America’s only woman ironmaster

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 30, 2014

Nannie Kelly Wright (1856-1946) was probably the only woman ironmaster in America’s history. Wright was the daughter of the famous riverboat commodore Washington Honshell, who helped form Cincinnati’s White Collar packet line. She was said to be the second richest woman in the world during the early 1900’s.

Wright hadn’t set out to become an ironmaster; she married into the business. In 1879 she wed Lindsey Kelly, who was serving one of two terms as an Ohio representative. His father, William Dollarhide Kelly, was an ironmaster, banker and farmer. In 1842, the elder Kelly had leased Etna Furnace, and in 1851, the Lagrange Furnace. By 1849, W.D. owned the land that is now owned by the Ohio Iron and Coal Company, and the Ironton railroad. In 1862 W.D. bought a five-year lease on the Centre Furnace at Superior, OH, and Lindsey took over its management the following year.

Nannie Kelly WrightBy 1891, Centre Furnace and the other Kelly holdings in real estate and finance were in distress. From 1894 to 1897 the iron industry in this country was practically at a standstill and stocks were worth about 15 to 20 cents on the dollar. Buyers at that price were scarce. Centre Furnace went into receivership.

Nannie Wright, a close observer of political and financial affairs, reasoned an upward trend was due. She paid the taxes and in 1899, using her own money, she bid on the furnace and 12,000 surrounding acres at auction, for $19,950.

Wright learned the iron business, renovated the furnace and the company houses provided for the employees, and began hiring workers when many were out of work. She conducted regular property inspections and made regular weekly trips to Cincinnati. Many times she would go down to the furnace and work along side the men. It was often rumored that when she worked down at the furnace, she dressed as a male (she denied this). Centre Furnace was one of the first companies to produce and ship iron by rail during the Spanish American War.

Wright’s business interests revolved around Centre Furnace and the Kelly Nail & Iron Co. of Ironton. She served as director of the latter institution for years and was also financially interested in the Belfont Iron Works, Ironton Engine Co., and Ironton, Huntington, Cincinnati and Catlettsburg banks.

Centre Furnace, Superior OHNannie and Lindsey had only one child, a son named Lindsey. The younger Lindsey had rheumatism, and as a child had spent time in Texas hoping for some sort of relief. He died in Cincinnati in 1904, only 20 years old. Lindsey had died the year before. The distraught widow began to travel frequently, and left the iron business in other hands for awhile.

She set out on her first world tour in 1898, took another in 1906 and a third in 1913. In all she crossed the Atlantic 14 times in years when it was the unusual rather than the ordinary. In London she was presented to the Court of St. James during the reign of Edward VII.

In 1906 Wright sold Centre Furnace to the Superior Portland Cement Co. In 1908, Nannie, age 55, married D. Gregory Wright, age 34. They divorced in 1919. During these years, Wright kept her stocks in Centre Furnace and other family holdings, but in 1923 she decided to sell many of them. She invested the profits but lost her home and most of her wealth in the stock market crash of 1929.

Despite such great losses, Wright was able to lead a comfortable life. She moved into the Marting Hotel in Ironton and by selling off such personal assets as jewelry and art managed to support herself until her death on September 12, 1946.

sources: Profiles of Ohio Women, 1803-2003, by Jacqueline Jones Royster, Ohio University Press, 2003
Nannie Kelly Wright, compiled and edited by Virginia S. Bryant, Lawrence County Historical Society, 1989

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They slapped handcuffs on his wrists. "I guess you’ve got me"

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 29, 2014

New York Times.
September 15, 1912, Sunda

CATCH SIDNA ALLEN BY TRAILING GIRL; Wesley Edwards Also Captured at Des Moines — His Sweetheart Gives Clue.

DES MOINES, Iowa, Sept. 14. — With arms and feet pinioned in heavy irons and watched over by an armed guard, Sidna Allen and Wesley Edwards, members of the outlaw gang who murdered Judge Massie and others at Hillsville Court House, Va., in April last, and who were arrested here to-day, are now en route to Virginia in the custody of detectives.

