In an email correspondence we received a number of years ago from Sarah Shanklin Haynes, a descendant of George W. Fritz, a member of the Lock Haven Rifle Guards (Co. D, 7th Reserves), we learn that this soldier was the first born child and illegitimate son of Pennsylvania’s War Governor, Andrew Gregg Curtin.
Ms Haynes shared with us an article written by Joan Berry in relation to a small West Virginia Town, and it’s connection to George W. Fritz (Curtin) after the war. The following articles originally appeared on Rootsweb. Inaccuracies have been corrected by Ms Haynes.
History of Curtin, West Virginia
“Ghost town from the past”
by Joan Berry
The history of Curtin began in 1873 when G.W. Curtin came to West Virginia where he built and operated a boom to float logs down the Tygarts Valley River to the mill he constructed and operated. That business in which Ariovistus Pardee of Pennsylvania was associated was the foundation of the Pardee-Curtin Lumber Company. In 1889, operations were transferred to Sutton where a boom and sawmill was built on the Elk River.
George Curtin’s son, Harry, followed in the footsteps of his father, being engaged in the manufacture of hardwood lumber from the time of his youth. Harry became a general manager and treasure of the business after his father’s death in 1917.
The company operated three-band mills in Nicholas County at Curtin, Coal Siding, and Hominy Falls. Its main operation later moved to Webster County.
In 1902, the Pardee-Curtin Lumber Company was moved to confluence of the Cherry and Gauley rivers from Sutton where the lumber town of Curtin was built. A railroad was being built at the time but it had not yet reached as far as Curtin. Horses and Oxen drew the wagons to Curtin where the sawmill was rebuilt. By the time the railroad arrived; the company was already sawing lumber.
The town of Curtin was self sustaining. It had a school, church, hotel, store, post office, and theater which presented the first movie in that area. Curtin also had a ferryboat because bridges across the Cherry River were railroad bridges. Curtin also had it’s own cemetery and where 26 graves can be located today. Most of which are marked with fieldstones.
The flood of March 13, 1918, washed away the hotel and several riverside homes. The following flu epidemic killed entire families.
The celebration of the end of World War I was acknowledged by people beating washtubs, ringing school bells, and the whistles at the mills were tied down. The din lasted all day.
Workers were allowed to take home all the lumber they could carry whenever they liked, free of charge.
Harry Bolinger Curtin died September 2, 1928. The Nicholas County town of Curtin had began it’s decline a few years earlier, and for all practical purposes was a ghost town by 1926. Eventually the buildings were sold to farmers who dismantled them for the lumber.
A Trip Into the Past
The community of Curtin stretched for about two miles up the Cherry River from its confluence with the Gauley River, and was a thriving town during it’s heyday.
It has already been noted that Curtin boasted the first “Cinematograph” or “Moving Picture Theater” in the county.
Likewise, Curtin had a ice cream parlor, which did a booming business, to judge by the fact that ice cream had to be brought in three days a week, by rail, from Clarksburg.
Unlike the stereotypical rough, rude, company towns, Curtin had refinements, and residents were quick to enjoy free time by visiting with one another, promenading along some of the community’s boardwalk streets.
Another difference between Curtin and other “company towns” was a very high degree of employee participation and interaction with management. This was presumably due to “the General’s” military background, which had taught him that happy men who thought that they had a say in their jobs were much more productive men. Compared to “company towns” of that and even later time periods, Curtin was a marvel.
Every employee was allowed to freely take as much lumber as he could carry, for any purpose he chose. Likewise, the theater was employed-owned. From what we can determine at this late date, the General and his wife were actively involved in the day to day business of the community. Mrs. Curtin, for example, helped the townspeople build a church, and traveling ministers came from as far away as Glenville to preach from the pulpit. Compared to many contemporary town and village churches of the period, the Curtin church was apparently somewhat larger and more comfortable.
Anecdotal accounts of how the General and Mrs. Curtin were accepted by the townspeople reveals that both were well-liked and respected, and had “returned the favor” making a point to get to know and speak to town folks. Compared to other contemporary “big house families” who essentially “ran the town” the Curtins were held in very high esteem, indeed.
Mrs. Curtin took an interest in the education, accounts suggest, and the Curtin school received her patronage. She was said to have chosen some books, herself, and took an interest in the curriculum and students.
The wooden buildings have long since gone, although careful inspection of the hillsides revealed old homes sites and few artifacts, showing that many years ago, the land was cleared and roads are still in remarkably good condition, showing sound planning and preparation had gone into laying the pathways, to began with.
The stone walls of the old mill rose above the tangle of briers and undergrowth like ancient ruins of a vanished civilization, and that holds true for Curtin. Hundreds of people once lived, worked, and died there between 1902 and late 1920’s.
The mill and dry-kiln were constructed of large sandstone blocks, locally quarried. Portions of the walls still stood, particularly at the corners, and the kiln side of the mill showed double-wall construction.
High waters had washed most of the mortar from between the stones, and time and weather had pushed over most of the un-buttressed walls. Trees, sometimes almost a foot in diameter, had grown up inside the mill walls, and there was evidence that some rock-falls had been due to the heaving action of growing roots. Two massive stone blocks, split by a narrow passageway, show where the band mill once stood, within the walls.
