Final run of the Bellaire, Zanesville, and Cincinnati Railway

Posted by Dave Tabler | May 26, 2017

It was Ohio’s longest-lived narrow gauge railroad.

Monroe County’s rugged terrain hindered commerce and communication during the 1800s. In the early 1870s Woodsfield businessmen, led by banker Samuel L. Mooney, promoted a narrow-gauge railroad to connect to the Baltimore and Ohio at Bellaire.

Narrow gauge railroads were popular during this boom era because they cost less to build and operate than standard-gauge lines and could traverse sharp curves and steep terrain. The Bellaire and Southwestern Railway was completed through Armstrong’s Mills and Beallsville to Woodsfield in December 1879, giving Monroe County a welcome modern link to the rest of the country.

Its initial success prompted its extension westward, and it was soon renamed the Bellaire, Zanesville, and Cincinnati Railway, reaching Zanesville via Caldwell in late 1883.

While it served a vital role in the Monroe County life, by 1886 the BZ&C had defaulted on its construction bonds and entered the first of many receiverships. Its 300 trestles and bridges were expensive to maintain; frequent landslides added to operating costs.

last run of the BZ&C railroad in OHOriginal caption reads: The Woodsfield ceremony for the OR&W’s last run. Mayor Clyde Merskel is speaking from the top of the box car. A George Kampheffner photo. (Gerald Seebach Collection)

Only the coal and oil booms of the 1890s, along with convoluted financing schemes, kept the railroad operating into the 20th century; a benefit for the people of Monroe County if not its stockholders. Reborn as the Ohio River and Western (locally called the “Old, Rusty, and Wobbly”) in 1902, it continued to operate at a loss until the Great Depression. The Village of Woodsfield had staged a ceremony for the first narrow gauge train to arrive in town Tuesday December 2nd, 1879. Similarly, a ceremony was held on Memorial Day May 30, 1931 for the last train. Hundreds turned out. The BZ&C had lasted 52 years.


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Laura Lu, Lay Leader of Lutherans

Posted by Dave Tabler | May 25, 2017

I am an average woman of the United States, a married women with two children and an income of—well, I’m not quite sure what it is, but I know it is not enough to live on as we ought to live. But, small as it is, our church has been trying to get me to budget (horrid word, isn’t it?). We have a person called by a disagreeable name, Stewardship Secretary, going around and giving lectures on how we ought to spend our money. It’s easy for her to talk about budgeting. She gets her money paid regularly, while I have to get mine in dribs, just as I can beg, scold, and wheedle it out of my husband.

I’m very economical, I can tell you that. I don’t keep account of every penny I spend. In the first place, you understand, we must have a roof over our heads, and rents are simply awful. It’s even worse if you try to own your own home and keep up insurance, repairs, and taxes and pay the interest on the money you borrowed to buy the house with. I cannot tell you offhand what we do pay for rent—sometimes more and sometimes less.

Then, there is food. We must have three meals a day, and you know how men are about food. I always say that none of my family shall ever be reported for being undernourished, with delicatessen shops so close. I can always send one of the children over at the last minute for anything I want. It’s hard to say exactly how much we spend on food—sometimes more and sometimes less—but I’m sure you can form a good idea from what I’ve told you as to just what we do spend.

Laura Lu Scherer CopenhaverAnd clothes! I’m a good manager, and I never expect to be a back number when it comes to styles. Cut off for clothes just about what most people spend, but remember that mighty few women get the good results I do for the money I put into clothes.

We spend practically nothing on amusements—nothing worth mentioning. The only thing we do is go to the movies, unless you’d call our trips in our car amusement. I think trips of that sort are a real necessity.

I am sure I give all the unaccounted-for part to the Church. The money goes somewhere, and I always give the children a penny or a nickel apiece for Sunday School—whenever we get up in time to start them off. You look as if you thought I ought to give more! Well, charity begins at home, I think.

—excerpt from ‘Short Pagaents for the Sunday School,’ by Laura Scherer Copenhaver, Doubleday, Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1929

Laura Lu Scherer Copenhaver (1868-1940) wrote fiction, poetry, and dozens of church pageants, many in collaboration with her younger sister, Katharine Killinger Scherer Cronk. One of Copenhaver’s poems, “Heralds of Christ,” became a well-known hymn.

Copenhaver taught at Marion Junior College in Smyth County, VA and assumed positions of leadership in the Lutheran church and on the Marion social scene. Her father, Dr. John Jacob Scherer Jr., had served as pastor of Marion’s Lutheran church before moving on to the First English Evangelical Lutheran Church in Richmond, presidency of the state synod, and a place on the Inner Missions Board of the national church.

At the 1922 meeting of the Women’s Missionary Society of the United Lutheran Church, Copenhaver presented an address titled “Mountain Folk in the South” which spurred the organization to create a mission school near the lumbering community of Konnarock.

