BARBOURSVILLE -- Barboursville is described by many as quaint, with all the amenities of a big city, but with a down-home feel. Its story dates back to 1813 and is still being written today, as leaders in the community see even more progress to be made.
The Village of Barboursville was founded in 1813 by the act of the Virginia Assembly. As the Cabell County Seat, it became a town of commerce and politics. According to a history of the town posted on its website, it was a port of call for boats running on the Guyandotte River. Because of that, Barboursville flourished as an industrial center.
Many visitors came to the area to establish deeds and records and appear before the county court. During the Civil War, several skirmishes took place in and around the village, including the Battle of Barboursville.
After the war, the county seat was moved to Huntington, and Barboursville became a more residential setting, until 1981, when the Huntington Mall gave rise to more commercial development outside the village.
The Village of Barboursville is mostly residential, with the railroad separating it from U.S. 60. To the west is a hub of commerce, with car dealerships, grocery stores, banks, restaurants and other types of businesses. And to the east is the mall, which generates enough tax revenue that homeowners in Barboursville don't have to pay any municipal fees.
There are several pieces of historical significance that are a part of Barboursville's storied history. Much of it can be found in the city's historical tour available in a brochure and CD at city hall.
Barboursville's start can be traced back to late 1802, when William C. Merritt and Jeremiah Ward purchased land on both sides of the Guyandotte River. Merritt purchased 500 acres and built a grist mill, and the village that later became Barboursville was originally known as Merritt's Mill.
In 1813, the Virginia Assembly established Barboursville, naming it after the state's governor, James Barbour.
The first type of major commerce recorded was in the fur trade, with the Ohio, Guyandotte and Big Sandy rivers providing easy transportation.
By 1840, Barboursville had become an industrial center, manufacturing fans, furniture, wagons, buggies and harnesses. Timber also was big business, and hogs were the chief cash crop. Barboursville also was the Cabell County Seat from 1814 to 1887, when it was moved to Huntington.
2. Courthouse and Veterans Home
The wooden courthouse in Barboursville stood for about 40 years before a brick structure was built in 1854. When the county seat was moved to Huntington, a group of citizens came together to transform the courthouse into a seminary school. Barboursville Seminary opened in 1888, with the courthouse becoming "College Main," the jail becoming the boys' dorm and the Blume Hotel becoming the girls' dormitory.
The seminary school remained financially unstable until 1901, when Morris Harvey created an endowment of $10,000 that enabled the school to pay back salaries and modernize and build new facilities. The school changed its named to Morris Harvey College in his honor.
In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, enrollment declined, and the Board of Trustees decided it could not compete with Marshall College in Huntington. So the institution was moved to Charleston in 1935, where it eventually became the University of Charleston.
In 1936, College Main became home to Barboursville Junior High, while the dormitories on the top of the hill became a state hospital. In 1975, it received authorization to become the West Virginia Veterans Home, which opened in 1981.
The junior high school was torn down in the mid 1990s, following high school consolidations that allowed Barboursville High School to become the home of the middle school. The property was turned into a park and named for then-mayor and current Cabell County Commissioner Nancy Cartmill. She said the principal, teachers and students at the junior high school requested it be named Nancy Cartmill Gardens, a resolution that was adopted by city council.
The most famous home in Barboursville is at 1112 Main St., believed to have been built in about 1852. It now houses Absolutely Divine Salon and Spa, but is still known as the Miller Home.
It was home to William Clendenin Miller, who also is credited with building the courthouse, Thornbug store and two of the six locks on the Guyandotte River. He was the postmaster from 1840-1860.
In the Civil War, a wounded Union soldier was carried to the Miller's porch. The Millers, who were Confederate sympathizers, wrapped the body in a sheet and laid it on the porch until members of the company returned for it.
The family sold the home after the war, and it was later acquired by Morris Harvey College and used as a boarding house. In 1914, John W. Miller, who was born in the house, bought it. He died in 1936, and the home stayed in the family for two generations. It later belonged to an antique dealer and then was remodeled into a salon and spa that was recently acquired by new owners.
Cheryl Ruley, the librarian at Barboursville Middle School, said the story passed down for at least the past 30 years is a Civil War soldier haunts the house. Ruley said many people, including herself, have reported seeing the soldier's face in the second window from the right on the second floor. They speculate it could be the Union soldier or James Reynolds, who stopped at the Miller home for breakfast on July 11, 1861, three days before the Battle of Barboursville. He was the only Confederate soldier killed in that battle, having been wounded during the battle and taken to the courthouse where he died from his injuries.
Another historical home in Barboursville is at the corner of Main Street and Central Avenue, now home to ZBA Financial Group. It was built by George E. Thornburg at the turn of the 20th century, on a site where a large hotel stood. Thornburg also was the founder of the old Barboursville Clay Manufacturing Company on the south side of town in 1904. It supplied tile for the remodeling of the White House in 1921. It closed in 1979 and was demolished in 2007. The site along Peyton Street remains vacant.
The Old Toll House, built of logs in 1837, originally sat on land inherited by Elizabeth Merritt Derton, on the bank of the Guyan River, where it was used by the James River Co. as a toll house for a toll bridge that never came to fruition. But tolls were collected for ferries crossing the Guyan River.
It is maintained by the Daughters of the American Revolution Barboursville Chapter, after being deeded to the chapter in 1951. It was moved to 731 Main St., where it was restored and now serves as a museum.
