Category Archives: Uncategorized

Dirt racing at Pennsboro

Posted by | August 28, 2017

The town was once a stop on the Northwest Turnpike, one of the main roads west in the early days of the country, running from Winchester, VA to Parkersburg (now West Virginia). Later the town was a stop on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad that ran between Clarksburg and Parkersburg. During those early 20th century days the city of Pennsboro, WV (population 1,129; all the other communities in Ritchie County are listed as towns) was a thriving place.

If Ritchie County ever had a trademark it was surely the Ritchie County Fair held in Pennsboro. The Ritchie County Agricultural Fair Association incorporated in January of 1887, and promptly leased a tract of land on the outskirts of town from the Bradford family. This was the first Agricultural Fair organized in the state of West Virginia. With the exception of two World War II years (1943-44) the fair was held every year during the last days of August into early September, from 1887 until 1962. By 1922, 20,000 people attended the fair and gate receipts totaled $10,000.

“The Ritchie County fair was certainly one of the grandest fairs in the state when it was in its prime,” says author Rock Wilson. “Vast crowds would gather each year. Horse races were quite prevalent there.”

Racing. First horses, later cars. It’s the second thing the town of Pennsboro is famous for. According to local historian and author Betty Leavengood, the first auto race at what was then called Ritchie County Raceway was held Sept. 1, 1926, featuring 1 horsepower vehicles!

Ritchie County Raceway, Pennsboro WVThe raceway was a dirt oval situated on what was probably a field or pasture not far from the bank of the Middle Island Creek. It was a 5/8ths mile track.

The upgrading of Rt 50 must have been completed as there was a road celebration and 1,000 cars left Pennsboro on September 18, 1927 and traveled east. This procession lasted from 6 am until 6 pm.
Diary of Nancy Clark Dotson (1904 – 1946), p. 46

The rugged Northwest Turnpike had become well paved Route 50 and automobile culture rose to prominence; before too long the railroad pulled up its tracks. Pennsboro, once the beneficiary of a rail connection in an area of under-improved roads, lost its monopoly on accessibility. The raceway began to be replaced by newer tracks in the region and the track’s importance faded.

By 1967, then owners Pete and Ruby Wilson, along with Ideline Hinkel, were feeling the pressure to come up with a plan to attract big-name drivers to the track. To do so they needed a big race, a big purse, and a big weekend. The big race would be a 100-lap Super Late Model feature event. The big purse was set at $1,000 during a time when the Census Bureau pegged the median income per year at $5,974. The big weekend: Labor Day. To attract a large crowd the name had to be just right. Hinkel’s granddaughter coined the name “Hillbilly Hundred.”

In 1976 Carl Short leased the track formally known as Ritchie County Raceway and changed the name to Pennsboro Speedway. He was responsible for attracting the Dirt Track World Championship to the Pennsboro Speedway each October.

Ritchie County Fair, Pennsboro WVShort also purchased the rights of the name Hillbilly Hundred. He kept the Hillbilly 100 alive and even raised the purse that increased from $2,000 to $5,000 in 1973.

According to Allan E. Brown’s “The History of America’s Speedway – Past & Present”, Pennsboro ceased operation in 1987, then operated from 1989 through 1997 and again from 2000 through 2002. The Dirt Track World Championship now makes its new home at KC Raceway in Waverly, OH.

sources:www.wvculture.org/goldenseal/fall07/pennsboro.html
Ritchie County, by Rock S. Wilson, Arcadia Publishing, 2004

http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/563741/a_visitors_guide_for_pennsboro_west.html?cat=16

http://theintelligencer.net/page/content.detail/id/513642.html?nav=529

http://westunion-wv.com/history/greenwood4.htm

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America’s Roadside Evangelist

Posted by | August 24, 2017

Before there were interstates, when everyone drove two lane roads at leisurely speeds, Burma Shave signs were posted all over the countryside in farmers’ fields. Five small red signs with white letters, about 100 feet apart, each containing 1 line of a 4 line couplet……and the obligatory 5th sign advertising Burma Shave, a popular shaving cream.

Henry Harrison Mayes. Photo courtesy Museum of Appalachia.

Henry Harrison Mayes. Photo courtesy Museum of Appalachia.

 

Appalachia had them, sure. Appalachia also had a roadsign painter for God by the name of Henry Harrison Mayes (1898-1986). Mayes, a Kentucky coal miner, began his roadside mission in 1917. Feeling that his life had been spared after a mining accident, Mr. Mayes decided to serve God by sharing the Good News with passing motorists. Mayes used money he made as a free-lance sign painter to support his advertising crusade, an effort that resulted in crosses being erected in forty-four states. All the while Mayes continued to work, full time for 43 years, for the Fork Ridge Coal Company in the mines of Mingo Hollow.

