Embrace Tyler’s Past, Present And Future
Sometimes, a reporter/editor needs to get away from the office especially as the clock is ticking on my time in Tyler County.
Though I’ve traveled to various places such as Wick, Shiloh and Indian Creek, I’d never been past the Roberts’ farm on Elk Fork Road until I got an invitation Monday from local historian Eli Henthorn.
For anyone who doesn’t already know, Henthorn’s mastery of time and events from Tyler County’s past is amazing. A true West Virginian, Henthorn’s passion for his home inspires the soul, so I couldn’t have had a better guide.
Henthorn drove us to a cemetery on a hill above where the Simpson Church once stood. Many very old graves are surrounded by the greenest and softest moss. Theophilus Harter’s gravestone is located in this cemetery.
Henthorn knows a little something about this Confederate soldier.
Harter’s grave stone not only provides the bookends of his time on earth born June 11, 1837 and died Jan. 24, 1922 but reveals that he served with a Virginia Cavalry unit.
Harter knew the final details of Gen. Stonewall Jackson’s death, but that’s a story for another day.
After the war, Harter was a coal miner and farmer in Tyler County.
Local lore has it that Harter ran for president as a socialist in 1916, according to Henthorn.
This jives with the times because Marion and Tyler counties had scores of coal mines and labor unrest was not in short supply in the Mountain State.
Henthorn among others I’ve talked to have described Harter as passionate about his politics. He was one of those people that if you got him started talking, he’d give you a filibuster.
Many men were like that back in the day, so this was nothing unusual.
But this wasn’t the end of the tour not by a long shot.
Conaway was the next stop. Once upon a time, the tiny backwoods town boasted a post office, store, church and a few houses near the crossroads, Henthorn said. One can almost imagine what life was like then as people walked to their neighbors and were more self-reliant.
Today, the aging abandoned remains of James Mayfield’s two-story white wooden house and nearby store are about all that is left.
Iuka is another such place that is fading to time. That spot on the map once had a school, store and church. However, Henthorn secured a green sign from the state that officially places Iuka on the map for another generation.
There were more than a few such houses along Henthorn’s tour de force. The boy and I talked about which homes could be saved and which, well, not so much. A house by Nolan Run Road, aka Fallen Timbers, had promise, so our conversation centered on the idea that a pastoral life celebrated among the hills is better than a crowded existence in a big city. Nolan Run Road is not so much a road anymore as a creek, but that’s alright because the water looked clear, clean and refreshing.
Stories about families and folks’ sense of place took us past John Roberts’ grandfather’s home. That family has deep roots in Tyler County.
Our trip took us past a water well with a curious stone atop it. Henthorn said the man’s son was a stone carver, so he carved a bust of his father to place atop the well. Amazing.
The tour took us to a family cemetery that required more than a few steps up the side of steep mountain to reach. As we treked through the brush and the brambles, Henthorn said the mountain had been a grassy field long ago. Back then, farmers gathered stones as they found them and placed them in a big pile probably as no one has ever been to keen on plowing around stones.
The cemetery was located in a slightly sloping clearing in the woods. Henthorn’s efforts through his historical research have secured a headstone for Eugenius Lemasters, a Civil War infantry soldier.
Henthorn then laid out this man’s tale of woe. While Lemasters was away fighting for the Union, he got word that his children were sick. Four stones mark the graves his children who succumbed to diphtheria. That’s not the end of the story. Lemasters later would contract typhus and die on Jan. 20, 1863, on his way home. Life was rough then.
Further up the mountain is very well-kept cemetery that overlooks many hills and valleys. A picturesque farmhouse sits nearby. Not many places are closer to God.
Henthorn’s passion for Tyler County has the power to restore the soul. Thank you for the memories. Not only can you see the past through his eyes, but you want to believe in the present and future.
Embrace this sense of place and carry it wherever you go.
I know I will.