Reflections on Swandale

l. Theodore Given Barnett (my great-grandfather)

2. Unknown

3. Unknown

4. Unknown

5. C___(Charles?) Cantrell

6. Unknown

7. Roy Foster (my grandfather)

8. Unknown

9. Unknown

10. Henry Loving

11. Unknown

12. Unknown

13. Clint Floyd (mill foreman - died in an accident at the mill in 1924)

14. Brent Monroe

15. Unknown

l6. Crockett Mullins

17. Unknown

18. Adam "Shorty" Roberts

19. Unknown

20. Frances Murphy

21. French Barnett (my great-uncle)

If you know any of these men that I do not have identified, or if I have any of them misidentified, Please let me know at Thanks.


On September 27, 1881, Alexander Hamrick and
his wife Lydia (Mullins), granted a right-of-way to the
Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Western Railway for a new 
railroad on a 145-acre tract of land along both sides
of Big Buffalo Creek.  By 1905, they had deeded another
1,000 acres to Elk River Coal and Lumber Company, which
had been organized at Dundon in 1904-05.  Alexander and
Lydia reserved a portion of their land for a Hamrick Cem-
etery.  Alexander's grandfather, Joel, was the first to
be buried there, in 1860.

On April 1, 1904, Harvard-educated, New Jersey native
Joseph Gardner (J.  G.) Bradley chartered the Buffalo
Creek and Gauley Railroad to run from Dundon to Huttons-
ville, 104 miles to the east.  The actual length of Buff-
alo Creek and Gauley's line was 18.6 miles, covering the
area between Dundon, Widen, and Swandale.  Most likely,
Bradley never intended the full length of 104 miles to be
a reality, but a young budding developer could hardly ad-
mit to aspirations of only 18 miles.

In 1905, Bradley, president of Elk River Coal and Lumber
Company(ELRICO), located to Dundon to personally oversee
the company's operations. He began building his Clay Coun-
ty Empire on the nearly 93,000 acres of virgin timberland
that he had inherited from his great grandfather, Simon D.
Cameron. Cameron had been granted the land by the Federal
government in appreciation for his service to the United
States, first as President Lincoln's Secretary of War and
later as a U. S. Senator.  A few years later, ELRICO's 
headquarters relocated to Widen.  J. G. Bradley would con-
trol Clay County for over fifty years.

In 1910, Charlie Deal began building a circular saw mill
at the mouth of Barren She, where Barren She Branch enters
Buffalo Creek.  Captain Swann was the mill's first super-
intendent and one of the original nine shareholders of Elk
River Coal and Lumber.  Tom Boggs was mill foreman.  Barren
She's name was changed to Swandale in honor of Captain Swann.
In 1918, Bradley began earnest development of his timber-
land, and on April 6, 1919, a new bandsaw mill began oper-
ation at Swandale with the cutting of a mighty chestnut log.
Carl V. Straw was superintendent. Adam "Shorty" Roberts,
the sawyer, saved some of the sawdust from that first log
and sent it to Captain Swann, who was by then living in
the Carolinas.

Under J.G. Bradley's influence, Swandale and the surround-
ing areas grew and prospered. Logs were cut and brought to
the mill directly from the woods, where they were placed
in the millpond.  Five days a week, three proud Buffalo
Creek and Gauley 2-8-0 locomotives took turns moving coal
from Widen and lumber from Swandale along Buffalo Creek
to Dundon.  The trains returned with empty cars for the
next load and with boxcars full of supplies for the company
towns.  Bradley's payroll included the Buffalo Creek and
Gauley crew, the Widen miners, and the Swandale mill crew
and yard crew.  The new and modern Cressmont Dairy opened,
stocked with ELRICO-owned cattle.  Widen became the center
for Clay County's coal production, employing nearly 1,000
men.  Swandale's lumberyard was one of the largest in
West Virginia, storing almost 5 million board feet of lumber,
representing about a years production.  Swandale's lumber
was shipped to the eastern and northern United States, as
well as Canada and even England.  By the late 1950's-early
1960's, Buffalo Creek and Gauley was North America's lar-
gest 100% steam powered, common carrier standard gauge rail-