Allen was arrested by Detectives W.G. Baldwin, H.H. Lucas, and William Munday of Roanoke, VA, at the Cameron boarding house at noon. Edwards, it was learned, was working with a grading gang in the western part of the city. As soon as Allen was in custody search was made for Edwards. The latter avoided discovery until this evening, when he was found on an Ingersoll Avenue car coming into the city. He dropped to his knees and tried to crawl out unnoticed, but was recognized as he reached the car door and was taken to the police station.
Wesley Edwards of the Hillsville VA courthouse massacre
Maude Iroler, fiance to Wesley Edwards of the Hillsville VA courthouse massacreAllen and Edwards will not fight extradition, but express willingness to return to Virginia and face trial.
Wesley Edwards’ sweetheart, Maude Iroler of Mount Airy, NC, was the innocent cause of the arrest of the last of the clan for whom a country-wide search has been conducted. This eighteen-year old girl came all the way from her home in North Carolina with the secret of Wesley Edwards’ whereabouts. She loved him and determined to wed him despite the stain attached to his name since he fled from the courtroom in Hillsville.

Edwards lived here under the name of Joe Jackson, and Allen went under the name of Tom Sayres. The latter worked as a carpenter here, while Edwards was employed by the city with a paving gang. Not a hint of their identity was given to the members of the Cameron family.

The girl left her home last Monday, little thinking that dogging her trail were four detectives, led by W.G. Baldwin of the Baldwin Agency of Roanoke, VA. The men went on the same train that brought the girl to Des Moines. They followed her closely. She made her way where she expected to find her hunted fiancé.

She entered, telling Maude Cameron, who opened the door for her, that she had come to see Joe Jackson. A tall and powerfully built man entered the yard. A short distance off were three other men. The man who advanced to the door was Detective H.H. Lucas.

“I want to get a room,” he said to Miss Cameron.

“Set inside,” she said.

Lucas entered, and just as he reached the foot of the stairs Sidna Allen came to the top of the stairs. Allen evidently did not recognize Lucas, who started to ascend. When within a few feet of Allen the detective suddenly produced two revolvers.

“Hold up your hands,” Lucas ordered sternly.

Sidna Allen of the Hillsville VA courthouse massacreEven with the odds against him Allen snarled angrily, but he knew that Lucas’ eye meant business. His hands went slowly up. Allen was looking for a chance to escape, but Lucas was joined a moment later by Detectives Baldwin and Munday, another member of the department. The trio closed in on Allen. One produced a pair of handcuffs. They were slapped over his wrists.

“I guess you’ve got me,” said Allen quietly as he sat down in a near-by chair.

“Where is the other man?” demanded Baldwin of the members of the frightened family, who were hovering near.
The detective was told that Edwards was at work on Thirty-eighth Street. Leaving Munday and Lucas to guard Allen, Baldwin notified the police. Chief Jenney, with Detective Badgley, responded.

Baldwin and Charles Cameron, a member of the Cameron family, leaped into an automobile and sped away for the place where Edwards was supposed to be working. They did not find him then, but captured him later on a street car.

Sidna Allen, in his cell tonight, talked freely of the events of the last few months, but declined to say anything of his movements immediately after the Court House tragedy. He and Edwards remained in the mountain country of Virginia and North Carolina for about a month, and then got over into Kentucky, going to Louisville, where they spent several days.

Their next stop was St. Louis, where they remained for a week. They had sufficient money for their needs, and traveled first class.

“I don’t know why we came to Des Moines,” said Allen, “unless it was that I thought we would be safer here. Several years ago I was in the Klondike, and I figured that the officers would think I had gone back there. So we came to Des Moines, and I got work as a carpenter, and expected to remain here until it was safe back home.

