Princeton Times

Mercer County Memories

July 1, 2012

Mercer County Memories: Air service evolves, as business builds around it

PRINCETON — Resuming our look at the history of Mercer County, courtesy of Kyle McCormick’s “The Story of Mercer County,” (Charleston Publishing Co. 1957), and the signers of the Declaration of Independence, courtesy of Benson J. Lossing’s book “Lives

of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence,” which is a reprint of the 1848 original kindly provided on loan by Dr. O.J. Bailes, we now look at a history of local aviation in Mercer County.

Among the earliest aviators in the area were George McCullough, Harvey Amos, Ernest T. Godsey, William Mitchell, Buck Miller, Clyde Smith and Margaret Nunan, West Virginia’s

first female flyer. Jarius Collins Jr., of Bramwell, became the first casualty when he wrecked his plane at Staunton, Va., when picking up passengers.

The Bluefield air service company was called the Pocahontas Air Transport Company. Major Otto Comp, a German pilot in World War I, was chief instructor. The company carried thousands of passengers before closing its doors when the Bluefield Airport was abandoned.

In the spring of 1933, the New Deal’s Civil Works Administration came into existence. D.L. Casey, then secretary of the Princeton Chamber of Commerce, seized the opportunity to build an airport along the present location of Morrison Drive with hangars and office headquarters.

Some years before, the city had acquired this property to build a preparatory school for Emory & Henry College, as it was then known. The plan failed, and though the city held title to the land, the title had flaws. It cost close to $50,000 to iron out all the loopholes.

Godsey was manager of the first air service from the airport. There was a training school, a transport service and private planes were hosed inside the hangar.

A short-lived, as in a one-month, air service, the Tri-State Aviation Company serving West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, ran daily mail service between Princeton, Wheeling and Fairmont, among others.

Going to the Lossing book, we come to the namesake of Wythe County, Va., and Wytheville, Va., George Wythe, of Virginia. Wythe as born in 1726 to wealthy parents, which secured him the best possible education. His father died when he was young, and his mother, who was schooled in Latin, took over his education and moral guidance, before his 21st birthday.

For the next 10 years, Wythe spent his time and money in pursuit of pleasure, a period he regretted for the rest of his days. Once he came to his senses, he began the study of law in the office of a Mr. Jones, being admitted to the bar in 1757 rose rapidly in eminence, not only as an able advocate, but a strictly conscientious one. His ability and honor saw him appointed chancellor of the state, then the highest judicial office, when the state organized an independent government. He held that office for the remainder of his life.

Before the Revolution, Wythe was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses and when the Stamp Act aroused the patriotic resistance of the people, he, along with Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, Peyton Randolph and others, were the leaders when the Revolution broke out.

In 1775, Wythe was elected to Congress and threw his full support behind Lee’s proposal for independence the next year, signing the Declaration of Independence. He also worked with Thomas Jefferson and Edmund Pendleton to codify the laws of Virginia to make them conformable with the newly organized government that fall.

In 1777, he was chosen as Speaker of the House of Burgesses and elevated to bench as one of three judges of the high court of Chancery. When the court was reorganized, he became sole judge and occupied the role for more than 20 years, ruling with serious investigation and analysis. For a while, he served as professor of law at the College of William & Mary, instructing two future presidents and a future chief justice of the Supreme Court, but resigned when he moved to Richmond due to demands on his time.

Wythe served both in the Constitutional Convention and as a member of the Virginia convention, which voted on its adoption and served two terms as a U.S. senator, plus he opened a private school, free to those who chose to attend it.

Wythe died on June 8, 1800, when he was allegedly poisoned by a close relative. He was 80 years old. He left no children, as his only child died in infancy. He freed his adult slaves during his life and released his younger ones in his will, which also provided for a family he had given freedom.

See you next time. This makes a good stopping point for this column. To share input on this column, contact me c/o “Mercer County Memories” at jharvey1@frontiernet.net or

delimartman@yahoo.com.

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Mercer County Memories