A snapshot of 150 years ago


150 years ago was 1869. Ulysses S. Grant was president, William Stevenson of Parkersburg was governor, and our own Daniel Polsley just ended his term as congressman. The Transcontinental Railroad was just completed yesterday at Promontory Summit, finally linking the East and West Coasts by rail. In four days, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton will form the National Woman Suffrage Association, and in less than a month, the Cincinnati Red Stockings open the season as America’s first professional baseball team.

Eggs were 15 cents per dozen, apples only 18 cents per pound, and Kanawha Salt only at .65 per barrel. (Note that the Weekly Register wasn’t advertising Bend Area salt.) C.M. Cole; Couch & Waggener; Setzer, Sehon, & McCullough; Smith & Polsley; and John Stortz were advertising their dry goods stores on Main Street. Among the attorneys advertising in the Register were John Phelps, Nathan and George P. Simpson (father of Livia Simpson-Poffenbarger), and Daniel Polsley & Son. They were listed alongside the doctors, among them Dr. Samuel G. Shaw and noted ex-Confederate Dr. Andrew Barbee. Mason County, and particularly Point Pleasant, was certainly busy.

Hidden among all the advertisements and random bits of news from around the county and country is a tiny little notice, a mere 15 lines of the 720 on the page.

Per William Henry Powell, superintendent of the Clifton Iron & Nail Works, “we have suspended operations but temporarily. And that our suspension has been occasioned by a small portion of our hands (the Boilers) engaging in a conspiracy against our assistant manager in the Mill and Forge department, demanding his discharge, because of his fidelity to the interests of the company. All other assumed causes having been removed prior to this date. Operations will be resumed when a new set of Boilers can be had.”

Powell came to Mason County in 1866 after having established nail factories at Wheeling and Ironton, and after having served as a brigadier general in the Union Army. During the Civil War, Powell was known for his ruthlessness and was known to execute prisoners for every one of his men killed. He took part in the defense against Jenkins’ Raid, the Sinking Creek and Wytheville Raids (for which he got the Medal of Honor), and the 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaigns where he fought against Mason County’s other Civil War general, “Tiger John” McCausland. In total, he was involved in over 60 engagements.

After the war, he returned to Ironton for a short time before coming to Clifton. His first act was to build his grand home overlooking the town and Ohio River, which still stands and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. His next was to build his new nail works, opposite Clifton Pond and between the town’s two salt furnaces. Like his other two, it was extremely successful and produced between 300 and 400 kegs of nails in a single day.

Unfortunately, not long after that notice was put in the paper, General Powell was thrown from his horse and buggy in an accident and severely injured. The Register noted in October of 1869 that he was healing slowly, as his injuries were much worse than originally thought. The next year, he sold his interest in the company and moved west to Kansas City where he worked as an insurance agent. It wasn’t until 1876 that he was fully recovered, and he moved to Belleville, Illinois, where he opened yet another nail factory. He lived there until his death in 1904.

As for his Clifton Iron & Nail Company, it survived under various owners until 1884. That year, it lost over 5,000 kegs of nails in the 1884 Flood. It was moved to higher ground in Middleport, and eventually, Columbus. The last of the factory was destroyed in the Great Clifton Fire of 1893.

Information from the Weekly Register, Official Records of the Civil War, and the National Register of Historic Places.

The next meeting of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society will be at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 21, at the Mason County Library in Point Pleasant.

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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.