“I would have given myself up long ago if I had thought we could get a square deal, but see what they’ve done to Floyd my brother, and Claude.”

full article online at

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Listen Here: Appalachian History Weekly podcast posts today

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 28, 2014

We post a new episode of Appalachian History weekly podcast every Sunday. Check us out on the Stitcher network, available on mobile phones, in-car dashboards and tablets worldwide. Just click below to start listening:

We open today’s show with the story of historical presenter Larry Rowlette, who since 2000 has regularly inhabited the character of Johann Culmann, founder of Culman, AL. “I enjoy spreading the message of heritage, tradition, and values everywhere I go,” Rowlette says. “I also try to live by those same words, because it gives me something to work toward – honoring the heritage, speaking and promoting the tradition, and living the values each day.”

We’ll pause in between things to catch up on a calendar of events in the region this week, with special attention paid to events that emphasize heritage and local color.

Today the Whipple Company Store, built in 1890 by coal baron Justus Collins, is the only remaining coal company store of its architectural design type in southern WV’s Pocahantas coal basin. Its oval arch entry sheltering a deeply recessed porch is typical of a design style once commonly found in the 30 or so company stores that dotted the basin in the early 20th century. “People think of this place as a museum, but to me it’s a place for sharing stories,” says Joy Lynn, who with her husband Chuck purchased the compound in 2006.

We’ll wrap things up with an oral history excerpt from one Mrs. Nellie Wilhoit, about her recollections of life growing up on a farm in Cleveland, GA. Mrs. Wilhoit discusses mountain superstitions in White County, GA from the early 20th century.

And thanks to the good folks at Warren Wilson College’s Archives, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from David ‘Fox’ Watson in a 1979 recording of The Reel of the Hangman.

So call your old Plott hound up on the porch, fire up your corncob pipe, and settle in for a dose of Appalachian history.

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General Braddock’s road through the Wilderness

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 26, 2014

Today realtors tout the Dingle neighborhood west of Cumberland, MD for its charming Craftsman houses of the early 20th century. But this placid upscale neighborhood was a fierce wilderness when Nemacolin, a Delaware chief, and Thomas Cresap, a Maryland frontiersman, first blazed a trail through here in 1749 or 1750.

The trail ran between the Potomac and the Monongahela rivers, traversing the land beneath this Cumberland neighborhood and leading on to the mouth of Redstone Creek, near Brownsville, PA.

John Kennedy Lacock postcardSite of the Dingle in Cumberland, MD. Braddock Road is on the right and it’s heading up Haystack Mountain. Today, right behind where the car is in this photo is a modern Maryland Historical Road Marker reading: “The National Road (called The Cumberland Road) was the first of the internal improvements undertaken by the U.S. Government. Surveys were authorized in 1806 over the route of “Braddock’s Road” which followed “Nemacolin’s Path”, an Indian trail over which George Washington Travelled in 1754 to Fort LeBoeuf.” Photo by Ernest K. Weller.

In 1755, during the French & Indian War, British General Edward Braddock of the Coldstream Guards led a 2,100-man army from the Washington DC area to what was then Fort Cumberland. The troops intended to dislodge the French from Fort Dusquesne on the “Forks of the Ohio” (now Pittsburgh) roughly 100 miles away.

Braddock had received important assistance from Benjamin Franklin, who helped procure wagons and supplies for the expedition. Setting out from Fort Cumberland on May 29, 1755, the expedition faced an enormous logistical challenge: moving a large body of men with equipment, provisions, and (most importantly for the task ahead) heavy cannon, across the densely wooded Allegheny Mountains and into western Pennsylvania.

Braddock’s aide, Captain Robert Orme, duly recorded the army’s 30 wagons, 400 horses, siege artillery and tons of supplies. Braddock built a road over Wills Mountain, across the Cumberland Narrows, continuing over Haystack Mountain through (what was not yet) the Dingle, close to Nemacolin’s path, and ending ultimately in Great Meadow, near Union Town, PA.

By the time he was ready to leave his 4th camp, Braddock acknowledged the ongoing challenge posed by advancing such a massive retinue, and so took a young George Washington’s advice and created a flying column, “leaving the heavy artillery and baggage behind to follow by easy stages under Colonel Dunbar,” according to the General Braddock’s 5th Camp Maryland Historical Road Marker.

Among the wagoners, incidentally, were two young men who would later become legends of American history: Daniel Boone, and Daniel Morgan.