The Konnarock Training School aimed “to tram the mountain children into true Christian womanhood and manhood,” and provided elementary-level academic and religious education for Smyth County children who did not have access to other public schools.

At the Smyth County Centennial on May 27, 1932, members of Marion College, county high schools, and local citizens presented a historical play written by Laura Lu Scherer Copenhaver. Miss Smyth County, Eleanor Fairman, spun the wheel of time and scenes from local history were acted out.

sources: The human tradition in the New South, by James C. Klotter

Smyth County, by Kimberly Barr Byrd, Debra J. Williams

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The bootleg capital of Ohio

Posted by Dave Tabler | May 24, 2017

New Straitsville, OH was considered the Bootleg Capital of Ohio during the Depression. Its population of enterprising ex-coalminers concealed dozens of illegal moonshine stills in the area’s hollows and abandoned mineshafts, selling it to a nation desperate for a stiff drink.

Today, New Straitsville’s bootlegging tradition is honored with an annual Memorial Day weekend Moonshine Festival, one of those celebrations designed to attract customers and promote the community. Randy McNutt, while researching “Ghosts: Ohio’s Haunted Landscapes, Lost Arts, and Forgotten Places,” arrived in New Straitsville just in time to experience the Festival.

Unidentified saloon in New Straitsville, OH. No date.

From his book:

On an empty lot near the business district, an older man named Jim Thompson demonstrated a still. The black contraption wheezed and moaned, and Thompson wiped his wrinkled forehead and adjusted a couple of metal pipes. He said, “When my daughter was born, the doctor asked me, ‘Jim, what’ll I put on this birth certificate?’ I told him ‘bootlegger’ was good enough for me.”

Matthews Café is the most well-known establishment in town. Until 1933, it served moonshine at the bar. The bartender always asked, “Do you want imported or Straitsville Special?” Most of the other small towns in the area brewed their own, too, but New Straitsville’s reputation as the bootlegging capital of Ohio was unsurpassed.

Thompson said the miners turned to making liquor in the little towns of Perry County. He said the moonshiners never filled their barrels to the top because they were afraid that rats would fall in. “Rats loved moonshine,” he said. “They liked to sit on barrel rims and dip their paws into the stuff. If it’d leak onto the floor, the rats’d come out and start lickin’ the mash. At first, they was scared of us, and they’d run off. The next time we came back, they’d just sit there, lickin’. We could pick ‘em up and that didn’t even bother ‘em. They didn’t even know where they was.”

State liquor agents raided the hills every few months, but the moonshiners usually heard of their activity and hid the brew. Thompson was much more concerned about the federals.

Sandra Mitchell-Quinn, former OHGenWeb state coordinator, says “this article was found folded up in the bible of one of my ancestor grandmothers. Original caption reads: “State Liquor Agent C.J. Gerard pauses in the ‘doorway’ of the pig house which hid the entrance to the Buchtel distillery, which was raided on Friday. The bootleg plant was beneath the hillside, which can be seen back of the pig house.” Courtesy OHGenWeb.

Sandra Mitchell-Quinn, former OHGenWeb state coordinator, says “this article was found folded up in the bible of one of my ancestor grandmothers. Original caption reads: “State Liquor Agent C.J. Gerard pauses in the ‘doorway’ of the pig house which hid the entrance to the Buchtel distillery, which was raided on Friday. The bootleg plant was beneath the hillside, which can be seen back of the pig house.” Courtesy OHGenWeb.

“Henry Spencer got caught deliverin’ whiskey down in Nelsonville, and he made a deal with a fed named Bush,” Thompson said. “If Bush would let him go, Spencer promised to show where to find four other guys who were brewin’ liquor. Spencer, that dirty son-of-a-gun, was workin’ with us. Well, late one night we saw a car comin’ but we figured it was Spencer comin’ down to check on his mash. We didn’t pay much attention.

“Come six o’clock the next mornin’, the feds come to my door. We had hid our kegs under the chicken coop, see, and they found ‘em and poured ‘em out-three ten-gallon kegs of it. They kept the fourth one. Old Henry Spencer sure was somethin’–told on his own brother and brother-in-law and lost a barrel of his own mash just to save his skin.”

sources:  Ghosts: Ohio’s Haunted Landscapes, Lost Arts, and Forgotten Places, by Randy McNutt, Orange Frazer Press, Wilmington OH, 1996


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He jumped on the bed, held his wife down and shot her through the head

Posted by Dave Tabler | May 23, 2017

State’s evidence portion of ‘Beck vs. State of Georgia,’ before Judge Estes, Rabun Superior Court, September Term 1885

In this partial court transcript, Eugene W. Beck is indicted for the murder of his wife, Ella Beck. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He was convicted for life at the state penitentiary, where he later died of blood poisoning while working in the coal mines as a convict in May, 1890.

