Welcome to Preston County, WV Genealogy and History

Preston County, WV

Preston County was formed from Monongalia by an act of Assembly passed January 19, 1818. The act providing for the formation of the county required the county Court of Quarter Sessions there for to be held on the first Monday of March, 1818, which, however, did not meet until some time in April, that year. The justices, so far as can be ascertained (the records were partially destroyed by the burning of the courthouse in 1869), were John Fairfax, Frederick Harst, Hugh Evans, Nathan Matheny, Joseph Mathews, Nathan Ashby, William Sigler, Benjamin Shaw and Felix Shaw.

The first court convened at the house of William Price in Kingwood, which was for many years known as the "Herndon Hotel." The first officers of the county were: Joseph D. Suit, Sheriff; Charles Byrne, County Clerk; Eugene M. Wilson, Circuit Clerk; James McGee, Prosecuting Attorney. The first term of the Circuit Court—then called the Superior Court—was held on "the first Monday after the fourth Monday" in April, 1818, Judge Daniel Smith, of Rockingham county, presiding.

By the revision of the constitution in 1831, the Superior Court was designated "Circuit Superior Court of Law and Chancery," and Joseph L. Fry, of Wheeling, became Judge, presiding until 1847 or 1848.

Charles Byrne served as clerk of both courts until his death in May, 1843, when he was succeeded by his son, John P. Byrne, who was appointed at the June term, 1843, reappointed in 1850, and held the position until 1852, when Smith Crane succeeded him. In 1852, Gideon D. Camden was elected Judge and John P. Byrne was defeated by one vote for clerk, his successful competitor being James H. Carroll.

Kingwood, the county seat, then in Monongalia, was established a town, by legislative enactment, January 23, 1811, with John S. Roberts, Jacob Funk, William Price, James Brown and Hugh Morgan, trustees. It became the county seat in 1818, being selected by the commissioners, Thomas Byrne, Felix Scott, William Irvine, William Marteney and John McWhorter.

Rowlesburg was incorporated by Act of Assembly passed February 27, 1858. The first election of municipal officers was held at the house of Mrs. Maria Hooton, the commissioners being Russell Finnell, H. H. Wheeler, D. Wonderly, Jr., T. F. Hebb and William Hall.

Bruceton was incorporated February 18, 1860; Independence, March 13, 1860.
[Source: History of West Virginia; By Virgil Anson Lewis; publ. 1887; Pgs. 642-643; Transcribed and submitted by Andrea Stawski Pack]


The Act of Assembly creating Preston County reads as follows:


1. That all that part of the county of Monongalia contained within the following bounds, to wit: beginning on the Pennsylvania line near Fickle's, including the same, thence a straight line to where Cheat breaks through the Laurel Hill, Bo as to include all the inhabitants of the Monongalia Glades settlement, including Samuel Price and Henry Carothers, from thence, including Gandy’s, to the Clarksburg road on the Laurel Hill where It descends; from thence a direct line to the junction of the Big and Little Sandy Creek where the Randolph line is; from thence with the Randolph county line to the Maryland line; from thence to the Pennsylvania line, and with the Pennsylvania line to the beginning, shall form a distinct and new county, and be called and known by the name of Preston.

2. A court for the said county of Preston shall be held by the justices thereof on the first Monday in every month after the same takes place, in like manner as is provided by law for other counties, and shall be by their commissions directed.

3. And in order the more impartially and correctly to ascertain the most proper place for holding courts and erecting the public buildings for the said county, Thomas Byrne, Felix Scott, William Irwin, William Martin, and John McWhorter shall be, and they are hereby appointed commissioners, a majority of whom may act for the purpose aforesaid, whose duty It shall be, after having performed the services hereby required, to make report thereof to the court of the said county of Preston, whereupon they shall proceed to erect the necessary public buildings at the place so fixed on by the said court, or a majority of them, which when completed shall be the permanent place for holding courts for the said county. The said commissioners shall be allowed each the sum of three dollars per day, as a compensation for the duties hereby imposed on them, to be paid out of the first levy to be collected In the said county of Preston. The justices to be named In commission of the peace for the said county of Preston shall meet at the house of William Price In the said county upon the first court day after the said county takes place, and having administered the oaths of office to, and taken bond of the sheriff according to law, shall proceed to appoint and qualify a clerk; and until the necessary public buildings are completed at the time pointed out by the commissioners or a majority of them, to appoint such place within the county for holding courts, as they may think proper: PROVIDED ALWAYS, that the appointment of a clerk, and of a temporary place for holding courts, shall not be made unless a majority of the justices of the said county be present.

