Wayne County: 5 key figures helped craft area into what some community members call the 'best of town and country'
Whether you’re just across the line in Westmoreland, “out Wayne” or way out Wayne, the county that calls itself the “Western Gate to the Mountain State” is celebrated by its residents for its strong sense of family, community and tradition. Many natives call it the best of town and country merged into 512 square miles of rolling hills, spread across communities known by the names Ceredo, Kenova, Fort Gay, Lavalette, Wayne, East Lynn and Dunlow.
Wayne County was established by the State of Virginia on Jan. 18, 1842; it and 43 other counties joined to form West Virginia on June 20, 1863. Named in honor of U.S. Army general and statesman “Mad” Anthony Wayne, the region was established as safe for a white settlement following Anthony’s defeat of the Shawnee Indians in the Battle of Fallen Timbers.
Beyond the county’s dominant last names of Fry, Ferguson and Adkins are some forgotten forefathers and movers and shakers who helped craft Wayne County into what it is today. Here’s a look at five key figures from Wayne County’s more than 171-year history:
'Mad' Anthony Wayne (1745-1796)
The county's namesake, the name is probably most frequently associated with the lodge and campground on Spring Valley Drive that bears the "Mad" Anthony Wayne moniker. But, "Mad" Anthony Wayne's tale began 268 years ago with his birth in a log cabin on his family's Waynesborough estate in Pennsylvania.
Wayne, one of five children, was educated at what would become the University of Pennsylvania, though he never earned a degree. In 1766, he was sent by Benjamin Franklin to survey land Franklin and some associates owned in Nova Scotia; later, he returned to work in his father's tannery while continuing work as a surveyor. At the onset of the Revolutionary War, Wayne raised a militia unit and, in 1776, became colonel of the 4th Pennsylvania Regiment. He and his regiment were part of the Continental Army's unsuccessful invasion of Canada where he was set to aid Benedict Arnold. In 1781 and 1782, he saw his first action against Native Americans.
President George Washington and his cabinet, shocked by American army defeats at the hands of northwestern Indians, convinced Congress to establish a larger and better organized army and pegged Wayne, the most available of the senior Revolutionary army officers, to command the newly-created force.
Wayne went on to conduct a lengthy campaign that ended with his victory at Fallen Timbers in present-day Maumee, Ohio, near Toledo. That victory cleared the way for "Wayne's Treaty," signed on Aug. 3, 1795, articles of agreement signed by 12 Indian chiefs marking the end of major, organized hostilities with the Indians in present-day West Virginia and along the Ohio River.
The first settlers in Wayne County arrived in the late 1790s after Wayne's Battle of Fallen Timbers victory. Following the treaty, the area was deemed safe for settlers from the east to safely cross the mountains and settle in the mid-Ohio Valley, including the area that is now Wayne County. For his part in making safe the way for settlers, the area was named in honor and in memory of Wayne.
Wayne got his "mad" nickname for his reportedly impulsive, quarrelsome nature. Popularized by the novelist Washington Irving years after the Revolutionary War ended, the misconception arose that the nickname meant Wayne was wild, reckless and careless.
The nickname was actually coined in 1781 when a friend of Wayne's was jailed for disorderly conduct and demanded to be set free. The man asked a messenger be sent to Wayne to order his release, which reportedly angered Wayne terribly. He refused to intervene and added that if it happened again, he would order "29 lashes well laid on." Wayne's friend's replied, "Anthony is mad. He must be mad or he would help me. Mad Anthony, that's what he is. Mad Anthony Wayne."
Z.D. Ramsdell (1816-1886)
Invited to Ceredo by town founder Eli Thayer, Zophar D. Ramsdell brought his talents as soldier, postal official, manufacturer and merchant to Wayne County in 1858. The invitation was extended by Eli Thayer, who established Ceredo as part of an experiment to build an anti-slavery community in the slave state of Virginia, and Thayer joined about 500 other settlers, traveling from Maine to Ceredo in a covered wagon. Ramsdell set up shop with a boot and shoe factory in town.
Ramsdell served as a captain in the Civil War, and was appointed a postal inspector afterward by President Ulysses S. Grant. He served in the W.Va. Senate and was a state-appointed trustee for the Virginia Central Railroad during its transformation into the Chesapeake and Ohio.
Around Ceredo, Ramsdell is best known for the two-story Greek Revival brick house he built in 1858. The house, located on B Street, is said to have been built on an Indian burial mound and war graves are rumored to be located on the premises.
Though the Ceredo abolitionists' experiment ultimately dwindled, the house on B Street remained, becoming a reported meeting place along the Underground Railroad, helping to ferry slaves across the Ohio River into Ironton, South Point and Burlington, Ohio. Ramsdell was also instrumental in writing legislation establishing the area's first "free schools" for ex-slaves.
The restored house still stands in Ceredo and is used as a museum, even becoming a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Local lore asserts that the house holds many ghost stories and poltergeist activity such as doors opening and closing and the sound of chains rattling in the basement. The history makes it a favorite for ghost hunters.
Joseph Miller (1848-1921)
Joseph Samuel Miller's name might not be immediately recognizable, but his daughter's moniker, Lavalette, would bear immediate significance to the residents of the small town eight miles south of Huntington at the intersection of W.Va. 152 and W.Va. 75.
Joseph Miller was born in Barboursville, the fifth of seven children. Growing up, he expressed his love for nature "by the tranquil and lovely" Guyandotte River. He entered the legal profession and also served as a councilman for Barboursville, later marrying Florence Irene Tice of Hagerstown, Md. Of that marriage two children were born: a son, Lee, and a daughter, Lavalette.
