Princeton Times

Mercer County Memories

February 15, 2013

Mercer County Memories: Gas Exploration and Flood Control

PRINCETON — Resuming our look at the history of Mercer County, courtesy of

Kyle McCormick’s “The Story of Mercer County,” (Charleston Publishing Co. 1957), we now look at natural gas exploration in Mercer County.

Natural gas was first piped to Princeton and Athens in 1932, in the heart of the Great Depression, during the construction of the 20-inch line from Pikeville, Ky., to Rockville, Md. W.M. Reeser was the superintendent in charge of piping gas to Princeton. He lived in Princeton until 1936, when he was transferred to Beckley to serve as District Manager for the entire Amere Company. He was made Vice President in 1937. Fifteen years later, he was transferred to United Fuel in Huntington to serve as Tri-State Area Manager of Distribution.

R.R. Raines was foreman, Dougie Karnes salesman and Ruth Roney did the office work. Later, Fred Tinder, Jr. became the local manager. Acceptance was slow until after World War II. During the first 10-12 years, approximately 1,000 people installed gas.

After the war, the demand for gas service increased rapidly. E.J. Reaser, Sr. replaced Tinder, who became manager of the Beckley District, in 1945. Reaser later served as Mayor of Princeton.

General prosperity of the local community helped with the demand for gas as over the next 10-12 years, approximately 3,000 people installed gas.

In 1950, Bluefield Gas Co. made arrangements with Amere to buy gas. Later, approximately 1953, a new line was constructed from Pipestem to Princeton. New subdivisions developed and the population of Princeton also grew.

In August, 1953, Amere affiliate United Fuel Gas Company successfully drilled in a producing gas well on the Fred Cheatwood farm near Athens. In 1956, five more wells were completed, two  on the Sallie L. Bailey farm and one apiece on the Cheatwood farm, the William W. Clark farm and the W.S. Woodell farm. Two other wells were being drilled in 1957, one on the Woodell farm and one on the M.V. Shumate farm.

Before then, three test wells were drilled but proved unsuccessful, one near New Hope, one at Flat Top and one on Island Creek.

Going to a different subject, one of more current interest, Gilbert E. "Gene" Bailey suggested that I look at efforts to provide flood control and potable water to Princeton. This is a rudimentary attempt at the subject, so if you have anything you can add, please feel free to do so.

As Princeton was originally planned, it was on an axis of Main Street-Walker Street-Honaker Avenue. As it grew, it spread generally to the north and east, including Mercer Street. The area now known as Stafford Drive was a marsh fed by Brush Creek, which served as the main water source for the city, with a water plant being constructed where People's Bank now stands in the early 1900s by the then-West Virginia (American) Water Company.

The water we have seen in recent years during flooding is minor compared to the floods which used to hit Princeton. During those floods, water deep enough to row boats through would come up onto Princeton Avenue, one block up from Stafford Drive.

It took a group of citizens to push for the first project designed for three purposes; land conservation, an assured water supply and flood control. One of the leaders was Dr. Dan Hale, the namesake of the reservoir, that, to this day, provides a back-up water source for Princeton. The Brush Creek Flood Control and Soil Conservation Project used a combination of dams, dredging and other methods to limit the extent of flooding to the point that Stafford Drive could be developed.

The issue of water service and flood control was and is  an on-going one. After years of complaints about water smell and taste, a major undertaking involving numerous parties, including the WVAWC, the Oakvale Road Public Service District, the Mercer and Summers county commissions and the City of Princeton, became operational under the name the Mercer-Summers Water Control Project, which not only provides water service from Bluestone Lake to Princeton, but outlying areas as well.

The Stafford Drive flooding issue remains open, as attempts by the City of Princeton to get grant money to address the problem have not been successful to date.

To comment on this column write to me care of "Mercer County Memories" at PO Box 1199, Princeton, WV 24740 or e-mail me at or

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