Tuesday, November 20, 2007

First Bright Rays Of Marlinton's Prosperity

Here's a second installment from Benign Betrayal: Capitalist Intervention in Pocahontas County, West Virginia, 1890-1910 by John Hennen. It seems the contemporary Pocahontas Times editors were active in promoting the sale of Pocahontas County land to the speculative land development companies which clear-cut and abandoned the valuable forest lands in the early twentieth century.

....Plans for the anticipated boom in Marlinton were enthusiastically endorsed by a progression of editors of the town's newspaper, the Pocahontas Times....Editor John E. Campbell reported early in 1891 that "Pocahontas County will undergo the greatest development and prosperity of any County in the State in the next five years. She will have a railroad, and the industries that will spring up from it will furnish employment to thousands of families. She has iron and coal and untold millions of feet of lumber, which speaks for itself." Campbell described the Pocahontas Land Development Company as
. . . composed of men of wealth and influence prone . . . to make Marlinton a city, and we have every reason to believe they will, knowing as we do the vast surroundings of timber, coal, iron ore, limestone, building stone, fire clay, and in fact everything that is calculated to furnish for ages to come, industrial manufacturing plants of almost every description. . . . Ex-Senator Camden says that Marlinton will become at no distant day the largest manufacturing city in the interior of the State.

This overwrought prose is something more sinister than Babbitt-like boosterism. Editors John Campbell and Andrew Price profited personally from the economic boom of railroads and big timber companies, and I don't think they were offering advice with the sole intention of benefiting their fellow citizens.

The gentlemen of the Marlinton company, said Campbell, "are among the leading citizens of West Virginia and have the energy and means to develop the great resources of our county and thus bring prosperity and happiness to our people." Any who discouraged the plans of the capitalists, Campbell implied, were disloyal to their community and inhibitors of progress. The Times predicted that when Pocahontas established railroad connections with the commercial centers of the industrial northeast, "it will become one of the greatest iron and lumber producing regions on earth, which ages of the most active industry cannot exhaust." A lengthy editorial comment by Campbell in January 1892, written in typically florid prose, encompassed not only the developmental ideal of industrial capitalism, but foreshadowed the cultural conflict between the disciplined regimentation of the commercial world and traditional mountain society:
Confining ourselves to our own mountain county, we can see that the first bright rays of our prosperity are falling upon us. In the North, East, South, and West, capital has turned its lynx eyes this way . . . let us prophecy that when the new shall become old, the iron horse shall be waking from their long sleep their echoes with his piercing neigh. A new city has been laid off in the heart of our county. Men of money are visiting us from all quarters and are going to the great financial centers and telling their friends of our iron, our coal, and our timber. Let us lay aside our petty prejudices and the lethargy of our long isolation, look at the dawning sun of permanent development, now, for the first time in all our history shedding his fructifying rays upon us and "get a hustle on with us." With the right kind of work performed in the proper spirit, we can make our loved county of Pocahontas equal to any in our state. . . . Let us waste none of the golden days of '92. Let us begin to hasten our prosperity now.

The current economic trend in Pocahontas County, and in many other rural areas, is development of farm and timber land into vacation property. The timber boom should at least be a cautionary tale, reminding us to consider what will happen when the last ski chalet sewer line is completed.

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