There is the community of Midelburg in the town of Logan that is located across the Guyandotte River near Stollings. And there used to be the Midelburg Theater, the building of which still stands vacantly adjacent to the streets of Dingess, Main and Stratton in downtown Logan. Some may recall that building to be the former home of the old Super “S” store. Then there is, of course, Midelburg Island, the home of Logan Senior High School. So what is the connection? That is to say, why were those places named Midelburg?
The answer comes simply in the name of one Ferd Midelburg, who first appears on the land books of Logan County when he purchased property at Bronson Addition of Logan in 1919. However, Logan County Clerk records show that the property that was to become the Midelburg Theatre was purchased by May S. Midelburg October 5, 1917. By March of the following year, it was announced that architects C.C. and E. A. Weber of Cincinnati, Ohio, were planning the construction of “a $35,000 theatre three stories in height for Ferd Midelburg of Logan.”
The property, which at one time was known as “the barn lot” of the Buskirk family, was bought by famous Loganite Don Chafin, who sold it to former Logan Circuit Court Judge J. B. Wilkinson in 1917, who then promptly sold it to Walter Lewis of Huntington. It was Lewis who sold the property to May Midleburg, the likely mother or grandmother of Ferd.
While the Midelburg Theatre was operating prior to 1925, it was not the first theatre in Logan, but it was by far the most appealing to the community, according to all accounts of those who frequented the popular attraction. Ferd (not Fred) always signed documents as F. Midelburg, and it is his signature that appears as the Corporate President of Fairfield Land Co., which developed the property and sold various lots at what was named Midelburg Addition to Logan. A survey was done and a map of the property was recorded April 25, 1921. Logan was a booming place at the time, and Midelburg apparently saw the need for a more secluded neighborhood for those wealthier residents who sought to escape the noise and crime of the then crowded town.
After the construction of a steel bridge across the Guyandotte to the property, many homes, some described as mansions, sprung up. Many of Logan’s elite relocated at Midelburg. By-laws described the community: “There shall be no houses or buildings, or rooms built for business purposes.“ Further rules allowed for no “public garages or livery stables.” Homes had to be valued at $5000 or more to be located in that neighborhood. In addition, rules of any deed acquired said, “the said property shall not be sold, devised or transferred to any persons or person of African descent.”
In other words, it was, more or less, the first “gated” community of Logan County. It is doubtful that property owners knew at the time that the land was once used to seclude persons who had come down with leprosy, and later others, with smallpox. Long before coal made Logan, and even before Logan was named Logan, small boats took the ill to the site that became Midelburg.
By 1921, Mr. Midelburg, still a young man, was an established businessman, who would later own a chain of Kentucky and West Virginia theatres. It was during autumn of 1921 that Ferd Midelburg decided to get married. It was also the same time—on his honeymoon—that he was arrested. It seems Ferd had arrived in Cincinnati one Sunday morning around the end of October when he registered at the popular Sinton Hotel. In the afternoon he met his fiancée, Edythe Levy, at the railroad station in Cincy and together they went straight to the hotel. A clergyman was summoned and the couple was united in marriage. The ceremony was performed in the parlor of the hotel and was told exclusively in The Logan Banner. What was not told at the time was later revealed by the Cincinnati Police Department, as a trial was set for the newlywed on November 14.
Though prostitution was rampant at most hotels in Logan during the 1920’s, more notable places such as the Hotel Frederick in Huntington and the Sinton in Cincinnati, had gleaming reputations to protect. So, on the night of the Midelburg honeymoon, when the night watchman passing the door of the Midelburg’s, heard a woman’s voice, he notified the night clerk, who ascertained that Ferd Midelburg had not registered a “Mrs.” at the front desk. The night watchman then went to the hotel door and knocked. “Is that woman in there your wife?” asked the clerk.
For his answer, Midelburg shot out his fist, according to the police report, and “the clerk went sprawling.” Midelburg then slammed the door. He called up the hotel office and notified the telephone operator that “he was coming down right away.” A few moments later, Midelburg charged out of the elevator to the terror of the belated stragglers in the corridor. Police said he knocked over a potted palm tree, and then he attacked the clerk and the night watchman. Before being arrested that honeymoon eve, police reported that he “wrecked” two copying machines. There is a Logan Banner account later which said hotel personnel apologized to the Loganite for the confusion that led to the altercations.
The Midelburg’s, who later owned homes in Logan and Charleston, had no children between them, but adopted a daughter, Ruth Thalheimer, who was named in the will of Mr. Midelburg, who died May 30, 1950. Interestingly, Midelburg left $2000 each to two of his favorite employees, Alex DeFobio and D.B. Bailey. DeFobio would later own his own theatre and is well remembered as an avid John F. Kennedy supporter during the election of 1960. Midelburg’s successful life included paying in 1937 $90,000 to Don Chafin and former Logan Circuit Judge Robert Bland for Main Street property in Logan that would later become the Logan Theatre. Chafin had bought the same property in 1920 for $45,000.
The Midelburg-Logan Holding Company and the C&M Theatrical Co., Inc. were owned by the Midelburg’s when during World War II in 1943 the property described as the “Big Island” was placed in the name of the theatre company. Midelburg had bought part of the property while the depression was still going on in 1934 and another portion in 1939. At the time of the purchase there were two islands located where now Logan Senior High School, Logan Middle School and Logan Elementary are located. The Logan Public Library and several athletic fields also comprise the now 43-acre Midleburg Island. Ferd Midelburg’s deed called for 23 acres.
Midelburg Island, which was formerly called Hatfield Island, was, of course, the site of the raid on the Indian village of Princess Aracoma in 1780 that led to her death and burial in the Indian burial grounds that were located in a large portion of downtown Logan. In 1900, at a building construction site on the 100 block of Stratton Street, workmen uncovered an “unusually eight foot deep” Shawnee grave site. It was then believed the skeletal remains and buckhorn beads around the neck of the young woman were those of Aracoma. It was reported that the remains were found “at the bend of the Guyandotte” where with her last dying words she had asked to be placed, facing the western sun.
On March 18, 1889, Elias Hatfield bought the “Big Island” from Oliver Perry, who had obtained it from Anthony Lawson Jr., the son of the first man to open a trading post in what is now Logan, known then as “The Islands.” J.T. Fish, deceased former Logan businessman and a member of the now defunct Logan Park Board—which was responsible for “the Island” as late as the 1980’s—said at a Park Board meeting that he and Harry Gay Jr., who inherited his father’s mine operation at Mt. Gay, helped built up Midelburg Island to its present height by dumping slate from the Mt. Gay coal site. Many years prior to Logan High School being built, the property was looked at as first an airport when Hatfield owned it, and later as a housing development for the town.
The Logan Civic Association in 1951 paid $102,000 for the historical property, which is also known as the first settlement by frontiersmen in the immediate area when in 1793 James and Jacob Workman built a home there and raised fields of corn, before moving on.
While there remains yet untold history involving Logan and it’s “Island”, readers, who may have already known much of its written history, should feel wiser in knowing that it forever will bear the name of Midelburg—named after a gentleman who got arrested on his honeymoon.
Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.