4. It shall be lawful for the sheriff of the county of Monongalia to collect and make distress for any public dues or officers' fees, which shall remain unpaid by the inhabitants of the county of Preston, at the time it takes place, and shall be accountable for the same, in like manner as if this act had not been made.

5. The governor with the advice of council shall appoint a person to be first sheriff of the said county of Preston, who shall continue in office, during the time and upon the same conditions, as are by law appointed for other sheriffs.

6. The court of the county of Monongalia shall have jurisdiction of all actions and suits depending before them at the time the said county of Preston takes place, and shall try and determine the same and award execution thereon. The said county of Preston shall remain in the same judicial circuit, and In the same chancery district with the county of Monongalia: and the courts thereof shall be holden on the first Monday after the fourth Monday in the month of April, and the first Monday after the fourth Monday in the month of September in each year; and be of the same brigade district in like manner as if this act had not, been made. In future elections of a senator and elector, and a representative to Congress, the said county of Preston shall be of the same district as the county of Monongalia.

7. AND BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That the courts of quarterly session for the said county of Preston shall be holden in the months of March, May, August, and November in each year.

8. This act shall be in force from the passing thereof.

Preston began its independent existence with about 3,000 people, and with no subdivision into magisterial districts, this step not being taken until 1852. Kingwood, the only chartered town, the only postoffice, and the only voting place, had less than 100 inhabitants.

More than a half of the counties of West Virginia are named for public men of the Old Dominion. Following this custom, the legislature sitting in 1818 gave this county the name of the honored citizen who was then filling the governor's seat.

James Patton Preston was the grandson of John Preston, a Scotch Irish immigrant, who in 1740 settled near Staunton in the Valley of Virginia. The grandfather was a ship carpenter and cabinet-maker. His wife, whom he married as the result of an elopement, was Elizabeth Patton, whose brother James was the nabob of the Augusta colony, and one if it’s most forceful leaders.

The Pattons, in fact, were people of great influence and conspicuous ability. To this strain may be largely attributed the men of prominence who have appeared among the descendants of John Preston. The latter had several daughters, one of whom was the maternal ancestor of the Breckenridge’s of Virginia and Kentucky. His only son was Colonel William Preston, born in Ireland in 1730. He was a man of culture, and was active in civil affairs and in the wars with the Indians and the British.

It was one of the five sons of Colonel Preston who became governor of the state. James P. Preston was born in 1774, and died at his home in Montgomery County in 1843. A planter by occupation, he had a military as well as civil record, and as a colonel in the second war with England was wounded in the battle of Chrystler's Field. He was governor of Virginia from 1816 to 1819, and afterward was postmaster at Richmond. Through his brother, General Francis Preston, he was the uncle of the eminent William C. Preston of South Carolina.

The organization of the county took place at the house recently occupied by Mrs. Kemble, but which was then the tavern of Colonel William Price. The first habitation of the county government was the "Old Red Courthouse," which stood nearly on the site of the Jenkins Hotel. This building is elsewhere described. In the rear was the jail of hewed logs. Standing in front of this municipal boarding house was a whipping-post, significant of an old-fashioned mode of punishment which Delaware still retains. It was not long until the insecure jail was burned by escaping prisoners, two white men and a runaway negro. The whites were discharged, one of them only after his back had been well warmed at the whipping-post. The negro was lodged in the courthouse itself, but again broke out, and was never afterward heard from.

When Preston was admitted, the counties of Virginia west of the Alleghenies had about 84,000 people, the number in the whole state being nearly 1,000,000. With one-third of the area of Virginia, these counties held only one-twelfth of the population.

