The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

New Preacher In Town - Part 11 of 12

By Ernest Markwood Pritchard © 1987
Edited By Emily P. Cary

Issue: April, 1987

We could hardly wait for Father to return from Richwood, West Virginia after preaching the first Sunday sermons at his new appointment. His description of the railroad trip from Clarksburg to Richwood intrigued us so that we insisted he remember every detail. He began by saying that the train conductor, taking up his ticket shortly after leaving the Clarksburg station at about twelve o'clock noon, had remarked in a friendly way that Father would be with him all the rest of the day. He confirmed that this was practically true because it was six o'clock when the train, right on time, pulled into the brilliantly lighted "boom city" of Richwood.

Father explained that Richwood was extremely well lighted because the Cherry River Boom and Lumber Company, owners of the immense sawmill located there, operated an enormous electric plant with capacity for lighting several towns of Richwood's size. In contrast with the dark nighttime streets of the towns in which we had lived, the bustling city of Richwood was like an "unknown world," according to Father.

His description of his long trip to that "unknown world" completely captured my imagination. I could not envision a trip to Texas, to California, or even Alaska with more promise of adventure. Father said that the town contained not only the largest sawmill in the world (or was it the United States?) but also the largest clothespin factory in the nation (or was it West Virginia?), an immense paper mill, a tannery that "perfumed" the air and offered strong competition in size, and even a hub factory.

All of these prospering factories were attracting workers from all parts of the country, swelling the population, and transforming Richwood into a "booming" city. Already the population was nearly 5,000. (It was always "nearly 5,000" during the years we lived there, despite the delight the census takers took in registering the figure at a mere 3,500.) Father could not believe his good fortune at having been called to serve in such a modern, progressive city.

Father had been met at the station by Mr. W.W. Landacre, the Methodist Sunday School superintendent, and his wife, who entertained him royally in their fine home. An enthusiastic congregation had greeted Father, all of them the type of people one would want to know better and to work with in the mighty project of building up a church that would lead the community to a higher plane of living.

Father reported that the Methodist Church was satisfactory for the present, but ambitious plans were underway to enlarge the present structure and, most likely, to build an entirely new sanctuary to accommodate the huge future congregation that they anticipated.

Mildred and I were very eager to get started for our new home, but Helen seemed to hate to talk about our leaving. When that momentous day arrived and our train, finally!, pulled out of Wallace station, Helen managed to bid a cheerful farewell, but Mother said later that she could see Helen was ready to burst into tears.

Mother said little during our journey, but we could see that she was doing a lot of thinking, perhaps wondering how Helen would manage so far away from her family. In the past, she had often refused to stay with friends because she hated to be separated from her family for even one night.

For her part, Helen was missing the thrill of a move and the change of surroundings which had become a part of our lives and she had enjoyed as much as the rest of us. Wallace, the little town we had entered on a dreary day just a year earlier to the accompaniment of Helen's tears, was to become her home for a lifetime.

Like Father, on his pioneer trip, we also left Clarksburg on the Richwood train at 12:00 noon. As we handed out tickets to the conductor, it pleased me very much too actually hear him confirm that we would be with him for the rest of the day. I felt that we truly were on our way to a far and strange land.

After an hour's ride, we arrived at Weston, a town of about 3,000 people and the home of the State Insane Asylum whose buildings could be seen from our train. I believed that their impressive architecture offered a partial preview of the grandeur I would behold in Richwood.

I watched closely for the next town, hoping that it would give me a further hint of what I could expect to find at Richwood, but our next stop was far from impressive, just a small station with a few houses nearby. Each succeeding town proved to be just as small, or smaller, and as we traveled further, some of the station stops seemed to lack houses of any kind in the vicinity.

At most stations, however, cars were being loaded with lumber, while others, already loaded, were ready to go. There was no mistake that we were entering timber country, and we stopped a little longer than usual at stations where sawmills were located, for there were more homes and businesses to be served at these points.

The towns we passed further along were tiny villages. Few and far between, they did not begin to compare in size with Hundred and Wallace. The train crew acted as if they were also out on such an unusual journey that its very audacity held them closer together and inspired them to act like one big family, cheering each other by their quips and friendly camaraderie's.

The brakeman got laughs at his manner of calling stations, such as, "Jack, by Jack," and his cry of "Camden, by Golly," in advance of our arrival at the sedately English like named town of "Camden on Gauley."

Before we reached Cowen and Camden on Gauley, I had begun to suspect that Father was playing a huge joke on us, and that we could expect Richwood to be nothing more than a railroad station, a portable sawmill, a few box cars, a sprinkling of houses, and a Methodist Church, but after passing these two towns, my hopes rose somewhat. Although they were still scarcely larger than Wallace or Hundred, those last two towns were quite large compared to those we had passed through between Weston and Cowen.

The railroad wound around large hills, which could be taken for mountains by most travelers, with the engine chugging away furiously, as it attempted to pull the steep grades. We crossed often over high trestles, sometimes precariously curved, in order to keep the tracks level and avoid precipitous climbs to the higher elevations.

Just after dusk, we reached Fenwick, a little lumber town that appeared to be like most of the other little towns we had been passing by for some time. I knew then that we were within three miles of Richwood, for I had closely followed the train time table all the way. Mildred and I became more and more excited as our train left Fenwick, and we kept our eyes glued to the window in an effort to see signs of our new home town shining through the evening gloom.

Then, without warning, we saw ahead a brilliant light, such as we might have expected, in a very large city. "We're coming into the outskirts of Richwood now," said Father. "This is the paper mill, which is over a mile from the station."

The train decreased its speed as we passed the big mill where blazing lights were almost blinding, and the hum of heavy machinery could be heard above the clackety clack of the train. Dwelling houses near the mill were lighted with equal brilliance, the whole scene giving evidence that electric current was plentiful and cheap in Richwood.

Slowly cruising through the Richwood suburbs, the train continued past more brightly lighted homes, and then the big tannery, half a mile of so from the end of the line, which didn't "hide its light under a bushel," but gave bushels of light in competition with other neighboring industries.

We children felt like conquering heroes being escorted into an enchanted city, so different was it from the gas lighted (or lantern lighted) towns to which we had been accustomed.