History of Clarksburg
Chapter IV

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

     As a small, agriculture oriented city, Clarksburg had now pretty well matured and was entering what was to be a quarter century of serene existence. County farm lands had been cleared to the extent that stock raising and its byproduct, wool provided every farmer with at least a modest cash income. Wheat was the one grain grown in excess of his own needs and that in quantities sufficient to keep three grist mills operating full time. Butter, chickens, eggs and orchard crops were brought to Clarksburg, bartered for staples and in turn shipped to outside markets.

     Choice timberland had been burned by the thousands of acres in the clearing of farm land. Because at that time it was as valueless to its owners as Robinson Crusoe's gold was to him but practically every farm still had some acreage of virgin timber left.

     With a rail road, this now became marketable and in addition to supplementing the farm income, was responsible for the birth of two prominent Clarksburg firms. The Hart Machine and Foundry Company and the Osborne Machine and Boiler Company. Initially, both companies specialized in the manufacture of portable saw mills for the far projects. Later, along with general machine shop work they produced the heavier equipment needed by the giant lumber operations of Braxton, Nicholas, Upshur and Webster Counties.

     Soon after the main line of the Baltimore and Ohio was finished a new rail road, the West Virginia and Pittsburg was constructed from Clarksburg to Weston where it fingered out to Burnsville, Sutton, Richwood, Pickens and Webster Springs to serve the growing lumber industry. The Monongehela River branch of the Baltimore and Ohio connecting Clarksburg with Pittsburgh via Fairmont and Morgantown was built shortly thereafter and the Short Line railroad connecting Clarksburg, New Martinsville and Wheeling was in operation by the early nineteen hundreds. All these roads were soon to be merged with the Baltimore and Ohio.

     By this convergence of so many common carriers, Clarksburg had become a sizeable railroad center and several hundred citizens were employed in some capacity by the company. Because of excellent transportation facilities, here was an ideal distribution point. Wholesale grocery, dry goods, hardware shoes and like firms were established and supplied a large portion of central West Virginia with the latest and best of the country’s merchandise.

     The regions coal deposits remained practically untouched. Small pits employing two or three workers were opened here and there to supply domestic and insignificant commercial needs but hardly any found its way to distant markets. With the completion of the Monongehela railroad a large mine at Pinnickinnick, (now within the city limits) was opened. Here in their own ovens (with smoke pollution which would send environmentalists into a stat of shock) coal was reduced to coke and shipped to Pittsburgh steel mills. This was the first of several such mines operating in the vicinity before the coal industry really come into its own.

     Quietly but resolutely, Clarksburg’s growth kept pace with the nation’s during these twenty five years. Rail roads brought the telegraph, our first instant communication with the outside world. Because of it, today’s papers carried the latest news of yesterday the world over. Through leasing arrangements, Western Union could deliver personal messages to any point in the country in a few hours. Twenty years after Alexander Graham Bell’s invention, two independents were competing for Clarksburger’s patronage of the new convenience. With the equipment provided, you cranked a call for any of the dozen or so subscribers on your line, yourself. A call for operator enabled you to be connected with parties on another line. With this arrangement, business places found it necessary to have phones of both companies. After a few years these companies merged, first with each other, later with what is now the Chesapeake and Potomac.

     By 1871, the Lowndes interests were manufacturing illuminating gas from coal. The plant was located in Monticello Avenue directly across Elk Creek from Lowndes Mill at Washington Avenue and Water Street. This gas was used in homes, business places, public buildings and for street lighting until displaced by better methods. In spite of encroachment by natural gas and electricity, operation of this plant continued well into the twentieth century, It was the exclusive source of artificial lighting as late as 1912 in the old Towers School at the corner of Hewes and Second Street.

     Immediately after perfection of the incandescent light bulb, Clarksburg entered the electric age. At the corner of Washington Avenue and Second Street, A man named Hart erected a generating plant of seventy five kilowatt capacity. It soon displaced gas for street lighting and began to find its way into homes and business places. The first (and for years to come) the only electric appliance, was a ceiling type fan. Four large blades were attached to the revolving part of a slow speed motor making a wind mill shaped fan some five feet in diameter, which was suspended from the ceiling by a rod. In operation the fan revolved slowly agitating the air in the room similar to a gentle summer breeze. A Short time later Lowndes bought the electric firm and formed the Clarksburg Gas and electric Company, which increased its electric output form time to time and continued in operation until absorbed by the Monongehela Power Company.

     Clarksburg acquired its first institute of higher learning when Broaddus College moved her from Winchester, Virginia in 1876. The campus was a beautiful, ten acre plot studded with chestnut and oak trees, located in a bend of Elk Creek just west and across the creek from Glen Elk. When Broaddus again moved, this time to Philippi to main college hall was converted to apartments and in 1970, was still in use standing between Broaddus Avenue and College Street. The campus was subdivided and is now an attractive residential area. The public schools of Clarksburg, which was an independent district, kept well abreast of any in the nation.

     Churches of almost all denominations worshiped in their own imposing edifices. Traders Opera House provided diverse theatrical productions, produced by on the road companies out of New York. The Harrison County Fair Association sponsored Fairs annually from 1880, until 1912, at the Old Fair Grounds, located on the present site of Highland Park. The sum total of all these things made Clarksburg a most desirable place to have been born and lived.

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