Collis P. Huntington (1821-1900)
Railroad mogul and founder of the city of Huntington, Collis Potter Huntington was born at Harwinton, Connecticut. Raised in poverty, he left school at age 14 and became a Yankee peddler, traveling through the South to sell watches and other merchandise. Later he opened a general store at Oneonta, New York. When gold was discovered in California in 1848, Huntington went west and became a rich man, not from mining but by selling supplies to the miners.
Starting with an investment of $1,500, Huntington and partners Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford, and Charles Crocker (collectively known to rail historians as the ''Big Four'') built two giant rail systems, first the Central Pacific and later the Southern Pacific.
When Congress called for construction of a great transcontinental railroad, Huntington didn't just dream about that historic project. He made sure the Central Pacific, the railroad he and his partners organized, was awarded the contract to construct the western half of the new rail line. On May 10, 1869, a golden spike was driven at Promontory, Utah, linking the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific, which had built the line's eastern half.
That same year Huntington sent to Oneonta, N.Y., for Delos W. Emmons, his brother-in-law. Huntington wanted Emmons to accompany him on an exploring trip westward across the then-new state of West Virginia. Their journey would take them along the route proposed for the tracks of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway. Left all but bankrupt in the wake of the damages it had suffered during the Civil War, the C&O desperately needed capital to rebuild and expand. The railroad's board of directors turned to Huntington for help. He agreed to supply the money that was required - and, in the process, installed himself as the C&O's president.
It was on this 1869 trip that Huntington first glimpsed an attractive tract of farmland along the Ohio River and dreamed about establishing there a new city, one teeming with business and industry. Huntington's choice of a site for his new city proved a good one. From its founding as the western terminus of the C&O, his new town prospered. And in the decades since its founding in 1871, the city of Huntington has continued to grow and prosper because it's been home to so many men and women who, like the town's founder, have dreamed big dreams - and then shown themselves willing to work hard to make those dreams a reality.
This article offers brief glimpses of just a few of those dreamers.
Bradley W. Foster (1834-1922)
Bradley W. Foster, a native of Maine, married Mary Lenora Huntington, a niece of Collis P. Huntington, in 1868 and three years later, the couple moved to Huntington, becoming two of the new town's first residents.
On arriving, Foster opened what was likely the city's first hardware store. That modest venture ultimately evolved into the Foster-Thornburg Hardware Company, a major wholesale firm. In addition to running his hardware firm, Foster was president of the Huntington Land Co., one of the founders of the First National Bank, a member of Huntington City Council and one of the organizers of the Huntington Board of Trade, an early organization that evolved into what today is the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Foster and his wife Mary had no children. She died first and on his death he left $800,000 to build, maintain and operate a home for older unmarried women and widows. Over the years the Foster Memorial Home for Aged Women, erected on Madison Avenue in West Huntington, sheltered thousands of local women. But times change. And beginning in the 1980s, the Foster Foundation's board began talking about the growing need for adequate housing for all seniors, not just women. The result was construction of the Woodlands, a sprawling retirement community on 5th Street Road.
Rufus Switzer (1855-1947)
Rufus Switzer came to Huntington to practice law in 1891 and immediately involved himself in politics, winning election to City Council. He was elected mayor in 1909.
The year before Switzer became mayor the city had purchased a tract of land along Four Pole Creek as the site for an incinerator. Not surprisingly, some of the site's neighbors objected and a real donnybrook ensued. As mayor, Switzer settled the matter by declaring that the purchased property would become a park - the city's first ever. Although Switzer was the driving force behind the park, it was named Ritter Park when businessman C.L. Ritter donated two tracts of land that significantly enlarged it.
On Switzer's death, his will established a perpetual trust, directing that two-thirds of the annual net income from the trust go "for the use and maintenance of an art gallery, historical museum and cultural center" and the remaining third go for "the study, research and treatment of human disease." Switzer's bequest was literally the lifeblood of the Huntington Museum of Art in the museum's formative years. And the Huntington Clinical Foundation, formed to carry out the terms of Switzer's will, has distributed thousands of dollars each year to projects in the medical and health care field.
