Pendleton County, West Virginia

At Sugar Grove is a hamlet rather than a village. Here we see a church, two stores, a blacksmith shop, a gristmill, a resident physician, and a half dozen dwellings. There were a store, a mill, and a post office here before 1860, but there has since been a nearer approach to the characteristics of a village. Ten miles below is Brandywine, the name a reminder of Revolutionary settlers who fought in the battle of Brandywine in Pennsylvania, Here the only thoroughfare from the east of any importance reaches the South Fork. Ten years ago there were but five houses in the place. The number rose to about 20 in consequence of a "plant" being located here for the manufacture of walnut bark extract. After a few years the works closed down, but the houses generally remain occupied. Here are two store buildings, a modern church building, and a schoolhouse of two rooms. Three miles below is Oak Flat, where we find little else than a store and a resident physician. Three miles still further down, and at the entrance to Sweedland valley is the historic name of Fort Seybert, applied to a store and post office, a blacksmith shop, and three dwellings. Yet within the radius of a mile are two churches, a schoolhouse, and a well-settled neighborhood. From each of the four points along the river, roads cross the South Fork Mountain.

On the tableland beyond the mountain summit, as at Deer Run, the Dickenson settlement, and Mitchell and Dahmer post offices, are clusters of hilly but good farms with lime stone soil. The double valley of the Thorn is in the nature of a pocket, the lower course of the stream being walled in with steep hills. At the heads of the two Thorns, the valley becomes broad rather than narrow, presenting the aspect of a tolerably smooth and well settled plateau, the watershed between the sources of the Thorns and those of the Bullpasture and Cowpasture being a pair of insignificant cross ridges.

Unlike the South Fork the South Branch presents a series of ovals or pockets, these detached river bottoms growing larger as one goes northward. A mile below Franklin the river gives up an apparent purpose of climbing the valley of Trout Run, which opens in the same direction as the stream is pursuing. It now breaks abruptly through a ridge to cross a pocket of bottom land. Just below Upper Tract it turns aside from what would seem its natural course down the broad, open Mill Creek valley, the water-parting between the source of the smaller stream and a bend of the larger being scarcely perceptible. The river now enters a long and picturesque defile, at the right summit of which may be seen a long, perpendicular cliff, wherein lies the entrance to an extensive cavern.

Immediately above Upper Tract Reed's Creek enters the main valley through a cliff of very unusual appearance. It looks as though some titanic hand had cut a narrow scarf across a long and not very lofty ridge, just as a woodcutter sinks a scarf of similar appearance into the tree he is in the act of felling. The utter lack of a rounded outline at the outer end of the gorge is very exceptional. In fact the gorge gives little warning of its existence until one is quite near to it. Yet beyond the ridge thus unexpectedly opened lies a valley several miles long, the stream in seeming defiance of hydrographic law becoming larger toward its source. The bottoms of the South Branch are rather more extensive than those of the South Fork, the pear-shaped Upper Tract containing fourteen farms. The tributaries are also more important with respect to the farming lands they embrace. Again, the bordering hill lands are somewhat less exclusively in wood, especially in the broad basin northeast of Upper Tract known as the "Ridges."

Apart from the county seat the only centers of population in this valley are Ruddle and Upper Tract. The former, at the mouth of Hedrick Run has a store and several houses, and nearby a church and a mill. Upper Tract, overlooking the bottom known by the same name, though having less than a dozen houses, has the air of a village center. It has three churches, a store, and a schoolhouse of two rooms. The valley of the North Fork resembles that of the South Fork in the character and amount of its bottom lands, but differs widely with respect to its uplands. Below the precipice which marks the escarpment of the North Fork Mountain, and as far down as the East Seneca Ridge, a large share of the ground is in cultivation or pasturage. West of the river, on the Hunting Ground, behind Timber Ridge, on the slopes of Spruce Mountain, and on the plateau beyond the mouth of Seneca, are other areas of tilled and productive upland. The North Fork has a somewhat moister climate than the other valleys, and is a better grazing region. Its present greater nearness to a railroad is of much importance to its farmers. The long, brush-covered summit of Spruce Mountain and the high Roaring Plains are of local interest from the huckleberries which grow plentifully on these elevations.

