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Pocahontas County Bicentennial ~ 1821-2021

Pioneering in Old Pokey
(These stories are written by Ben Blankenship, of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, who decided he wouldn’t hide behind the name of Billy Hill – Hillbilly reversed.)

A Railroad Comes to Marlinton

Oh, listen to the rumble,
Hear that awful roar,
To the top of old Cheat Mountain
From the Greenbrier’s rocky shore.
She’s a-comin’ around the mountain,
A belchin’ smoke and steam
Hear that lonesome whistle
See that headlight gleam.

Yes, these were strange new sights and sounds in these diggins’. Many people in Pocahontas had never seen a railroad or a train.

The coming of the railroad brought many changes – some good, some bad. It was the end of an era of unhurried tranquility, a gracious leisurely way of life, and the beginning of a new era of stepped up activity – a wider range of travel and a changing economy.

The coming of the railroad tapped (and destroyed) the natural resources of timber in Pocahontas, coal in Randolph and Barbour counties, and opened up the Eastern and Southern markets to these commodities.

Before and after the last log drive, I believe in 1899, things began to happen along the old Greenbrier River. The river not only served as a transportation route for timber, but also for passengers. Before the summer drought reduced the river to a mere trickle when a thirsty mule could drink it dry, the business dignitaries of Marlinton would ‘float” trip to Ronceverte and a “rig” would meet them for the return trip by land, over what is now Route 219 – the Seneca Trail.

Some of the passengers on these large boats were: Captain Smith (don’t ask me how he came by the title) his son Jim Smith, Walker Yeager, some of the Denning & Whiting Lumber people and others. They always made it to our place (Uncle George Clendenen’s) the first night. I will never forget one such occasion. Supper was called and they all left their wonderful smelling lighted cigars by the fireplace.

Well, I had to wait for second table – I never made it – and no breakfast next morning.

“Nobody knew what was wrong with the horse.”

There was much travel up and down the river, mostly by foot, before the rails were laid. Surveyors, right-of-way buyers, men who cleared the right-of-way, graders and next, the stone quarry crew. All the stone for bridge abutments and culverts – and there were many between Seebert and Winterburn – came from the stone quarry at Seebert. My first job was water boy at this quarry. The stone masons came next – then, at long last, the day came when we heard the whistle of the work train far down the river.

The second great thrill of my life was the day Uncle George took me down to the railhead and I saw that beautiful locomotive, its air pump panting like a dog on a hot summer day – its jacket gleaming in the sun.

The engineer, the Rev. Mr. Sampson, with long flowing beard, mustache and snow white hair, was sitting on the bank watching the four huge colored men driving spikes and listening to their melodious songs – to the rhythm of their hammer blows. Who remembers the Rev. Sampson, engineer on the regular passenger train for many years? He came to Seebert on many Sundays and preached in the grove there. His fireman told a story about him cussing cattle on the track. You would hear a series of short toots on the whistle and you knew the Reverend had caught up with a cow again.

The first passenger train to come up the track, I believe, was a free ride to all. Marlinton was the end of the road and I was sent on the train to the “big town” to bring back a big supply of groceries. These were also hauled in the baggage car for free. Quite a few years later, I hosteled engines at Cass and Durbin on this same old “two streaks of rust,” and have outlived a part of the railroad itself. I have always loved railroads and love to ride on trains, but it looks like the beginning of the end for them. Super highways, millions of automobiles, airplanes (passenger and cargo) are signing the death knell of trains. Even the plush Vistadome, air conditioned trains like the El Capitan, the California Lephyrs, Super Chief, Capitol Limited and the C7O’s FFV have had to curtail their facilities. Sometimes these trains, which were loaded to capacity in days gone by, have only a token of passengers. Once the main source of revenue of the railroads was the U. S. mail. Now, huge cargo planes from major cities fly mail on non-stop schedules from coast to coast, often getting there ahead of regular air mail. If you see a green sack of mail, you now it is destined for one of these planes..

Historical Sketches of Pocahontas County – 1901
By William T. Price


The Gum relationship in Pocahontas consists of two groups, descendants of Jacob Gum and William A. Gum respectively. The group considered in this paper trace their ancestry to William A. Gum, who left Highland County (then Pendleton) in 1831, and located on the Redden place near Greenbank, now occupied by John Grogg. In 1841, Mr. Gum moved to Back Alleghany and settled in the woods, and opened up lands now in the possession of his sons.

Mrs. Gum was Elizabeth, daughter of James Higgins, of Pendleton. They were the parents of one daughter and two sons: Margaret Elsie, James Henry and Francis McBryde.

Margaret was first married to James A. Logan, and first settled on a section of the homestead. Her children were John Commodore, who died in 1861 while quite young, and Elizabeth, who became Mrs. E. O. Moore, and lived on Deer Creek near Greenbank.

By her second marriage, Mrs. Logan became Mrs. Gragg, and lives on Back Mountain near the homestead. It is her mother-in-law, Mrs. Zebulon Gragg, who is believed to be the oldest person now living in the county.

James H. Gum first married Sally Ann, daughter of Zebulon Gragg, and settled on a part of the homestead. His second marriage was with Tilda Hoover, daughter or Abel Hoover, near Gillespie…

McBryde Gum was a Confederate soldier, and went out with the Greenbank company, known as Company G 31st Virginia Infantry. He volunteered in May, 1861, and served throughout the war, and as he was wounded three times, he is to be remembered as a battle scarred veteran of that mysterious and strange War Between the States…

He was twice a prisoner of war. He was captured the first time at Uriah Hevener’s in 1861, and paroled. The second time he was taken at his home on Back Mountain, in October 1864. This time, instead of being released on parole, he was taken to Clarksburg, where he suffered many privations, and had “a plague of a time of it…”

All who remember Will-iam A. Gum have a good word for him as a neighbor, friend and substantial, prosperous citizen.

The way he came to have a middle name is a little out of the usual order. When Dunkum & Co. had a store at Dunmore, William Gum was a liberal dealer. There was another William Gum from the vicinity of Greenbank, and the merchant, to note the difference and not get their accounts mixed, called the one from Back Mountain “William Alleghany” on his books. In settling, he had Mr. Gum to sign his name William A. Gum. From that circumstance he always thus signed his name in business affairs and in correspondence, and so got his middle name Alleghany long after he became a grown person…

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