A large map of Virginia, published in 1827, is in certain particulars the best that has yet been executed, but some of the names we find on it have passed out of use. Smoky Mountain is placed against the Maryland line. Mount Vernon is a crossroads two miles south of where the Crab orchard is marked. Draper Run is the first tributary of the Cheat below Dority Run, and Butler Run is put at the upper end of the Dunkard Bottom. Across the river are the Big and Little Heater, between Morgan's Run and Pringle's Run. Stony Run is a left-hand branch of Three Fork, and Brain's Run is a right-hand branch. From this map many county names of West Virginia are missing. Logan and Randolph are of enormous area, each being nearly as large as the state of Connecticut.

The Preston of 1818 was not so large as it is now. From the present northeast corner it ran west with the Pennsylvania boundary only eight miles. Thence a line ran southwest to where the present boundary crosses the Cheat. Randolph County came up along the Maryland border for nine miles northward from the Fairfax stone. The southern boundary of Preston was a single straight line running northeastwardly from that point on Laurel Hill where the Preston-Barbour line begins. The line still running thence to the Cheat is the western part of the original south boundary.

Citizens of Randolph living next to Preston, and between the Cheat and the Maryland line, complained of going fifty miles to their own county seat, when they could reach Kingwood in half the distance. So in 1828 a strip of ground was transferred from the one county to the other. In 1838 a second slice was taken from Randolph. The two annexations covered a triangular tract, the base of nine miles resting on the Maryland boundary, and the point of the triangle resting on the Cheat. Thus a large portion of Union, including even the ground where Aurora stands, was formerly in Randolph. The new Preston Randolph boundary was ordered to be marked for the convenience of the people living near it.

A third enlargement of Preston took place in 1841. This time it was another triangular section, and it was taken from Monongalia, the northeast corner of that county being moved back to the top of Chestnut Ridge from a point near where the Big Sandy crosses the interstate boundary. The revised boundary is thus defined in the Act of Assembly:

So much of the county of Monongalia as lies east of the ridge of mountains called the Laurel Hill and north of Cheat River, next to and adjoining the county of Preston, and Is contained -within the following boundary lines, to-wit: Beginning on the line dividing said county at the point where it crosses Cheat River, and running thence a straight line to the England Ore Banks on the top of the mountain; (thence a straight line to the Osborne farm, so as to include the dwelling house of said farm in the county of Preston; thence a due north course to the Pennsylvania line.

The effect of these annexations was to make the boundaries of the county less artificial and more natural than was at first the case.

Unlike many other counties of the two Virginias, Preston has never changed its seat of government and has never been reduced in size, either by division or by minor alteration of boundary. Yet neither result has been due to lack of active effort, and such effort began to appear with the very organization of the county.

Elsewhere in this book we have pointed out that there is a certain lack of homogeneity in Preston, and that its districts are so individualized as almost to appear like counties in themselves. This internal diversity has built up a half dozen towns of fairly equal strength, and rendered any one of them a potential claimant for the courthouse. Furthermore, it has given rise to movements for dividing the county, or for otherwise changing its boundary.

The sections of the county divided by the Cheat are equal in number and fairly equal in size and population. For a time they differed in politics, and each side still claims its full share of political prizes. The rivalry between them even antedates the formation of Preston County. The earlier, and therefore the less familiar of the movements alluded to, we now proceed to mention.

Just after the establishing of the county we find a petition expressing pleasure at the fact, but also expressing great disappointment that the courthouse was placed on the west side of the river. The east side declared itself the more populous, and "after petitioning for twenty years for a division of (Monongalia) county," it wanted the courthouse on the Dunkard Bottom. A numerously signed counter-petition of 1819 says that over $1,000 had been expended on the public buildings, and that the evils in the case could as well be borne by one side as the other.

The east affirmed, while the west denied, that the Cheat could be made navigable. In 1822 there were petitions and counter-petitions on removing the courthouse from Kingwood. A petition for its removal was in 1823 endorsed by a legislative committee as "reasonable." In 1851 there was a petition to divide the county on the line of the Cheat, and place the courthouse for the east side at Brandonville.