Being so isolated (there was no "car road" into Swandale
until the early 1930's), a strong and unified community
developed at Swandale.  As residents of a company town, the
people depended on ELRICO for everything. Swandale had a
community building that was also used for a church and a
school, and there was a company store, a big white building
with green trim, that carried everything from food, clothing,
toys, sundries, and even furniture.  The company store's
prices were set at the Widen store, but since a miner's sal-
ary was higher than a mill worker's was, there was some grum-
bling about the inequity.  There was discussion of lowering
the prices at Swandale, but it was never done for fear that
everyone would flock to Swandale to shop where the better
bargains were.  Company scrip was used for the purchase of
everything.  My aunt, Louise Foster, worked at the store,
as did Jay Rhodes, Veraline Gregorich, and Beulah Loving,
who later would marry my uncle, Wade Foster.  My mother had
two snowsuits for me when I was a baby that she bought there.
She said they still had their "OPA" (Office of Price Admin-
istration-a federal price control plan developed during World
War 11) price tags on them when she bought them in 1959 or
1960. Noble Conner was assistant superintendent of ELRICO
and bookkeeper of the company store.  The building that hous-
ed the store also provided space for the Land Office, run by
Mr. Pat Butler, and the Boy Scout Office (Dennie McClung was
the Scoutmaster), and the doctor's office.  Early on, res-
idents had to go to Widen to see a doctor, but Dr. C.N. Brown
became the first physician to settle and stay in Swandale in
1923.  He delivered my dad in 1936.  Dr.Brown remained until
1952, and then Dr. Harper took over.  Dr. Harper later moved
his practice to Clendenin.

Madge (Young) Conner, Noble's wife, taught school in Swandale
for 27 years.  My dad was one of her pupils.  He had a phe-
nomenal memory, and as a first grader had everyone fooled into
thinking he could read.  He easily remembered a story or a
book after it had been read to him only once, and then would
recite from memory as thought he was reading.  Mrs. Conner,
however, was not fooled, and did in fact teach him to read.
I saw Mrs. Conner just this past September at the Swandale re-
union.  Golda McClung was another of the teachers there, and
Carl Dodrill did double-duty as a teacher and the Principal.

E.D. Currence became superintendent about 1936.  Different men
held many jobs over the years on the Buffalo Creek and Gauley
and at the Swandale mill.  Some were Creed Truman, an engineer,
and Dow Keen, the fireman.  Brooks Litton was a tong hooker,
and Hobert Hamrick worked as a log load operator.  Tom Graham,
Silas Belt, Dale Nutter, and Leff Gray worked alongside Free-
man Nottingham, Virgil Ayers, Dub Key, and Ken Painter.  Others
were Guy Frame, Theodore Barnett (my great grandfather), French
Barnett (my great uncle), Junior Gray, Mack Hamrick, Roy Smith,
Nolan Johnson, and Chester Truman.  Hagg Goden was yard foreman,
and Vernon Acree was mill foreman. Roy Foster (my grandfather)
was mill engineer, and would shut down the mighty saw when
Shorty sounded three whistles: Quitting Time!
Others of their neighbors and co-workers included Harold Hilde-
bran, Bob Carruthers, Gene and Frank Gregorich, Sam Turner, Bee
Jarvis, Clarence Fisher, Dencil Paxton, and Curt Sirk.  Daddy
worked there for a little while after he graduated from Clay
High School in June of 1949, at a pay rate of one dollar per
hour, and then he joined the Air Force.

The men of Swandale organized a Town Band.  There was a barber,
and a baseball team, complete with uniforms,and a ballfield
just up from the Hamrick Cemetery.  Uncle Wade played for the
baseball team, and they were quite good, travelling all over
West Virginia to play, and winning some championships.  The
second floor of the community building had a basketball court,
and it was used for a roller skating rink, too.  Tuesday was
movie night at the community building.  Mr, Johnson, from Widen,
came to Swandale to show the movies.  Roy Foster's wife, Susie
(Barnett), my grandmother, lead a Gospel Choir that used music 
written with the old shaped notes, singing along with Aunt
Louise, Arnold Loving, Junior Gray, Erma Johnson (she ran the 
boarding house), Glen Davis, and Helen (Drozdick) Foster, my
mother.  My mother isn't a native West Virginian (she's from
New York), but I once saw a poster that described her adopted
home well: "I wasn't born in West Virginia, but I got here
as quick as I could."

My grandparents lived in the first house on the street up on
the hill, looking right down at the community building. All
the houses were painted with red lead paint and had white trim.
At the far right side of their front yard was a horseshoe pit,
and badminton net, then a fence and a little patch of woods.
On the other side of these woods was the superintendent's house.
It had a fireplace with bookshelves built into the walls on ei-
ther side.  The grass at the horseshoe pit was loaded with four-
leaf clovers, and Uncle Wade could trip and fall and find a hun-
dred of them.  My mother still has one, pressed and preserved,
that Uncle Wade found for her and Daddy.  Granny had a back
porch where she kept a sandbox for me and my little brother to
play in when we came to visit.  We would find pinecones,the
really big ones, and I can remember pouring sand in a thin rib-
bon down over the cones, and the whispery shushing sound that
it made.

