History of Clarksburg
Chapter I

by Paul E. Maxwell
(Written c: 1975)
Submitted by Hiram W. Lynch

     Shortly before the American Revolution a new settlement had begun to grow on the banks of Elk Creek at its present crossing by Main Street. Sometime between 1778 and 1781 the little community adopted the name of Clarksburg, in honor of General George Rogers Clark a Soldier in the Continental Army.

     This location was not chosen haphazardly but because of several factors favorable to the growth of a future city. It was centrally located in some of the most promising land for farming in this section of the state. Astute settlers envisioned the day when the federal government would construct a road through this region from points in eastern Virginia to Israel Putnam's settlement at Marietta on the Ohio River. And as a sound engineering practice, these roads usually followed existing Indian and wild animal trails. A most likely trail for this dream road entered. the Clarksburg area by the way of Annmore Run and Elk Creek, continued down the West Fork River to Limestone Creek thence westward. These trails, even by the broadest interpretation of the word, could-not be called roads but routes, often indistinct, which animal instinct and Indian sagicity had determined to be the shortest practical distance and the easiest gradients through the wilderness. Branching trails at irregular intervals sometimes rejoined the main trail after a few miles to offer an alternate route and sometimes ended at salt licks or outcropping rock formations where Indians obtained suitable materials for their implements.

     The West Fork River via the Monongehela was a waterway northward by which the territories of south western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio could be reached. And proved a most useful access route to Clarksburg for the early years of her existence. Several years before the first dwelling was erected in Clarksburg, Thomas Nutter had built a fort some distance upstream from where Elk Creek became part of the trail. His reason for this location was probably to escape notice of marauding Indians who might be passing through. By the time Clarksburg was born the menace of hostile Indians was largely past and the town was established without benefit of a fort which formed the nucleus of most early settlements. However, the first log dwellings were often equipped with loop holes for fighting off an attack, just in case.

     In 1784, a Commission representing Harrison County chose Clarksburg the county seat and court was first held in the Jackson home on east Main Street near Maple Avenue. The Commission had originally considered Bridgeport for the site but was deterred by the objections of a widow who did not wish to raise her family in an environment sure to follow such progress. The widow Johnson's objection was not an isolated example of short sightedness which marked Clarksburg's growing pains. Fifty years later found embattled farmers and inn keepers bitterly protesting the construction of a rail road, through a land made prosperous by the advent of a turnpike. The horde of freight wagons, stage passengers and drovers using the turnpike created a lucrative business for natives who catered to their needs. The objectors correctly foresaw that the coming of the rail road would end all this. What they could not see were the enormous and offsetting benefits it would bring in other fields of development.

     The General Assembly of Virginia enacted legislation in 1785 creating the town of Clarksburg and appointed trustees to oversee the establishment of boundaries, laying out of streets and other provisions of the law. The original boundary lines began at the mouth of Elk Creek, up that stream to a point where it now meets Jackson Street, then due east one hundred rods to, the intersection of a line running due south to Elk Creek, along this line until it reaches the creek. From there along a line running due west to the West Fork River, thence down to the starting point at the mouth of Elk Creek. This area for the most part was land owned by Daniel Davisson, one of the first permanent settlers. A Court House was erected at the north east corner of Second and Main Streets in 1787 and the jail was located directly across the street on the present site of the First Presbyterian Church. As an indication of Clarksburg’s rapid growth during these founding days, a 1797 local census listed forty dwellings in addition to several, business and public buildings. Among the latter was an Academy with an enrollment of more than fifty students.

     At the time Clarksburg was selected as county. seat Harrison County included territory which now makes up several adjoining Counties. The rapid influx of settlers into such a large area created an enormous amount of surveying and legal work, which accounts for the disproportionate number of engineers, and lawyers, closely followed by clergymen, doctors and educators, among the growing population. These young professional men came from the eastern seaboard to find their fortune in a new land. They brought and perpetuated as best they could, the culture and customs of their former homes. Education for their children, churches for their families and the community and medical practitioners to supplant home grown and often injurious remedies to which pioneers were limited. At great trouble and expense they transported from the east the intricate mill work and elegant furnishings for the numerous stately homes they constructed. These houses contrasted pleasantly with the sturdy log houses which predominated the scene and were not the legendary, one room, floor less, window less log cabin. But well designed, three to six rooms often two stories in height with puncheon floors and glass windows. In later years the exterior was frequently clap board covered and painted.

     Another practice some of them introduced was slavery and slaves, mostly house servants, were among its inhabitants when Clarksburg attained county seat status. Slavery soon found disfavor among the populace and most of them were given their freedom long before the Emancipation Proclamation. Numerous runaway slaves on their flight to Canada found refuge and assistance in Clarksburg and surrounding county and some remained here, enjoying complete immunity from recapture. More than a few of today's black community proudly trace their origin back to these pioneers.

     Craftsmen of different trades also found the town's prospects much to their liking and by 1825 Clarksburg was a self sufficient community numbering close a thousand souls. Grain and saw mills were operating in excess of local needs, a tannery supplied good leather for home produced boots and shoes, blacksmiths forged out axes, hoes, shovels and other tools required by county farmers, coopers supplied all and sundry with an assortment of wooden barrels, tubs, buckets etc. A clockmaker and a gunsmith had set up shop for their respective professions, wheelwrights fabricated the large wheels and other components for the popular ox carts to boat yards turned out flat bottomed boats for down river shipments of surplus products. Several merchants stocked their shelves with salt, sugar, coffee to gun powder etc. which often 8.S not was bartered for other produce rather than paid for in United States currency.

     During the first two decades of the nineteenth century several visitors wrote accounts of their sojourn in Clarksburg.They found it to be a picturesque village fully deserving its later sobriquet, "Jewel of the Hills ". Populated by a friendly people some genteel and highly educated, enjoying all the social graces of the period, everyone honest, industrious and prosperous. One dissenter presents an opposite report. A disreputable collection run down houses tenanted by churlish, hard drinking, quarrelsome, lawless ruffians with no desire for the better things of life. This man's extremism alone would discredit any appraisal he might make. Any sizeable community will surely have its quota of undesirables, as did Clarksburg. That he consorted with this element and was only able to view the town from this perspective, is the kindest excuse that can be made for him.

     In these days whiskey was not taxed and distillers were not licensed and the Whiskey Rebellion, (which came and went without incident in Clarksburg) was undreamed of. All history of those times, records that alcoholic beverages particularly whiskey were an important adjunct to daily living. Whiskey was made locally and legally by anyone with the equipment and know how. It is quiite likely that the small tributary of Elk Creek, (Stillhouse Branch) which runs between Joyce and Brown streets, derived its name from this activity.

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