Braddock met defeat east of Fort Duquesne and was fatally wounded. He was buried in the middle of the road he built and his soldiers marched over the grave in hopes of concealing its location from the Indians.

More than 150 years after Braddock’s march to his disastrous fate, John Kennedy Lacock, a Harvard Professor hailing from Amity, PA, led an expedition to retrace the original route of Braddock’s Road. Lacock spent countless days scouring the countryside and was able to identify the exact path of Braddock’s march.

“From Fort Cumberland westward Braddock had to make a road for his troops across mountains divided by ravines and torrents, over a rugged, desolate, unknown, and uninhabited country. The history of the construction of this road and a description of its course it is the purpose of this paper to set forth; for the growing interest with which the routes of celebrated expeditions are coming to be regarded, and the confusion that attends the tracing of such routes after a lapse of years, make it altogether fitting that the road by which the unfortunate Braddock marched to his disastrous field should be surveyed, mapped, and suitably marked while it is yet possible to trace its course with reasonable definiteness.”

‘Braddock Road’ by John Kennedy Lacock

Lacock hired photographer Ernest K. Weller of Washington, PA to document the road. Fortunately, Weller’s photographs survive in the form of postcards which Lacock published between 1907-1914 (see above).

The Dingle, Cumberland MDThe Dingle development then being built around Braddock’s historical path was no doubt one motivator for Lacock and his survey. The president of The Dingle Company, Tasker Gantt Lowndes, was the well-connected son of a recent Maryland governor, and contesting his development was probably difficult.

And why, exactly, was it named ‘The Dingle’? “After a beautiful private estate on the outskirts of Liverpool, England,” said Lowndes in a 1926 letter. “The Dingle lies between two roads (McMullen Highway and Braddock Road), and means a ‘Hollow between the Hills’ which is very appropriate”. When it was first developed it was a gated community that excluded Jews and African Americans.


Sources: “Redcoats in the Wilderness: British Officers and Irregular Warfare in Europe and America, 1740 to 1760″, Peter Russel, The William and Mary Quarterly > 3rd Ser., Vol. 35, No. 4 (Oct., 1978), pp. 629-652

Who’s who in Finance and Banking, By John William Leonard, Who’s Who in Finance Inc., 1922

Western Maryland Regional Library
Allegany County, by Albert L. Feldstein, Arcadia Publishing, 2006
Empire of Fortune: Crowns, Colonies, and Tribes in the Seven Years War in America, by Francis Jennings,New York: Norton, 1988. history/ braddock-lacock.shtmlJohn

General+Edward+Braddock the+Dingle Cumberland+MD John+Kennedy+Lacock appalachia Benjamin+Franklin Daniel+Boone appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history

One Response

  • Rick Witt says:

    Thanks Dave. In my younger days I lived atop Haystack Mtn. Roamed the hillsides and traveled Braddock(s)Road almost everyday of my life. In retrospect, I wish I’d taken a bit more time to absorb the history that surrounded me. It’s always great to read a story about a place you know.

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Busted not for selling babies, but for the abortion clinic

Posted by Dave Tabler | September 25, 2014

From 1951 to 1965 Dr. Thomas Jugarthy Hicks began to quietly offer babies for adoption from his Hicks Community Clinic in McCaysville, GA. Quietly, because the clinic he’d been running since the mid-1940s was not a licensed adoption agency. Hicks cared for the mundane health issues of local farmers and townspeople in the front of the clinic, while performing abortions, which were illegal during that period, in the back rooms.

Law or no law, he advertised his abortion services on phone booths, bus stations and bridges. Women came by bus, car and train to pay $100 to “fix their problem.” A small airstrip was built in nearby Ducktown so the prominent could fly their daughters in from Atlanta and Chattanooga for an abortion.

fetal ultrasound imageHis black market baby-selling ring, which may have ‘moved’ as many as 200 babies with no questions asked, relied on young, poor women from North Georgia and Eastern Tennessee. They’d come to him for an abortion, and he persuaded some to carry the babies to full term. The women would reside in the clinic for a few months, or the good doctor would provide a room for them at his farm, or in the New York Hotel in adjoing Copperhill, TN, or in his apartments in the telephone company building.

