Mercer Salt Works

• August 9, 1954 — Former Logan County sheriff Don Chafin died in Huntington. The man referred to during his tenure as sheriff as Logan’s County’s best known citizen and public official was born June 26, 1887 in the Marrowbone section of what is now Mingo County. In 1921, he mobilized a small army of deputies - later formally organized into the militia by order of the governor - that met the union organizers in skirmishes at Blair Mountain on the Boone/Logan County. Mingo County then the center of organizing activity, was under martial law. Union miners in Kanawha heard rumors that their comrades to the south were being mistreated. On September 4, 1919 armed miners began gathering at Marmet for a march on Logan County. By the 5th, their numbers had grown to 5,000. On their way they planned to break down Chafin’s non-union stronghold. Their favorite marching song was “Hang Don Chafin to a Sour Apple Tree.” During the Aug. 24, 1921 march during the height of the Mine Wars, Chafin mobilized an army of deputies, store clerks, state police, and mine guards in an attempt to stop the march that would eventually be called the Battle of Blair Mountain. Chafin’s forces, now under the command of Colonel William Eubank of the National Guard, took positions on the crest of Blair Mountain as the miners assembled in the town of Blair, near the bottom of the mountain. On the 28th, the marchers took their first prisoners, four Logan County deputies and the son of another deputy. On the evening of the 30th, Baptist minister James E. Wilburn organized a small-armed company to support the miners. On the 31st, Wilburn’s men shot and killed three of Chafin’s deputies, including John Gore, the father of one of the men captured previously. During the skirmish, a deputy killed one of Wilburn’s followers, Eli Kemp. Over the next three days, there was intense fighting as Eubank’s troops brought in planes to drop bombs. By Sept. 1, President Harding finally sent federal troops in to quell the uprising

• On August 10, 1862 — Union troops destroyed the Mercer Salt Works in present-day Summers County. Before the Civil War, salt for the New River Territory was provided by an elaborate salt works on New River near the mouth of Lick Creek, now in Summers County, but then in Mercer County where it was one of the major salt suppliers to the state. From the onset of the Civil War, the Union strategists undertook a concerted effort to neutralize southern salt works. The price of salt, which sold for as little as 17¢ per bushel before the war, shot up to over $8 in 1862. The use of saltpeter is a critical component of gunpowder, and the destruction of the Mercer Salt Works was of strategic importance in diminishing the Confederacy’s ability to make gunpowder during the Civil War. The 23rd Ohio Regiment was encamped on August 10, 1862 at Camp Green Meadows near the mouth of Bluestone River - with Lieut. Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes in command. He dispatched detachments – Company E with 39 men, Company K with 27 men, Company H with 30 men, and a squad of men from A, I, and C of twenty-seven men, and about twenty-five cavalry, total force of about 150 - to ride to the salt works and destroy it and it never operated after that date. The cavalry rode 50 miles that night. They reached the salt works at 2 A. M., found it going full blast, with steam operation, and it was burned out “root and branch.” No one was hurt, but three horses were badly wounded. One volley was fired, and then the salt works was burned to the ground. The marker for the salt works stands now shortly before the turn off to Pipestem Resort State Park in Summers County.