In 1846 there was an attempt to form a new county out of parts of Preston, Barbour, and Taylor. A petition in its favor speaks of "grievances too numerous to be set forth." The proposed line is thus described: Beginning at the corner of Taylor, Marion, Monongalia, and Preston, thence in a direct line to Lunsford Jones' mill on Three Fork, thence to McDonnel's ford on the Tygart's Valley River, then with river to the mouth of Teator’s Creek, then to Barbour-Randolph line near Isaac Phillips, then with Randolph line to Barbour, Preston, and Randolph corner, then with Randolph-Preston line to Cheat, then with Cheat to mouth of Tray Run, then a straight line to Cassel Run bridge near William Matlick's, then to old Clarksburg road, by a straight line from bridge on Brain's Run on Monongalia-Preston line at Micajah Smith's, then to beginning.

Evansville was to be the new county seat, and favored the measure by a vote of 138 to 33, while Germany (Carmel) opposed it by 18 votes against 4, and Kingwood by 234 votes against 3. But in 1849, on a Proposal to form a new county out of portions of Preston, Randolph, and Barbour, Germany gave 84 affirmative and 24 negative votes. In 1859 there was an attempt to add a portion of Preston to the new county of Tucker.
[Source: A History of Preston County, West Virginia, Part 1; By Oren Frederic Morton, J. R. Cole; Publ. 1914; Pgs. 99-100; Transcribed by Andrea Stawski Pack.]


Beginnings of the Town - Legislative Designation - County Buildings in 1818-
The Town in 1832 - Subsequent History.

In 1797 there were perhaps 1200 people in the Preston area. This was a thin sprinkling for a surface of 430,000 acres. The Americans of that day were more content to dwell in isolated homes than they are now, although the prototype of the modern town boomer was then alive and stirring. He had no brass band with which to work upon the feelings of a crowd, yet he could appeal to them through the stomach. Burchinal Town was started with a barbecue, and so, very possibly, was Kingwood.

The site of Kingwood was once a forest owned partly by John Miller and partly by Hugh Morgan. It was traversed by the "Old State Road," leading from Winchester to Morgantown and Clarksburg. Around and upon the present courthouse square was a grove of large, fine trees known as the "King Wood," and presenting to the wayfarer a favorable spot for his camp. Scarcely more than a hundred yards to the north was a spring, and down the short hillside in the direction of the river was still another. The county seat, which was also the nearest town of any pretense, was twenty-two miles away, and as the valleys of the Monongahela and the Cheat are sundered by a mountain ridge, which was then uninhabited, it produced an isolation of the settlements along the eastern of the two rivers.

The important thoroughfare, the remoteness of an established town, the pleasant spot, the water and shade for man and beast, and the enterprise of two landowners, are the leading factors which gave rise to the town of Kingwood. The very suitable and euphonious name was suggested by the noble grove on the camping ground. It is to be regretted that at least one of the trees was not suffered to remain. The writer remembers on the street of an old town in Massachusetts, a giant elm which at the founding of the place a little more than two and a half centuries ago, was permitted to stand as a relic of the primeval forest.

At what date Miller and Morgan joined forces in laying off the town site is not precisely known. The plotting was done in "quarter and half-quarter lots." In March, 1798, Miller sold to Aaron Royse for $20 lots 12 and 13, lying on the south side of the main street. Taking into account the climate of this locality, we may quite safely conclude that the surveying was done not later than in the fall of 1797. It is probable that it took place before the burning of the Monongalia courthouse in 1796. In 1805 three lots were purchased by John S. Roberts, a merchant.

Tradition states that the first house was built by Hugh Morgan near the spring on the place now owned by Dr. Varner. When it was built is not known. It is stated by Wiley that in 1807 Conrad Sheets 'built a cabin on the hillside above the Varner spring and near the McGrew residence. But Sheets had already been in the vicinity at least ten years, and there is no record of his purchasing any lot until 1813. when he paid $50 for lot 27, containing one acre and seventeen poles. He died and was buried on his town holding, but had previously owned a farm on Morgan's Run much earlier than the date mentioned. Morgan moved to Ohio about 1815, and seems to have been accompanied by Jacob Funk, a son-in-law, who was also a resident. Across the road, and on the lot where a livery stable burned a few years since, lived a man named Steele. About 1810 if not earlier, Miller built for John S. Roberts a store that stood very near the site of the Jenkins Hotel. Roberts had already been keeping a stock of goods in the Miller farmhouse, a mile east of the embryo town. He was soon doing enough business to employ two clerks.

