“Sometimes even though you are having a good time, you can’t help but to stop and think about how much you miss the old times.”
Wilbur Sharp became the owner of the poolroom on Main Street in Marlinton in 1926, located in the building he purchased from Moody Hogsett, which now houses the Flower Garden.
Through the years that poolroom changed hands and names – Wilbur Sharp’s, Sharp and McLaughlin, Moses and Meadows and The Smokehouse – but one thing remained the same, and that was the hot dog chili served at the lunch counter.
Sharp’s granddaughter and Pocahontas County Preservation Officer B. J. Gudmundsson has recorded the history of the poolroom owners, and she offers the following information as to how that famous chili –served to generations – first made its way to the small town of Marlinton.
Origin of the Wib Sharp Hot Dog Chili
“In 1937, Wilbur Sharp, owner of the Pool Hall in Marlinton, made a business trip to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While staying at the William Penn Hotel he visited the restaurant and ordered a hot dog with chili.
“It was, without a doubt, the best hot dog chili he had ever eaten.
“He asked the waiter about the origin of the chili and was told that it was the chef’s secret recipe.
“Sharp asked to speak to the chef, and the waiter summoned him to the table.
“After complimenting the chef on the “best hot dog chili ever,” Sharp asked if he might have the recipe.
“The chef rattled off the recipe, and Sharp wrote it down.
“He returned to Marlinton, cooked up the chili, and the rest is history.”
There is a lot of history and a lot of memories associated with the poolroom – known in its later years as The Smokehouse.
Jim Mason, of Marlinton, can describe the inner workings of this landmark in such a way that you can almost hear the sounds and smell the aromas.
Stepping through the door of the poolroom was like entering another world, Mason said.
People stood in the aisle looking at the magazines, your ears were met with the ping, ping, ping of the pinball machines and the crack of breaking racks of pool balls, as men and young boys honed their skills, day and night, around the pool tables.
In a time before coin operated tables, one had to “lay down the dime” to reserve the next game or challenge the winner.
The poolroom hired young men to “rack the balls” for each game – keeping people honest.
Several years ago, one of those young men attended a revival in Edray where he “got saved.” He was faced with a dilemma. Could he return to his old job racking balls at the poolroom, with his new-found salvation?
But then he remembered that a couple of Presbyterian ministers frequented the poolroom – bringing the message to those who may want or need to hear it.
Coupled with the sounds of the pool tables and pinball machines were the distinct aromas wafting from the lunch counter – corned beef, spiced ham, and, of course, hog dogs with chili.
Stools at the counter were rarely empty, and no one went away without a memory – memories which come to mind, even today – many years after the Smokehouse ceased to be a part of the community.
Edgar Starks, of Hillsboro, worked for George Edgar seven days a week for $24 pay.
Saturday nights were a $2 treat for him, he said.
“I’d go to the poolroom and get a hot dog and a glass of buttermilk,” Starks said. “Then I’d cross the street to go to the movie and get popcorn, a chocolate candy bar and a coke.”
Retired WVU Horticulturist John Jett, of Morgantown, has memories of the place, as well.
“Larry Davis always had money in his pocket,” Jett said of his Marlinton High School friend. “I liked the grilled corned beef. It was corned beef from a can. They buttered the bread on both sides, but what made the difference was that they cut the lettuce in slices. That gave it a better flavor. I found that to be the biggest treat.”
Jett also remembers a lemon-lime drink called Green River, served from the fountain in what looked like a martini glass.
“That’s what my memory recalls,” he said.
Jett liked to watch the older boys play pool – Tom Michael, Gary McElwee, Delmas Barb and Richard Wright were a few that came to mind.
Michael McMann, now of Great Falls, Montana, preferred the grilled cheese sandwich and a fountain drink. He recalls that there were benches down the right side of the poolroom which led to Paul Gladwell’s Barbershop.
Visualizing the interior of the old hangout, McMann said there were five pool tables and two pinball machines, and there were magazines, hot peanuts and cigars for sale. It was a great place to be on Friday and Saturday.
“The tannery got off at 2:00 or 2:30 and some of the guys went to the Grille, and the rest went to The Smokehouse,” he said.
The Grille sold beer, and was located next door to French’s Diner.
It seems that very few photos of the interior exist, but photos are not needed to conjure up the sights and sounds of The Smokehouse. Those are forever etched in the minds of its customers.
Ken Nottingham, of Sugar Hill, Georgia, supplied one lone photograph. It is of the pool tables, but there are no people. Perhaps “what happened at the poolroom, stayed at the poolroom.”
Ken’s wife, Sally McLau-ghlin Nottingham, recorded Ken’s memories – memoirs that will resonate with the men who grew up in Marlinton.
“Ken was one of the group known in the poolroom as the “town rats.” Town boys who would show up regularly in the late 50s and early 60s and try to get a table to play pool. There was a town ordinance against anyone under eighteen playing pool, but since the Smokehouse didn’t serve beer they could sometimes get away with it. The “town rats” Ken mostly played pool with were Bobby McComb, Rick Griffin, Richard Wright and John Kenney.
“The routine was to go to buy comic books or play pinball on one of the two nickel machines. Then you would sit on the stools and watch the adults play. If it wasn’t busy then they could slip to a table but would be run off if more men showed up. They did this mostly on weekdays during the summer because Saturdays and evenings were too busy. They played either rotation or 8-ball, with the loser paying the ten cents for the cost of the table. He remembers a man they often liked to watch who had a hook for a hand and was really good but Ken doesn’t remember his name.
“During the winter Ken went to the poolroom at lunchtime for two hot dogs with everything and a fountain coke – for fifty cents. A hot dog with everything was mustard (yellow or horse), onions, relish and chili on a steamed bun. Bill Bob [Meadows] would have it ready for him because lunchtime was so short. You only had 25 minutes to walk to the poolroom, eat and get back to school.”
Keith Moore, of Marlinton, is always good for a story about the old days in Marlinton.
When asked what came to mind when he thought about the poolroom, he said, “the pool tables, mostly, and the fifteen cent poolroom hot dogs. There has never been a better hot dog put out than what they put out there.”
Moore was a frequent customer in the late 1940s and early 50s, although he was, for much of that time, underage.
“I got the pool stick taken away from me,” Moore laughed. “You had to be eighteen, I guess, to shoot pool. We’d wait until they got busy. We’d be sitting back there on the bench and when they got busy up front, we’d grab a stick and break ‘em. We’d get in a shot or two, and here they’d come and take the stick away from us.”
Moore identified the pool player that Ken remembered – the man with a hook for a hand. It was Dempsey McNeill, who lived in Buckeye.
“We watched all the old ones play pool down there – Louie Colson, Adolph Cooper – he was a better lawyer than he was a pool shot – and I think Dick Currence might have played with them, too.
“It was against the law for a minor, under eighteen, to play the pinball machines. I got caught,” Moore laughed. “Me and a buddy of mine was playing the machines and somebody tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘how old are you?’ I looked around and it was Mike Murphy, the State Police. I said ‘eighteen.’ “And he asked my buddy how old he was, and he was a year younger than me, but he said, ‘eighteen.’ And Murphy said, “Good. You all come with me. You’re going to fight fire. We did. We went down to Droop Mountain.
“Those were the good old days,” Moore said. “Precious memories, precious memories.”
Jaynell Graham may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org