Memories of a Marion County Transplant

© 2009
by Jean Binns Smith

       In 1928 my father, Brooks Binns, graduated from WVU, and started working as an electrical engineer for the West Penn Power Company in Ridgway, PA. The following year he married his hometown, Fairmont, WVa. sweetheart, Pearl Smith, and took her to live in Ridgway, where I was born September 23, 1930. We lived in Ridgway till 1934 when my father was transferred temporarily to Bellefonte, PA for 6 months. 42 years later he retired from the West Penn in Bellefonte, PA.

       In his song “Paradise”, John Prine says every weekend his family would travel home from the city to “Kentucky where Paradise lay”. . I was one of those kids. Even during the World War II years my family would “Go Home” to Fairmont where my grandparents and all my relatives lived, at least every gas-rationing period. The difference was, I was going from a small town of about 6,000 to the city when I went to Fairmont which had two big department stores, Hartley’s and Jones, I think 4 five and tens cent stores, Street Cars, 11 first cousins and who knows how many second!

       In those days it was a seven hour trip from Bellefonte in central PA. to Fairmont. I rarely get back to that area now days, but I still get excited when the car turns off Interstate 68 across Maryland to Morgantown and takes Route 19 headed toward Fairmont. There were a lot of landmarks for a kid to look for on that road. My great grandfather lived on a hill near Pharoah Run. His wife, Sara Valentine grew up in a log cabin at the foot of the hill. My grandfather, Lonnie Smith, once lived further back that road. His mother was Molly Lowe, daughter of Susanne Coogle and Andrew Lowe and she grew up in the same area.

       The high light of the trip was when we stopped at Swishers outside Rivesville for a barbeque. In addition to enjoying getting out of the car to move around, it also signaled we were “Almost there.” In the winter there were often tall icicles formed by water seeping through the rocks, along the banks on that road side. I looked for those, too. Grandma always had home made cake and fruit jello waiting when we got there. There was hot coffee, too for my parents, but she made me hot tea with a lot of milk and sugar in it.

       My mother‘s father, Lonnie Smith, died when she was 15. When I was 6 my Grandma Smith, Clara Rice Smith, married J.H. Snider, who had Snider’s furniture store on Church Street in Fairmont. At that time he had mostly secondhand furniture and would order new furniture if you wanted. When he was out in his truck making deliveries Grandma would work in the store. I spent a lot of time there with her while she pieced quilts between customers. It was a large building, stuffed full of old mostly oak dressers, coat racks, tables and beds and what we in Pennsylvania. call Hooser cupboards. I remember there was a whole room full of chairs, and another smaller one with dishes. I used to look at all the old furniture and wonder” Who would ever want this? ” I know today, who wishes she had some of it. My cousins and I thought it was a wonderful place to play Hide and Seek, but the adults didn’t agree.

       J.H.Snider was a socialist. In the twenties and early thirties, he ran for governor and senator from West Virginia on the Socialist ticket with Norman Thomas, as a show of strength.

       As a child I was forbidden to talk to him about it, ask any questions or to tell anyone. As a result I didn't talk to him except to say "Hello and "Goodbye." When I went back to visit as an adult with my husband, we found him a very interesting man to talk to and as he pointed out, some of the radical socialist ideas of the early years where now accepted in mainstream politics.

       At one time my uncle, John Smith worked for the coal mines at Watson. I remember going to the company store with him when he was paid in those funny coins that I wanted to keep and every one was upset because I didn‘t understand it was money. After my younger cousin stuck her fist in a hot bowl of cream of wheat, I went along with my aunt and uncle when they took her to the company clinic there for treatment. Road in the back of the pick up truck with two younger cousins, no seat belts.

       Her other son, Virgil Smith , did my Grandma’s grocery shopping for her at the “Tea Store “ on Fairmont Ave. and I never remember her leaving the house excepting to go to the furniture store to work, but she must have. I have a 4 generation picture of my her, my great grandfather Rice , my mother and me at Grandpa Rice’s 89th birthday celebration.

       My Uncle Virgil worked at the Fairmont Mattress Company on the East side. After I was married he took my husband, Gene, there and showed him how mattresses were made. Actually, Uncle John and Uncle Virgil took my husband a lot of places they never took me, like a Speakeasy on the East Side and Colesseno’s for beer and pepperoni rolls.

       My grandfather’s Smith‘s father was Washington W. Smith. As a child I heard he was a Confederate spy. It sounded exciting, but I never knew any more. Then Grandma send my mother a copy of his account of the battle of Fairmont published in the Fairmont Times during the centennial of the battle and Glenn Laugh’s “Now and Long Ago” says he was at Righter’s at the time of the attack there. I think Righter was an uncle. "Now and Long Ago “also says the Federal government offered a $5,000 dollar reward for him” Dead or Alive”. I have a copy of part of the article he referred to, published inW.VA History Magazine. Fortunately, he lived to be 80 years old.

