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Henry Gassaway Davis
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From Library of Congress BioGuide Site
DAVIS, Henry Gassaway, 1823-1916
Senate Years of Service: 1871-1883
Library of Congress Biography
DAVIS, Henry Gassaway, (brother of Thomas Beall Davis and grandfather of Davis Elkins), a Senator from West Virginia; born near Woodstock, Howard County, Md., November 16, 1823; attended the country schools; worked on a farm until 1843; employed by the Baltimore Ohio Railroad Co. for fourteen years as brakeman and conductor, and later had charge of the Piedmont terminal and shops; commenced the banking business and the mining of coal at Piedmont, W.Va., in 1858; engaged in railroad building and in the lumber business; elected to the house of delegates of West Virginia in 1865; member, State senate 1868, 1870; elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate in 1871; reelected in 1877 and served from March 4, 1871, to March 3, 1883; declined to be a candidate for renomination in 1882; chairman, Committee on Appropriations (Forty-sixth Congress); settled in Elkins, Randolph County, W.Va., where he resumed his banking and coal mining interests; represented the United States at the Pan American conferences of 1889 and 1901; unsuccessful candidate for Vice President of the United States on the Democratic ticket in 1904; chairman of the permanent Pan American Railway Committee 1901-1916; died in Washington, D.C., on March 11, 1916; interment in Maplewood Cemetery, Elkins, W.Va.
From Dave Cathell
Born near Woodstock, Howard County, Md., November 16, 1823. Davis recalls in his autobiography sitting on a relative's shoulders and watching the historic laying of the B&O cornerstone. Davis started life in a comfortable setting and was able to attend country schools. This was to change with the death of his father. His father was a contractor for the very early B&O railroad who co-signed some notes for other contractors. When those contractors defaulted, the elder Davis was ruined financially and the stress was a factor in his early death. The seeds of a love/hate realtionship with the B&O was sown in the younger Davis. He had to quit school to help support his family by working on a nearby farm unitl he was 20. Davis then began a fourteen year career as brakeman and conductor on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. As a conducter,he recommended and was responsible for the first nighttime passenger train. Davis reached the zenith of his B&O career as agent at Piedmont, Virginia which included being in charge of the Piedmont terminal and shops.
It was in Piedmont that he commenced his independent banking business and the coal mining pursuits in 1858. The B&O left the North Branch of the Potomac at Piedmont to climb up to the Eastern Continental Divide via Savage River and Crabtree Creek. The remainder of the North Branch to its source at Fairfax Stone was wild, unexplored country. As agent, Davis was responsible for getting business to the B&O. He did this by building a railroad and opening the remote river valley to mines and sawmills. Meshach Browning, the famed Garrett County hunter considered the high plateau around the Fairfax Stone to be true wilderness- this coming from a man hunting for bears, mountain lions and wolves in the immediate area around his home. With no government help, Davis starting building his West Virginia Central and Pittsburg to Elk Garden and its 14 foot seam of coal. By this time, Davis had entered the new state of West Virginia's politics and eventually he would use every political connection possible to finance his road. Gorman, Bayard and Elkins were all US Senators that would have stations named after them. The last named man, Stephen Elkins was also to become Davis' son-in-law and business partner.
Besides being a West Virginia resident, Davis also built a home on a farm in Garrett County. From the farm Davis built a mule-powered tram road deep into the hemlock forest around Swallow Falls and Deep Creek. This early logging road predated the later large logging operations in Garrett County by decades. His relationship with the B&O was such that he pursuaded President Garrett to develop the area around his farm as Deer Park, the railroad's premier resort. In it heyday, Deer Park was the destination for the rich and famous, including Presidents (railroad and otherwise). Henry Gassaway Davis was probably Garrett County most prominent historical figure, however many people from that locale probably never heard of him. Mr. Caulderwood related to the author the respect that the people around Deer Park had for this amazing man.
Eventually Robert Work Garrett died and Davis faced a decidedly less friendly B&O. When the larger railroad would not provide enough cars at West Virginia Central Junction, Davis went in search for more friendly connections in Cumberland and right into the middle of the Pennsy/B&O wars. Davis' railroad from Luke to Cumberland was first met with court challenges and then physical blockage at Rawlings by B&O foes. Miners from Elk Garden, fearing for their jobs, fought B&O men and reopened the line. At Cumberland, the WVC&P connected with a sub of the Pennsylvania that was brought into town with city money.
