Mason County Memories: A Connecticut Yankee in King Coal’s court


By Chris Rizer - Special to the Register



Our county was settled by people from every part of the original 13 colonies. Of course, we had quite a few Virginians, mostly farmers and frontiersmen from the already-crowded Shenandoah Valley but with a few large landowners and slave owners mixed in. We also had plenty of the same types from the other mid-Atlantic and southern colonies, along with the English, German, Irish, and Welsh immigrants that arrived at Philadelphia and Baltimore. With all of those groups mixed in, it’s easy to overlook the last group, businessmen and entrepreneurs from New England.

They came in two primary waves, following the American Revolution and again at the height of the Industrial Revolution. In the 1790s, veterans of the Revolution were seeking their promised bounty lands in the west. They were joined by the Ohio Company, a group of land speculators from New England that sought to profit off the newly acquired lands in Ohio by buying it for next to nothing and convincing other New Englanders to move west. Their plan was a smashing success. They ended up with over 1.2 million acres in Washington, Athens, Meigs, Gallia, and Lawrence Counties, and in 1788, Rufus Putnam of Massachusetts laid out Marietta. He was soon joined by many others from New England, some of whom settled at Marietta and some of whom spread throughout the Ohio Company lands. Among them were Hamilton Kerr and James Smith, who with Virginian John Niswonger, settled near the mouth of Leading Creek and Brewster Higley IV, who in 1799 became the founder of Rutland.

Moving forward to the 1830s, we begin another wave of migration. This time, it was in search of wealth. As I’ve wrote in past weeks, our region was well-endowed with natural resources, and though the farmers and frontiersmen of Virginia had no interest in coal or salt, businessmen from New England certainly did.

Foremost among them was Valentine B. Horton, a lawyer from Vermont and an agent for Samuel Wyllys Pomeroy of Boston. He named his new town after Pomeroy, had a steam saw mill built, and launched the coal works that would quickly make the Bend Area a frequent stop of steamboats. Indeed, Horton brought the industrial power of New England to the Bend. He installed tramways to bring coal from the mines to the wharfs, and he was the first to suggest using barges to haul coal. Previously, this had been done using flatboats, but these were slower and could not travel back without a great deal of time and effort. He also suggested using coal to fuel steamboats, previously fueled by wood due to the sulfur-like smell from Pennsylvania coal. This was a smashing success, and between the two, revolutionized the shipping industry on inland waterways and made Pomeroy a guaranteed stop by any who traveled the river.

He followed up his success in coal with an even greater one, which I wrote about last week. It was Horton who built the first salt furnaces on the Ohio side of the Bend, and who, through his investments, controlled over half of the furnaces ever built on that side of the river. Which brings us to the second New Englander that revolutionized industry in the Bend Area, George W. Moredock of Connecticut.

In 1854, the Mason County Mining and Manufacturing Company sent two agents from their headquarters in Hartford, Connecticut to oversee their new lands, 540 acres at the upper end of Waggener’s Bottom. Moredock, and his brother-in-law William Healy, had the land surveyed

and a town plotted, and set about building everything necessary for the town to prosper. This included the furnace itself, a saw mill, cooperage (for barrels), blacksmith, wharf, company store, and a string of houses along Sliding Hill. Truly, Hartford was the closest our county got to a company town, where the company controlled everything from your job to the house you lived in and the food you ate. Yet there were no complaints, and by all indications, Moredock was revered by his employees.

Moredock was to salt what Valentine B. Horton was to coal. Horton’s furnaces were successful, but Moredock put the Bend Area on the map. He built the biggest furnace, produced the most, and frequently boasted of the fastest ships. He also led the trust that was organized the fight competition in New York and Michigan.

In short, without the businessmen from New England, without Horton and Moredock, it’s unlikely that our area would have ever been anything more than a rural, farming community. It was their industrial leadership that made the Bend Area a powerhouse during the 1800s.

Information from the writings of Anna Lederer and Mildred Chapman Gibbs.

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By Chris Rizer

Special to the Register

Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at masonchps@gmail.com.

Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at masonchps@gmail.com.