It will be observed that all these houses lay in the hollow east of the camping ground, the convenience of spring water seeming to determine the choice of location. It will also be found that during the first dozen years no more than five or six houses appear to have sprung up. But January 23, 1811, the little hamlet received a decisive boost in an Act of Assembly reading in part as follows:

Sect 2. That the lots and streets as already laid off at a place called Kingwood in the county of Monongalia be established a town by the name of Kingwood, and that John S. Roberts, Jacob Funk, William Price, James Brown, and Hugh Morgan, gentlemen, be and they are hereby appointed trustees thereof.

Sect. 4. The trustees of the said town, or a majority of them, are empowered to make such rules and orders for the regular building of houses therein as to them shall seem best, to settle and determine all disputes concerning the bounds of the lots, and to pass such bye-laws as may be necessary for the internal government of the said trustees respectively. PROVIDED, such bye-laws shall not be contrary to the laws of this state, or of the United States. So soon as the owner or purchaser of any lot in the said town shall erect a dwelling house thereon, equal to twelve feet square, with a brick or stone chimney, such owner or purchaser shall enjoy the same privileges that the freeholders and inhabitants of other towns not incorporated hold and enjoy. Vacancies by death or otherwise of any one or more of the said trustees shall be supplied by the remaining tithables, and the person or persons so elected shall have the same powers as if they had been named in this act.

Sections one and three refer, respectively, to Millsville in Londoun county and Newbern in Montgomery, all three towns having been included in the same bill.

Kingwood now became a polling place and it acquired a postoffice. Thus it took rank as the recognized village center of the Preston area.

Funk built a tannery, and in 1813 sold it to William Sigler. A hatter named Fulton moved into the Steele house. It is alleged that he was a brother to the Robert Fulton of steamboat fame. William Price moved up from the Fairfax ferry, built the house lately occupied by Mrs. Kemble, and opened it as a tavern. It is now the oldest house in Kingwood. The trees to furnish the logs were felled on the courthouse square. Sarah Price, a daughter of the tavern keeper, made for the young man who cleared the house-lot a suit of clothes from cloth she wove herself.

To the cluster of log houses and a frame store a few more dwellings had been added, when in 1818, Kingwood became the seat of government for the new county of Preston. The store building used by Roberts was turned into a courthouse. It was styled the "Old Red Courthouse" from its being painted with the hematite ooze found in a spring of iron water not far away. Within the building, which was 26 by 35 feet in size, was partitioned off a jury room just large enough to hold the twelve men. Another corner was used as an office by the clerk of the county and circuit courts. Elsewhere were the bench and bar. The jail was of hewed logs and near by it was a whipping post.

Such were the county buildings of Preston until 1824. A courthouse of stone and a jail were then built on the present courthouse square. A mile east of town, on the old road to the mill of David Trowbridge, was a schoolhouse used also as a church. There was none in the town itself.

By an Act of Assembly passed January 12, 1826, the limits of the town were extended so as to include an addition laid out by William Price, William Sigler, and Charles Payne.

Let us now come forward to the year 1832, and see to what proportions the town has grown during the third of a century since it was surveyed.

We come up the old road from Albright, then known as Snider's Ferry. The highway does not take its present course after leaving Green's Run, but turns to the right and mounts a level ridge, passing near the homes of David Trowbridge and James Brown and not far from the Green cabin of tragic memory. Beyond, and when abreast of the Jordan residence, we pass a comfortable log church with glass windows. A little further and we come into the road that climbs the river-hill from the Fairfax ferry. Somewhat farther yet we arrive at a fork, the older road pursuing a direct line to the courthouse, while the other passes the log house of Major Charles Byrne, where J. W. Parks was lately residing. It does not pursue its present curve around the hollow, but keeps a direct course to the present schoolhouse, crossing the ravine on a log bridge.

We return to the old road, cross the same ravine lower down, and come to an intersecting street which on the left turns up an ascent to '.he new road, or the present High street. On the right it leaves the village to continue as a country road to Green's Run. In the nearer angle on this lower side is the frame house, yet standing and weather beaten, which then was occupied by Elijah Shaffer, a farmer and blacksmith. On the opposite side of the street, and well back in its lot, is the log house of Thomas McGee, a merchant. Farther west on the same side of the street is the old red courthouse, now a temporary school building, and in about three years to be torn down to make room for what is at present known as the Jenkins Hotel. The latter does not stand on precisely the same spot, nor does it altogether consist of the old courthouse.