Miller's star rose at a meteoric rate, serving on the board of the Ohio Central Railroad, keeping a law practice and becoming elected West Virginia state auditor in 1876. His popularity led many to propose his name as a leading candidate for governor, but Miller withdrew his name. By the fall of 1884, Miller had been chosen to serve on the election campaign of the National Democrat Party and its nominee for president, Grover Cleveland. Upon Cleveland's victory, Miller was awarded a seat in his cabinet as one of the first and longest-serving commissioners of the Internal Revenue Service, and he and Cleveland remained close friends both inside and outside the government walls.
The naming of the town of Lavalette came from a petition to the United States Postal Service in 1891, in honor of Miller's only daughter. Historians theorize Miller noted the landscape of the area during his travels while working for the N&W Railroad. Lavalette is French for "the petite valley," and there are very few mentions of the term elsewhere in the country or world. It also appears to be Miller's only real connection to the Lavalette community.
Lavelette herself was born in Hagerstown, Md., and enjoyed a childhood marked by high-society surroundings. Her mother's ancestors were prominent figures at the time. She was educated at home by tutors and later attended a finishing school in Washington, D.C. Just after 1900, she relocated to Kenova, where she met and married George Shelley. The wedding is the last mention of her presence in the Tri-State.
Miller was a lover of contact sports, fishing, nature and learning, friends with the late Anse Hatfield and President Theodore Roosevelt and has been described as "one of the strongest advocates and friends West Virginia has ever had." Miller is also credited with founding the First National Bank of Kenova, now known as United Bank, and lived for a time in the home now known as the Pumpkin House in Kenova each fall.
Col. Milton J. Ferguson (1833-1881)
Any list of Wayne County historical figures would be remiss without a Ferguson, in this case a country lawyer and captain of the county militia at the start of the Civil War.
Milton Jameson Ferguson was born in 1833 on Twelve Pole Creek near the town of Wayne, then known as Trout's Hill. Ferguson attended the then Marshall Academy and opened a law practice in Trout's Hill.
One of Ferguson's claims to fame is his part in defending Barboursville from Union forces. Ferguson became colonel of the Wayne County Militia in 1857; four years later, when the Civil War erupted, people in Barboursville sent word to Ferguson for help. He led 300 farmers from Wayne County to the fight in Barboursville, ultimately being defeated. Shortly thereafter, he was captured in Ceredo and spent months in captivity. After release, he returned to Wayne County and formed Ferguson Battalion of Virginia Cavalry, which was later combined with other battalions to form the 16th Virginia Cavalry. That group fought at Gettysburg, with Ferguson assuming command for a brief time and suffering two injuries.
In early 1864, Ferguson returned to Wayne County with some of his men for winter camp, located on Lick Creek south of East Lynn. There, more than 400 Union soldiers from Louisa, Ky., surrounded Ferguson's camp and opened fire in a battle that came to be known as Murder Hollow. Five of his men were killed and the rest, including Ferguson himself, were captured. Ferguson was released from captivity months later and returned, once again, to Virginia to fight, finally surrendering in May 1865. However, because Union officials had been installed in Wayne County offices, Ferguson was not welcome to return. He settled in Louisa, Ky., and became a judge, spending the last few years of his life helping to establish the Chattaroi Railroad up the Big Sandy River.
The Milton J. Ferguson name might also seem familiar to travelers at the Tri-State Airport, where the field is named Milton J. Ferguson Field. It is not the same Ferguson, however, but a descendant of Ferguson's brother, Charles Walker Ferguson. The name itself was passed down through generations in the Ferguson family.
Samuel Sperry Vinson (1833-1904)
Westmoreland residents and former Tigers will immediately recognize the name of this founding father of Wayne County. Samuel Sperry Vinson's last name has been applied to schools, churches and streets throughout the small community.
Vinson was born in April 1833 in Lawrence County, Ky., about six miles south of Louisa, the ninth of 10 children. When Vinson was 2 years old, his family moved across the Big Sandy River into what was then Cabell County, Va.
Vinson went on to wed Mary "Polly" Damron, and the two had three children. Vinson aligned himself with the Confederate States during the Civil War, once getting into an impassioned recruiting battle with his Union sympathizer cousin. The two were said to have been actively recruiting the people of Fort Gay to join their respective sides. After a long sales pitch, the two men shook hands, wished each other well during the war and departed.
Following the war, Vinson built a two-story frame house across from what would eventually become Camden Park. Legend has it the house served as a stagecoach stop on the James River and Kanawha Turnpike when that road was the main thoroughfare through West Virginia prior to the turn of the 20th century. The family later moved to a residence along Piedmont Road near the site of present-day Vinson Middle School.
Vinson earned his wealth in the timbering business, at one time owning more than 10,000 acres of bottomland along the Ohio and Big Sandy rivers. From all accounts, Vinson was a handsome and dominant man of great courage, generous to a fault and with widespread interests in the affairs of making money.
The Vinsons' children, four of whom remained in the Huntington area, also contributed greatly to the formation and growth of the region, serving in the areas of rail, coal, law, government, business and medicine. Vinson's footprint can also be felt at Spring Hill Cemetery in Huntington, at the site of a Confederate monument near the cemetery's entrance, an item he helped raise funds to construct.
Thanks to local historians and authors Robert M. Thompson and Gina Simmons, as well as the staffs of the Ceredo Museum and the Ceredo-Kenova Public Library for their assistance with this report.
Follow H-D reporter Beth Hendricks on Facebook or Twitter @BethHendricksHD.