Part 1)
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Larry Brian Radka


        (An Amateur Historian

         & Parkersburg Resident)

Many of these photographs of Parkersburg, West Virginia were taken recently by me.  The history and other pictorial information was also gathered by Larry Brian Radka (pictured above).  I hope this Parkersburg and Ohio-River area information will please the visitor as well as any Parkersburg resident; and encourage him or her to really see and enjoy the Parkersburg area.
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People who get the most pleasure out of life—pleasure that lasts and grows over the years—are those who explore their own neighborhood to gain for themselves and their families knowledge and enjoyment of all the interesting places and things their area has to offer them.  Half the fun of knowing your own locality lies in digging things up for yourself, in reading history, perusing photographs like these on the Internet, and finally—in saving expensive gasoline by actively exploring local byways.

The grass always seems greener over the hill, a distant place more romantic, a foreign country more picturesque, but it is equally true that the very place we live in looks just that way to a stranger.  People come long distances to gaze at our historic buildings, to admire our picturesque scenery, to study our geology and botany, to explore our rivers and caverns, to relax and recuperate in our resorts, to picnic in the cool shadows of our lovely hills.  But very often, we, who live here, know little or nothing of the history of interesting places about us—spots often only a few hours from our homes.

A journalist who studied his own backyard wrote one of the most interesting books on botany.  A professor who never went to China became the greatest European authority on the Chinese language.  Our countryside is dotted with humble motorists who may never have had the time or the means to visit foreign lands but whose lives are nevertheless enriched by a vast fund of knowledge—historical, geographical, and scientific.  They know their own neighborhood—so learn a little more about yours here.
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Parkersburg history begins with Robert Thornton.  In 1773, the Ohio River valley pioneer made a claim for a part of the area where Parkersburg now stands—by tomahawk entry, a method of claiming land by notching trees bounding the area with a tomahawk or ax.  Ten years later, Thornton sold his 1, 350 acres (over two square miles) to Alexander Parker of Pittsburgh for $50.00.  Parker did not immediately settle the land, which is on the north side of the Little Kanawha River, including the “Point” at Point Park now.*
Also in 1783, Captain James Neal, a veteran of Lord Dunmore’s War and the Revolutionary War, arrived by flatboat with a party from Greene County, Pennsylvania and surveyed the Parker claim. 
The small party then decided to settle on the south bank of the Little Kanawha River, about a mile above the mouth of the River.   They called the settlement, which included a stockade fort, “Neal’s Station.”
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The fort afforded protection to the settlers and travelers alike, withstanding a determined Indian attack in 1790, when raiding Delaware burned homesteads in the vicinity and killed all settlers caught outside the stockade.
Around this time, John Stokely built a cabin on the Point* and, because of the confused land records of what was then the state of Virginia, he obtained a patent on part of the land already claimed by Parker.
Following his death, the land passed onto his daughter, Mary.  The title to portions of Mary Parker's land was disputed by several claimants, including John Stokley who had started his own settlement, called Stokleyville, on a portion of her land.  After a court battle, Stokley was awarded title to about 650 of the original 1,350 acres.  In 1800, Stokley laid out what he called the town of Newport, and it was named the county seat later that year.  By 1810, Mary Parker's heirs had won a counter suit against Stokley and gained possession of the land again.
On December 11th of the same year, the new owners laid out a new town, which they called Parkersburg, in honor of Alexander Parker.  After Mary Parker agreed to donate land for a courthouse** and other county buildings the Virginia General Assembly named Parkersburg the county seat.
A good idea of what Stokely’s cabin might have looked like at the time is standing at the Parkersburg City Park.  The old unpainted structure serves now as a museum and is shown in the photograph below.
The two-story house was built in 1804 by Henry Cooper, in the Slate District of Wood County, on the Elizabeth Pike, about 9 miles from Parkersburg.  In August of 1910, the City of Parkersburg purchased it from F. L. Barnett and M. L. Lemasters for 400 Dollars—to remind people today of the type of houses in which the first white settlers dwelled.  In September of 1910, this house was re-erected in the City of Parkersburg, and in June of 1911 was granted by the City Council to the Centennial Chapter of the Daughters of American Pioneers for its establishment as a museum.  The Centennial Cabin Museum (below) displays many relics and documents of the frontier days of Wood County, and attract many visitors to its current location in the Parkersburg City Park.

