The History of Taylor County Two Hundred-One

Serious Catastrophe Averted

M. Boyles had plans prepared for a six-story brick building to be erected on the vacant lot adjoining the old Ward hotel on West Main street for an addition to the historical old hostelry that figure in the Civil war in the 60s.  The old Ward House was erected by Thomas Parry in 1855 who erected the building for the entertainment of the travelling public who made the town of Grafton the point for their incursions into the counties not yet reached by the railroads for orders of merchandise, travelling with trunks of samples by wagon to the remote towns and villages in search of business.

Mr.Parry died shortly after opening his house of entertainment and the house was leased to Thomas Smouse and his sister, Mrs. Kate Halderman, who conducted the hotel until the outbreak of the Civil war when the hotel was taken over by Nathan Means, whose Uncle Joseph Matlick, a member of Captain R. Latham’s Grafton Guards, described as a most orderly house where the weary traveller found enticing refreshments and rest.  It became the headquarters of officers of the Federal army in the beginning of the struggle between the North and South and came into prominence in the episode when young George Jordan flung the chair from its porch that prevented the town from falling into the hands of the Confederate forces on that historic Wednesday May 22, 1861.

In 1865, the old hotel was purchased by George W. Ward who came to Grafton from Beverly and operated the house until his death in 1881.  Loyd M. Boyles, his son-in-law, took over the house and conducted it along with his general merchandise business until he met a tragic fate in 1895 while superintending the erection of this towering new structure.

  Grafton’s old theatrical friend who appeared before the local public so many years was the Christmas night attraction in the Opera House and presented his rural drama “Old Farmer Hopkins”, to an almost capacity housed despite the many entertainments given in the local churches.  This was Mr.Davidson’s farewell appearance in Grafton.  In the summer he joined with his brother Mr.Davidson in conducting a Chautauqua at Mountain Lake Park.  Those who recall Frank Davidson, a handsome young actor who was leading man for Kittie Rhoades’ company and whose splendid portrayal of Armand in the drama “Camille,” Christopher Blizzard in “Confusion” and Judge Beeswinger in “M’Liss”, back in the 80’s never forgot his work and remained loyal and on each occasion of his return with his own company crowded the house to witness the many stage presentations he offered.

  Hon. George W. Curtin for many years one of the most prominent citizens of West Grafton and large lumber manufacturer, who erected his family home at 213 Walnut street removes to Sutton, Braxton county selling the home to the late Henry Gilbert.  The clearing out of the timber in the Tygart Valley watershed caused Mr.Curtin to move his large mills from Fetterman to the interior whose slopes were still covered with virgin forests and enough standing timber to operate his mills for many years to come.  People were sorry to see this fine couple who were prominent in the social life of Grafton, leave the city.

  With the water mains all laid and the tank filled with water the new water system was given the opportunity to prove its worth when a fire broke out in the warehouse of John N. Tregellas on Boyd street on the night of January 14, 1895.  The building was filled with paints, oils, varnishes and wall papers burned fiercely fed by the inflammable contents was discovered by night police officer Thomas G. love, who rushed out on Main street firing his pistol and calling loudly he alarm to awaken the sleeping town.

  The town had just received the hose and other equipment for the system which had been stored in part of the mayor’s office and council chambers in the McCormick building.  The awakened citizens rushed into the council chambers and taking up the heavy coil of hose dumped them from the side windows onto Lafayette street.  Patrolman Love quickly attached the hose to the plug and Pastor Archibald Moore of the Methodist Episcopal church carried the hose to the top of the incline and led the fight to subdue this fierce and stubborn fire.  At the word Patrolman Love turned the water into the hose lines and the fight began. 

  Despite the bitter cold weather the registering 14 degrees below zero the system worked perfectly, it was so cold the water froze on the walls of the despite the heat on the inside.  Another line of hose was attached to a plug on Washington street in case the fire attacked the flimsy structures along Boyd street to the east of Lafayette.  The fire, however, was confined to the warehouse after a hard and bitter fight, but it had gotten beyond control it is certain the catastrophe of 1887 would have been reenacted and ll of that part of the town east of Lafayette street would have been laid waste.  Those who opposed the building of the water system regretted their action when they realized the efficiency of this improvement in that hour of need and those who favored it were satisfied it was worth all, or more than it cost, in saving theirs and other properties in the line of this fire.

  On the recommendation of Engineer W.G. Wilkins, the town council accepted and took over the new water system from the contractors who reported he found the system complete and in fine working order and giving excellent service. 

  Stetson’s double Uncle Tom’s Cabin with two bands, white and colored, a double pack of bloodhounds, double cast of players and a carload of scenery came to the Opera House o New Years day, 1895 and the big street flash drew an audience as usual that filled the house.  No matter how often people saw this attraction they came time and again to see it, from an artistic standpoint the play as produced by the mediocre talent carried by the companies during the 90s left much to be desired, but that seemingly did not keep people away on the occasions that the old age drama was presented on the local stage.

  Dr. Joseph R. Ellis, a young graduate physician, opened an office for the practice of his profession in the new Merchants and Mechanics Bank building on West Main street and offered his services to those in need of his professional skill.  The young physician soon came into popular favor and earned a high place in the esteem of the people of the town.

  James F. Breedlove, a decedent of a very old Taylor county family, who as a youth was engaged by the United States government at the time the National Cemetery was established in West Grafton to cart the bodies of the soldiers interred on the land on upper Maple avenue to the new burying grounds.  At the completion of this gruesome task, he sought employment in the freight service on the Grafton-Piedmont division for a quarter of a century was one of the best known employees of the railroad until his death on January 7, 1895.  At the time of Mr.Breedlove’s employment with the government, he carted the bodies of 634 known and 629 unknown men who fell in the line of battle, died from disease and those who passed away in the United States General hospital in West Grafton.  When it was decided to hold commemorate services for the men who died for the Union and the day set for May 30, 1868, the new place of burial was found unfit for holding the service on the grounds on account of the many rough boxes stacked high on the ground and a three days rain that turned the cemetery into a sea of mud.  The service was postponed until June 14, 1868.  And on that day the first organized Memorial services were held, not within the grounds as intended but in the beautiful Handley Grove just west of the cemetery.  This first service was in all probability the first of its kind held in the United States by an organized body.


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