On the lower side of the mill are the remains of four furnaces, apparently used to kiln dry the lumber. The furnaces were close set, lined with fire brick and set over with regular red brick. Much of the furnaces had fallen in over the years, but the size suggests that the fireboxes could probably hold up to a ton of coal, each. The double wall construction of the site suggest that the hundreds of ton of stone and brick in the furnace bank could be brought to an impressive heat, and kept hot, with little additional attention.
Close by the mill and furnaces is a large square depression, which had been the mill-pond, where logs had been floated to soften and “slip” the bark. Nature has reclaimed the Curtin area, but enough of the ruins remain to give an explorer an idea of the size of the town and how the people lived.
“General G.W. Curtin”
George W. Curtin was born on January 25, 1843, in Clinton County, Pennsylvania. His early youth remains a mystery, but it is known that he joined the Seventh Pennsylvania Reserves in 1861, at the age of 18. He was assigned, along with his company, to the Army of the Potomac at the onset of the Civil War.
After participating in various actions, he was captured in the Wilderness battle of 1864, and taken to the South as a prisoner of war.
After being shuttled to different interment facilities, he ended up in the infamous “Andersonville Prison”, where he spent several months. He was part of a prisoner exchange, where the opposing forces exchanged Union for Confederate officers, and was returned to his unit when he heard that General Lee had surrender.
In the fall of 1865, George Curtin married Miss Sarah F. Starn, the daughter of Harmon and Lucinda Starn, of Lock Heaven, Pa. The couple was blessed with their only child, Harry Bolinger Curtin, on October 4, 1866, in Lock Haven. (Harry was named after George Curtin’s Civil War commander, Colonel Henry ‘Harry” Bolinger).
G.W. Curtin maintained his links with the Pennsylvania Militia after the war, and ultimately rose to the rank of Brigadier General.
He came to West Virginia in 1873, first locating in Grafton, WV ,where he built a sawmill and boom, working along the Tygart Valley River.
At that time he formed his business associations with Ariovistus Pardee, in whose company he extended operations into this area.
His son, Harry, followed in his father’s foot steps, and was able to step in and became general manager and treasurer of the business after the General’s death in 1917.
General Curtin, and his son after him, operated band mills in Curtin, Coal Siding, and Hominy Falls.
Operations later moved to Webster County, as Nicholas County was “timbered out” and Harry B. Curtin carried on along the General’s path.
Harry Curtin died September 2, 1928, in the Baltimore, Maryland, hospital following an extended illness. Physicians said that the immediate cause of death was pneumonia induced by influenza. Harry Curtin was survived by 4 sons and a daughter. His two eldest sons, George DeArmond Curtin and Ellsworth Ferris Curtin, like Harry, then managed the Pardee and Curtin Lumber Company.
(Fred & Mollie Bennett were my [the Author’s] natural grandparents)
This article speaks of the “flu epidemic” that hit the area in 1818-1919, where entire families were wiped out. Fred and Mollie had an older daughter, Elva Maxine Bennett ,who died in October 1918. Mollie was pregnant with mother, grief stricken and worn out from caring for a sick child, Mollie went into labor early and delivered the tiny baby only to die two days later. In the month of April 1919, Mollie Perry Bennett died, her sister Alta Perry Phillips and Alta’s husband all died within just a couple weeks, leaving a total of six orphaned children. The Phillips children were sent to an orphanage and mother was given to a childless couple to raise. Fred Bennett disappeared from Curtin, never looking back.
The Godfrey’s were wonderful people. Mr Godfrey, Sylvanus Bailey Godfrey, was engineer on the logging train that ran through the mountains. He was a huge man, well over 6 feet tall ,and weighed over 300 pounds. He was a jolly man who loved to tell stories and had a great since of humor. Clara Godfrey, was his German war-bride. They had tried for years to have a family but it was not meant to be. Clara ran the boarding house, just in front of the railroad bridge as you entered the town of Curtin. She was a hard working woman and a wonderful cook. One only had to look at Granddad “Doc”, as he was called, to know he was well feed.
When Mollie Bennett died, the decision had to be made as what could be done with the tiny infant. She weighed only a few pounds and fit very nicely into a cigar box. This is how Fred Bennett brought the tiny infant to the Godfrey’s and left her. I realize that he probably thought that he had lost enough, his older daughter, his wife, and this tiny baby was going to die and he just couldn’t face another death.
Clara Godfrey, took the tiny bundle, loved her with all her heart, and by the Grace of God, and the love of Clara Godfrey, mother survived.
The Godfreys, as did many other residence of this quaint little town, started moving out when the town was “timbered out”. Many of the families went west to Washington and Oregon. “Doc”, Clara, and mother went to Lewis County, Washington, where they joined “Doc’s” parents and many other folks from Nicholas County who settled there in the early 1900’s.]1
Currently a resident of Burke, Virginia - I'm originally from the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I have been a student of the Pennsylvania Reserves since 1997 and thoroughly enjoy telling their story. By trade I'm a former IT Professional but presently working as a Letter Carrier for the United States Postal Service.