The city of Parkersburg purchased the park in 1896.  This beautiful recreation area encompasses the land that was originally owned by the estate of Eugene Levassor—father-in-law of Joseph H. Diss Debar, designer of the State seal—John S. Camden and others.  Two of its other attractions are worth mentioning here.

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The first is the Lily Pond, which is a circular three-and-a-half-acre lake, one of the largest of its kind in the country. 
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Its central fountain is often surrounded by a mass of pink and white blossoms from early May until the first frost.
However, the old postcard photographs above and  below show the beauty of its flowery displays in the distant past.
Another noteworthy attraction is the large fountain at the main entrance to Parkersburg’s City Park.
Nice views of this old Parkersburg attraction are illustrated in the old postcard pictures above and below.
The monument was built in 1906 and “dedicated to the memory of Parkersburg businessman James Monroe Jackson Jr. in October of that year”—according to Wayne Towner, who wrote an interesting article on “City Markers” in the Sunday, April 5, 2009 edition of The Parkersburg News.  (Unfortunately, a strong wind storm in the last half of October of this year of 2018 destroyed much of this beautiful fountain; and as a result, it will probably have to be removed soon, after more than a century of public life; so enjoy and appreciate the information and pictures below.)
Above we see a fellow doing periodic maintenance on the huge fountain.  Towner also pointed out that according to Cynthia Buskirk, a local historian, “one of the interesting facts she has discovered about the park fountain is that a maintenance tunnel ran underground from the fountain and under Park Avenue to a home across the street where the bricked-up entrance can still be seen in the basement.”
This doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense—considering the vast area (30 acres in 1927) available in City Park itself.  But who knows what hanky panky went on in some of Parkersburg’s mysterious past—especially during Prohibition days!
Another Parkersburg attraction worth addressing is the W. H. Bickle Estate, on the South side of Parkersburg where I lived for quite awhile.  The stone house on the summit of a knoll, still surrounded by a large landscaped lawn, overlooks the corner of Marrtown and Lubeck Roads. Originally the estate covered an area of 358 acres, all of which have been absorbed by various businesses, private residences, and an adjoining funeral home and cemetery since 1946, when its developer passed on.
However, in 1929, the Bickle Estate was complete and awesome.   Henry “Wig Bickel,” a Wood County oil and gas tycoon, had made his beautiful mansion on the hill the focal point of his private park which was freely opened to the public.  West of the stone house was a park and the stables, housing several head of race and show horses, including four white Arabians.
Another Parkersburg attraction worth addressing is the W. H. Bickle Estate, on the South side of Parkersburg where I lived for quite awhile.  The stone house on the summit of a knoll, still surrounded by a large landscaped lawn, overlooks the corner of Marrtown and Lubeck Roads. Originally the estate covered an area of 358 acres, all of which have been absorbed by various businesses, private residences, and an adjoining funeral home and cemetery since 1946, when its developer passed on.
However, in 1929, the Bickle Estate was complete and awesome.   Henry “Wig Bickel,” a Wood County oil and gas tycoon, had made his beautiful mansion on the hill the focal point of his private park which was freely opened to the public.  West of the stone house was a park and the stables, housing several head of race and show horses, including four white Arabians.
According to the 1941 edition of West Virginia, A Guide to the Mountain State, “The park is equipped with picnic facilities, a playground for children, and an artificial lake for boating.  Northeast of the park is a small Menagerie, containing bison, elk, deer, Texas burros, zebus or sacred cows, swans, geese, ducks, guinea hens, peacocks, and turkeys.  South of the menagerie is a half-mile Race Track and grandstand seating 1,200 persons.  Harness races and horse shows are sponsored by the owner each spring and fall.”  The expensive white Arabian horses probably rested in the remodeled stables still standing on the left below. 

