West Virginia History
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The land on which Piedmont now stands was originally part of the lands granted by King Charles in 1664 to Lords Culpeper and Berkeley, Sir William Morton and Sir Dudley Wyatt. In 1681, Lord Culpeper bought out the other shares and became sole owner. At his death, his property went to his daughter Catherine and at her death to Lord Fairfax. Fairfax petitioned King George III to survey the area, and in 1773 William Mayo began work. Westernport had settlements as early as 1759, but by 1815, only one settler lived on land across the river that was then called the Widow Burns’ Place. Her late husband was the first postmaster of Westernport.
In 1836, General Duff Green secured land near Piedmont and chartered the Union Potomac Company, which had the power to build railroads and canals, operate coal mines and start manufacturing. He had an idea to build an extension of the C&O Canal to Westernport, but the plans never materialized. Nor did the railroad. So he sold his holdings to the Southern Insurance Company, which later conveyed it to Robert Lyon and the New Creek Company. Lyons’ company was instrumental in getting the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad to burn coal instead of wood in its locomotives. That coal came from the Piedmont area.
In 1851, the railroad finally made it to Piedmont, which had engine houses and repair facilities, as well as abundant coal for the trains. By 1855, Piedmont had more than 150 buildings and a population of 1200, an increase of 800 in only four years. On May 5, 1864, Confederate forces under Captain John Hanson McNeill raided the town, burned the roundhouse and machine shops, but Union forces under General Benjamin F. Kelly arrived in time to keep them from burning the Bloomington bridge a mile upstream. Piedmont was incorporated in 1866, the same year Mineral County was formed.
Some famous Piedmont natives:
Don Redman – Known as the “Little Giant of Jazz”, he was born in Piedmont in 1900. A child prodigy, he was playing trumpet by the age of three. He studied harmony, theory and composition at conservatories in Detroit and Boston. His career began in 1923 with Fletcher Henderson at New York’s famous Club Alabam. He then became arranger, saxophonist and vocalist with one of the nation’s top groups, McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, from 1927-31. He arranged music for Harry James, Jimmy Dorsey, Paul Whiteman, Charlie Barnet and Jimmie Lunceford in the 1930s and 40s. From 1951 until his death in 1964, he was music director for Pearl Bailey. Leonard Feather, in his Encyclopedia of Jazz, called Redman the “first composer-arranger of any consequence in the history of jazz; the first musician with both the inspiration and the academic knowledge for this branch of music.”
Leslie Thrasher – Born in Piedmont in 1889, he received fine arts training in Philadelphia and Paris. For six years beginning in 1924, he created a cover a week for Liberty Magazine, which paid him $1000 for each cover. He also did cover work for the Saturday Evening Post, as well as ads for DuPont, Cream of Wheat and Chesterfield. By the time of his death in a fire in 1936, Thrasher had created more cover paintings than Norman Rockwell did in his entire lifetime. Had he not died at an early age, his work could have surpassed Rockwell’s. Today, his original cover work goes for as much as $100,000.
Dr. Henry Louis Gates – A 1968 Piedmont High School graduate, he is the nation’s premier African American scholar. His controversial best-selling book Colored People was a chronicle of his life in Piedmont. He is director of the W.E.B. DuBois Institute for Afro-American Research and is the W.E.B. DuBois Professor of Humanities at Harvard University. Described as one of the most notable intellectuals in the country, Gates received a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award when he was a 30-year-old junior faculty member at Yale University, and was granted tenure at Cornell University at age 33. Gates also has authored Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Man; Loose Canons: Notes on the Culture Wars; The Signifying Monkey: Towards a Theory of Afro-American Literary Criticism; and Figures in Black: Words, Signs and the Radical Self.
Henry Gassaway Davis - Born in Baltimore in 1823, he moved to Piedmont to become the stationmaster in 1852. He lived in a box car until he was able to build a house, which still stands and is known as the Davis Mansion. He is better known as one of the founders of Davis & Elkins College (with his son-in-law Stephen B. Elkins) and as a vice presidential candidate in 1904, on the Democratic ticket with Alton Parker. But he also laid the foundation for something we all take for granted when we travel at night – headlights. He came up with the idea of putting a reflective oil lamp on the front of locomotives so that goods could be moved at night. Also, three towns in West Virginia are named for him – Henry, Gassaway and Davis. Western Maryland Railroad can also trace its roots to Mr. Davis and Piedmont. Formed in part by Davis, it was originally called the Piedmont Coal and Coke Railroad, before being changed to the West Virginia Central and Pittsburgh, and later to the Western Maryland, before being absorbed into what is now CSX. He was also president of the Piedmont & Cumberland Railway and the Davis National Bank. He served in the state legislature from 1865-71 and was a U.S. Senator from 1871-83. He also served as a delegate to the Pan-American Congress.
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This page was created in 2004 and was last updated on 30 June 2012 at 2:47 pm
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