Mason County Memories… A snapshot of 150 years ago

By Chris Rizer - Special to the Register

Masthead of the <em>Weekly Register</em>, Aug. 25, 1870, courtesy of Chronicling America.

Masthead of the Weekly Register, Aug. 25, 1870, courtesy of Chronicling America.

One hundred and fifty years ago was August 29th, 1870. Ulysses S. Grant was president, William E. Stevenson of Parkersburg was governor, and former Union General John Witcher was serving our district in Congress. Earlier this year, John D. Rockefeller founded Standard Oil, and abroad, France and Prussia went to war. Next week, Louisa Swain of Wyoming will be the first woman to legally vote in a general election, and in October, the National Weather Service will issue its first forecast.

A years’ subscription to Editor Tippett’s Weekly Register was $2, a six-ounce bottle of Laudanum (a painkiller derived from opium) was 6¢, and a semester’s tuition at Bethany College was only $50. Having recently paid about $8,000/semester for tuition, I must admit I’m slightly jealous!

Among those advertising in the Register were the noted attorneys ex-Lieutenant Governor and Congressman Daniel Polsley, Supreme Court Judge C.P.T. Moore, and militia commander John Phelps; Drs. James Hooff, Samuel G. Shaw, and infamous ex-Confederate Andrew Barbee; the Kline House and Union House, both hotels near the 4th Street steamboat landing; and several dry goods stores, including those of Thomas Hale, John G. Stortz, and the old firm of Setzer, Sehon, & McCullough. Point Pleasant was certainly hopping in 1870, well on its way toward Editor Tippett declaring in 1872 that the “curse of Cornstalk… is fading away,” and it’s clear that the rest of the county was booming as well.

A report from earlier in the month reported that the Ohio River Salt Company, an association made up of the various salt furnaces on both sides of the Bend, produced 199,069 bushels of salt in June. That’s over 13.9 million pounds! Meanwhile, the Clifton Iron & Nail Company was clearing nearly $1,000/month (nearly $20,000/month today) in profits. Of course, such success, then as today, leads to some good-natured bragging and boasting on behalf of one’s town. Hartford and New Haven, as sister towns founded by the same salt company, had an especially spirited rivalry.

On August 4th, from Hartford City, “The Company is boring another salt well, and are down some 700 or 800 feet, and still going down. When it is completed, we will have seven No. 1 wells throwing about 400 gallons per minute, when running.” And the next week, when reporting on the construction of a third stave mill for the town, the Hartford correspondent wrote, “We are a live people here. Come up and see us.”

Of course, that cannot go unanswered! In New Haven’s correspondence of August 18th, “Seven wells throwing 400 gallons per minute. I am inclined to the opinion, from what I have seen of salt wells, that they would be doing pretty well to pump 200 gallons per minute. Take back one cat, Brother H.”

That left only the charge of Hartford’s liveliness, and by implication New Haven’s laziness, to address. On August 25th, “The New Haven people rush things. Last Tuesday evening, there was preaching, singing-school, and the Odd Fellows all met in the same hour. How’s that for energy, Hartford?”

This back-and-forth continued for weeks. In the September 1st edition the Hartford correspondent wrote, “We hope your New Haven correspondent feels somewhat relieved since he fired his squib at us, and would just say that if he is so near out of items as to be compelled to criticize us, if he will hold onto his goose-quill long enough, we will send him a few. We have just learned that he is not very well, being afflicted with a pain in his upper department, we hope soon to hear of his speedy recovery, for it would be quite a loss to the Register to be deprived of the news from his thriving little village and surroundings.”

Apparently, the New Haven correspondent wasn’t in too serious a condition, because he responded in the September 15th issue, “Your Hartford correspondent appears to have got cross-ways in the chute. The cause of it seems to be our doubting his knowledge of salt wells.”

Simply another episode in the history of Mason County.

Information from the Weekly Register.

Masthead of the Weekly Register, Aug. 25, 1870, courtesy of Chronicling America. of the Weekly Register, Aug. 25, 1870, courtesy of Chronicling America.

By Chris Rizer

Special to the Register

Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at [email protected]

Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at [email protected]