Nevertheless, returning now to what Stokely was doing in Parkersburg’s frontier days, we find that he laid out a town to include both sides of the river and called it Newport.  However, the Parker heirs continued their legal fight and in 1809 regained title to the original tract on the north side of the Little Kanawha.


Meanwhile, the town was growing, with settlers coming from Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut by foot, flatboat, raft, and on horseback.

In 1810, an act of the Virginia legislature provided for a new town, called Parkersburg, on the north bank of the Little Kanawha.   The older town of Newport laid out on both sides of the Little Kanawha River was also included.  The public square for the courthouse and jail were deeded to the county in 1811 by William Robinson Jr.

Around 1818, after steamboats began plying up and down the Ohio River, new stores began to appear, dealers in shoes, leather, timber, and hides flocked to Parkersburg. Taverns were built to meet the thirsty demands of travelers, and schools rose up.***  This type of commercial growth demanded official notice, so the “Town of Parkersburg” was chartered in 1820.


However, because of the lack of roads the town’s, growth lagged and the population remained small.  In 1833, when the first newspaper, The Republican, was established, less than 400 persons resided in Parkersburg.  The count steadily increased after the completion of the Northwestern Turnpike in 1837, and after work on a system of locks and dams in the Little Kanawha River began in 1842.****  In the following year, Parkersburg’s popularity grew even more, when the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike (now Route 47) was completed.

These turnpikes made Parkersburg one of the most important towns on the Ohio River.  By 1844, it was thriving and its population had grown to 1,400.  This number required many more stores and taverns; small industrial plants sprouted up, a boatyard was built, and even a bank was established.

Even more population growth and commercial progress was seen after 1857—the year the Baltimore and Ohio (originally Northwestern Virginia) Railroad tracks reached Parkersburg—connecting people and cargo of Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington to Cincinnati and vice versa.
To provide a more direct route to Cincinnati than by the main B & O stem passing through Wheeling to Columbus, the Northwestern Virginia railroad was incorporated in the state of Virginia on February 14, 1851, chartered, and construction began.
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Thereafter, the B & O acquired the line; and despite continuing attempts by the city of Wheeling to prevent a competing B & O branch out of Grafton (see the map above) from stretching its rails to 
Parkersburg, work began on the Parkersburg branch line in December of 1852 anyway.  The railroad tracks reached Parkersburg in 1857, and the B & O trains began steaming this way.
No railroad bridge existed (before 1871) across the Ohio River to tie Parkersburg to Belpre, Ohio.  So, at the time, a steamer ferried the B & O passengers and cargo up the Ohio River to Marietta, Ohio.
There they connected with the Marietta and Cincinnati Railroad to proceed to points west.
Parkersburg’s population further increased after the drilling of West Virginia’s first oil wells, along the Hughes and Little Kanawha Rivers, in 1859-60, and the subsequent development of the rich Burning Springs field.
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In the mad rush for black gold, Parkersburg prospered as the nearest point for their supplies and shipments.
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The first white explorers in western Virginia had long ago discovered oil and gas deposits in the area.  George Washington was apparently the first prominent petroleum and natural gas speculator in the state.   The Father of Our Country acquired 250 acres in 1771 in what is now West Virginia because of its oil and gas springs.  The oil industry here began to grow after 1819, but the first major wells were drilled at Petroleum and California in 1859.  A year later oil drilling began in Burning Springs.  (All now in State of West Virginia)

Wells dug to a depth of 100 feet produced gushers of oil selling for $30.00 a barrel, and the sales produced very wealthy oil barons—important senators, and congressmen who had their money sunk into the Burning Springs oil wells in 1860 and 1861.  The monetary interests of these influential men, along with the coal barons in the Fairmont Coal region, were

persuasive forces behind the drive for West Virginia statehood, but their intentions would not come without cost.