       Glenn Lough also listed the Revolutionary War veterans living in Marion County. When Laura Michaels, of the Marion County Genealogical Club, gave me the name of Elijah Musgrave’s father as David it enabled me find Mary “Polly “Jones. With that book I was able to go back another generation to Joshua Jones, and prove my lineage to join DAR. I was told it was one of the most complicated petitions they had ever seen. Most of the line was female and it included 8 name changes, 2 second marriages and one divorce (mine), plus a state name change and a county name change.

       When I got older I thought I was very grown up when I was allowed to walk from Carlton Street to 314 Walnut Ave. where my Grandmother and Grandfather Binns lived. I walked past White school where my mother went to grade school, across the 4th street bridge which my Father said he worked on when it was being built, and past Butcher school my father attended, to my grandparents house. I would also say “Hello” to my Uncles, Walter and Paul Binns who had an auto repair shop in the garage behind their house.

       Grandpa, Carl Binns, worked as a time keeper, at the Consolidated Coal Company’s mine on the river’s edge across from Bellview section of Fairmont. My father remembers his telling how when he was younger he was talking on the phone to the company’s Monongah mine when the phone went dead. It was the Monongah mine disaster! Grandpa told him how they brought the dead and injured into Fairmont on the street cars.

       I was in Fairmont the day of the Shinnston tornado. Think I was 14 years old. Mother and I were in downtown Fairmont shopping and walking back to my grandparent’s home on Walnut Ave. I was aware that the sky was such a funny color. My Father was traveling from Bellefonte to Fairmont at the time and I worried about him driving through all those funny skies. There was no TV then, and I doubt my grandparents listened to the radio much. Think a neighbor came over that evening to tell them about the tornado and that there was hail the size of tea cups. My grandparents and parents traveled up to the area to see the damage done the next day. What impressed me most was where you could see the path left by the tornado and it had crossed the river. Grandpa said one of miners he knew who lived there told him it was dry enough to walk across the river at the time.

       His wife, Icie Radabaugh Binns, my Grandma was a shopper and often when we went to visit she took me to Hartley or Joneses and bought me a new dress. I remember once we rode the street car to Clarksburg and went to, I think, Parsons and Souders.

       Grandpa Binns taught Sunday school at the Central United Methodist church where Father’s Day originated. He also was a Mason, a fraternal association shared by my father and PA. husband. He, Grandma, my great aunt and uncle Josie and Jack Riggle were charter member of the Fairmont Eastern Star Chapter. I am a past matron of the Bellefonte, PA chapter.

       Grandpa’s father was Dr John Binns, who practiced medicine on the east Side of Fairmont and then moved to the west side. He was born in Ohio, but lived in the Halleck area with two aunts as a young man, helping out on the farm, according to census records. When he enlisted in the 4th WVA Calvary, his occupation was listed as school teacher. After the war and becoming a doctor, at Halleck he married Rebecca Cartwright, daughter of Jacob Cartwright, granddaughter of Isaac Davis, son of John Davis.

       His son, my Grandpa Binns was administrator of the “Binns Estate.” I overheard talk of this and having seen the Watson home on Fairmont Ave.; I decided the Binns Family had a big country estate somewhere I had never been. When I asked about the Binns estate, I was very disappointed when they took me downtown Fairmont and showed me his former office building ,then a hot dog house and gas station, probably the site of his former home on the corner of Locust Ave, and I think Madison Street.

       Grandma Binns’s mother, Mary Ann Elder Radabaugh, lived with them till she died at 90. She and her husband lived in the Coon’s Run area of Harrison County, before his death. My father remembers going there to visit his great grandmother Martha Nuzum Radabaugh and her daughter Rebecca Radabaugh. Years ago before Interstate 79 was built my father took me to the dirt road outside Shinnston, up” Uncle Archie Hill,” with a school house on top and down over to see the Radabaugh homestead near a spring, and then on to Adamsville, which I understand was named for my 3 times great grandfather Adam Radabaugh. The Elders and Sparks, I understand, lived in nearby Taylor county. We also went to the Shinnston cemetery and found my great grandmother and her husband James’s graves. His tombstone had an emblem I was not familiar with. I made a pencil rubbing. There was no Internet in those days, and it took me about 10 years of off and on letter writing to learn it was a Knight’s of Pythias emblem.

       I think if I could find the necessary records, I could add Harmon Crim and John Davis to my DAR linage. Perhaps there are other West Virginia ancestors. I know George Sparks was in the War of 1812.

       Much to my regret, I have never lived in West Virginia. I’m not sure it claims, me, but I still think of it as “home".

       I will be 79 this month. In writing this story I have tried to tell little incidents in my West Virginia background that might be of interest to the younger members. Perhaps I have confused a few street names.


This picture was among the family pictures. I think it came from my mothers side of the family because my father could not identify it. It looks as if the group has just returned from a hunt since a deer can be seen in the picture with hunting dogs and several rifles.

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