A popular park, a thriving museum, a healthier community - that's the legacy of Rufus Switzer.
Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950)
Carter Godwin Woodson, widely acknowledged as the father of Black History Month, was born in Virginia to parents who were former slaves. The family moved to Huntington in 1893 after Carter and his brother Robert had migrated to West Virginia to work in the coal mines.
Woodson entered Douglass High School in Huntington when he was 19 and completed the four-year curriculum in two years, graduating in 1896. He went on to study at Berea College in Kentucky, where he earned a bachelor's degree, and returned to Huntington as principal of Douglass in 1900.
In 1903, he taught in the Philippines; during 1906-07 he traveled around the world, studied at the Sorbonne, and returned to continue his education at the University of Chicago and at Harvard, receiving a doctorate from Harvard in 1912. Living and working in Washington, D.C., he became a nationally known author, publisher and educator and in 1926 founded Negro History Week - the forerunner of today's Black History Month.
Perhaps because his years in Huntington were brief, the community was slow to recognize Woodson's important legacy. But in recent years, the Carter G. Woodson Memorial Foundation has done much to focus attention on his life and work.
Herman P. Dean (1897-1978)
Herman P. Dean packed several lifetimes of experiences into his busy eight decades.
A businessman, Dean owned Huntington's former Standard Printing & Publishing Co. as well as other firms. A newspaperman, he published the weekly Wayne County News. A church and civic leader, he taught Sunday School at Huntington's Central Christian Church for 30 years and generously supported a long list of charitable endeavors. A world traveler, he visited not just familiar tourist spots but also such remote regions as the Canadian Yukon, where he even lived with the Eskimos for two years.
Dean loved hunting, fishing and collecting guns. He spent a lifetime amassing his collection of antique firearms and then presented it to the Huntington Museum of Art for future generations to admire and enjoy.
In the final years of his life, Dean liked to point out that he no longer owned a single gun. What he didn't donate to the Huntington Museum of Art, he gave to other institutions or friends. Giving them away, he said, was just as much fun as collecting them.
J.H. Long (1863-1958)
In his day, newspaperman Joseph Harvey Long was considered the dean of West Virginia newspaper publishers. A Pennsylvania native, he moved to Wheeling in 1881 to become a printer at a newspaper there. Moving to Huntington in 1893, he purchased the Herald, which he sold in 1895 when he acquired the Advertiser.
For a number of years, the afternoon Advertiser slugged it out with the morning Herald-Dispatch, owned by Dave Gideon. In 1924, Col. Long (the title was strictly honorary) bought a corner lot at 5th Avenue and 10th Street and erected a new building for his paper. Not be outdone, the Herald-Dispatch built a new home just a few doors down. Shortly thereafter, the two rival newspapers declared a truce and merged as the Huntington Publishing Co., with Long as chairman and Gideon as president. The mechanical and business operations were combined while the two news staffs operated independently.
Although his ruling passion was newspapering, Long was active in many fields. From 1916 until 1921, he was Huntington's postmaster. President of the Huntington Chamber of Commerce from 1936 to 1941, he served on the board of directors of the Ohio Valley Bus Co., First Huntington National Bank, Huntington-Ohio Bridge Co., Huntington Symphony Orchestra Association, and Morris Memorial Hospital. An ardent Democrat, Long was a respected voice in local and state political circles.
Joan Edwards (1918-2006)
Joan Edwards was born in London and arrived in New Orleans at the age of 4. By age 11, she was singing on a New Orleans radio station, the start of a promising musical career. While singing at Pittsburgh's William Penn Hotel, she met James F. Edwards of Huntington, owner of the National Mattress Company, whom she married in 1937.
When Jimmy Edwards died in 1991, his will called for multi-million-dollar bequests to a number of community projects in Huntington. As his widow, Joan Edward not only carried out those bequests but went on to donate millions more from her own money. Overall, the two donated more than $65 million to Marshall University and the Huntington community.
