I’m guessing if I told you I met Wilson Braley a few weeks ago, it wouldn’t set off any fireworks for you. What if I mentioned that Wilson and his father were responsible for a prominent landmark in East Huntington — would you put down your coffee cup and read with renewed interest?
Your first clue to this landmark is that Braley was born in 1950 and grew up at 5302 West Pea Ridge Road, where he eventually had a newspaper route all along West Pea Ridge to Ridgelawn Cemetery.
“West Pea Ridge used to be a brick road that was once part of the James River Turnpike,” Braley said. “We had both a well with a hand pump and city water on our property, but the well water tasted better, and we always kept a pitcher full in the refrigerator.”
When Braley’s father got married, he moved his new bride into a garage to set up housekeeping.
“Dad built that garage before he married Mom in 1956,” Braley said. “It had an upstairs bedroom and bath with a living room and kitchenette downstairs with a carport on the side. My older sister Jane was born in 1947. I came alon in 1950, and Dad completed the attached house in 1955. It took awhile to complete the house because my father worked full time as an electrician at the Nickel Plant.
The Braleys raised cattle with a milk cow and chickens on Pea Ridge.
“I raised the chickens myself,” Braley said. “You could practically purchase them anywhere — most every hardware store, Southern States Cooperative on 7th Avenue, even W.R. Grants at Eastern Heights sold them. That was back when Evans Supermarket was also located at Eastern Heights.”
Braley attended East Pea Ridge Grade School on Mahood Drive. Not only did he walk to school crossing Route 60, but in fifth and sixth grades, the entire class walked to his house to hunt Easter Eggs.
“Our property had a few acres adjacent to the house,” Braley said. “Come Easter season, my mother and a couple of teachers would hide Easter eggs on our property. The whole class would walk over and have refreshments while hunting eggs. After the hunt was over, we’d all walk back across Route 60 to school.”
Braley was also a member of the school safety patrol in the sixth grade, a position that all sixth-grade kids jockeyed for because it came with a free day trip to Camden Park at the end of the school year.
“Because of the location of our home, I went to Beverly Hills Junior High,” Braley said. “Most of my friends went to Barboursville because most lived in that district. When it came time to attend high school, the district covered more neighborhoods, so I went to Barboursville High School.”
Braley was a Boy Scout from 1961 to 1968. During those years, he earned the award of Eagle Scout. The Scoutmaster was John Daulton, who was well liked by the membership
Now for the second clue.
“We had our Scout meetings at Pea Ridge Methodist Church,” Braley said. “At one meeting, the church custodian informed our group that there was a cedar telephone pole on the church property that no one wanted. He wondered if the Scouts had a use for it. No one expressed any interest, so I tied it down in our station wagon and brought it home.”
Because the pole was made of cedar, the wood was easy to carve. For the next couple of years during bad weather, Wilson and his father began carving and painting the pole in the garage using a picture on a post card of an Alaskan Totem Pole as a guide. They installed it on their property close to West Pea Ridge Road.
Today, Braley believes it’s the best looking clone of an Alaskan Totem pole this side of the Mississippi River. It has become a guiding point where most directions are given to locate homes in the area.
“Several years ago, my son and I took it down for painting,” Braley said. “At least a dozen people stopped, making sure we were going to put it back.”
Braley completed high school and graduated Marshall in 1975 with an engineering degree. He retired from West Virginia Department of Highways as a regional maintenance engineer.
“It only seems fair that this totem pole have a place in history, too,” Braley said. “After all, Barboursville has the Pink Elephant. Milton has a military jet on a pedestal, and Point Pleasant has the Moth Man.”