Huntington Wv, A Time In History Essay, Research Paper
Abstract This paper introduces the City of Huntington, and briefly discusses its founding. It also explains how the 1937 flood of the Ohio River had a severe impact on Huntington and the people that lived there. This Essay also speaks of the damage in numbers of the flood and the steps taken to prevent this devastating incident from happening again. Finally, the essay discusses how that there is a message to be derived from the survival of this flood; to inhibit the chance of disaster in the case of another sudden emergency. In 1937, the Ohio River suddenly flooded its banks and found its way into the bordering city of Huntington. There it quickly covered everything in its way leaving behind a path of destruction that would wreak havoc on the city’s structure and the lives of the people who worked and lived there.The people of Huntington shared a special correlation with the river. It was a main reason for their city’s existence, along with the migrating and settling of the land on which it was built. This powerful river was literally the river of life for the rapidly growing city of Huntington, however it was also the same powerful river that overwhelmingly took the city’s life away. The citizens of Huntington may have also died with the city, had it not been for the morals and values of humanity that were anchored so deeply in their roots. But through love and respect of each other, they had overcome the devastating blow that had become of the river. Keeping their eyes focused upon the important things in life, the people quickly recovered and promptly pronounced their city’s rebirth! A Brief History Huntington, West Virginia’s second largest city, was planned and built along the southern bank of the Ohio River in 1871. The location where Huntington was built had already been established as a transfer point between riverboats and horsedrawn vehicles since the early 1800’s. By 1873, Huntington, just three years old, had become the final link and a vital artery to the Transcontinental Railroad, which would then link the eastern United States coast with the western United States coast. The city of Huntington received its name in honor of the great railroad boss, Collis P. Huntington, who had come to the Ohio Valley region in search of a site on which to build an important railroad link. Mr. Huntington had seen some of the largest cities in the nation before he arrived here in the valley, and after seeing the huge, wide-open bottoms along the Ohio River, he knew that the potential for a great city and railroad junction lay right beneath his feet. This was an economic goal as well as a personal endeavor for Mr. Huntington. The community of Huntington was incorporated as a city by an act, passed by the West Virginia Legislature on February 27,1871. Shortly following this act more lot sales began. With completion of the railway, the city now offered both train and riverboat access and Huntington grew into a major transportation center almost overnight. Located at a junction of three states, Huntington had an advantage with access to natural elements and fuels like coal, wood, gas, and other minerals. This attracted many new industries and manufacturers, which made jobs and increased population over and over again. Huntington quickly grew from a town into a city of full force. (Miller 9) 1937 Flood of Huntington The next 66 years were kind and prosperous for the City of Huntington, even in hard times. It was the 1937 flood that brought this great city to her knees abruptly. When the mighty Ohio River came raging out of its banks it imposed terror on anything that dared to enter its path. Huntington was almost three-quarters covered in floodwater. A flood like this, so unexpected and dramatic, usually does its worst damage in the days of recession as people wander aimlessly in chaos to gather what they could find to survive. (Lowell 148)The people that lived in Huntington and its suburbs, however, were obviously of a different nature, for they survived the horrible aftermath in stride. The people of this city pulled together like one enormous close-stitched family, turning bad into good. I live in the community of Westmoreland, the most western part of Huntington, where most of the people today still have those family-like values. Paul Black, a Huntington and Westmoreland native, has lived here all of his life, and he worked as a fireman for the city for many years. I spoke with him about the great flood, to which he was a witness. Eyewitness Account “One of the biggest events in my history was the 1937 flood, which covered almost all of Huntington. As a resident of the Westmoreland area, I recall that the only dry spot of my neighborhood was on the corner of Piedmont Road and Camden Road. The worst part about it was that when the water started to rise, it came swiftly and brutally. Everyone moved out and went to higher ground. The people that lived here realized what a big flood could do, so everyone who had a boat was available to help those who didn’t. They would make several trips to the house to get stuff and bring it back to dry land. We picked up all of the food that we could gather from the houses along the river by boat, and took it over to the old Thompson’s Stove Factory, which is now Corbin’s Clothing Factory.
