Clay County, West Virginia is a small county located in the central part of the state. It contains about 247 square miles and is rather sparsely populated having roughly about 10,000 people. Its largest town is Clay, the county seat. About 20 years ago the population of Clay was about 500 people. Since that time, an area called Two Run has been annexed that increases Clay's population, but it probably still contains less than 1,000 people.
While the county is small and the people few in number, it is large in pioneer history and mountain folklore. The names of communities and landmarks spread throughout the county attest to this fact. Names like Otter Lick, Bogger Hole, Two Run, End of the World, Water's Defeat, Ugly Run, Twistabout, Morning Sun, Ovapa, Lick Branch, White Pilgrim, Mountain Home and many, many more have names whose origin could add greatly to the history of Clay County. Below I have listed the origin of a few of Clay County's colorful names. These were taken from an article written by Perry Woofter (a high school classmate of mine) that was published in "History of Clay County, West Virginia 1989" and an article in the same book by Clayburn Pierson entitled "Early History of Clay County".
The purpose of this page is to list the origin of Clay County towns and places. If you have information on other names, please send them to us and we will include it along with the others listed below. Herschel Shamblin
ORIGIN OF NAMES
ODESSA - Odessa is one of the oldest settlements in Clay County. Its post office was established about the year 1901. Up to that time all the people on Porters Creek had to go to Pleasant Retreat to get their mail. There were no rural deliveries in that day and the need of a post office was great. Mr. L. D. Mullins started the movement for the establishment of one. After some time the post office was established, but there was some delay in selecting a name for the office.
The Post Office Department asked that a few names be selected. Joel King suggested the name of Odessa as that was the name of a girl he had met somewhere while serving in the Spanish American War. The name Odessa was chosen and since that time the community has been known generally as Odessa.
HARRISON - The community of Harrison is generally known as Flat Fork. It is located in the eastern section of Clay County. Its first post office was probably established in the early 1880's with Hiram Young as the first postmaster. It was located on Laurel Fork of Groves Creek and named Flat Fork. Later it was moved to Sand Fork and back to Flat Fork where a general store had been opened.
Mr. Bailes served as postmaster for 49 years and retired in 1940. He was succeeded by Emmitt Wilson. The name of the post office was changed to Harrison during the administration of President Benjamin Harrison and the name of Harrison too.
STRANGE CREEK - There is a story relating to the naming of Strange Creek. An inscription was found on a large tree on the banks of Elk River near the mouth of Strange Creek about the year 1795. A party of surveyors found a skeleton at the foot of a large Beech Tree. On the bark of the tree was carved the following:
Strange is my name,
Strange is the ground,
And Strange that I cannot be found
Ever afterward the creek was known as Strange Creek. The creek rises in Powell's Mountain, passes through Clay County and into Elk River.
OBRIEN CREEK - Obrien Creek is a stream four or five miles long. Here is found one of the finest farming and stock raising sections in Clay County. It is said to have received its name from an old pioneer by the name of Adam Obrien who was chased by the Indians down the trail that led from the head of this stream to Elk River. Obrien, so the legend goes, waded the river, climbed the opposite hill, and watched as the Indians tried to find his tracks. It is not known what happened to Obrien, but the stream took its name from the old pioneer.
LIZEMORE- Families of Big Sycamore and Adonijah had to get their mail from Gauley Bridge up until about the year 1845 when a post office was located near the Independence schoolhouse. Hiram Sizemore was appointed postmaster. The name of Sizemore was submitted but was misread by the Post Office Department as Lizemore. So the community is called Lizemore.
VILLA NOVA/DUCK - Near the Clay-Braxton County line there is a stream flowing into Elk River known as Duck Creek. This creek was so named because of the fact that in pioneer days, large flocks of ducks frequently visited the island.
The village rapidly grew up after the coming of the railroad. Not long after its coming the name was changed. Senator Gassaway Davis, builder of the railroad, did not fancy such a commonplace name as Duck, so he changed it to Villa Nova. Why Villa Nova and the meaning of the name is not known.
IVYDALE - Jack Ice, carpenter, surveyor and salesman, initially surveyed and laid out the current town of Ivydale. It was Jack's daughter Ivy Ice for whom the town of Ivydale was named. Jack Ice's full name was Andrew Jackson Ice, and he was born July 10, 1855, in Marion County, West Virginia.
ENOCH - About halfway between the town of Summersville and Clay was a community that was settled about 150 years ago. For years it was the most isolated spot in Clay County. In 1889 a movement was begun to secure a post office but it was so far from a star mail route that the Post Office Department said that they would have to have a carrier. The pay was so small that a carrier, if one could be found, would only be doing it as an accommodation to the community. A young man by the name of G. P. Holcomb was willing to carry the mail if an office could be established.
The route was secured and the young man received about 7 cents for each of his trips. William Kyle was appointed postmaster. He submitted several biblical names and the name Enoch was selected.
YANKEE DAM - In 1836 or 1837 a dam was constructed in Elk River not far from the mouth of Blue Knob Creek. A mill and factory were built for the purpose of manufacturing handles, shoe lasts and buttons. The mill was a failure. Most of the buildings burned down and the place ever after was known as Yankee Dam because the men who built it were known as Yankees.
A few years later Daniel Schoonover rebuilt the water mill which was used this time only for grinding corn, wheat and making feed. This mill was carried away in the flood of 1861. The mill was then rebuilt by Hiram Lewis and used as a grist mill until modern mills rendered it unprobitable.