The Confederate guerrilla forces nestled southeast of Parkersburg, around Burning Springs and other oil well drilling areas there presented a constant threat to their interests and to Union forces guarding the city—a main transportation and supply center for their troops.

In fact, one of the main missions of the Union troops garrisoned at Parkersburg was to put down the surrounding Confederate guerillas, to keep the Confederate forces in Charleston from gaining a strong foothold in the area.
This weather-beaten Ruble Church sign still standing tall today near Burning Springs attests to the feelings of manyWest Virginians in regards to the "Principles" and policies of the anti-slavery movement in the North.
So Colonel J. C. Rathbone, one of the owners of the Rathbone oil fields built “Fort Burning Springs” nearby to protect his financial interests against the Confederate sympathizers.  The Rathbones and others from Parkersburg had just begun in 1859 and completed in May of 1860 the first well in West Virginia drilled solely for petroleum.
They pierced the golden goose, located near the mouth of Burning Springs Run, with a “spring pole” and she was spitting out 100 barrels of oil a day.  Their initial intentions in 1859 were to bore for brine for salt making but they struck petroleum at 200 feet instead.  The West Virginia entrepreneurs organized  a company and sunk a deeper well  that produced 50 barrels an hour, 1,200 day!  More wells, specifically for oil were drilled, and more and more oil began shooting up from the hidden treasure stored for millions of years in reservoirs underground.  Black gold, then as today, meant “big money,” greasy money that could easily slip away as easily as the oil from which it came, especially if the Confederate forces got their hands on it.

However, Col. Rathbone's efforts to protect his and other local oil barons’ golden egg failed.  Although he had built Fort Hill, also known as Fort Burning Springs, near his black fountains, Confederate General Jenkins managed to capture him and his Union forces in 1862.  The oil fields were left unprotected, and in May of 1863 General W. E “Grumble” Jones and his troops managed to set fire to their oil—stored in tanks, barrels, and on boats in the Little Kanawha River.  A local driller at the time wrote in his diary that “Gen. Jones at Burning Springs with 1,000 cavalry burned all the oil and wells, drank all the whisky & ate all the provisions.”  An estimated 300,000 barrels of oil went up in flames, and the people in Parkersburg could hardly overlook the torrents of black smoke and the fiery brilliance of the blazing boats and flaming oil slick slipping down the river their way.
However, the smoke eventually cleared and recovery arrived after the war.  In fact, today oil and gas still flows from the old West Virginia hills around Burning Springs.
Many old pieces of machinery used in its production are on display at 119 Third Street in Parkersburg's Oil and Gas  Museum.
At the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, Parkersburg had a population of 2,500, and was the largest Ohio River town between Wheeling and Cincinnati.  The B & O Railroad made Parkersburg strategically important during the war.  There were two depots—an inner and an outer one—repair shops, and a roundhouse that were vital for maintaining the railroad’s rolling stock, a two-story freight shed, telegraph office, two steam elevators that serviced the loading dock, a railroad stockyard, and a wharf along the Little Kanawha River.

The continuous presence of Union soldiers and trade with the oil fields and the refinement of crude oil boosted the population of Parkersburg to over 3,000 by 1863, the year West Virginia officially separated from Virginia and was granted statehood, in the heat of the American Civil War.  Most of incorporated Parkersburg, until 1950, was confined to the area that is now downtown, and several hotels, like the luxurious Swann House, hosted travelers and military officers.
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To flaunt their growing wealth, the oil and railroad barons and other entrepreneurs who preceded them were building beautiful houses or mansions along Juliana Street—like those I photographed recently above and below.
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A great restoration effort has been and is being made around the upper end of this old section of Parkersburg, judging by the conversation I had with a painter recently and by the new bundles of bricks waiting on the sidewalks of 13th Street. 
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A walk through this quiet historical area on and around Juliana Street is well worth the time of anyone seeking to recall an age gone by.
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At the lower end of Juliana Street, the area around the Little Kanawha River was not nearly so nice back in the nineteenth century.  Low-ranking soldiers, oil-field rough necks, and railroad workers congregated in this grimy, lawless place to patronize its saloons, brothels, and seedy boarding houses.  This area of Parkersburg kept the town’s only full-time policeman, George Creel, very busy trying to maintain order there—especially on Saturday nights.
One of the plaques along the beautiful stone wall surrounding the present picnic area at Fort Boreman Park gives us some more interesting details on its history during the Civil War, and it reads as follows:

“Fort Boreman was a military fortification constructed by the United States Army during the Civil War.
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“The protection of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the two turnpikes, the Northwestern and the Staunton-Parkersburg, and river port facilities was absolutely essential to the Union war effort.
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“The old Staunton-Parkersburg pike passes across the central section of West Virginia, from east to west.  Colonel Claudius Crozet, one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s officers, came to America after Napoleon’s last defeat, accepted a professorship atWest Point, and surveyed the pike—which Route 47 and the old B & O Railroad still follow today.

“Because of its strategic location as a transportation center, tens of thousands of soldiers traveled through Parkersburg between 1861 and 1865.

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“Fort Boreman gave the sentinels atop the hill a grand view of river traffic, the railroads, and the turnpikes.  Under the command of Col. Daniel Frost, the soldiers of Company A of the Eleventh West Virginia Infantry began constructing the fort in June 1863.  The fort itself was a triangular structure with a powder magazine.  Also at the site were winter quarters and a stable. There were five gun stations on the northwest face of the fort.  The artillery pieces at the citadel included two 12-pound siege guns, one six-pound field gun, and two three-inch guns
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“The fortification consisted of trenches constructed in a zigzag pattern ringed with rifle pits and firing holes cut into the logs.  They were capable of holding 100 men.  Fort Boreman never saw any hostile military action, and its guns were fired only on celebratory occasions.  One soldier, Richard Miller, was killed on August 14, 1863, when during one such occasion, a gun misfired.
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“Fort Boreman was occupied in the last year of the war by Batteries D, G, and H, First West Virginia Light Artillery, and finally by the Thirty-Second New York Independent Battery.  Battery D, also known as the Wheeling Light Artillery, was under the command of Capt. John Carlin. The Fort Boreman site, previously owned by Jonathan B. Beckwith, was returned after the war.
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“In the late 1890’s, the Parkersburg Post of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Union veterans organization, erected a cannon and carriage atop the hill, which came to be affectionately known as ‘Long Tom.’  The vintage Civil War artillery piece was moved in 1921 to Parkersburg’s City Park, where Wood Countians still honor the gun as a symbol of the region’s rich historical heritage.”*****
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Nevertheless, the plaque goes on to inform us that “Just to the left of this entry road to Fort Boreman Park is the site of the infamous 1867 hangings.  Three men, Daniel Grogan, Thomas Boice, and Mortimer-Gibbony, were convicted for the murder of Abram Deem, a well-respected Wood County farmer who was a Confederate sympathizer.  Though local lore credits a notorious ‘hanging tree’ as the gallows, the men were actually hanged from a scaffold.”
*A good example of such an account—of a white oak tree being used for hangings on Fort Boreman Hill—is found in Parkersburg: An Early Portrait.  Therein, James Dawson and Gary Null tell us:

"Parkersburg was known to dispense one of the harshest forms of capital punishment to its serious felons.  A large, white oak on Mount Logan, later called Fort Boreman, stood as the city’s hanging tree, and there many public hangings were carried out.  Observers on Mount Logan would look down from their overlook of the city and watch the procession from the jail as the condemned man, hands tied behind his back, would be led by horseback to the hanging tree.  When the “parade” crossed the Market Street bridge and disappeared under the trees along the road, the spectators would simply turn their horses around and wait for it to circle around Marrtown Road and approach the top from the winding dirt road.  Once on the hill, the sentence was carried out.