“People were putting cows and other livestock on second floors. One fellow, named Henry Williams, had his hogs up on the second floor of his house over on Piedmont Road to keep them from drowning. He had a little dairy up on Hughes Street and had taken all of his equipment over to the stove factory to help feed the people. People got along good after being accustomed to getting out and helping one another and themselves. No one really suffered because of lack of food; people would bring that in from the country. As far as I know, no one died. Everyone mostly lost material things. “An example was my own house on Bradley road; I went to it by boat and water was lapping the attic window. This was a house with 12-foot ceilings. My dad was a piano tuner and traveling preacher, and he had about five pianos that he had been working on at the time. He and I raised them up as high as we could get them, but the water got every one of them. We had stacked everything up as high as we could get it, but the water still got to it.”After the water receded, I went back to my house. Everything that my family had owned was lying in the floor; it just came apart. But it wasn’t just us, everyone got hit hard. There really wasn’t anything we could do about it, people just came to accept it. Everybody started helping each other, and we started putting things back together. It was all a matter of reconstruction. People concentrated on getting their lives back together, and getting back to work so that they could buy food and other goods. We cleaned the schools out and got the kids back to class. Everyone just kind of started a healing and rebuilding process.” Assessing the Damage When the floodwaters subsided, the Corps of Engineers set out to assess the damage left by the flood. The river had damaged 43,866 homes, 3,165 barns, and 13,761 other buildings. A total of 3,211 homes, 1,183 barns, and 8,466 other structures were completely destroyed. 102, 738 families reported damage or loss of household goods. Livestock losses included 1,968 working animals, 3,354 cattle, 3,516 hogs, 243,282 poultry, and 11,425 domestic animals.(Red Cross 56) The floodwall was a relief for all of the locals, because it brought security and made the property value go up. Right after the flood you could by a house for $100. Some packed up and left right after the flood, others felt as if this was their only home and they stayed. The flood didn’t change much of downtown Huntington, except for a few businesses. The old river was big at that time, hilltop to hilltop. The good thing about the flood was that it provided for the upgrade of our whole city with new buildings and businesses. The City came back after the flood, but most of its economy didn’t. The city soon taxed everyone to death to pay for everything. Back when the streetcars ran, people had a lot more money to spend. But the city hasn’t kept up with the changes in people and industry, otherwise it would be a much more prosperous place. (Black)Paul Black states “It’s beginning to be a prosperous city again, but it’s just starting. It will come back. No way you can keep from it. To my opinion, it’s one of the cleanest and prettiest cities in the state!” In Conclusion Mr. Black states that the city is beginning to be progressive again. I wonder if the restructuring of some of the buildings in the town is bringing back the business, or are the people taking up with the old values that brought this city where it is now? The flood destroyed many things and drove away many people, but it also teaches a lesson to those who will observe its story: a story that says if you believe in yourself and your fellow neighbors enough to share a burden, then you can withstand any load that comes to rest on your shoulders. Paul Black is a living testimony of the love and faith that a community needs to be able to withstand a devastating blow.Huntington is a beautiful city. I think that right now there’s enough goodness here to overcome any obstacles that have made other cities become corrupted and morally bankrupt. With wisdom and insight passed on from our Huntington natives, together we can keep this city one large community for one big family who is always ready to welcome new members.
Black, Paul. Personal Interview. Huntington Native, Huntington, WV. February 1998. Lowell, Thomas. Hungry Waters: The story of the great flood of 1937. Universal Book and Bible House, 140-211. Miller, Doris C. A Centennial History of Huntington West Virginia, 1871-1971. Huntington Centennial Commission; Franklin Printing Co., Huntington, W.Va., 1971. 9 Red Cross. U.S. American National Red Cross, (1938). The Ohio-Mississippi Valley Flood Disaster of 1937. National Red Cross. Washington, D.C. s.n. C1938. 10-163.F