Please welcome guest author Bob Withers. Withers is a retired reporter and copy editor for the Herald-Dispatch in Huntington, WV, and a Baptist pastor. He has authored or coauthored 15 books and numerous articles in internationally circulated magazines. The Withers family tree’s roots go back to the 19th century in Guyandotte, and the author has memorialized the historic neighborhood of Huntington in the new Images of America series book, “Guyandotte,” (Arcadia Publishing), a 127-page book chock full of historical photos that together tell many of its stories. We’re pleased to present an excerpt of it here.
Peaceful Delaware and Wyandot Indians populated the area that became Guyandotte, VA, in the 16th century. Rock quarries where the Indians made arrowheads and petroglyphs have been found and authenticated by the West Virginia Historical Society. The first white men known to visit the area were French explorer Rene Robert LaSalle and his party in 1670. The first signs of civilization were a crude river landing and a few log cabins.
In 1772, John Murray, the fourth Earl of Dunmore and Virginia’s royal governor, acted as agent for King George III in granting 28,627 acres along the Ohio River and the lower Guyandotte and Big Sandy rivers to John Savage and 59 others who had served under George Washington at the Battle of Great Meadows, PA, in the French and Indian War. The acreage included all of the original site of Guyandotte.
The community’s growth started almost immediately. In 1802 William Huff was appointed a constable “for the neighborhood of the mouth of the Guyandotte” and a year later, Thomas Buffington established ferry operations across the Guyandotte and Ohio rivers. In 1804, Methodist Bishop Frances Asbury, headquartered in Baltimore, sent William Steele to Guyandotte to form a congregation in answer to a petition from a hundred residents requesting “a preacher.”
In 1805, ’06 and ’07, 8,000 bearskins were shipped from the mouths of the Big Sandy and Guyandotte rivers. When Cabell County was carved out of Kanawha County in 1809, Guyandotte was designated as its first county seat, and in 1810, Virginia’s General Assembly chartered Buffington’s 20 acres as the town of Guyandotte.
River tradesman James Gallaher of Gallipolis, OH, floated his home down the Ohio to Guyandotte by flatboat in 1810, and reassembled it on Guyan Street. Thomas Carroll, an Irish carpenter and stonemason, bought the home in 1855, and he and his widow operated it as an “ordinary” (inn) called Carroll House.
By 1831, a daily stagecoach ran from Washington DC, and Richmond, VA, to Guyandotte, where passengers made connection with Ohio River steamboats. The stagecoaches continued until 1873, when Collis P. Huntington’s Chesapeake & Ohio Railway was completed between Richmond and Huntington, WV, a town three miles west of Guyandotte that the railroad mogul built and named for himself. West Virginia had become a state in 1863.
The Methodist congregation generated significant growth in the region. The original building was the site of the area’s first grammar school, which covered the first eight grades. Eventually, members built a subscription school for higher education, choosing attorney John Laidley as chairman of its trustees. Laidley organized the school in 1837 and named it Marshall Academy after United States Chief Justice John Marshall. Later, the school became Marshall College, and, since 1961, it has been Marshall University.
This painting, done in pastels by young traveling French artist Felix-Achille Beaupoil de Saint-Aularie, shows the village of Guyandotte as seen from the Ohio shore in 1823. At least 20 buildings are in sight, as well as a side-wheeler, flatboats, and scows. The artist, de Saint-Aularie, has painted himself and his horse into the scene. (courtesy of Barbara Bias and Lori Wolfe).
The Guyandotte church came to be known as the mother of Methodism in the region, since it spawned four churches in downtown Huntington. Marshall Academy also enabled a Presbyterian church to get its start on the Virginia side of the Ohio River.
Once the Civil War broke out, the town’s Confederate sympathizers became the hostile hosts of Camp Paxton, a Union recruiting center. The “southern” Methodist church and several other buildings in town were commandeered for use as storage depots. A Union soldier who fell asleep on a pile of hay in the church’s balcony awoke to find that a cow had managed to to get to the hay. Both soldier and bovine were startled, and the cow jumped out of the balcony, breaking her leg.
Guyandotte’s split personality was bound to ignite deadly trouble sooner or later. Confederate Col. John Clarkson’s 8th Virginia Cavalry and Brig. Gen. Albert Gallatin Jenkins’ Border Rangers encircled the town with about 700 horsemen on Sunday evening, Nov. 10, 1861, as many townsfolk and recruits from Camp Paxton were settling down in the pews of the “northern” Methodist church to hear the preaching of the Rev. J.C. Wheeler, a Union officer himself. The Confederate forces stormed into town and took control of the camp. When their attack was finished, 10 Union recruits lay dead and at least 10 more had been injured. The Confederates lost three cavalrymen to death and 10 more to injuries.
As the Confederates withdrew from town on Monday morning with prisoners in tow, the steamer SS Boston appeared, moving slowly up the Ohio from Ceredo, 10 miles west, and carrying about 200 hitchhiking soldiers from the 5th Virginia Infantry who had learned of the attack. The steamboat crew landed briefly at Proctorville, OH, to pick up several members of the Ohio Home Guards, then tied up on the Virginia side about a mile above Guyandotte. The Union soldiers and their sympathizers then marched into town, and hearing reports of collaboration between some of the townsfolk and the Confederate cavalry, flew into a rage and burned most of the town – including a Baptist church, the principal hotels, and the homes of the town’s most prominent secessionists. The Union troops melted down the Baptists’ bell to make souvenir rings for the troops. The southern Methodist church was either burned or fell into ruins and was torn down.
One of Guyandotte’s best known citizens was Virginia Ruth “Ruthie” Egnor, who was know to millions of television viewers as Dagmar in the 1950s. Here, she and her little dog Shakespeare have come home for a family visit on August 12, 1957. Ruthie’s big break came in 1950 or 1951, when she starred with Jerry Lester and Morey Amsterdam on NBC’s ‘Broadway Open House.’ (courtesy of the Herald-Dispatch).
Mary Carroll, Thomas Carroll’s spunky wife, saved her historic home from the flames. Although ill and confined to bed, she saw the soldiers approaching with lit torches and rushed out into the street, crying and begging the troops to spare the house because she could not move her husband. The soldiers extinguished their torches.
Carroll House also played a role in the community’s association with the town’s first railroad. It was there that Collis Huntington first came when his surveyors were looking for a place to locate the C&O Railway’s original shops. But he was offended after his horse, tied up outside the Carroll home, blocked the sidewalk and the mayor fined him $10. Huntington ordered his surveyors to continue their search across the Guyandotte River. Although the town lost its chance to be a major rail terminal, Huntington still frequented the Carroll House to enjoy its gourmet cooking.
It turns out that the Civil War claimed yet another casualty. Guyandotte never recovered from its fiery mortal wound sustained during the conflict. People began moving to the new town of Huntington, causing Guyandotte to lose some of its most talented leadership. Youngsters left town as soon as they were old enough. Despite the fact that the town staged a gala centennial in 1910, Guyandotte just, in the words of one newspaper report, “quit trying.”
In the spring of 1911, less than a year after the centennial, the idea of Guyandotte being annexed by the City of Huntington was submitted to a vote of the people. On April 11, the town council canvassed the vote and found 260 for and 70 against the plan. The council declared Guyandotte to be a part of the City of Huntington and adjourned sine die.
People who mail a $27 check to the author at 313 Main Street, Huntington, W.Va. 25702 will receive an autographed copy of the book, which has been published by Arcadia Publishing in Mount Pleasant, SC.