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Randolph first settled in 1753

September 14, 2007
Inter-Mountain

The white man's home on the waters of the Monongahela, within West Virginia, was first planted in Randolph County. In 1753, the intrepid pioneer families of Robert Files (most likely spelled Foyle) and David Tygart attempted to establish a settlement near present day Beverly. Indians massacred all but one member of the Files family in December of that year or January 1754, and the Tygarts fled for their lives. The valley lay vacant for the next 18 years until the first permanent settlement was established in 1772.

At the time, when what is now West Virginia first came to the attention of the white man there was not an Indian settlement, village or camp of any considerable size or consequence within its boundaries. It belonged to no tribe and was claimed by none with shadow or title. It was used as a hunting ground by several different tribes. Settlers merely took land they found vacant. Once the encroachment of the white man began, however, the Indians began to fight back. Few, if any, of the early settlers were without visitation from the Indians. The first Indian massacre in what is now West Virginia occurred in Randolph County.

The first forts in what would become Randolph County were erected in the Tygart Valley in 1770. They evolved from the threat of Indian incursions into the region at the time of Lord Dunmore's War and the alliance of the Indians with the British at the opening of the Revolutionary War. The forts were not, in general, the stockade-type with enclosed areas fortified with a blockhouse or palisade of sharpened logs, as generally described in frontier Indian warfare. They were simple log houses with the chimneys on the inside to prevent the Indians from climbing onto the roof. Holes were made to shoot through at anyone who threatened them.

Having been in its entirety a part of Orange County, which included all the lands of Virginia west of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the "uttermost limits" then defined as the Pacific Ocean, Randolph County has given much of itself for the creation of other counties. The inability of the people of the western part of Orange county to attend the Orange County Court, due to the mountain barriers, led to the formation of Augusta County. Within this district, a separate entity was identified after 1758 as West Augusta. In October 1776, three counties were formed within this district, one being Monongahela. Harrison County was chopped out of Monongahela County in 1784. Harrison ceded much of its territory for the formation of Randolph County in 1787.

Article Photos

Elkins City Hall

Randolph County gave a portion of itself to Nicholas County in 1818, Pocahontas County in 1821, Barbour in 1843, Upshur in 1851, and all of Tucker County, which was formed in 1860. These counties were formed out of a need of the growing population to have a "center of jurisprudence" near their respective growing populations.

The oldest town in Randolph County, Beverly, was already in existence when Randolph County was formed, but did not receive its official charter until three years later. Formally called Edmundton, the little community served as the county seat for the first century following Randolph's creation. When the town received its charter in 1790, it was renamed Beverly in honor of the mother of Edmund Jennings Randolph, a governor of Virginia.

Beverly was originally laid out in half-acre lots to be sold for five pounds ($16.67). The buyer had to agree to build a house of at least 16 square feet, with a stone or brick chimney, within five years of the purchase date or the lot would be resold by the town's trustees and the proceeds were to go to the town's inhabitants. But if the policy was enforced at all, it was done so very loosely.

Some of the original brick buildings of the town still stand today. Among them is the old courthouse, begun in 1808 and the old brick jail begun in 1813. In about 1827-28 one of the first brick buildings to be used for commercial rather than public purposes west of the Allegheny Mountains was built in Beverly. David Blackman‚s store, built by slave labor, at various times housed a post office, a Civil War commissary and a printing shop. It continues to be used today as the Randolph County Museum. Beverly is also the location of the oldest cemetery in the county. The population in Randolph County in 1790 was 951. In the next decade, the population nearly doubled and in 1800 the census showed Randolph to have 1,826. By 1810, the population increased to 2,854. By 1896, it had reached 11,633 people.

Historians believe that the first ingress into the county was the Seneca Trail, which ran through present-day Elkins. Sections of U.S. 33 from Athens, Ohio, to Harrisonburg, Va. are said to follow the original trail. One of the first turnpikes was the Staunton-Parkersburg pike, along which much of today's U.S. 250 follows. The turnpike came into Randolph County at the top of Cheat Mountain, came to Beverly then west over Rich Mountain, on to Weston and then Parkersburg following present day West Virginia Route 47. The Virginia Legislature proposed the pike to be built two-fifths by the population and three-fifths by the government and paid for by tolls. The road was not a financial success. Too many sympathetic landowners near the road permitted the user to cross their property allowing them to circumvent the pay stations.

In 1853, the Pennsylvania, Beverly and Morgantown Turnpike òthe first north-south roadway òwas put under construction. It crossed the Pennsylvania - West Virginia boundaries just north of and ran through Morgantown, crossed the Monongahela River at Collin's Ferry, intersected with the Morgantown— Bridgeport Turnpike branching off to Gladesville, Independence, Belington and finally Beverly.

The two major drainage systems of the county are the Tygart River and Shavers Fork of Cheat, both having their origin in neighboring Pocahontas County. Their rapid rate of decent and shallow depth render them of little commercial value except for water sports and a grade for the railroad.

The first scheduled passenger train to the Elkins Area arrived on Aug. 18, 1889. The terminal of the railroad at the time was at Leading Creek in the vicinity of present day Highland Park. The arrival of the railroad was, in all probability, the greatest economic event to occur in the county. With its arrival came the means to develop the county‚s vast natural resources of coal and timber. Rail service into the area was the result of Henry Gassaway Davis‚ entrepreneurial dedication to the development of those resources. The county would see rail services of some 20 different companies before the railroads would see their demand as a major conveyance of passengers and freight suffer a near fatal decline in the late 1960s and 1970s.

