This Week in West Virginia History

A scene from the 1937 flood along the Ohio River. (West Virginia Humanities Council | Courtesy)

A scene from the 1937 flood along the Ohio River. (West Virginia Humanities Council | Courtesy)

The following events happened on these dates in West Virginia history. To read more, go to e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia at

Jan. 24, 1968: Mary Lou Retton was born in Fairmont. She made history at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles when, at 16, she became the first American woman ever to win a gold medal in gymnastics and the first native West Virginia woman to win a gold medal in Olympic competition.

Jan. 25, 1814: Francis Harrison Pierpont was born near Morgantown. On June 20, 1861, Pierpont was unanimously elected as governor of the unionist Reorganized State of Virginia, which sat at Wheeling until West Virginia entered the Union two years later.

Jan. 25, 1878: Activist Lenna Lowe Yost was born in Basnettville in Marion County. She held key leadership roles in the woman’s suffrage movement and the temperance movement.

Jan. 25, 1889: Anna Johnson Gates was born in Kanawha County. The state’s first female state legislator, Gates was elected to the House of Delegates in 1922 and served a single term.

Jan. 26, 1850: Wyoming County was formed by the Virginia General Assembly from a part of Logan County.

Jan. 26, 1960: Burnsville High School basketball player Danny Heater scored 135 points in a varsity game against Widen, setting a national record. Heater went on to receive an academic scholarship to attend the University of Richmond.

Jan. 27, 1925: Bernard L. Coffindaffer was born in Nicholas County. In the 1980s and 1990s, Coffindaffer erected clusters of crosses along the highways of West Virginia and much of the Southeast.

Jan. 27. 1933: Folk artist George Connard Wolfe was born in Standard, Kanawha County. A self-trained sculptor, he made his own tools from automobile leaf springs and engine valves and worked in stone and wood.

Jan. 27-28, 1998: Flat Top on the Mercer-Raleigh county line received a record snowfall of 35 inches in a 24-hour period.

Jan. 28, 1902: Miners Hospital No. One opened at Welch, with a young Dr. Henry Hatfield as president. The legislature had passed a law requiring the building of state hospitals for those engaged in dangerous occupations, and eventually three hospitals were built in different sections of the state.

Jan. 28, 1937: In a flood that drove a million Ohio Valley residents from their homes, the Ohio River crested at Huntington at 69.45 feet, more than 19 feet above flood stage. By the time the water receded, five people were dead, and the city was in ruins.

Jan. 29, 1903: The great rhododendron was designated the official state flower of West Virginia, after being recommended by the governor and voted on by students in the public schools.

Jan. 30, 1818: Nicholas County was created by the Virginia legislature from parts of Greenbrier, Kanawha, and Randolph counties. The county was named for Wilson Cary Nicholas, a Virginia governor and U.S. senator who lived from 1761 to 1820.

Jan. 30, 1895: Mingo County was created from the southern part of Logan County. Mingo is the youngest county in West Virginia.

e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia is a project of the West Virginia Humanities Council. For more information, contact the West Virginia Humanities Council, 1310 Kanawha Blvd. E., Charleston, WV 25301; (304) 346-8500; or visit e-WV at

A scene from the 1937 flood along the Ohio River. (West Virginia Humanities Council | Courtesy) scene from the 1937 flood along the Ohio River. (West Virginia Humanities Council | Courtesy)