As the third largest county in West Virginia, Pocahontas County is filled with valleys, mountains and streams. Nestled among those valleys and mountains are dozens and dozens of communities and towns. Some are long forgotten, remembered only in passages in history books about the logging industry. Some have a fairly large population and have become destinations for tourists from all over the world.
Others remain the same small towns they always were, kept alive today by the descendants who remain where their ancestors first settled.
To many visitors – and even county natives – the southern part of Pocahontas County is mostly known simply as Hillsboro. But a closer look will reveal several small communities – including Lobelia, Jacox and Caesar Mountain.
As the story goes, Caesar Mountain was named for a freed slave who was owned by Englishman Henry Messingbird. Caesar and a fellow slave, Viney, were freed and each was given a mountain, leading to the mountains being named for their new owners – Caesar Mountain and Viney Mountain.
Caesar Mountain was initially a black community, but welcomed other families. Descendants of those families still remain today.
Although they were born at and grew up in Lobelia, Reta Morrison Rose and her late husband, Lanty, settled on a farm on Caesar Mountain in the 1960s and raised their family there.
The couple married in 1959 and lived in Maryland for five years before returning to the county.
Lanty worked as a social worker and Reta was a teacher.
“I taught at Hillsboro I guess two years before I went to the high school [Pocahontas County High School],” Reta said. “I was a Phys Ed major with a Home Ec minor.
“Lanty was like a fish out of water when we were in Maryland,” Reta added. “He was also teaching. He was fine during the week, but on weekends, he was like a fish out of water.”
Life on the farm was busy, but enjoyable. They had sheep and chickens to feed and care for, in addition to their two sons, Bruce and Greg.
“Lanty was working at the welfare department, I was teaching, and the kids were going to school at Hillsboro, so they had to get up and get their breakfast and get themselves on the bus,” she said. “I rode the bus for awhile to the high school when we first started. Teachers all rode the bus and then whoever was principal decided that we weren’t spending enough time at school, so we had to start driving.”
Reta, who taught 30 years before retiring, now serves as the unofficial historian for Caesar Mountain, sharing her memories of the community.
Reta’s memory is so sharp, she not only remembers the family names of Caesar Mountain, but also in what part of the community they lived.
“There was John Wymer – lived up on top of Viney Mountain,” she said. “He had a big family. The Ramseys and Scotts and Roses. My mother-in-law was a Scott and she married a Rose. The Longs and Brocks lived down at the intersection; and across the road were Johnsons.”
The families all looked out for each other and while it wasn’t set in stone or planned, there were days where everyone gathered at one home for lunch, then the next day, it would be another home and another lady hosting.
“The husbands all worked away, mostly,” Reta said. “Worked in the woods and worked away.”
The nearby town of Lobelia was at one time a booming logging town and had two stores. Since the menfolk worked away and the women didn’t have cars, they had to walk everywhere to get what they needed.
“Lanty’s parents never had a vehicle until he was old enough and got one,” Reta said. “Lanty’s dad, Lon, worked in the woods and Mrs. [Jessie] Rose cooked in the school. Not all her life, she had seven children.
“At that time, none of the women drove or had vehicles,” she continued. “The husbands worked away and came home on weekends. The women didn’t go any farther than they could walk.”
On Caesar Mountain, that meant walking to visit neighbors and to church. The town had one church – West View Baptist, which is still active today.
“There’s not a lot of people on the mountain who go there,” Reta said. “People come from Marlinton; people come from Renick. It’s odd to me. We go to church in Hillsboro, and we meet those people coming in.”
Reta was raised in the Methodist church in Lobelia which was a sister church with Bruffey Creek and Jacox Methodist churches. The minister from Hillsboro served the Bruffey Creek church. Lobelia and Jacox were served by the Renick minister.
All three of those churches have since closed.
The women who didn’t teach or work in the schools, stayed home to raise their families and tend to the farm and garden.
“Everybody had about the same number of acres, and everybody would have twenty sheep and seven cows, and everybody had their hogs and their chickens,” Reta said. “Everybody raised a garden.”
The closest stores were in Lobelia or Hillsboro, but fortunately, a grocery truck from Lewisburg came into the area once a week and the women would stock up on what they needed then.
“Thursday was the day the grocery truck came through,” Reta said. “The women could send for a sack of horse feed or a sack of chicken feed. They’d send their mail. He carried everything, but if it was something special you needed, you had to order it.”
It wasn’t until Denmar Sanatarium was converted into a nursing home, Denmar State Hospital, that the women had an opportunity to work away from home.
“That was a wonderful thing, because so many women went to work,” Reta said. “That was a liberation for women in this area. They went to work. They learned to drive, and they bought them a car and they went to work. They’d work in the kitchen or work in the laundry.”
Before the Denmar State Hospital closed and was converted into a prison, Reta said she would joke with her husband about going to Denmar as residents.
“I told Lanty, ‘when it comes our time to go to Denmar, we’re going to go and not whine,’” she recalled, laughing.
While only a few descendants of the many families of Caesar Mountain still call the community home, there’s always room for more to return to their roots.
“That’s the way West Virginia is now,” Reta said. “When they retire, that’s what they do – they come back to West Virginia.”