REMEMBER: IF YOU GO TO HELL IT’S YOUR FAULT

ADVERTISING GOD SINCE 1918

REGENERATION, SANCTIFICATION, HOLY GHOST BAPTISM

Mr. Mayes fashioned crosses by using homemade wooden molds and hand mixing and pouring concrete crosses in his backyard. After producing a substantial inventory he hoisted his artwork on his truck and set out for well traveled areas. Without permission, he would dig a hole on property near the highway and set his massive cross in place.

Mayes was known in his hometown of Middlesboro as the Sign Man or the Cross Builder. He lived near the valley’s center in a cross-shaped house, the ten commandments displayed on his front gate, with Jesus Saves painted in huge letters across the roof. He kept its lawn filled with cross-shaped signs. He created a massive cross of electric lights which to this day hangs about ten feet from the ground along a mountain at the base of the town’s main avenue.

In Harrison’s later life he became somewhat of a local celebrity riding his bicycle (which he called his “Jeep”) in parades with a huge sign on it reading “GET RIGHT WITH GOD” and “ADVERTISING GOD SINCE 1918.” He sometimes wore a white dress coat that had 278 crosses drawn on it with a ballpoint pen representing the number of denominations of churches he was aware of at the time.

Henry Harrison Mayes eventually attracted the attentions of Newsweek, Life, and Foxfire 9. He constructed and erected his concrete crosses for some sixty years. Many of his original crosses no longer exist because of highway expansion programs, traffic accidents, and natural erosion. Today, some of his items are on display in the Museum of Appalachia in Norris, TN. And his first bicycle can be seen at the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville, TN.

Sources: http://arnoldmiller.com/faith.htm

http://kywordman.wordpress.com/category/appalachia/

http://smithdray.tripod.com/hmayes-index-7-1.html

Henry Harrison Mayes, roadside crosses, Middleboro KY, Museum of Appalachia, appalachia, appalachian history, mountains history

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Who’s kidnapping whom? Indians and settlers mix it up

Posted by | August 23, 2017

“When Kentucky was first being settled, emigrants from either North Carolina or Tennessee, headed by a man named Cornett, reached the Kentucky River late one evening. They decided to camp and wait until daylight before crossing the river. They had wives, children, livestock and equipment with them. After supper they were sitting around their campfire talking, when suddenly Indians [ed. -thought to be Creek] dashed into camp and captured two of the girls.

Attributed to Doris Ulmann (photographer) [American, 1882 - 1934], Cherokee Woman, North Carolina, American, about 1929. Collection J. Paul Getty Museum.

Attributed to Doris Ulmann (photographer) [American, 1882 – 1934], Cherokee Woman, North Carolina, American, about 1929. Collection J. Paul Getty Museum.

“Three of the white men saddled horses and went after the Indians. Late in the night they caught up with the Indians, who were not expecting pursuit and had made camp. The men advanced near enough to see the girls asleep on pallets near the fire. Each man agreed to dash in and grab one of the girls. This they did and got away without a fight. When they came to their camp the men discovered that they had also captured a little Indian girl. The next morning, after crossing the river, the emigrants decided to keep the Indian girl. Mr. Cornett agreed to take her and raise her.

“In the meantime, in another part of the area, the Cherokee [ed. Whitetop Laurel Band of Cherokees] Indians had also captured a white girl. One Indian Chief, seeing her beauty, became desirous of possessing her for his own, and took her into his teepee. However, his love was short-lived, for the girl’s brothers made pursuit and brought the girl back to her own people, but under her heart she carried the child of the Indian Chief. This child was given the name of George All Sizemore. (Information from Pleasie Woods, deceased.)

“When George All grew to manhood he married the Indian girl whom Mr. Cornett had raised. George All and Agnes Shepherd thus became the progenitors of the Leslie County Sizemores. Shepherd was Agnes’ Indian name. She was sometimes called Shepherd and sometimes Cornett.”

Taken from the book “The Rugged Trails of Appalachia” by Mary Brewer. This tidbit was generously provided by Pam Powell PamPowell28@myfamily.com

sources:http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.com/~sizemoregenealogy/tidbits/tidbits.html

http://multiracial.com/site/content/view/284/27/

Related posts: “Indian tales told by firelight”

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Eats 2,000 mosquitoes a day?