While the area around Elkins was considered of little strategic importance during the Civil War, other sections of the county were. Most notably was the Battle of Rich Mountain near Beverly, catapulting Gen. George B. McClellan to general-in-chief of the Federal Army. The section of the Beverly-Fairmont Turnpike between Leadsville (present day Elkins) and Philippi —was used by Confederate troops forced to fall back after the Battle of Philippi which was recognized as the first land battle of the War of the Rebellion. Gen. Robert E. Lee, a Colonel at the time, maintained his headquarters in southern Randolph County for a short while.

In 1869, a real estate development company in New York induced a group of Swiss immigrants to settle on the Right Fork of the Buckhannon River. They named their settlement after their native hometown, Helvetia. Today the vibrant little community serves its residents with a post office, a restaurant featuring authentic Swiss cuisine, a recreation center and a library/museum. Each year during the second week of September, the town hosts a fair featuring Swiss food, costumes, music, dancing and crafts.

The town of Pickens located five miles south of Helvetia is today a mere skeleton of its once robust and populous self. Some of Randolph County's most notable people were born and raised in the once economically important lumber boom town. Admiral Frank Fahrion became an international authority on amphibious warfare, commanding battleships, destroyers and cruisers in World War II. He coordinated all of the naval task groups in Task Force One for the historic "Operation Crossroads" at Bikini Atoll. In 1952, he assumed command of the Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet. In recognition of his brilliant career, a destroyer was named after him. He retired in 1956 after a 43-year career.

Archbishop John J. Swint was formally consecrated Bishop of the Wheeling Diocese in 1922. Pope Pius XII elevated him to Archbishop in 1954, and, at the time was one of only eight persons living in the United States to have received the personal title from the pope.

Dr. James L. Cunningham established his medical practice in Pickens in 1891. In his 60-plus years of practice he handled 1,300 cases of typhoid with a 2 percent mortality rate, delivered 3,600 babies without the loss of a mother, and treated one of West Virginia‚s known three cases of leprosy. He died in his 103rd year of life, the oldest doctor in the United States at
the time.

Randolph County is the home of five U.S. Senators and two governors. The U.S. Senators were Henry G. Davis (D), 1871 to 1883; Stephen B. Elkins (R), 1891 to 1911; Davis Elkins (R), son of Stephen Elkins who finished his father‚s term then was himself elected in 1918 and served until 1924. Howard Sutherland (R) served from 1917 until 1923. Sen. Jennings Randolph (D) began his career in the House of Representatives then was elected to the Senate in 1959 and served until he retired from public service in 1959.

Herman Guy Kump (D) served as our 19th governor taking office in 1932. William Wallace Barron (D), our 26th governer, took office in 1960.

Located high in the remote, limestone-rich farm country west of Spruce Knob is perhaps the greatest natural curiosity in Randolph County. About five miles downstream of its source, Gandy Creek enters The Sinks where it makes a remarkable mile-long subterranean journey beneath the slopes of Yokum Knob.

The highest point of the county, located on the Randolph-Pocahontas County border, is known as Snyder's Knob and stands a lofty 4,730 feet high. The lowest point is where the bed of Shavers Fork of the Cheat crosses the Randolph-Tucker County line and is only 1,765 feet above sea level.

The 1963 National Christmas Tree was taken from Randolph County, near Pickens. Mary Winkler donated the tree which, after being decorated, remained unlit until Dec. 22, the end of the official mourning period for our assassinated President John F. Kennedy.

Randolph County, like its neighbors, was flush with numerous species and great abundance of wildlife when it came into existence. The seemingly inexhaustible numbers and lax wildlife preservation laws saw those numbers decline rapidly during the first three decades of the last century. Randolph County holds the dubious distinction of being the place where the last of the three noble species were brought to extinction in the area. The last wild buffalo was killed in 1825, the last elk was taken by the hunter's bullet in 1843 and the timber or gray wolf met its demise in January 1900.

Billed as the county with "Quaint Mountain Charms— Big Mountain Adventures" Randolph is host of year round activities for everyone. In the 1996 edition of "The 100 Best Small Towns in America," Randolph County's city of Elkins ranked 28th. Of "The Best Small Art Towns in America," that same year Elkins again placed 28th.

With a little more than 1,046 square miles of "open space," the county offers mountain biking, hunting, fishing, camping, rock climbing, caving, bird watching and golf at their finest. The county is home to many fairs and festivals as well. At least 12 times a year, the people join to celebrate their heritage of music, regional cuisine, folkart and dance. Festivals include the Ramp Cook-off and Festival, the Augusta Heritage Festival, the Maple Syrup Festival, and the oldest and most elaborate festival in West Virginia, the Mountain State Forest Festival.

Situated in the heart of Appalachia, Randolph County is only four hours from our nation's capital and the population centers of the east.

(Sources: "Randolph 200 " A Bicentennial History of Randolph County, West Virginia 1787-1987, edited by Donald L. Rice, for The Randolph County Historical Society; "History of Randolph County,"by Dr. A.S. Bosworth; "The History of Randolph County West Virginia from the Earliest Settlement to the Present,"by Hu Maxwell; "Haven In the Hardwood,"by Arnold E. Nelson, et el: "West Virginia Blue Book,"; and the Randolph County Tourism Guide.

 
 

 

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