The History of Taylor County Chapter 282


Death of Leonadis Johnson

When the agitation for the organization of the new county of Taylor began Leonadis Johnson, who has established himself at Pruntytown, was called to prepare the petition of the citizens to the Virginia Legislature to lay before that body their prayer for the passage of the bill creating this new county to save time and money to the citizens who had business with the seats of the courts at Clarksburg, Morgantown and Philippi, to which the citizens were compelled to make long and tiresome journeys and by forming a compact county of parts of Barbour, Harrison and Monongalia counties great loss of time and considerable money could be saved the people and the state.

 The petition prepared by Mr. Johnson was circulated and is said to have been signed by every voter within the area of the proposed new county and placed in the hands of Edward J. Armstrong, first citizen of Pruntytown and that representative of Harrison County in the Virginia Legislature who introduced and had the bill passed by that body on January 19,1844. Mr. Johnson’s advice was of the greatest assistance to the Gentlemen Justices in their deliberations in the momentous task of organizing the new county of Taylor. He was among the first to practice law after the courts were organized and served as the first foreman of the grand jury empaneled by Sheriff William A. Rogers on May 22,1844, for the circuit court to hear and find an indictment against those who in their opinion were guilty of infractions of the laws of the state.

 In 1848, Mr. Johnson was appointed prosecuting attorney of Taylor County and for 15 years thereafter was elected to this office by the votes of the people. He was the orator who delivered the patriotic address to the citizens of the western part of the county on the celebration of the 100th anniversary of American Independence July 4,1876, and those who heard his oration declared he left not a single page of the history of the American nation unturned on that day that marked the greatest day in the nation. When the agitation over the removal of the county seat was being discussed, he naturally favored its retention at Pruntytown but when the voters decided otherwise he took up his residence at Grafton and remained a citizen until 1885 and then moved back to Pruntytown.

His friends in Grafton entered his name on the town ticket for the office of mayor of Grafton in 1882, but his opponent, Samuel A. Albright, one of the most popular citizens of the town and who had filled the office on a previous occasion to the satisfaction of the people, was selected by the voters for the office. Perhaps the last act of Mr. Johnson’s  public career was to work for the location of the Boys Industrial School at Pruntytown and doubtless his influence was largely the result of the state establishing this school in the beautiful village. Then thirteen years later at the age of 85, he breathed hid last in the cottage at which Hon. John Barton Payne of nationwide fame first saw the light of day, and this man so largely connected with the early history of Taylor county joined his illustrious father in the silent halls of death on Monday, May 13.1903.

The comedy “Down and Up”, a nonsensical farce set to music, came to the opera house April 28,1902 and afforded the local theatre patrons a pleasant evening. 

The town council ordered the payment of the sum of 76,910.82 to Hamilton and Hoffman paving contractors for the surfacing of Boyd, West Main and Grand streets with brick paving after the street committee approved the work. These streets at times impassable during the wet season of the year and an annoyance to the cleanly housewives from the dust in the dry season. Doubtless, those housewives welcomed these improvements with heartfelt gladness that relived them from the drudgery of mud and dust.

Th J.F. Arnold Stock Company came to the Opera House for the week of May 11 to 16, 1903 and did a remarkable business despite the lateness of the theatrical season. A number of new melodramas were presented by this company that aided in bringing business into the house. Specialties and song numbers were given by Foster Dall, Frank Clayton, Clayton Macklem, the Desmond trio and the Herald Square quartette that were pleasing. At the Saturday afternoon matinee a comedy written especially for the children, “An Incubator Kid”, the house was unable to seat all who came to see this amusing bit of nonsense. The Saturday night bill, “The James Boys”, written around the exploits of those famous western characters in the hectic days of the 60s and 70s brought out the largest attendance of the week. 

A famous character and familiar figure and one of the first settlers of Grafton who came with the building of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad died at his home April 27,1903. He was Michael Finnegan, who purchased the old brick dwelling of John Miller, the first brick house built in Grafton and in his dwelling raised his family until they married and departed for other fields and the elderly couple left to themselves.

For many years he was in charge of men in the employ of the roundhouse who duty was to attend to the cleaning and reconditioning of the locomotives in service on the three divisions centering in Grafton. An inveterate practical joke, he dearly loved to make others the butt of his jokes, but did not relish the joke practiced against him. After retiring from active service with a considerable competence for his old age, and owner of quite a lor of real estate among which was land about “Finnegan’s Rock” high on the slope above the town, historical as the scene of the fortification thrown up by General Mulligan in charge of military operations at Grafton during the Civil War. Mulligan fortified the land about the rock in anticipation for the Confederate raider General William Jones, who ravaged and laid waste much property in Western Virginia on the spring of 1863. Jones, however, gave Grafton a wide berth and confined his attention to ravaging Kingwood, Morgantown and Fairmont and Mulligan never has the opportunity to fire a single gun from the elevation now being excavated for the Grafton City Hospital. 

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