Posted by | August 22, 2017

America’s most sociable bird is getting ready to pack up and head south for the winter in the next couple of weeks. That would be the purple martin (Progne subis), whose usefulness was already recognized in Appalachia by the early Cherokees, who hung bottle gourds horizontally on long poles to attract them. Not only did the birds eat prodigious amounts of insects, but they also (and still do!) drove crows away from cornfields and vultures away from meat and hides hung out to dry.

Purple Martin

Purple martins are the largest member of the swallow family in North America and the only species of martins on the continent. Worldwide, there are more than 70 kinds of swallows and martins. Appalachia has six kinds: purple martin, and barn, cliff, tree, northern rough-wing, and bank swallows.

One of the great myths, one of the things that makes the uninitiated want to attract martins to their land, is that each bird can eat 2,000 mosquitoes a day. Martins, like all swallows, are indeed aerial insectivores. They eat only flying insects, which they catch in flight. They are not, however, prodigious consumers of mosquitoes. Martins are daytime feeders, and feed high in the sky; mosquitoes, on the other hand, stay low in damp places during daylight hours, or only come out at night.

Purple martin pest control efforts are impressive nonetheless: their diet includes dragonflies, damselflies, flies, midges, mayflies, stinkbugs, leafhoppers, Japanese beetles, June bugs, butterflies, moths, grasshoppers, cicadas, bees, wasps, flying ants, and ballooning spiders.

Did you know that purple martins in Appalachia are completely dependent on humans to supply their nestboxes (birdhouses) in order to breed today?

Fortunately there are groups such as The Purple Martin Society or The Purple Martin Conservation Association to help martin fanciers get started.

So while the martins are spending the non-breeding season in Brazil molting and gaining a new set of feathers, perhaps you’ll consider reading up on how to house them and how to care for them come next spring?

sources: http://www.wvu.edu/~agexten/wildlife/seasons.pdf

http://purplemartin.org/main/mgt.html

http://www.wildbirds.com/dnn/Favorites/PurpleMartins/tabid/697/Default.aspx

purple+martins progne+subis appalachia appalachian+culture appalachian+history history+of+appalachia

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We spoke just Italian at home

Posted by | August 21, 2017

“My parents were Italian immigrants, and they settled in West Virginia, where my father came over at the age of seventeen, where he was a bookkeeper. He came over as a bookkeeper for an Italian, Mr. Fucci [sic], who was building a railroad through a great part of West Virginia at the time.

[ed. note: Joseph ‘Col. Joe’ Fuccy (1857-1922) was for forty years one of West Virginia’s prominent railroad builders and contractors. He was involved in the construction of half a dozen different lines in West Virginia and the Ohio Valley.]

“Mr. Fucci knew my father, because he came from the same little town in Italy many years before. He knew about my father’s background, and he needed a bookkeeper, so he asked him to come over, which he did. My mother came a few years–came from another small town in Italy. She came about a year or two later. She settled in Pittsburgh with some relatives; she was only fourteen when she came over.

“My father was eighteen, seventeen or eighteen, and they were introduced to each other through mutual friends and married and settled down right outside of Clarksburg, West Virginia, in the little town of Wilsonburg, which was a coal-mining town. My father had a little office there and kept the books for Mr. Fucci. I was born in Clarksburg and brought up there. I have a brother who was a year older than myself, and I had three sisters. So our family consisted of five children.

“My education was in the Catholic school there in Clarksburg until I was eleven years old when I was sent to a prep school in New Rochelle, New York, because my father was concerned that I had lost my ability to speak Italian. Until I was five years old, until I started to school, we spoke just Italian at home, and that was the only language I knew, so I had some difficulty when school started, which I started at five.

St Marys Central Grade School, Clarksburg WV“But the English came easy, and eventually by the time I was eleven years old, I had lost my ability to speak Italian, although I understood it very well, and to speak it well–. And my father was concerned. And then he was concerned also because some of the boys that I was associated with at that time in Clarksburg had bad reputations I presume, although I don’t recall anything terrible that they did. My father wanted me to get away from that environment, so he sent me to New Rochelle, New York, to prep school there.”

Dr. James Gifford
b. Clarksburg WV
Medical historian, in 1970 started the first formal archives program for Duke University Medical Center

sources: https://archives.mc.duke.edu/search/archives/%22Dr.%20James%20Gifford%22
http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/WV-FOOTSTEPS/2000-07/0963163366

Related posts: “West Virginia bluebeard” (Clarksburg WV)
“Cut down the damn tree and give it to the Horners!” (Clarksburg WV)
“We all have pictures, we immigrants” (immigrants)

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