Next door to Granny and Granddad, Aunt Louise lived with her
husband, Dennis (we called him Dene) Gray, and their daughter,
Donna Gail.  There was a big rock by the path between Granny's
and Aunt Louise's back porches. Uncle Dena liked butter kept
really cold, and Aunt Louise (good-naturedly) complained that
he kept the butter so cold it tore up the bread when you tried
to spread it.  Uncle Dane was the first on the street to run
a wire from the top of the mountain to their house for tele-
vision reception.  When Donna married there at the house, my
brother (then about 2) stood there in his little suit and sang
"I've Been Working on the Railroad" for Uncle Dane and Aunt
Louise, a very appreciative audience.

The road up to Granny and Granddad's house was rocky and un-
even, and dusty, so it was often sprinkled down with used mo-
tor oil to help keep down the dust.  Today when I smell that
oily, dusty aroma (many times around old-fashioned style wood-
en roller coasters), just like a time machine, I am going back
up the road to that happy house, with the squeaky sound of
crunching rocks under the car wheels.  We always came for
Christmas.  Once I got a sled (I still have it), and Daddy
pulled me up the road to the company store and back.  One
of my favorites was a child's china tea set, white with red
roses, which came from Santa Claus by way of Granny by way
of the Sears catalog.  Aunt Louise sewed my Barbie a brown
velvet skating dress with silver rickrack trim.  I still have
it, too, along with several pieces of the tea set.  I recently
saw that tea set in an antique dealer's booth!  I had one of
those hobbyhorses mounted on a stand with springs, and I named
him "Skyball Paint." I still know all the verses of that song
and I sang it to my kids when they were small.

After a couple of crippling strikes at the Widen mine in the
1950's, things began to unravel for J.G. Bradley and his towns.
The strikes got ugly and there was some violence.  Aunt Louise
was pretty scared and upset by the situation. She was drawing
a bird for one of Donna's grade-school homework assignments,
and was so distracted that she gave it four legs!  On November
25, 1958, Mr. Bradley sold ELRICO to Pittston Coal, surrender-
ing all of his and his family's shares and resigning all his
directorships.  He left Clay County and spent his remaining
years in Boston.  He died in Needham, Massachusetts, in 1981
at 89 years of age.

At its peak, Swandale was home to probably about 300 people.
The streets were never paved, but nice wooden sidewalks were
constructed early on.  During the war years, the sidewalks
deteriorated and were never replaced. Daddy broke his arm 
as a child when he fell while running along one.  He was
trying to avoid going to Sunday school, and was hurrying
to catch up to Granny when he realized his plan wasn't work-
ing.  Now, only a couple of houses remain there.  If you know
where to look, you may still see a set of stone steps that
now lead to a grassy field instead of a home.  We did locate
the steps that led to the superintendents house.  Granny and
Granddad's yard is just a big tangled jungle now, but I bet
there are still four-leaf clovers underneath it all.  And
what I wouldn't give to have a milk bottle from the Cress-
mont Dairy, now only a silo and a barn foundation.

Clinchfield Coal Company, a Pittston subsidiary, kept the
mine at Widen and the railroad, but sold their logging in-
terest to the William Ritter Company of Huntington, which
later merged with Georgia Pacific.  Clinchfield closed the
Cressmont Dairy and the Widen company store.  December 30,
1963, was the last day of railroad service to the Widen coal
mine.  Granddad retired from the Swandale mill in 1964.  On
February 27, 1965, Buffalo Creek and Gauley 2-8-0 Number 4
pulled the last train between Dundon and Swandate.  Georgia
Pacific ended the logging operation at Swandale in 1968.  Un-
cle Wade died that November 20th in the mine explosion at
Consol #9 at Farmington, and by then Granny and Granddad were
living in New Haven, Mason County, near us and Aunt Louise.

The town of Swandale is gone, but Swandale itself is not.
Sunday of every Labor Day weekend, former residents, fami-
lies, and friends gather for the Swandale Reunion-a day of
picnicking and reminiscing.  I was born in 1959, so I am
among the younger folks who have solid memories of Swandale
in the good days.  Most of my growing-up years were in Mason
and Cabell Counties, in the Ohio River Valley, but those
mountains and trees and air and coal and sawdust are in me
just as deep and as strong as my bones are. My children at-
tend the reunion with us every fall.  They weren't born un-
til well after Granny and Granddad were gone (Jay is 15 and
Kelly is 13), but I have pictures, and I have stories, and
I have made sure they know about it all.  The kids had a
book in elementary school titled "When I Was Young In the
Mountains," (by Cynthia Rylant) about a little girl and
her brother and the home they shared with their Grand-
parents in the sheltering hills.  The book ends: "...1 was
in the mountains, and that was always enough."

It's still enough.  It always will be.

Kathy Louise Foster Gaskins
July 2, 1998