"Over the years, numerous hangings occurred on the hilltop.  The last one on Fort Boreman didn’t come until after the Civil War.  On September 16, 1864 in Wadesville, three men killed another by the name of Abram Deems.  The three were caught shortly afterward and brought to trial in Parkersburg.  On October 26, the first man, Dan Grogan, was found guilty of murder.  On the first two days of November the other two. Thomas Boice and Mortimer Gibbony, were also found guilty.  All were sentenced to hang on June 16, 1865, but the punishment was reset for February 1866.

"During the long wait, Gibbony escaped.  Not an exceedingly bright individual, his life had been spent on the riverboats and they were all he knew.  He managed to catch one going downriver and so eluded the Parkersburg authorities.  However, his hideout was his downfall.  Knowing his familiarity with steamboats, the law knew generally where to look, and returned him to custody on March 10, 1866.  By this time, his companions had gone to their deaths as scheduled on February 9th, and Gibbony had to make his last ride up to Fort Boreman alone.  His hanging on June 15th of that year marked the last on Fort Boreman.

"However, that did not abolish hanging in the county.  The fairgrounds, now the City Park, was the scene of the next and last big public hanging in January, 1868.  A man named John Schafer, alias Joseph Eisle, had killed two people and was attempting to murder another.  The intended victim saw Schafer’s reflection in a mirror as the madman approached him and managed to escape the sudden death marked for him. Though he was badly maimed, he lived to testify against John Schafer and the murderer was hanged."
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“Fort Boreman encompassed almost 250 acres of the hill upon which it was located.  The actual site of Fort Boreman proper, its gun stations, powder magazine, and winter quarters occupied only a small portion of the hill.

“About a mile to the east, on a ridge overlooking South Parkersburg, was the site of the “Pest House.”  The city of Parkersburg constructed it in 1867 to quarantine victims of smallpox and other contagious diseases.
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Because many patients died and were buried nearby, the two-story house became known as the “house of doom.”
According to our Guide to the Mountain State, “Other than a setback in trade, Parkersburg experienced little hardship from the War between the States, and the town’s development resumed when peace was restored.”
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Above and below, we see photographs lifted from the November 1907 issue of Mines and Minerals, of oil well equipment that probably mimics much of that used in West Virginia in the nineteenth century.  This type of equipment was illustrated with an article on the oil field on the Robert Underwood farm located on Buffalo Creek, about four miles from the Ohio River.
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The alphabetic letter notations on the photographs on and around the side and rear of the nitroglycerine wagon is explained in detail in the article, but I will save the long feature for a separate Web page.  Let it suffice for me here to say that in the third picture, of the exploding Demetrius Brady Oil Well No. 3, 80 quarts of nitroglycerine created the discharge.
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“When the condition of the weather permits, a goodly number of men, women, and children camp out in the woods in the neighborhood of the well during the day of the ‘shooting’ so as to be ‘on the spot’ to witness the work,” wrote the Editor.  “The ‘shooter’ in the Brooke County district is Mr. James Kane, of Jewett Ohio, who has been engaged in this business for over 12 years.  The fatalities among the men doing this work are numerous.  Their demise is very sudden, and the formality of a burial permit is not needed.  In fact, there is seldom anything found of the remains of the man, team, or wagon, as the explosion is very effective and funeral expenses are not necessary.”
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“While the job is not a very jovial one,” he added, “yet the artist soon gets used to assuming the risk and does the work of course to earn a living, just as thousands of others are working every day under deadly conditions [as in coal fields].  In most of these latter cases, however, it is entirely possible for an industrial betterment of conditions that will prevent such a large loss of life [like the Monongah coal mine explosion in the same year].”

The oil from the Brooke County wells flowed by garvity to receiving tanks in the valley and from there to the large storage tanks at the Standard Oil Company's pumping station located on the west bank of Buffalo Creek further down.  Much of the oil and natural gas producing territory in the Little Kanawha Valley was owned by Senator Johnston Newlon Camden, politician, financier, and industrial promoter, who sold his holdings to Standard Oil Company.
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