Westward still is a new dwelling occupied by Andrew Love, a jailor. It is now the Cresap house. Beyond, and on the farther side of a cross street, is a log tavern occupied about this time by Caleb Fuller. Above and on the main street is the new frame house of John S. Murdock, a blacksmith. Beyond, on the lot of George A. Williams, was then a one-storied building about fifteen by eighteen feet, and empty save as a granary for oats that sell at eighteen cents a bushel. A few more steps and we come to the street corner. Here is the merchant stand of Samuel Byrne, who about this time lost it by fire. He was succeeded by Elisha M. Hagans, whose building is yet occupied as a store by George A. Herring.

Crossing Price street to where the soldier's monument now stands, we find a stone tavern built about 1824, or according to another account in 1818 or 1819. The tavern keeper is Wick Johnson, who will be followed by many others during the lifetime of the building. In 1848 it took the name of Union Hotel. After standing vacant while, it had burned in 1883. The pump by the sidewalk was once the hotel pump. Passing the hotel we are in front of the stone courthouse. Just beyond and nearly where the Band of Kingwood used to have its quarters is a two-storied log house with the broad side toward the street. This is the new tavern stand of William Price.

Going back to Shaffer's, and taking the other side of Main street, we find in the corner opposite him the frame house of William Sigler who purchased this property from Jacob Funk. At Sigler's tannery are two other dwellings, one occupied by Moses Royse, and the other by Dadisman, a tanner, doing up the hill toward the courthouse, we find that the cabin of Conrad Sheets has disappeared. Sheets is not living, and through an inadvertence a stable was in after years built over his grave. On the level ground, little east from Dr. Pratt's cottage, we find the house of Israel Baldwin, a land agent. His office was where the stone bank now stands. Across a road leading northward is a two storied log house, since disguised by weatherboarding. This is the hostelry of Solomon Paul Herndon. A short distance down the road leading into the country and in the edge of a swampy spot is the well-known Herndon spring. Still following the street, we find nearly opposite Price the home of William Carroll, a merchant. A very little distance further is a log house, used as a temporary shelter by people journeying through. A few steps farther on still, and close to the site of the present Journal office, is the dwelling of Thomas Squires, a blacksmith.

Nearly in front of the Squires house, and about where the stone walk now crosses Main street, is a chestnut tree bearing a "fingerboard." Here the road forks, the branch to the right closely following the present course of the Morgantown Pike. Up this road and on or close to the present property of Leroy Shaw, is a small log house occupied by Thomas Locke, a laboring man. Returning to the chestnut tree, we find in the angle between the roads the blacksmith shop of Squires. The index-board tells us the left hand road goes to Beverly in Randolph county, and from this circumstance the hill against the horizon has ever since been known as Beverly Hill. In 1832 this road took a straight course to where the colored schoolhouse now stands. It first plunged down a short descent, then went through a belt of swamp in the rear of the present jail, and next made the ascent of Beverly Hill by a very rough and rocky course. There was but one house on this road, and it stood on the left side not far from the index board. This dwelling belonged to Charles Byrne.

Returning once more to Shaffer's, we pass up the scarcely used crossroad to High street, and on the corner at the right is the home of George Rumsay, a carpenter and cabinet maker. Beyond, and near the site of the Bishop mansion is the house of Hiram Hansliaw, a shoemaker.

On the Monroe property is P. T. Lashley, a physician and "New Light" preacher. With one exception the remaining houses on this street are on the south side. Where a few years ago stood the Gordon House, was then a one-storied brick building about fifteen feet square. lt was the second brick structure in Preston, the first being the store of Harrison Hagans in Brandonville. A lawyer of Morgantown is making some use of this building as an office. On the lot where stands the shoe-shop of James W. O'Hara, was then the frame dwelling of William G. Brown, an attorney. A little farther westward is William K. Hall, a carpenter, and a brother-in-law to Mr. Brown, where since was built the Methodist parsonage we find an old house occupied a little after our visit by lsaac W. Cobun, a shoemaker, and still later by David C. Miles, a sheriff. A little earlier it was tenanted by Hanshaw. The remaining house on this street has just been built. It stands on what is now the lawn in front of the residence of the late M. H. Murdock. It is built after a German model, the spaces between the upright timbers being filled with stones and mortar, and a coating of stucco laid over the outside. The occupant is George W. Knisell, a wheelwright.

