In it’s heyday – when lumber and railroad companies set up camp – Pocahontas County was freckled with small logging towns complete with their own schools, churches and company stores.
As the logging companies packed up and moved to the next mountain, many of those towns dissolved and became nothing more than a memory and a background in old photographs.
One such town was Wildell in northern Pocahontas County.
For most people, Wildell is nothing more than a paragraph in the book The History of Pocahontas County, but for Grace Collins, now of Durbin, it was home.
Collins found several photos of the town and, with them, her memories. The daughter of Walter and Jessie Shiflett, Collins was one of nine children.
“My dad was a foreman on the Western Maryland Railroad,” she said. “I was the fifth child. My older sister was two years older than me, and she was born with an enlarged heart, so she could hardly walk across the floor without turning blue. I had to spend a lot of time entertaining her and also had to spend a lot of time helping my mom.”
Life in Wildell was simple, but it was fine for the Shiflett family. While their dad was at work, the children helped their mom at home.
“Of course, we had to carry our water, and we had an outside john; all those good things,” Collins said.
The children went to the Wildell School, which was a one-room school.
“It was just a small school because there weren’t very many people there,” Collins said. “It was just small, and the teachers came from Green Bank and did the teaching.”
As they got older, two of Collins’ brothers joined their father on the Western Maryland Railroad, while she set her sights elsewhere.
“I married a man that worked on the C&O,” she said. “So, I didn’t get away from the railroad.”
Collins and her husband, Harold, settled in Durbin and raised five children – three boys and two girls.
“My kids have been very blessed,” Collins said. “They went to Green Bank High School and the government came in, the FBI and NOAA came in and gave these kids tests. My daughter took the test and went to D.C. to work. She’s been thirty years or more in the government. When she went up there, she rented an apartment – there were a lot of different girls, but they were all from West Virginia.”
One of Collins’ sons was also recruited to work for the government in D.C.
Collins said her son encouraged her to share the photos and her memories of Wildell, and she enjoys talking about the past.
“Now, I’m a talker,” she said. “You get me going and I can talk for hours.”
According to The History of Pocahontas County, Wildell was “a tract of 11,000 acres on the headwaters of the Glady Fork and Laurel Fork in Randolph County and on the waters of Snorting Lick Run, Mikes Run, Fox Run and Elklick Run on the West Fork of the Greenbrier.”
The land was sold by the Pocahontas Tanning Company to the Wildell Lumber Company in 1903. The company was owned by the Wilson family of Elkins. The company’s band mill was in operation in 1904 and closed in either 1915 or 1916.