by Tom Welsh.
Marshall Memories: 'THE TOMAHAWK CLAIM'
News-Register Staff Writer
McMECHEN 1773-- When
William McMechen, an immigrant from Scotland, came from his home near the south
branch of the Potomac River in 1773, he placed a
"tomahawk claim" five miles below Wheeling.
He and his wife, Sidney, settled in what became known
as McMechen's Bottom.
The claim extended southward from Boggs Run to the narrows above the
Flats of Grave Creek. Sidney
was the first white woman known to settle in the area.
The McMechen homestead was located in what is
now the McMechen
Cemetery; their cabins, outbuildings and crops were burned several times by
the Indians. Those early years
were lived in constant danger, and many times the family would flee to Fort Tomlinson
or Fort Henry for protection. At one time, they moved to the Red Stone Old
Fort in Brownsville, Pennsylvania for two years, until the area
was safer to live in.
The McMechen's had
several children, as McMechen is said to have married
three times. David, the eldest son,
became a successful lawyer in Baltimore; James,
the second son, settled farther south (Wetzel County),
and also had many children. William, the third son became a judge. A brother, Benjamin, was the first clerk of
the Ohio County Court. Another son,
Benjamin, married the daughter of Captain William Boggs, later his father's
property was deeded to him. This Benjamin was responsible for erecting
the first church (the Methodist Episcopal) and laying out the towns of Benwood (Ben's Woods) and McMechen. He also was one of the first "gentlemen
justices" when Marshall
County was formed. The McMechen's were
intelligent, industrious people, William was elected
to the House of Delegates of the Virginia General Assembly in 1788 and 1791.
Benwood was laid out first (in 1853) because the areas of Wheeling and Bellaire were growing rapidly
and industry was settling in.
The town of McMechen
was laid out into plats in 1888, more or less as a
residential area for the workers in the Benwood
industries. The City was
incorporated in 1895, and the building firm of J. L. McMechen
was responsible for most of the structures.
The firm built the B & O Roundhouse, and the first
major enterprise, a shirt factory was operated by the McMechens.
As the town began to develop, it combined business with farmland; when
the large brick school was built in 1905 on Marshall Street,
the land directly across the street was a cornfield.
The business district sprung up on what is now Sixth Street, then
called Gravel Street. The city building was located there, along
with a department store, a rope factory (where heavy roping was made for
riverboats), a pharmacy, a church, a social Hall,
called Shad building.
Along Pike Street
(now called Marshall) a huge undertaking began with the construction of the Bank
of McMechen (1905), the Center
McMechen School (1905) and the Methodist Church
(1910). They were located across from
the McMechen Manufacturing Company (shirt factory).
By the turn of the century, McMechen was a
thriving, growing city; the St. James Catholioc
Church was built in 1901. At one time there
was a skating rink, later a community center located near the church; it was
razed in 1925 to make way for the first
St. James School.
Another school was built on property adjacent to that, and in 1954, Bishop Donahue
High School, the only Catholic
High School in Marshall County
was opened for classes.
In the early years, the opening of Hitchman
Coal Mine brought many workers to the area.
Many settled in company owned houses and dealt at the company run
general store. The homes located at the
southern end of Benwood and the northern edge of McMechen had the charactoristic
title "Hitchman's Row" bestowed upon them;
in later years the area became an eyestore. Now that section is the site of a modern
Industry was never one of McMechen's biggest
features. Many groceries and family businesses
thrived in the early part of the 1900s.
For many years, the Marx Toy Factory operated a warehouse in the western
part of the town. This burned in the
1950s and only recently has the property been redeveloped
for use as a mobile home park.
entire section of the area west of the train tracks (now Lincoln Street and Grant Street) was at one time orchards
and huge stockyards.
Many "pieces of history" once a vital part of the town, are
now gone. The old playground located
near 16th Street,
was once the site of the "Carbarn," used by
the electric trolley system. The old
wooden Sixth Street Bridge and
Tenth Street Bridges,
have been replaced by one span across the "new" State Route 2. The development of the new highway was a
major factor in McMechen's economy.
Route 2 used to run straight through the small town; many gasoline
stations, stores and restaurants were severely affected
by the loss of traffic. The construction
of the new road also meant a loss of population as many homes were taken on the new route.
But the loss of major industry is a problem
shared by many small American cities these days.
Today, McMechen can boast several
well-established churches, the new Center
Elementary School, J. T. King special
grade school, St. James
Grade School and Bishop Donahue
High School, a community
park and swimming pool; many small businesses, a bank,
a library, and a modernly equipped volunteer fire department, and more
importantly, plenty of good people.