The 1936 flood in Harpers Ferry (courtesy of the National Weather Service)

This Week in West Virginia History: March 17-23

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

March 17, 1837: Mercer County was created from parts of Giles and Tazewell counties and named for Hugh Mercer, a Revolutionary War general.

March 17, 1858: William Edwin Chilton was born in Coalsmouth, now St. Albans. A lawyer, U.S. senator and businessman, Chilton expanded Charleston’s electric streetcar system and was publisher and editor of the Charleston Gazette.

March 17, 1891: West Virginia State University was founded as the West Virginia Colored Institute by the legislature. It was one of 17 Black land-grant colleges established under the Second Morrill Act of 1890.

March 17, 1912: Athlete Joe Stydahar was born in Pennsylvania. A star in football and basketball at WVU, he was the first-round selection of the Chicago Bears in the first NFL draft of college players in 1936.

March 18, 1820: William Stevenson was born in Warren, Pennsylvania, but later moved to Wood County in western Virginia. In 1868, he was elected the third governor of West Virginia.

March 18, 1922: Athlete Frank “Gunner” Gatski was born in Farmington. Gatski played 11 years for the Cleveland Browns (1946–56) and one for the Detroit Lions (1957). He played in 10 championship games, eight on the winning side.

March 18, 1950: Actor Brad Dourif was born in Huntington. He is best known for his portrayal of offbeat characters, including Billy Bibbitt in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Grima Wormtongue in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

March 19, 1925: Basketball teams from 11 of West Virginia’s 24 African-American high schools took the court at West Virginia State College (now University) in Institute for the first West Virginia Athletic Union (WVAU) state basketball tournament. Lincoln High School of Wheeling defeated Kimball, 25-24, in the final game to win the championship.

March 19, 1992: Four miners were killed at the Blacksville No. 1 Mine in Monongalia County while it was being sealed. Drainage pipes were being welded together, and a spark fell into the shaft, igniting methane gas.

March 20, 1849: Businessman James Kay was born in Scotland. He constructed the coke ovens at Hawks Nest, installed a cable car to carry coal across the New River, and installed a tramway to move miners and coal up and down the gorge face at Kaymoor.

March 20, 1897: Musician Frank Hutchison was born in Raleigh County. With a slide guitar sound akin to the bottleneck style, he helped instill a blues strain into modern country music, and was influential among coalfield musicians.

March 20, 1936: Recurring storms led to major flooding on the Potomac River, hitting record levels at Harpers Ferry. The Ohio River at Parkersburg reached 10 feet above flood stage.

March 21, 1914: The first West Virginia boys’ high school basketball tournament began in Buckhannon. The event was sponsored by West Virginia Wesleyan College, which at the time had the state’s largest and finest gymnasium.

March 21, 2018: Sculptor Frank Gaylord died. Born 1925 in Clarksburg, his best-known work is “The Column,” a platoon of 19 larger-than-life, stainless steel soldiers comprising the central element of the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington.

March 22, 1922: Physician Mildred Mitchell-Bateman was born in Georgia. She became the first Black woman in West Virginia to hold a high-level state administrative position when, in 1962, Governor Wally Barron appointed her director of the Department of Mental Health.

March 23, 2003: Private Jessica Lynch of Palestine, Wirt County, was serving as a supply clerk with the Army’s 507th Maintenance Company when she was captured by Iraqi forces after her group was ambushed.

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