We are not quite done with the list of townsmen. John Hooton is the jailer, and the jail stands behind the courthouse. Gustavus J. P. Cresap, a tanner and later an attorney, is living in town but is not yet married. Charles Hooton is still another resident. There are in all 29 households, the deficiency between this number and the number enumerated being made up of renters.

We have found but one brick building. The only stone buildings are the courthouse, the jail, and the Johnson Hotel. The dwellings of Brown, Samuel Byrne, Carroll, Hall, Sears, Sigler, and Shaffer are frame. All other houses with the exception of Knisell's are log. Paint is scarcely more in evidence than is fencing of boards and sawed pickets, rails being generally in use. The area of lawns and planted trees is still in the future. Looking in any direction toward the country, there is more timber in sight than in our day, and the open ground is usually dotted with stumps. Beverly Hill is crowned with wood, and from its base forward to Squire's shop is a field in tillage.

The three taverns would appear to enjoy considerable patronage, even if it does not include our modern drummer with his armor-plated trunks. They all sell ardent spirits and not in small amount. Cards and dice also become visible, whenever there are guests of gaming proclivities.

There is neither church nor schoolhouse inside the town, the nearest buildings for these special purposes being those we passed a mile before coming in. But religious services are held every fourth Sunday at Sigler's and sometimes in the courthouse.

Only a minority of the citizens appear to be natives of Preston, although probably a majority have long been resident therein. Perhaps the only townsman of foreign birth is Knisell, who is of Alsatian stock and fought under Napoleon at Waterloo. We do not find any leisure class. No one is at all wealthy, unless by the very limited standard of the time and locality. All the townspeople are in active employment. Most of them are following the manual trades of tanning, carpentering, and blacksmithing, and the making of wagons, clothing, shoes, and hats. The other citizens not holding office under the county are merchants or tavern-keepers, except Brown, the lawyer, and Baldwin, the postmaster and land agent. It is also worthy of remark that very few of the people seem to be above middle age.

Like every other place, Kingwood has what are very correctly termed its leading citizens. Among them is Colonel William Price, now about seventy years of age, and probably the oldest man in town. Baldwin, a native of Connecticut and a man of wide information, has been living here five years. Sigler, who has been living here at least twenty years, is a man of affairs. During his time he served as member of legislature, justice, colonel of militia, and commissioner of the revenue. He is a staunch Methodist, and his house is a home for ministers of his faith. William G. Brown is a young lawyer with an active and conspicuous career of more than fifty years before him. Major Byrne, as clerk of both courts, is almost necessarily an influential personage. John S. Murdock, a man useful in his county and town, is destined to live into the present century.

Herndon, the tavern man, is a character in his way. In the cook room of his hostelry we may see a ten-gallon kettle. Toward meal time the long fireplace is full of pots and skillets, propped up with logs to hold them in place. The proprietor went to war in 1812, and he very judiciously invested his pension money in land near town, buying ii at forty-two cents an acre. As a final result he became wealthy. In person, he is broad-shouldered and stout. He is shrewd, observant, and well-informed. While leaning on his knees he will utter such maxims as the following: "Don't loan—you'll get cussed; don't take one's word—there's a lie in it; don't go security—you'll have it to pay." It must be added that he is a good customer at his own bar, and this circumstance may help to explain a somewhat pugnacious disposition. The Herndon spring, below his place, might be termed a dueling ground. Men of lacerated sensibilities use it as a resort where they fight out their differences with naked fists, and the host himself figure in some of these frays.

Of Andrew Love a quite practical joke is related. He found that his woodpile was being pilfered from by a neighbor, and he loaded a stick with a charge of powder. The explosion took effect in the neighbor's fireplace.

Having now finished our survey of Kingwood as it was in 1832, we will now outline its subsequent history.