On October 28, 1881, Eugene Beck went to the jail, and while there talked to the town marshal about some hogs belonging to one Wall that kept getting into his lot. He stated also that the dogs kept getting into his kitchen and asked the marshal to lend him his pistol, saying that he wanted to shoot some of the dogs.

Smith & Wesson 1880 .44 Russian Revolver.

Smith & Wesson 1880 .44 Russian Revolver. The court transcript never indicates what kind of pistol Beck used, but this Smith & Wesson was in common use at the time and could well have been the type of pistol available to Beck.

The marshal said he did not want to lend his pistol, that he might need it. Beck stated that the marshal could lend it to him for that night, and this was done.

The marshal testified that about a week or ten days (or perhaps two or three weeks or a month) before the shooting, there had been dogs around Beck’s place; that Beck borrowed his pistol to shoot them; that the marshal heard a shot in the yard, and Beck said he had shot a dog; and that he returned the pistol the next day; that when Beck borrowed the pistol the last time the marshal thought him sober; that he had been drinking “right smart” for a month or so—kept pretty tight all the time—that is, drinking every day; that he did not see Beck drink but knew he was drinking; that there never was anything particularly wrong about him that the witness could see, and he did not know anything to the contrary of Beck’s transacting his business as any other business man would; that he talked pretty sensibly about the Wall difficulty, his conversation being connected, as witness thought; that when he talked about dogs his conversation was connected and sensible; that the witness saw nothing irrational about him and thought him perfectly sane; that he was getting considerably sobered up and all right and the witness would not have loaned him the pistol if he had not thought so; and that the impression on the witness’ mind when Beck was talking about the Wall difficulty was that he believed the witness had some charge against him, but such was not the case witness being after other parties concerned in it.

That night, Beck sat in his wife’s room and talked to her for some two hours about his mother’s having shot at a lady; nothing else was talked of. Miss Bailey, the sister of Mrs. Beck, was then in the parlor talking to a young man. Beck’s wife told him to go to bed. He said no, that he was going to the jail to see the marshal. He then sat down, pulled off his boots, lay on the bed “and went to sleep, or pretended to be asleep; he was snoring; his coat was off,” (as stated by a servant in the house who was a witness.)

Shortly after he retired, he waked up and said, “I wish you would not do so much talking,” and then went to sleep again, “or looked like he was asleep.” Mrs. Beck made no reply but worked on for a while; then undressed, said her prayers and went to bed.

In about ten or fifteen minutes after Mrs. Beck retired, Miss Bailey came in. She went to bed with her sister, the defendant being on her bed. She said, “Brother Gene (the defendant) is not asleep; he is looking at me.”

About fifteen or twenty minutes afterwards, Beck got up, put on his coat and boots, walked to the lamp, which was near the bed where the two women were, and turned it down. Mrs. Beck said, “Please, Eugene, turn up the lamp.” He turned the lamp so high, “it looked like the house was afire;” then jumped on the bed, held his wife down and shot her through the head, killing her.

He then turned to shoot the servant who had lain down, but had not gone to sleep, and who ran out of the door, but the pistol snapped. He then held the cover with his left hand; and with his right shot Miss Bailey, her head being under the cover, the ball entering her back and coming out at her breast, causing death.

He then ran out of the door jumped off the piazza and went to the jail. He ran into the room where the marshal was and said, “Captain, they have run in on me, and I have shot two of them.”

The marshal told Beck to give him the pistol, which the latter did. He said, “Don’t let them hurt me.” Hearing continued screaming, the marshal went out and learned that Beck had killed his wife and sister in law. Returning, he said to Beck, “Gene, you have killed your wife and sister-in-law!”

Beck replied, “Well, I have killed the best friend I have got.” In about fifteen minutes the sheriff came and locked him up. He did not resist. He had a little half pint bottle about half full of whiskey.

The servant testified that the defendant talked sensibly the night of the shooting; that she never heard any fuss between the husband and wife; that the latter taught school all summer and he worked on the turnpike a part of the time; that she was a good woman and “easy to get along with;” that about a month before the shooting she told her husband that if he did not quit drinking she was going home to stay with her father until he did quit, to which he made no reply; that Mrs. Beck and her sister had not packed their trunks preparatory to leaving—“there wasn’t a thing packed until that night that they was both lying there corpses.”

The two slain daughters of Dr. & Mrs. Samuel Bailey, of Forsyth County GA, were buried at Cumming Historic Cemetery, whose entry gates are shown here. Later, the parents were buried next to their two daughters.

The two slain daughters of Dr. & Mrs. Samuel Bailey, of Forsyth County GA, were buried at Cumming Historic Cemetery, whose entry gates are shown here. Later, the parents were buried next to their two daughters.