Main Street itself has its own story. In 1916, Main Street -- which was previously the James River-Kanawha Turnpike and later U.S. 60 -- became the first paved brick street in town.
The families responsible for the establishment of Barboursville, including the Merritts, Thornburgs, McComases, Millers, Mosses, Baumgardners, Dirtons and Gardners, are all buried at the Barboursville Old Cemetery, which dates back about 175 years. Also buried there are soldiers from the Civil War, Spanish-American War and both world wars.
The oldest grave on record is of Marie T. C. Gardner from 1854. Joseph Gardner, who was 81 years old, was buried there in 1855.
There is another cemetery, known as the Merritt Cemetery, located off Woodland Drive behind Hash Ridge, where William Merritt was buried in 1865.
6. Civil War
The heart of Barboursville can be found at a location known as "Fortification Hill," best known as the site of the Battle of Barboursville on July 14, 1861. According to historical records, Confederate troops used the hill for a strategic location during the Civil War. But when Union troops charged the hill with bayonets attached to their rifles, something the Confederates had never seen, the Confederates retreated fearing the rifles could now shoot knives.
Each year during Barboursville Civil War Days, the Battle of Barboursville is re-enacted at the park. Last year was the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Barboursville.
A second skirmish took place on Sept. 8, 1862, when Confederate soldiers surprised sleeping Union soldiers in the Hatfield Hotel.
The Huntington Mall, located in Barboursville, opened in 1981, more than five years after initial talks started. Today, the mall averages in the hundreds of millions of dollars in retail trade, changing the landscape of the region's economic climate.
The mall, which remains the largest in West Virginia, was built big -- the only anchor addition was Phar-Mor, which closed and became Dick's Sporting Goods in 2002. Most of the growth around it and on U.S. 60 happened within the past two decades.
In 2011, the mall underwent one of its largest renovations, with $5 million spent on the installation of more than a dozen skylights, new entranceways, new lighting, new flooring and upgraded restrooms.
The mall also provides nearly all of the annual budget for Barboursville and has been integral in its development and growth. Tax revenue also has helped pave streets and sidewalks, replace sewers and build Barboursville Park.
In the past 13 years, a second shopping plaza, Merritt Creek Farm Shopping Center, opened at exit 18 off Interstate 64. More recently, a connector highway was built to connect the shopping center with W.Va. 2.
8. Barboursville Park
And there is the park, which is one of the largest municipal parks in the state. It spans more than 750 acres and includes baseball fields, volleyball courts, little league baseball fields, midget football field, fishing lake and ponds, picnic areas, an amphitheater, walking trails, horse show ring and an archery range.
It also includes the 13-acre Lake William, which was built in the early 1990s. It is encircled by a walking track, with nearby pavilions, basketball and tennis courts and playgrounds. In 2009 and 2010, the park hosted the U.S. Youth Soccer Region I Championships, which drew thousands of athletes and families to the region and provided millions of dollars in economic impact. Barboursville was awarded the championships in 2008, then, with the help of state legislators and the governor, built the fields and a bridge over the railroad tracks to connect everything together.
9. Barboursville Fall Festival
Each year on Main Street and Central Avenue, thousands gather for the Barboursville Fall Fest. It was formerly known as Oktoberfest, after the German model. A temporary fair-ground is set up across the Guyandotte River, on the old Sadler field before the bridge into the town, and offers a variety of amusements for the locals. Along with Fall Fest, Barboursville has a parade to begin the activities. The festival celebrated its 30th year in 2011.
Several Barboursville residents have gone on to become successful athletes. Among the most famous is Pat Carter, who just finished his 12th year as a volunteer coach with the Marshall University golf program. Carter, a 1991 Marshall graduate, played on the golf team for four years and was captain his junior and senior years. He earned All-Southern Conference honors in 1990. He also is a 12-time West Virginia Amateur Champion, which qualified him for the U.S. Amateur. He has been the West Virginia Golf Association Player of the Year 13 times and was inducted into the Marshall Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005.
Other notable athletes include George Washington Baumgardner, who lived from 1891 to 1970 and played for the St. Louis Browns in the Major Leagues; Jason Starkey, who was born in 1977 and played football at Marshall, also played four seasons in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals;
Zachary Thomas Baldwin, 29, graduated from Cabell Midland High School and was drafted by the Washington Nationals in the 31st round of the 2006 MLB June Amateur Draft. The pitcher played baseball at the University of Coastal Carolina and West Virginia State University, going 18-0 to help him get drafted. He most recently played for the Winnipeg Goldeneyes in the Independent League, having been released April 12. He serves as a pitching instructor with the Tri-State Baseball Academy;
Jacob Burcham, who will be a senior at Cabell Midland High School this year, is flirting with the Olympics for his speed. In 2011, he finished seventh in the world and set an American record for his age group in the 1,500-meter run finals at the 2011 IAAF World Youth Championships while representing Team USA in Lille, France. 2011 also brought him the title of national champion, the honor of being the fastest miler in West Virginia history and a West Virginia Class AAA high school state champion and record-holder in several events, including the 800, 1,600 and 3,200-meter in track as well as the individual state cross country champion.
Some information in this story came from a historical booklet written and published by author and retired teacher Frances B. Gunter.
Bill Rosenberger is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. Comments may be emailed to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.