Circleville, taking its name from a Zirkle who once kept store here, has more the genuine appearance of a village than any other place in Pendleton save the county seat itself. Two stores, a mill, a hotel, several minor concerns, a church, and a schoolhouse of two rooms together with about ten dwelling houses, make a very compact appearance. The river is here crossed by an iron bridge. Riverton, about six miles below, is a hamlet with an air of newness. Macksville, a few miles beyond Riverton with its store and mill is like Fort Seybert the trading point for a well-settled neighborhood. Mouth of Seneca and Onego, though having two stores each, are likewise little more than trading points. With ready access to the outer world the imposing rock scenery opposite the mouth of the Seneca and at the Miley Gap will attract not a few sightseers from abroad.

The roads of the county are fairly good, and on the leading thoroughfares the automobile is frequently seen. Yet the three rivers are spanned by only four wagon bridges, and in very high water crossing becomes impossible. There is a special embarrassment in the case of school districts that are divided by the rivers. The narrow planked foot bridges are sometimes swept away, and the high, swaying suspension bridges cannot be used by all persons.

The Pendletonian farmhouse is generally commodious. Very many of the log houses of an earlier day are still in use and contain the broad fireplace that was once universal. But the modern white-painted dwelling is also very frequent. The churches, which outside of Franklin and Upper Tract are usually frame structures, are a credit to the community. But as a rule the schoolhouses are by no means up to date.

Whatever their ancestry, the Pendletonians of to-day are practically homogeneous in blood and even more so in manners and customs. In demeanor they are plain and straight forward, and exceptionally free from caste feeling. A closer approach to social equality would be difficult to find elsewhere in America. They are industrious and thrifty, and awake to the desirability of comfort. The table fare is liberal and varied. A good living is general and destitution does not exist. Modern furniture, musical instruments, articles of ornament, and potted plants are as likely to be seen in the weather beaten farm house and in the modern cottage. In his home the dweller in these valleys is the most hospitable of Americans. The visitor from abroad is not viewed as a stranger, but is made welcome to table and lodging. The native citizen has numerous friends and relatives who have gone out to make homes in the newer states or in the railroad towns. Of those who remain are some who work a portion of the time in the industrial communities without. In going or coming, a walk of forty miles a day across mountain and valley is not unusual among these hardy mountaineers. The number of the younger Pendletonians who teach in the adjacent counties is about one-half the number required to supply the schools at home.

Tae typical Pendletonian is a blending of German, Scotch-Irish, and English, with a small infusion of the Irish, the French, the Dutch, and the Welch. Yet he differs from all these ancestral stocks. He is an American of the Americans; a type of the native who has developed in the free atmosphere of the one-time frontier.

The Englishman is of the same blood as the German, yet a quite different person. The American citizen of British ancestry is very unlike his English cousin. The Americanized citizen of German ancestry is quite as unlike his German cousin. He is in fact but little distinguishable from the American of British stock. His patient and successful industry and his good mental qualities render him a superior citizen. But wherever the descendant of the German settler permits his tendency to clannishness to stand in the way of his Americanization, he falls below his opportunities, and is the loser by doing so.

The first duty of an American is to be American; to be in harmony with American institutions, to throw himself squarely into the current of American life, and to use the American tongue in his daily conversation. Whenever he shuts himself up in a corner he narrows and shrivels, and labels himself an unprogressive stranger to the land of his birth. To a very great degree the Pendletonian of German ancestry is an American In the fullest sense of the word. But in one portion of the county this cannot be said. In this locality we find people with a century and a half of American ancestry still clinging to a speech that is merely a bastard German. These people cannot read the German Bibles remaining in their homes, nor can they read German script. Yet they use among themselves and teach their children to use a mongrel jargon that has no literature and no written form. Its dwindling and meager vocabulary has to be eked out with English words and phrases.

For this stubborn custom there is no sound excuse. Those who follow it are standing in their own light. The habit stands decidedly in the way of an easy use of English and a correct English pronunciation. It is a very needless handicap to the child who starts to school or goes among other people. It sets up an artificial and needless barrier toward the rest of the community, and narrows the intellect and the sympathies of the person behind the barrier. It tends to produce citizens of narrow and illiberal views. It fosters an air of self-depreciation, and seeks to excuse its un-progressiveness by the phrase, "we are only Dutch here." This district was the only one of the county to vote down the school levy in a recent election. The adverse vote had no effect in defeating the levy, yet it was the logical result of a dwarfing, retrogressive practice.  

Pendleton County West Virginia

Source: History Of Pendleton County West Virginia By Oren F. Morton, Franklin, West Virginia Published By The Author, 1910.


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