The Rev. Joel Stone road, a Presbyterian home missionary, preached occasionally in the courthouse and was followed by the Rev. C. B. Pistol of Fairmont. Baptist services were occasionally held here also. The Methodists built a brick church in 1842 and the present structure in 1879. The Presbyterian organization was effected in 1837 and its present church edifice dates from 1877. The Baptist organization did not take place until 1881. Each white society has a church building of its own. The colored Methodists use their schoolhouse.

Local schools were held in various houses until the building of the Preston Academy in 1841.

The first society for intellectual improvement seems to have been the Philomathean, which arose in 1840 and included in its membership the more conspicuous men of the town. Yet the inclination which prompts and maintains such praiseworthy efforts does not appear to have kept par with the continued growth of the county seat.

The bank of Kingwood, the pioneer among the Preston banks, was organized in 1865 with a paid-up capital of $100,000, and it began work with William G. Brown as president and James C. McGrew as cashier.

Until 1861, the growth of the town was almost inappreciable, since the population in that year was only 161. But in a material way, the improvement was very pronounced. The log houses were steadily supplanted by good dwellings of brick or frame, and civic improvements were supplemented. There has been no general conflagration, although the fire fiend has now and then taken a building. The hotels appear to have suffered the worst. The Brandon house was burned in 1867, the Union in 1883, the Loan and the Exchange in 1886, and the Gordon in 1907. A few stores and other business buildings have also been destroyed.

Although the courthouse lies within rifle shot of the geographic center of the county, the commercial position of Kingwood has not been such as to permit it to hold an all round lead among the towns of Preston, such as is held by Morgantown, Fairmont, Clarksburg, and Grafton in their respective counties. This lack of the unifying influence of an unquestioned metropolis has led to efforts to divide the county on the line of the Cheat, and also to remove the seat of county government to some other point. One of these crises was in 1856, when the stone courthouse was felt to be inconveniently small. There was a movement to transfer the county seat to Albright or Burchinal Town. The county court was not in a mood to appropriate more than $8,000 for a new building on the old site. The lowest bid on the specifications furnished was $16,000, and the court declined to raise its appropriation. James C. McGrew, a member of the supervisory committee obtained the consent of his associates that he go forward on his own initiative. He at once raised a force of workmen, making himself one of the number. Winter was about to set in. Trees were felled and sawed into lumber and bricks were burned. In the spring construction was begun. While Mr. McGrew was absent in Baltimore a storm blew in the unfinished walls. A telegram quickly brought him back and work was immediately resumed. The building would have been completed inside of the limit of $8,000, but for the extra cost of $1500 imposed by the storm. For this additional sum Mr. McGrew was reimbursed.

About ten years ago there was a quite active movement to relocate the county seat at Tunnelton. A still more vigorous attempt was made in 1910 by the enterprising town of Terra Alta. After a hard fought campaign culminating in a popular vote, Kingwood retained the prize though by a narrow margin.

From 1870 to 1890, Kingwood doubled its population, and from 1870 to 1910, it more than trebled it. The situation of the town is exceptionally pleasant and healthful. It lies on the plateau between Morgan's and Green's runs and while it is sheltered on the west by a ridge rising 400 feet above the town level, it is itself lifted well above the fogs which may be seen in the summer mornings rising from the deep gorge of the Cheat. The landscape view from Beverly Hill is unusually attractive and is rarely equaled elsewhere in West Virginia. From the same eminence the abundance of apple bloom seen all about the town in the month of May is suggestive of a great orchard. The verdure of the street borders and the house lots and the trimness of the dwellings lend to Kingwood something of the air of a New England village of the older type. On the other hand it is in the county seat alone among the towns of Preston that the planter element of the Old Dominion established a noticeable impress. This impress, together with the presence of a leisure class, accounts for a certain restful quality in the life of the town, and there is not the same atmosphere of bustle which is characteristic of commercial centers. By situation, Kingwood is in fact designed as a residential point and as such it is scarcely surpassed in general attractiveness by any town of its size in the state.
[Source: A History of Preston County, West Virginia, Part 1; By Oren Frederic Morton, J. R. Cole; Publ. 1914; Pgs. 214-223; Transcribed by Andrea Stawski Pack.]


Copyright © Genealogy Trails