Hicks knew he could count on word of mouth to bring in the baby buyers. The Fannin County Courthouse records list 49 babies, for example, who went to Summit County in Ohio. All the fathers who bought them worked in the Akron tire companies, except for a Cuyahoga Falls doctor who bought two babies. All the sales were arranged by a West Akron Goodrich employee who bought four babies for herself. All of them paid up to $1,000 for a baby no one could trace back to its mother.

Hicks made sure the birth certificates listed the people adopting as birth parents. The doctor kept no known records of the birth mothers, who discreetly vanished.

Thomas Hicks was no stranger to shady dealings. After getting his medical degree from Emory University in Atlanta in 1917, he moved to Copperhill, TN, but lost his medical license and served time in federal prison for selling narcotic pain killers to a veteran working undercover for the FBI.

While incarcerated, he studied a lung disease that kept copper miners from living past the age of 40.

Once out, he was hired by the Tennessee Copper Co. to treat miners. The only problem was, he filed more claims than there were miners with the disease.

After he was fired from that job, he opened up the Hicks Community Clinic in McCaysville.

Once a baby was available, Hicks wasted neither time nor words with his prospective buyers. “You have 24 hours to come or I call the next person on the list,” he’s reported to have said to more than one client.

Hicks warned his baby buyers not to be picky. If you told Hicks you only wanted a boy or you wanted a girl, you could forget about getting a baby.

It may never be known how many illegal adoptions were conducted by Dr. Hicks, who was stripped of his medical license in 1964, but never jailed. He was, after all, a member of the Copperhill Kiwanis and the Adams Bible Class of the First Baptist Church (to which he donated a Wurlitzer organ). He was known to give free medicine to the very poorest in town. He made house calls to those who couldn’t otherwise get to his clinic.

Dr. Thomas Hicks’ abortion clinic was an open secret tolerated by a town that appreciated the bulk of his medical contributions. “He didn’t perform any services that anyone didn’t request,” noted local resident Marlene Matham Hardiman, who once rented an apartment from Hicks.

The court papers disbarring him made no mention of the black-market babies. The abortion charges against him were dropped, and he continued practicing for a time thereafter.

Thomas Hicks died of leukemia in 1972 at age 83. His lawyer, nurses, wife and son are dead. His only living relative, a daughter, lives in seclusion in North Carolina.,,20124848,00.html

Thomas+Hicks Hicks+Community+Clinic abortion illegal+baby+adoptions Mccaysville+GA appalachia +appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history

5 Responses

  • Tonya says:

    What sparked your interest to write about Dr. Hicks? Did you know him or did you live in the area?

  • Dave Tabler says:

    He lived and died long before my time. And no, I haven’t lived in the area. But it’s a fascinating story full of drama, conflict and moral choices. It deserves to be part of the Appalachian story.

  • Tonya says:

    Thank you for responding.

    We lived in the area when I was a child and although I don’t condone some of his choices, Dr. Hicks was very good to all of my family. Thank you for posting the story to your blog.

  • Angela Wright says:

    From what I understand from my family, my grandmother worked for him. This has fascinated me for years now. I have heard quite a few old-timers in McCaysville talk about what a good man he was. I do hope that the mothers can be reunited with their children, but from my family telling the story, the mothers didn’t want to be found. That’s why they went to Dr. Hicks instead of other places. I’m guessing that the people that adopted/bought these kids did so for many reasons and I hope that they have had good lives. I wish there was more on this subject, I know there are people that know the truth and even if the birth mothers don’t want to be found, medical records should be provided.

  • Tom King says:

    One of the facts in your story is incorrect. Dr. Hicks never had a daughter. There is no family member “living in seclusion in North Carolina”. He had a son who also became a doctor, but the son died before Dr. Hicks. That is the only child the doctor had. His wife also preceded him in death. He died at age 85 in 1972 from Leukemia.

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