Did you know…
1. Wood County is named for a former Governor of Virginia, not trees.
The county is not named after “the woods,” but rather an 18th century governor of Virginia. James Woods, born in Winchester, Virginia, in 1741, would fight in both Lord Dunmore’s War at the Battle of Point Pleasant and in the American Revolution. The 11th governor of Virginia, Woods was succeeded as governor by future President James Monroe. He was also an early abolitionist—pretty rare for a 1700’s governor of a slave state.
2. A fatal boxing match in Wood County lead to the banning of prize fights in West Virginia
At around 11 p.m. on June 29, 1899, George ‘Kid’ Wanko and Felix Carr of St. Albans stepped into a boxing ring at the now defunct Fries Park. Both weighed in at around 151 pounds and hundreds of people turned out for the fight. In the fifth round, however, Carr went down and couldn’t get back up. Two hours later, Carr was dead. It seems the fight was misrepresented to state officials as a regular boxing match, where no prize iss awarded. Wanko was convicted of manslaughter, though the charges would later be dropped because an autopsy revealed Carr had health issues. The legislature would ban all prize fights later that year.
3. The first free school for African Americans below the Mason Dixon Line was established in Parkersburg
At the height of the Civil War, local leaders came together to find a way to educate black students in Parkersburg. The result was Sumner School, the first free school for African Americans south of the Mason Dixon Line. It’s even said that a local barber, Robert W. Simmons, travelled all the way to Washington, D.C., to get Abraham Lincoln’s support. The school would eventually expand to a high school as well, becoming the first black high school in West Virginia. It was shuttered in 1955 after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling that declared segregation unconstitutional.
4. A treasonous plot to take the Western portion of the U.S. was partially hatched in Wood County
If you’ve ever been to Blennerhassett Island, you probably already know this one (or maybe you’ve forgotten). Harman Blennerhassett lent his famous mansion and financial support to former Vice President Aaron Burr for a military expedition to the Southwest. It’s historically unclear just what Burr wanted to accomplish exactly—some historians say Burr wanted to claim parts of Texas and the Louisiana Purchase for himself. President Thomas Jefferson would have Burr charged with treason, though he was later acquitted. Blennerhassett would never recover from the scandal and would eventually return to Europe where he died.
5. The Parkersburg Bridge was once the longest in the world
When the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad crossed the Ohio River at Parkersburg in 1870, it’s belived the bridge’s 7,140 foot span was the longest in the world. That’s more than twice the length of the New River Gorge Bridge in Fayette County. Though several parts of the bridge have been replaced, it’s still in use today by CSX. It’s not even close to being the longest bridge today; that honor goes to a railroad bridge in China that over 102 miles long.
6. Wood County is home to West Virginia’s first shopping mall
Opened in 1972 in Vienna, the Grand Central Mall was West Virginia’s first. It’s not the largest (that title actually belongs to the Huntington Mall), but it is the only mall within a 70-mile radius. It’s now owned an operated by the Ohio-based company WP Glimcher, which also operates the Morgantown Commons and the Morgantown Mall.
7. Parkersburg was almost completely wiped out by a flood—twice
The Great Flood of 1913 not only engulfed Parkersburg, but much of the eastern seaboard. The video above has some incredible pictures of a flooded Downtown Parkersburg; the city did not yet have its floodwalls. Those wouldn’t be built until an even more devastating flood in 1937.