About that time the Collins Lumber Company, composed of men from Nova Scotia, built a planing mill and a sawmill there. This built the village and the name was changed to Elkhurst because of its closeness to the Elk River.
IRA- The community of Ira was once a thriving little village that received its name from the first post office that had in turn received its name from the son of the postmaster. Ira is located about twenty miles above the town of Clay and lies on both sides of the Elk River between the mouth of Groves Creek and Obrien Creek.
WALLBACK - Wallback was named after a man who once owned a large tract of land there.
WIDEN - Widen is situated in Buffalo District of Clay County and at one time was probably one of the most unique towns in the United States. It was a company owned coal mining town that was a community without a jail, a town without elected officials. It had every adjunct of a coming city, nice schools, good homes, electric lights, plenty of good water, an ice plant and the only YMCA in the county. It was a town wholly owned by the Elk River Coal and Lumber Company. Since the coal mines ceased operation, Widen has been pretty much abandoned. The town was named for a man by the name of Widen who apparently owned land there.
CLAY - The town of Clay, first called Marshall, later Henry, was incorporated in 1895, and by a later act of the legislature was named Clay after the County which was named for Henry Clay.
LEATHERWOOD - Leatherwood was named for the thick growth of shrubs with a tough bark called leatherwood that grew at the mouth of that stream.
BIG BUFFALO - It is said that Big Buffalo was so named because the last buffalo that inhabited this wilderness was killed on that creek.
GROVES CREEK - Groves Creek was named by a Colonel Groves who in early days made his hunting camp on that creek and for many years took his fall hunt there on the head of Strange Creek.
BIG OTTER CREEK - Big Otter Creek was named for the large number of otters found along the creek.
PROCIOUS- Adam Procious was born in Pennsylvania and served with Company B, of the Pennsylvania Infantry. Sometime after the Civil War, Adam brought his family from Pennsylvania to Clay County on a houseboat. The Procious Post Office was established in his home and named after him. It remained there until after the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was built along the Elk River. Adam Procious left many descendents in the Clay County area and is buried in the Procious Cemetary, Procious, Clay County, West Virginia.
MOLLIE- When the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was built up Elk River from Charleston, a flag station was established at the mouth of Birch Run and station was named from the stream flowing into Elk River just above Jack's Bend.
Here a country road crosses the mountain from Porter's Creek and descends to the river. This is supposed to have been the first road built in Clay County to furnish an outlet to the railroad for people living on lower Porters Creek, now known as the Bomont Section
About 1912 a post office was located at Birch Run with Mollie Procious as postmistress. Later the name of the post office was changed to Mollie (rather than Procious quite possibly to distinguish it from the already existing Procious Post Office). It would probably be a safe assumption to make that Molly Procious was a descendent of Adam Procious for whom the Procious Post Office and town were named after.
END OF THE WORLD CURVE/ROCK CLIFF- About six or seven miles above the town of Ivydale is a place called "End of the World". West Virginia Route 4 runs along the Elk River and a very large and sharp turn in the highway has always been called the "End of the World Curve" by the local residents. The curve takes its name from the huge rock cliffs on the far side of the Elk.
Mr. W.E.R. Byrne, in his book "Tales of the Elk" published by the West Virginia Publishing Company in 1940, describes the "End of the World" location along the river. He states that "The Elk river, seventy miles above its mouth at Charleston, in that wildly picturesque portion of central West Virginia, makes an abrupt bend in its course, where the waters, now with impetuous rush, now in placid pool, are baffled and turned to the right in a graceful semi-circular sweep of almost a mile, by beetling cliffs rising sheer from the river level, to an elevation of several hundred feet. These cliffs and their huge rocks, which, in the ages, have fallen away and found lodgment in and along the side of the stream, to the pioneer raftsman, as his craft swept into the curve from upriver, gave the distinct impression of having reached an insuperable barrier to his further progress - a cul-de-sac, or the jumping-off place; hence from the earliest history of the country, that locality has been called, and still bears the name - "The End of the World". Mr. Byrne was so taken with the area that he composed a long and rambling poem called "The Camp at the End of the World". Because of its length it is not presented here.
Elkhurst- See Yankee Dam above.
Ovapa - Prior to the 1920's the small community of Ovapa used to be referred to simply as Summers Fork. There wasn't a post office with that name, in fact, the local residents received their mail either at Valley Fork where Jim Wayne had a little store and grist mill or they went to Granny's Creek where the post office was called Wanego, an Indian name. In 1923, the first oil well was drilled in Ovapa, just below Dick Braley's. After the area was discovered to be rich in natural resources, other oil companies began moving into the area and none of the ambitious, local young men lacked for work. As the community boomed with new industry, a post office was much needed and the town was named for three oil companies; Ohio, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Thus the name O-VA-PA.
PORTER -Currently the origin of the name Porter for the town of Porter is not known. However, Ron Cochran, whose ancestors are from Porter states that Porter presently exists about a quarter mile back from the point where Porter Creek empties into the Elk River. Its more of a community (trailers) than a town. In 1900 Porter boasted a bandsaw mill, a general store, post office, telegraph, and the beginning of the Porter Creek and Gauley RR. The RR hauled logs from the Porter Creek area to the mill. Porter actually straddled the county line.
Ron's father and uncle were born in Porter in 1905 and 1903 respectively and his grandfather was the Engineer on the RR. He states that the B&O rails have been removed from Queen Shoals to Clay. The Porter trestle still remains but the tracks up Porter Creek are long gone.