My work has taken me to several places this week, all in West Virginia. The first was Elizabeth, a little town in Wirt County that boomed at one time due to timber and oil. It’s now a sleepy little welfare town like most small towns in America. Sad. The place looks much trashier than it did when I was a kid, going there with my folks to visit my mom’s uncle and his wife. The one good historic hardware store was burned down a few years ago by a couple of local druggies to cover their theft. The elderly owner died a few weeks later, probably from the trauma of losing the family business that he’d inherited. The only building of consequence left is their court house. The rest have been lost to neglect and/or stupidity. The town got a little extra business for a year or two, when area resident Jessica Lynch was a national person of interest to the media. It’s getting a tiny bit of extra business now from an oil boom in a couple of nearby counties, but not enough to help much.
Later that day, I went to Rockport, currently a little wide spot in the road with only one gas station/grocery store. Many years ago, it, too, was a bigger place. Columbia Gas is rebuilding the compressor station there.
Two compressors of about a dozen, yet to be removed. Theyn were installed in 1947. The flywheels are 15 feet tall and supposedly weigh 15 tons each. (Click images to enlarge.)
Harrisville, in Ritchie County, was the next little town that I was in. It, too, was mostly a product of an oil boom during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. It has ebbed in business and appearance over the years, also, but at least it hasn’t yet torn down all of its old buildings. In fact, they have a mural on a retaining wall at one of the intersections of the main drag advertising five of their historic structures, plus, they have a nice little court house.
mural of historic structures in Harrisville
I was in Pennsboro and Ellenboro, two more towns in Ritchie County, later in the week. Pennsboro has an historic old stone boarding house/post office/stage-coach stop still standing, though open only by appointment. Ellenboro has the distinction of having the only McDonald’s for many miles around. Like other boom towns, they’ve suffered serious decline over the years. Fortunately, since both are along a four-lane, they are reaping some benefit from the current oil boom in the area. I suppose once all the wells are drilled that are planned, they will ease back into relative obscurity.
I DID encounter something unfortunate in Pennsboro. Laid out in the horse and buggy era, four blocks or so of a north-south route through town literally zigs or zags at each intersection. The ground there is on a slope, and the streets are very narrow. At one corner, my tag axle basically negated my steering and I had to raise it to avoid ending up on the sidewalk of the diagonal block. An oncoming semi, already half-way through the obstacle course, waited for me to get straightened out before I could proceed. I have no idea how the driver could get that thing through there, but more power to him. It seems to me that if the city wants to prosper from the new boom, they’d make themselves a little more truck-friendly.
Incidentally, I included a photo of what I call “the pit” at the limestone mine from where I was getting my loads. It’s much deeper than it appears in the photo, and appears to have been created by removing a narrow ridge where the heads of three or four small hollows nearly met. It serves as the stone yard for the mine—the place where the different-sized rock is stored and loaded on trucks. The hill the mine is under is an interesting thing. Called “Sand Hill” for the underground sands where oil was found over a century ago, there’s no sand on the surface. A few wells there are still producing oil and gas. Limestone is being mined there, and I once saw a family digging some low-grade coal from an exposed narrow seam in a cut of the four-lane. I guess I’m intrigued by strange things! © 2014
the "pit" at the mine, viewed through my dirty windshield