Marshall's Joan C. Edwards Stadium is the only NCAA Division I stadium named after a woman. Marshall's medical school and performing arts center also are named in her honor. She spent the last few days of her life receiving treatment and care in the Edwards Comprehensive Cancer Center she helped to create at Cabell Huntington Hospital.
In Huntington, Joan Edwards found the roots and the home she didn't have as a child. "You might say I was an orphan," she once said. "My formal school was in New Orleans, but my roots weren't second- or third-generation deep. Jimmy had family here, and he wanted to leave something behind. I want to continue what he started."
James E. Casto was a reporter, editor and columnist with the Herald-Dispatch for more than 40 years before he retired in 2004. He's the author of a number of books on local and regional history. His latest book is "Legendary Locals of Huntington West Virginia" (Arcadia Publishing, $21.99), which offers brief profiles of more than 150 individuals, past and present, who have made a memorable impact on the community.
More notable local historic figures
William H. Cabell (1772-1853) was the governor of Virginia, for whom Cabell County is named because he was a major landowner in the area. Although he never lived in Cabell County, he owned more than 4,400 acres of land in the county, at Greenbottom, on the Ohio River north of present Huntington, including eight miles of riverfront. He bought the land in about 1819 at a trustee's sale in Richmond, apparently sight unseen, according to the West Virginia Encyclopedia.
He was born in Cumberland County, Va., the son of Nicholas Cabell and grandson of Dr. William Cabell, a surgeon in the British Navy who settled in Virginia in 1724.
According to the West Virginia Encyclopedia, he served in the General Assembly from Amherst County from 1796 to 1799 and from 1802 to 1805, when he was elected governor of Virginia by the state legislature. He served until 1808, and was serving during the Aaron Burr conspiracy, when he was arrested and tried for treason.
He later became a Virginia State Supreme Court justice and died at his residence in Richmond.
Cabell County was formed after his death.
Marshall University in Huntington is named for Chief Justice John Marshall (1755-1835), who is well known for helping shape the nation's judicial system, but also was an early explorer of West Virginia.
He was born on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains and at age 20, joined the Continental Army to fight for American independence. Later in Richmond, he turned his focus to the law and by 1790, had become the leading appellate lawyer in Virginia, according to the encyclopedia.
Marshall served in the House of Delegates, the state executive council, and as a delegate to the Virginia convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution. In 1797, President John Adams induced Marshall to go to Paris as American emissary, and he returned to a hero's welcome. He was elected to Congress in 1799, and appointed secretary of state in 1800. The following year, Adams named him chief justice.
In 1812, Chief Justice Marshall led a 20-man survey party mapping the route across Western Virginia between the James and the Ohio rivers. The path he laid out became the route of the James River & Kanawha Turnpike, the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad, and Interstate 64.
After attending the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829-1830, John Laidley, a delegate from Cabell County, returned home and founded a small institution that he called Marshall Academy. Marshall, then 74, left a profound impression on him.
Charles Lloyd Ritter
Ritter Park is named for lumberman Charles Lloyd Ritter (1865-1945). In the early 1900s, he donated 20 acres, adding to the 55 purchased by the city of Huntington for the formation of the park.
He had organized the Tug River Lumber Company elsewhere in southern West Virginia, but brought the company to Huntington in 1901. Ritter settled permanently in Huntington. He purchased many important commercial properties in the Huntington business district and invested in lumber, coal, gas, and mineral developments in West Virginia and nearby states.
Delos W. Emmons
Col. Delos W. Emmons was Collis P. Huntington's brother in-law and said to have been his right-hand man. In the founding of the city, Huntington asked him to purchase 21 farms totaling 5,000 acres.
His son, Arthur S. Emmons Sr., built the apartment building at 3rd Avenue and 12th Street, which burned in a deadly fire in 2007. In the city's early years, the building housed many of its leading residents.