Dirt racing at Pennsboro

Posted by Dave Tabler | 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.

Ritchie County, by Rock S. Wilson, Arcadia Publishing, 2004




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America’s Roadside Evangelist

Posted by Dave Tabler | 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.




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



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

4 Responses

  • Sheri says:

    Very interesting article. Thanks for sharing, Dave!

  • Steve Britton says:

    Harrison and his wife Lily were close friends of my family as I was growing up. One of his large, heart shaped signs was erected on our property and still stands there today. It stands alongside US highway 58 in Gibson Station, Va.

  • Chad says:

    I just watched an episode of “American Pickers” which featured some art work by Mr. Mayes. How fun it was to see local art work (and soul full dedication) by generations gone by. I wish I had known the man.

  • John Van Kirk says:

    This country needs more of these kind of “modern day” Apostle Paul-like men and women who are not ashamed of the gospel (I Corinthians 15:1-4).
    In a day and age when the ACLU says to take down crosses…let’s put them up. There is ONLY one way and that’s not through ones own “legacy” but through the Life of Jesus Christ and His Blood shed for us on the Cross of Calvary.

    I looked in the Tomb of Jesus while in Jerusalem last year…still empty after 2000 years…repent brother and come back to Jesus Christ-King of Kings and Lord of Lords…ONLY ONE WAY

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

Posted by Dave Tabler | 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



Related posts: “Indian tales told by firelight”

2 Responses

  • Cheryl Hall says:

    Cherokee did not live in teepees !

  • Marlene Ivie Bone says:

    I am researching my geneology of my fathers fathers line of the kidnapping of a child by the name of Joseph Ivie age 3 to 6. The family were migrating from North Carolina to Kentucky then Tennessee and finally to Missouri. This child only has his name Joseph Ivie born then died in Penobscot Maine as an Indian Child age 10. Nothing more about his kidnapping or even mention of him after that. I live in Penobscot county Maine and there is a reservation here called Indian Island. I will be searching for him there or even an unmarked grave since it was the early 1800s. Any information known of other white children kidnapped there and ended up in so far away would be greatly appreciated.
    sincerely, Marlene Ivie Bone

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Eats 2,000 mosquitoes a day?

Posted by Dave Tabler | 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



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

One Response

  • Darnell says:

    Even though the Purple Martin doesn’t eat that many mosquitoes, bats still eat around 600 an hour, which comes out to over 14,000 per day. I’ll probably build a bat house in my backyard. I’ve also heard about those new Mosquito Magnets that control mosquitoes in a one-acre radius. I might look into these if the bat method doesn’t work out.

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We spoke just Italian at home

Posted by Dave Tabler | 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

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)

5 Responses


    I recently moved to the Clarksburg area of WV and I am related to Colonel Joseph Fucci. My great grandfather, Antonio Castelluccio worked for his uncle Joseph Fucci after
    coming to America to earn money and bring over his wife and 3 small children he left in Noepoli, Italy…provence of Potenza, region of Basilicata. He was working on the old Mt. Clare road in Weston, WV an when the dynamite that was placed and lit didn’t go off. He went back to check it…and it blew up. I think he died in the hospital but I’m not sure. He is buried in Machpelah Cemetery in Weston, West Virginia. I have been to his gravesite numerous times. The name reads Antonia Castellucci I believe, but the records pointed to the site. His uncle, Joseph Fucci buried him in the family plot. Mr Fucci and his mother are buried there too.

    I would like to hear from you and hear more about your father and the Fucci family. Colonial Fucci is written up in the book “Who’s Who in West Virginia”. Hacker’s Creek Geneaology Society located them all for me when I lived in Los Angeles, and when I visited my family in Bridgeport, Clarksburg and Fairmont and our family reunion, I found the cemetery in Weston. I know Colonial Fucci was a highly respected and very honest man according to the “Who’s Who in West Virginia” biography…and that the last name has been noted as Fuccy now and not the original Italian spelling of Fucci. Our family name on my father’s side was Castelluccio…and that
    is the maiden name of Colonial Fucci’s mother. I found her death certificate a few years back, and that confirmed that
    he was related to my great grandfather Antonio Castelluccio as
    his nephew or possibly his cousin. I have some information on them, but haven’t been able to find anything written about the dynamite explosion in Weston. I probably should check the
    microfiche at the Weston Court House to see if a newspaper article was written about the explosion that killed my great grandfather. There is only a year of death in the cemetery records of 1901…he was born in 1870 I believe…so he was either 29 or 30 when he died..depending on the month he died.

  • Elizabeth Lee says:

    I am the great-great niece of Col. Joe Fuccy. I would be interested learning any information about him and the Fuccy family along with the Castelluccio family of my great-great grandmother. I have been trying to work on the family history but haven’t been able to get much information about the family prior to coming to the United States. I would love to hear from anyone who can share information about the Fuccy (Fucci) or Castelluccio families.


    Hi Elizabeth Lee,

    I would love to talk to you. I live in Clarksburg area of WV. Please email me at dianelauren78@yahoo.com so we can get together….as we are related…probably cousins. I have information on our family and have been doing our family history now for 24 years. I’ll try to find you on Facebook. Where do you live??


    Cousin Diane

  • Elizabeth Lee says:

    Dear Diane, I was working on the family history and came across a reply you sent me about the Fucci/Castalucci families. I actually live in Buckhannon WV. I am having difficulty getting information about ancestors from Italy. Col. Joseph Fucci was the brother of my great-grandfather Dominick. Their mother was a Castalucci. I think her name was Lucrezia but was Americanized to Grace. I would appreciate any information you could share with me about the Castalucci family. I believe they lived in Noepoli, Italy.
    Thank you,
    Elizabeth Lee


    Hi Elizabeth,

    Please contact me and I will share all the info I’ve been a able to put together on our family. We are cousins. I moved to the Clarksburg area in 2008 after 41 years in Los Angeles to be here with all my Italian cousins in the area. My phone number is 304-566-7792. My email is dianelauren78@yahoo.com. My grandfather was Giuseppe Castelluccio and Antonio Castelluccio was his father….and he is buried in Weston. Joe Fucci (Fuccy) was his cousin or uncle. Lucrezia Castelluccio Fucci was the link that took me back to the early 1800’s when I found her death certificate. It mentioned the name of her parents and that was the Castelluccio link. We definitely need to talk and hopefully meet someday soon…after all we are related and we live only 30-40 minutes apart. I will try to find you on Facebook. I am on under Diane Costello Lauren.

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