The servant stated also that at the time of the homicide, “he put on all his clothes, ready to run out, before he done anything at all.” Another witness, a doctor, testified that about ten days or two weeks before the shooting Beck told him about some dogs that had been bothering him, having got into his kitchen; that the witness let him have some strychnine for the purpose of poisoning them; that after the homicide he was present on the night of October 30 at a conversation between Dr. Bailey and Beck. The former asked the latter what was his motive for killing his wife and he replied that he did not know that he had the tremens.

Published in “Reports of Cases in Law and Equity Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of Georgia, at Atlanta, Parts of October Term, 1885 and March Term, 1886, Vol. LXXVI,” by J.H. Lumpkin, reporter, The Franklin Publishing House, Atlanta,1888 Full court transcript here.

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Stearns KY emerges out of the Big Survey

Posted by Dave Tabler | May 22, 2017

Louis Bryant and Justus Stearns needed each other, and it’s surely no accident that their worlds finally intersected. Bryant, a bright young mining engineer, had moved into what is today McCreary County, KY at the beginning of the 1890s to consolidate mineral and land holdings acquired there by his father.

But while the Bryant family had mining expertise and raw land, they lacked the financial depth to develop the surrounding regional infrastructure they needed to grow their business. And so Louis hit the road to do a little selling. In 1893, he took a one-ton, thirty-six-cubic-foot block of bituminous coal from his family’s Worley mine to the Chicago World’s Fair.

Justus Stearns in 1885. From 'The Story of Ludington,' by Paul S. Peterson.

Justus Stearns in 1885. From ‘The Story of Ludington,’ by Paul S. Peterson.

Justus Stearns by this time had made a fortune in the lumber business from his base in Ludington, MI. But virgin timber resources in that region were becoming depleted as the upper Midwest grew in population.

And so Stearns hired field agents scattered around the country looking for business opportunities. He had expanded the already extensive holdings of Stearns Salt & Lumber Co. in the Midwest to include properties in the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes, New Orleans and Florida.

Kentucky was experiencing a lumber boom in the late 1890s, and Justus Stearns heard reports of vast tracts of virgin timber in the southern Kentucky counties of Pulaski, Wayne, and Whitley and Scott County just over the border in Tennessee.

In 1900, Stearns sent Michigan surveyor William Alfred Kinne to Kentucky to secure tracts to add to his timber holdings. Al Kinne traveled extensively through Kentucky and Tennessee, meeting up finally with Louis Bryant.

The two became friends, and Bryant later became a valuable associate of the Stearns Company, teaching them a great deal about coal mining.

the Sheriffs daughter in Stearns KY early 1900sPhoto caption reads: “Stearns; the Sheriff’s Daughter, 1900 – 1915″

By 1901, Kinne had negotiated a twenty-five-year lease with Bryant that called for the construction of a railroad and the opening up of mines in the area, and gave Stearns the right to harvest the timber in the area. Kinne secured 50,000 acres in what became known as “The Big Survey,” an area that included lands from the Kentucky & Tennessee counties mentioned earlier.

On May 22, 1902, Kinne and Nashville attorney E. E. Barthell rode horses three miles north from Pine Knot to a Cincinnati Southern siding known to the railroad crews as the Gum Tree Tie Yard. Acting as agents for the Stearns Salt & Lumber Company, the two men, using a briefcase as a desk under the big black gum’s boughs, signed documents which incorporated the Stearns Lumber Co., the Stearns Coal Co., and the Kentucky & Tennessee Railroad.

The old gum tree stood next to the site where the first company store in the brand new town of Stearns, KY would soon be constructed. The Stearns Company was the sole proprietor of its headquarters town, and would govern all aspects of daily life for the residents there.

The town site, one square mile purchased from the Bryant family, was uninhabited at the time but a fairly well known place in the region. Riley Sellars had owned a farm there, where General Ambrose Burnside’s troops had camped in September 1863 on their backcountry march to take Knoxville from the Confederates.

Stearns sat on the location of the old town of Hemlock, at the crossroads of the Somerset-Jacksboro Road and the east-west road from Williamsburg to Monticello.

1907 Stearns Coal & Lumber Company officeToday’s McCreary County Museum is located in the 1907 Stearns Coal & Lumber Company office building.

In 1903, Justus Stearns sent his only son, Robert L. Stearns, to reside in the small company town that bore his name so that he might oversee all the operations in the community.

Al Kinne lived in Stearns the rest of his life and was later a Kentucky state senator. Barthell moved his practice to Chicago, but remained the company’s general counsel until his death. An in-law of Rob Stearns, he was honored by having the first company mine camp named after him.

Sources: Lore & Legend, Vol. 1, No. 1, p. 3, published by J. P. Thomas, Box 248, Stearns, KY 42657
Appalachian Folkways, by John B. Rehder, JHU Press, 2004

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