The contaminated waters of the Kanawha Valley and the lack of rain in California have recently dominated the news for good reasons. Water, the most valuable resource on earth, has been taken for granted by most everyone in today’s times. It’s readily available for just about everyone in Logan County, except for areas of Harts where taxpayers there still await the coming of what for those residents could be considered “liquid gold.”
The development of water and sewer systems has always been vastly important to the infrastructures of the towns and all communities of Logan County. Improvements have been and continue to be made at great financial costs.
The Guyandott River, once the main artery of travel to our fair county in the 1700s and 1800s, continues today to supply the water needs of Logan, Man and Chapmanville areas. The river is considered much “cleaner” than it has been, but nothing like it was prior to the early 1900s when fishing was rampant as a means of a food supply.
Most communities were started near rivers and creeks for logical reasons — fields needed regular watering, and all cattle, horses, mules, hogs and oxen had to be watered. For some early settlers who had no hand-dug wells, the clean river meant their livelihood. And, for those few of us that remember what a “two-seater” was (or is), well… let’s just say, we’re thankful for the fruits and labor of our forefathers.
Interestingly, before the first coal mine was opened or the first rail laid in what is now Logan County, there were those who saw the need for running water and possible future financial gain. In what was then the town of Aracoma, two locals, Charles Bennett and W.I. Campbell, obtained the franchise to lay water pipes along and under the streets and alleys within the corporate limits of the small town. The Common Council of the Town of Aracoma approved the request on September 27, 1898, according to County Clerk records.
The job ahead of these gentlemen apparently was daunting. They first purchased two lots — one 50 feet by 50 feet and the other 33 by 50 — for the placement of reservoirs. The property was bought from Judge J.B. Wilkinson out of a 370 acre tract he owned on the hillside to the left of Stratton Hollow for 35 dollars. Wilkinson was the grandson of William Chafin and nephew of longtime Logan Circuit Clerk John Chafin; indeed, it was the same Chafin family of the now legendary Sherriff Don Chafin of Blair Mountain fame. By 1908, at the age of 21, Don Chafin was elected Assessor of Logan County and began a long and storied career. He became Sheriff in 1912.
A right-of-way was obtained in 1899 from Civil War veteran Major William Stratton through Stratton Hollow. At least one reservoir was then built. Courthouse records show it was handmade of wood and the water to the reservoir was to come from Kazee Branch nearby.
On July 28, 1900 a Certificate of Incorporation was obtained bearing the names of Charles Bennett, W. I. Campbell, their wives Sarah Campbell and Dermia Bennett, and J.S. Miller as stockholders; each with 15 shares for a total of $5000 capital. It was their intent to sell shares of stock up to $10,000. Logan Water Works Company was the name of the incorporation.
In 1904, after the first coal mine opened at Mt. Gay, and the first trains were able to make it to the soon to be “black gold turf” of Logan County, the growing town’s needs heightened and the hard work of obtaining running water continued. In 1907 the company won a jury decision in a condemnation suit filed by 11 property owners in what had become the town of Logan. The total cost to the water company for the condemned land was $250. It was said the property was needed “for the building of a reservoir.” It is not known if this was in addition to or to replace a previous reservoir.
By this time, property was being gobbled up by out-of-state investors as well as locals who had the far sight and education to know what tremendous values lay beneath our hills and valleys. In the next few years, mines opened nearly everywhere and the town grew rapidly. Soon, new brick structures would cast tall shadows on the once muddy streets of Logan.
On March 14, 1910, courthouse records show sewer systems were completed along the following streets of Jefferson, Stratton, Hudgins and Washington. The City Engineer was to calculate the assessment of “each and every land owner so abutting on said streets.” Water was flowing and the first sewer system of the county was unveiled at what was probably a “welcome” cost to the land owner. This information was recorded by the Town Recorder at the time, a man who would become Circuit Judge of the county, Naaman Jackson — later the presiding judge in what has become known as “The Mamie Thurman Trial”. Jackson played several interesting and important roles in the development of Logan County.
After years of improvements and expansion, on June 21, 1930 an indenture deed of trust was filed by attorney J. Carey Alderson on behalf of Logan Water Works Company to Pure Water Company, the latter of which today is known as the City of Logan Water Company and is still located at property built at Hudson Addition on the East End of town. It is probable that Bennett took this action because of the death of his business partner Mr. Campbell. Records show the President of Pure Water Company at that time to be Patsy Fercazza.
It should be noted it was attorney Carey Alderson who was responsible for opening the first bank in Logan County — the Guyan Valley Bank. Alderson, a key player in the history of Logan, is buried at the abandoned Logan Memorial Park at McConnell. Unlike his 1930 neighbor (Mamie Thurman), who lived just a stone’s throw from his Main Street residence, Alderson today has a nice tombstone marking his final resting place in the dilapidated cemetery. Just two years later, Mrs. Thurman would be brutally murdered. Another two years later in 1934, after his bank failed during the depression, Alderson joined his neighbor in the cemetery at age 66. Mrs. Thurman’s location there is still undetermined.
The Water Works’ Charlie Bennett, who was born in Naples, Italy, did much masonry in the county and in fact built the Guyan Valley Bank for Alderson finishing it in 1904 and proving himself a multi-talent.
The Logan water facility today serves thousands of customers in different parts of the county at what most consider very affordable rates. According to long time water department employee Carol Conley, it is the oldest operating water plant in the state of West Virginia, a credit to the fine work of the original owners and the repeated maintenance of the city.
Conley has been an employee of the water company since 1959 and undoubtedly knows more about the company than anyone. “We’ve had people who were doing construction work at various times tell us of uncovering old wooden pipes in parts of the town,’’ she explained The company now retrieves all of its water supply from the Guyandott with an intake which runs underneath the boulevard.
“The City of Logan purchased the property from Pure Water in 1965,” Conley said. “We have about 2,200 water meters, but we service approximately 6,000 homes due to supplying water to West Logan and the Logan Public Service District. It’s been a really rough winter for us.”
As some older readers may recall, there were times when the Guyandott River and small creeks like Island Creek and others in local coal hollows would suddenly turn “coal “ black, the water flowing like an oil well that had been gouged, but, without the EPA, life went on — minus good fishing.
While it is true that water line breakages and other problems can cause local water supplies to become temporarily contaminated, customers can rest easy in knowing that local water is tested on a regular basis.
“We’re required to get samples tested regularly,” explained Everett Brumfield, Logan plant manager. Brumfield, an employee since 1971, said samples are sent to the State Health Department in Charleston and to a private company in Raleigh County for testing. “Our water is as good as it gets, “he said proudly. “We’ve never had a violation. We check it every day, several times a day.’’
The local company has encountered numerous problems this winter chiefly due to extremely cold weather. Several pumps have gone down, largely due to the extreme use of electricity across the area, causing amperage to be down at the pumps. The company produces on a daily basis anywhere from 1,200,000 to 1,700,000 gallons of water, according to Brumfield.
Considered one of the “most modern plants of its time” by writers of the time period, it reportedly pumped in 1928 more than a half million gallons per day; that being before extensions were made to areas like Mt. Gay, Mud Fork and other places.
Brumfield noted that prior to 1971 he did not believe there was much testing of the water at the plant. “That’s my understanding,’’ he said.
Few area residents know that American Water Company, which has been at the center of controversy since the Elk River spill and which has large lines connected all the way to Clothier and Lake in Logan County, reportedly had plans of purchasing as many smaller plants as possible in West Virginia.
“All I have to say about that,” Brumfield said, “is that big isn’t always better.”
Meanwhile, thank your local water boards and keep on showering… PLEASE.