August 11, 1897— Striking miners from Ohio, peacefully invaded the state for the sole purpose of shutting down Bogg’s Run Mine, the only railroad mine in operation in Wheeling. Representative miners from Ohio and West Virginia passed a revolution late the previous day condemning Northfork and Western railroad for hauling coal from the WV fields. Later that day, 200 more men from Barton, Maynard, Pascoe and other mines in Eastern Ohio joined their fellows that had arrived around 3 a.m. A large n number of men from the mining towns along the line from Wheeling to Lake Erie announced their plans to join the strikers later in the week. In the face of the show of force, most of the miners at Bogg’s didn’t go into work, with only 8-10 coming in and none of them willing to go down in the mine. Miners from as far as Moundsville and Benwood also joined in the strike that day; however; all of the mines from Charleston to Point Pleasant reported all mines working and miners dedicated to staying on the job. J. W. Rea, President of the Union of Carpenters along with other labor leaders held meetings in Worthington and Wilsonburg in support of the strike that was brewing since July where Mr. Rea stated at a large conference in Wheeling, “…as long as we advocate nothing but what is right the day is not far distant when the people at Washington will stop selling us out for their personal gain. The interest of the business men and wage earners should be more consolidated. Our business men and wage earners should stand together.” As the week progressed, more miners joined the strikers on the march and although no violent incidents had occurred, the miners were struck by an injunction to cease to which the then President Dolan of the district miners replied, “It will make no difference to us. We will not break camp and will go right along as usual until the matter is tested in the courts. We will stay here regardless of every judge in Alleghany county and if they try to enforce the injunction, they will have to build more jails to accommodate the men.” By Saturday morning, all Wheeling mines had closed, but by Tuesday the following day according to accounts, mines were open and running as usual.

August 12, 1968 — The federal trial of former Governor William Wallace Barron and five other men, charged with conspiracy to engage in bribery in connection with state government contracts, began in Charleston. In Barron’s first year as governor, the legislature created the Public Employees Retirement System, the Department of Natural Resources, the Air Pollution Control Commission, the Human Rights Commission, the Industrial Development Authority, and the Department of Commerce. Barron established a unique work and training program by combining the state’s own emergency employment plan with a federal grant program. He addressed economic development by appointing an economic advisory council. A statewide clean-up program was organized through volunteers. He also initiated an expansion of the state parks system. February 1968, however—in what became known as the ‘‘Valentine Day’s Massacre’’— Barron and five others were indicted by a federal grand jury on bribery-conspiracy charges relating to alleged ‘‘dummy corporations.’’ Barron insisted he was innocent. The charges sketched an elaborate kickback scheme from persons doing business with the state. AT the trial the prosecution alleged that documents signed by all six indicated they would ‘‘share equally in all profits.’’ Five state vendors testified they sent checks to the dummy firms. The judge felt the governor’s case was ‘‘on a little different basis than [those of] the other defendants,’’ and seriously considered a directed verdict of acquittal on the basis the governor acted routinely in signing the agreements without intent of wrongdoing. The seven woman-five man jury deliberated 18 hours. Their verdict read: Barron, innocent; the others, guilty.

• August 13, 1992 —Governor Gaston Caperton announced the creation of the West Virginia Streams Restoration Program, dedicated to treating acid drainage from coal mining. At least $14 million in funds were dedicated over a four year period. The acid water run off from the mine drainage was determined to kill fish and other aquatic life, in effect putting streams off limits for fishing and other recreational uses. Iron and acid pollution from mines had threatened city water supplies in places like Morgantown and Buckhannon, and in some areas of southern West Virginia coal towns, streams and well water were undrinkable. This was the state’s first comprehensive program dedicated to treating mine- polluted water. According to then Governor Caperton, “It is estimated that more than 1,900 miles of West Virginia streams and rivers are [affected] by acid mine drainage. The problem is severe enough to render miles of streams devoid of life. In many instances, these streams were once among West Virginia’s most valuable scenic and recreational water resources. The Blackwater River is a prime example.” The river, according to a 1990 study the median dissolved-oxygen concentration was the lowest for the 10 monitoring statins of the survey as well as an excessive nutrient concentrations and other effects due to the discharge and the river was under a fish tissue consumption advisory because of the contamination from a paper-processing plant upstream. However, the program was not without its controversy with the environmentalists’ complaining that the regulations were “a slap in the face” while the coal industry leaders said that the environmentalists were “exaggerating” and that the program to clean up the watersheds would put small and medium coal operations out of business. Both federal and state funds were used in an attempt to clean up and bring back the life in miles of streams and watersheds across the state. Allowing many to come back such as the Cheat River.