From the mountain top towns of Thomas and Davis, West Virginia, Davis headed his railroad down the rugged Blackwater Canyon, a true leap of faith. As the railroad proceeded to new timber and coal mining areas, Davis eventually relocated to another town he founded, Elkins, West Virginia. Later in life, Davis built the Coal & Coke Railway of West Virginia, 200 miles from Elkins to Charleston, which some felt was his undoing. Davis' West Virginia Central and Pittsburg was sold to George Gould in 1902 in a grand scheme to build a truly transcontinental railroad. The well known story of the Pennsylvania Railroad shafting Gould resulted in Davis' road being blended into the restructured Western Maryland Railway. The Coal & Coke went to the B&O. Davis died in 1916 and was buried in Elkins. The Western Maryland Railway was a fixture in Tucker County West Virginia, but in typical Chessie character, the predecessor road abandoned all the trackage.
Political career-elected to the house of delegates of West Virginia in 1865; member, State senate 1868, 1870; elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate in 1871; reelected in 1877 and served from March 4, 1871, to March 3, 1883; declined to be a candidate for renomination in 1882; chairman, Committee on Appropriations (Forty-sixth Congress); settled in Elkins, Randolph County, W.Va., where he resumed his banking and coal mining interests; represented the United States at the Pan American conferences of 1889 and 1901; unsuccessful candidate for Vice President of the United States on the Democratic ticket in 1904; chairman of the permanent Pan American Railway Committee 1901-1916.
Davis Coal and Coke-Businessman and politician, Henry Gassaway Davis was largely responsible for the boom experienced in the area beginning in 1883. Tucker County was a vast wilderness until Davis, with help of his brothers, began pursuing the rich coal resources on the banks of the North Fork of the Blackwater River. The brothers realized that the coal and timber resources could only be developed with technology. Davis brought the railroad from Elkins through Thomas in 1884.(ed. note-it actually was the other way around-the railroad went from Thomas to Elkins) Coal from the first deep mine was ready to be loaded by the time the track was completed. By 1892, Davis Coal and Coke Company was among the largest and best known coal companies in the world.
An experiment with two coke ovens in 1887 determined that the coal was excellent for coking. Coke is the purest of coal byproducts and was the most valuable at the time. Two years following the experiment the company had constructed over 500 “beehive” coke ovens along the mile and a half rail line between Thomas and Douglas. The ovens were fed by horse-drawn cars on tracks that lead from the mine tipples. The ovens burned 250 days a year and produced 200,000 tons of coke in a single year.
Davis Coal and Coke Company, headquartered in Coketon, reached peak production in 1910. The company controlled 135,000 acres, employed 1600 men of 16 nationalities, operated two power plants, and worked over 1000 coke ovens and 9 mines within one square mile of the central office. The town of Thomas boasted the grandest railway station between Cumberland, Maryland and Elkins, West Virginia. The Buxton and Landstreet Store in Coketon was considered the finest building in all the county. It had white tile bricks, ornamental ceilings, graceful columns, and many electric lights. Front Street in Thomas was laid with brick to become the first paved street in the county. From Northfork History Page
American National Biography; DAB; Ross, Thomas Richard. Henry Gassaway Davis: An Old-Fashioned Biography. Parsons, WV: McClain, 1994; Williams, John Alexander. ’Davis and Elkins of West Virginia: Businessmen in Politics.’ Ph.D. dissertation, Yale University, 1967.
Stephen Benton Elkins
STEPHEN BENTON ELKINS was born near New Lexington, Perry County, Ohio, on 26 September 1841; moved with his family to Westport, Missouri, in the mid-1840’s; graduated from the University of Missouri at Columbia in 1860; taught school in Cass County, Missouri; entered the Union Army as a captain of militia in the 77th Missouri Infantry; with the help of a former student, the future outlaw Cole Younger, escaped from Quantrill’s guerrillas; studied law and was admitted to the bar, 1864; crossed the plains to New Mexico, 1864; entered the practice of law at Mesilla; was elected to the territorial legislature, 1864 and 1865; was appointed territorial district attorney, 1866–1867; married Sarah Jacobs, his first wife, 1866; was attorney general of the territory, 1867, and U.S. district attorney, 1867–1870; was elected territorial delegate to the U.S. Congress, 1872, and reelected in 1874, serving to 1877; married his second wife, Hallie Davis, 1875; continued to practice law and founded and was president of the Santa Fe National Bank; pursued broad business interests in land, rail, mining, and finance; moved to Elkins, West Virginia, a town he had founded earlier, to pursue coal and rail interests, circa 1890; served as Secretary of War, 17 December 1891–5 March 1893; recommended that the rank of lieutenant general be revived; recommended increased pay, at least for noncommissioned officers, to improve the quality of the service; broadened the intelligence functions of the Division of Military Information; was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1895, 1901, and 1907, serving until his death in Washington, D.C., on 4 January 1911.http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/books/sw-sa/Elkins.htm
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