The Creek – Part Seven - The Upper Valley
Leaving the haunted valley, the Waddington emerges on the Billsburg Pike which runs between Billsburg, over by the Ohio, (named for James E. Bills—an early settler) and Elk Wallow, a little one-gas-pump community on the Northwestern Pike. If you leave the creek and turn left onto the Billsburg Pike, you’ll see some ancient oil well parts a half mile up the road sitting in a pasture on your left. It’s apparent that the huge cast-iron parts are from the days when oil derricks were made of wood rather than steel. You’ll notice, though, that there’s no well on the site, just a pile of parts. The reason for that is that the well was planned, but never drilled.
A local wildcatter by the name of Sid Hinkle (a maternal uncle of Hal Ottheimer) had become a millionaire by his hard work, good instincts and plain good luck. Like most men of his day, once he felt he had a good safe “cushion” of funds in the bank, he believed that he deserved some luxury. The stone house he built south of Newport was a little shy of what you’d call palatial, but it certainly could hold its own with many of the smaller manor houses of Europe and America. He even mounted some lions at the end of his circular driveway which were carved of Italian marble. He then surrounded his home with a zoo, complete with elk, buffalo, deer and other native American animals, plus built a racetrack across the road to have a place to pit his trotting horses against all takers. Unlike most wealthy folks, he shared his estate with the public on many occasions.
Despite his big spending, Sid’s enjoyment of the simple things never waned, and one of his favorite pastimes was square dancing. He’d often quit work early on Friday or Saturday afternoon just to have time to wash off the crude oil and go to a dance. He got so good at calling the dances that he was one of the most sought-after callers in the area. Of course callers normally got paid for their efforts, but he never charged since he enjoyed it so much.
Ironically, it was the dancing that kept the well from being drilled there by the side of the Billsburg Pike. Sid had the lease on the property and was convinced that the site was a perfect spot for a well, after all, his peach limb nearly twisted the hide off his thumbs when he walked over the spot. He had the “hardware” delivered and was in the process of getting the lumber rounded up for the derrick. However, it was a Saturday afternoon and Sid had been asked to call a dance that night; so he quit early, about five o’clock, and went home to clean up.
He felt lucky that evening when he found that there was another caller in the crowd; so for the first time in quite a while, he got to dance the second half of the evening instead of having to call the whole dance. He never missed a dance either. Unfortunately, he forgot just what a workout a lively evening of dancing can give a gray-haired fellow. On what was supposed to be the next-to-the-last dance of the evening, Sid grabbed his chest and fell to the floor, dead of a heart attack. The hardware was paid for, so no one ever came to collect it. It was so heavy that no one was inclined to steal it, so there it sits yet today, a reminder of a man long gone.
Not far beyond the intended well site and on the opposite side of the road is a flat spot where a house and workshop once stood near the foot of the hill. At one time, the old two-story home served as a funeral home downstairs while the owner and his family lived upstairs. In the workshop, the owner made caskets in his spare time. In the days before easy transportation, such arrangements were common.
Returning to the Waddington, it heads to the right after meeting up with the Billsburg Pike, meanders through a couple abandoned pasture-fields and meadows, and then babbles quietly in back of what was once a one-room school (now a home) and the tiny Methodist church next door. Interestingly enough, the church used to sit on a nearby hill instead of there in the valley where you’ll find it today. It isn’t remembered why it became necessary to move the church building, but it was no easy task in the days of horses and oxen. The building was mounted on large oak poles which served as runners like those on a sled. Rather than trying to bring the church down the tree-lined county road, those moving it brought it straight down over the hill through a pasture field. No one remembers the age of the building itself, but the move was made in 1915. Like most little country Methodist churches, it was a bustling community center in its past, but just recently closed its doors for lack of interest, even though the area is building up.
Across from the church used to be a large general store for being “in the middle of nowhere,” as some might think of the area today. However, for horse and buggy days, and even during the early days of the auto, this wasn’t the middle of nowhere; it was “downtown” Nash, West Virginia, complete with a post office inside the store.
It’s probably safe to assume that there was a midwife in the area to help bring new citizens into this world, plus there was the school, the church (plus one up the road), the general store and the funeral home, and a cemetery (farther out the road), all within a mile or two of one another. Some people in the community could have gone from cradle to grave and never have traveled five miles from where they were born. As hard as it is for us to believe today, there once really were people all over the continent who literally lead that confined of a life. A few still do.
There were many small farms here at one time, until the depression drove many from farming. The land was sold to the few with enough money to buy it and the number of people in the community dwindled. Now, the land is being broken up again and the area is home to more people than it’s seen in many years. There’s even a housing development a mile out a side road and the folks who live in the main valley joke about it being a suburb of Nash.
Behind the church, a little feeder stream comes in from the right with a narrow blacktop road beside it; that road bears the unlikely name of “Mont Amour Boulevarde.” Granted, the hill over which it travels has been called everything from “Mount Aimer” to “Montamore” for many years, but only some smart-Alec at the Department of Highways could have had the word “Boulevarde” painted on the road sign.
The main point of interest on Mont Amour is found by going to the top of the hill and watching carefully for the trace of an old county road taking off to the right. It’s much easier to see in the winter when the leaves have fallen from the roadside brush. Following the old horse road for about a half-mile brings you to a place where the road takes a short detour around a large hole in the ground.
The elderly son of a long-gone tenant farmer named Burton tells this story: His father once had a fine matched team of workhorses of which he was very proud. Many area farmers approached him about buying his horses, but he he’d always refused the offers. Finally, an area teamster offered him such a sum that he would have considered himself a fool not to sell. The teamster explained that he had a contract to haul nitroglycerin from a supply house in Newport to nearby Marysburg, Ohio, for use in fracturing oil wells, and he needed a good, steady team for the job. The deal was struck, and the teamster paid cash for the animals and took them home.
The next morning, he left downtown Newport at dawn. He told the men working the dock that by evening he’d either be in Marysburg or Hell. He carefully chose the back roads on his journey to avoid as many people as possible. At some point, he turned off Rhododendron Fork Road and onto the little dirt road that passed Brandywine Church and met the “main” dirt road that crossed Mont Amour. He was near the crest of Mont Amour, still on the side road, when a tremendous explosion was heard that rattled windowpanes for miles.
No one will ever know exactly what happened that caused his load to blow; both heat and sudden movement can set off that dangerous cargo. A piece of the wagon seat, no bigger than a ladies shoe, was found on the steps of Forty Furlong Church over three miles away as the crow flies. No other trace of the man, his horses or the wagon was ever found. As the trail around the hole illustrated, the world dealt with that tragedy in the same manner it deals with all tragedies, it moved over and moved on, as it must. Burton said that his father wept, when he heard the fate of his team.
The teamster’s funeral was held at the crater, and as long as she lived, his widowed mother put flowers at its edge on the anniversary of the death of her only son. The man’s name is forgotten now, but having never made it to Marysburg, we will hope he never made his other promised appointment either. Copyright 2008