A.D. White Society hosts authors’ seminar
AVELLA – Those in the Tri-State Area had an opportunity to learn more about the history of the area during an authors’ seminar hosted by the A.D. White Society Saturday at the Meadowcroft Museum and Rockshelter Visitor’s Center.
Local authors discussed books ranging from the Christian religion to presidential and local Appalachian history to an appreciative crowd. The forum also included two authors discussing their books about local history, including Joe Bogo, who wrote “Holes in the Hills,” a fictional-historical account about the largest coal mining war in West Virginian history, and Kevin Morrissey, who discussed his book “The Uphill Climb – Defying the Odds on the Wellsburg, Bethany and Washington Railway.”
Bogo said his book concerned incidents surrounding one of the bloodiest incidents in the coal mining wars in West Virginia in the late 1800s to early 1900s and a major battle between over the Cliftonville Mine, about 3 miles from Avella in 1922.
“Hundreds of miners went down to the railroad tracks and caused a riot,” said Bogo, adding trouble began when the Cliftonville Mine, which was a union mine, was taken over by an anti-union owner.
Bogo said the new owner hired strikebreakers – “goons” from the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, fired the union miners and began shipping in scabs to work the mine. There was a union rally at the Union Hall in Avella, and on July 16, 1922, the pro-union miners ambushed a train, destroyed the coal tipple and blew up a coal conveyer near the mine. Bogo said a huge battle ensued, and six miners were killed along with Sheriff Harding Duval, the Brooke County sheriff – the only law enforcement official killed in the incident, said Bogo.
“They arrested about 200 miners, put them on trial in Wellsburg and about 40 of them went to Moundsville Prison,” said Bogo of the incident.
Less violent but no less interesting, “The Uphill Climb” is the true story of a trolley system between Wellsburg and Bethany that was supposed to extend to Washington, Pa., but was never completely realized.
Morrissey said the idea for the book about the trolley system stemmed from a research for a term paper while in college, and that locals, including citizens and municipal officials, helped him in his quest to investigate the trolley, why it was built and why it ultimately failed.
Several years later Morrissey said he got the idea to write a book about the trolley system and again received help from locals. During his Powerpoint presentation Saturday about the history of the trolley, he used vintage photographs and documents to tell the story of the ill-fated trolley system, which was the brainchild of two individuals – Thomas Cramblet, who eventually became president of Bethany College; and Harmon Lazear, a Wellsburg businessman and real estate tycoon.
Morrissey said at the time transportation to Wellsburg and Bethany was a sometimes-daunting task, with dirt roads, toll bridges and rough traveling along the Washington Pike.
“In 1901 there were 33,000 cars (in the country) but 14 million horses,” he said, adding travel still was mostly by horse. “Cramblet was a minister in Pittsburgh who became president of Bethany College.”
He did much to modernize the college during his tenure, but both he and Lazear realized for the area to grow they needed a travel connection to Washington County and ultimately Pittsburgh, which, said Morrissey, “was exploding.”
Bethany and Wellsburg were losing population, while other areas nearby were growing exponentially, and although Wellsburg had advantages, including a good business environment, strong banks and glassworks factories, “The one thing it didn’t have were the people,” Morrissey said. “(The trolley system) was a calculated way to connect Bethany and Wellsburg with Pittsburgh.”
Construction on the trolley began in September of 1906, and both Lazear and Cramblet were confident the line would be established in a short amount of time, said Morrissey. But problems arose, including contractor lawsuits, technical problems with trestle and tunnel construction as well as inadequate bridges and bad weather. Morrissey said builders vastly underestimated the cost and logistics of running a trolley line all the way to Washington, Pa.
“They really didn’t know how much all of this was going to cost,” he said. “But the dream of getting (the trolley line) to Washington, Pa., didn’t seem like reality.”
The line, part of WB&B railroad, had the lowest profits and highest expenses compared to most competing railroads at the time, and the lack of capital also led to the third leg to Washington never being completed, Morrissey said. Despite the numerous problems and at least two serious accidents, the trolley operated 18 hours a day, seven days a week for 17 years before being sold to a mining company in the mid-1920s. Locals were proud the trolley was operational, and Morrissey said the trolley did help stabilize populations of the two hamlets as well as keep the college in operation.
“You’ve got to admire the people for doing this,” he said.
For copies of Morrissey’s book, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Miller can be contacted at email@example.com.)