If you have driven even a short distance around central West Virginia, you have seen names of communities and roads that make you wonder about their origins. These names fascinated me when I moved here 40 years ago, and I continue to search for the history behind them.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Burnt House in Ritchie county was named for a local inn, built in the mid-1800’s to accommodate travelers on the new and heavily traveled Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike. The inn burned to the ground, taking the life of a slave girl named Delsie, who probably set the fire due to her sorrow at being left behind by the one she loved. According to legend, Delsie’s ghost may still be roaming the site.( This story is one of my favorite ghost stories to tell, and is on my ghost stories CD.)
California, another community on the old Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike, was so named because many people passed through on their way to the gold rush in California, during the same time as the first oil and gas boom in central West Virginia. A large hotel built at the site was called California House due to the large volume of traffic headed to California. The hotel is long gone but the name lingers.
I have heard several explanations for the name Pickle Street in Gilmer county, and also on the old turnpike. According to one story, a wagon carrying barrels of pickles overturned on the rutted road and spilled its load. Considering what the early roads were like—rough tracks strewn with boulders and deeply rutted —this seems like a likely story. Just as likely, however, is the tale that there was a storethere that sold moonshine during Prohibition days. A customer asking for a pickle was sold a probably fairly expensive pickle and given a jar of moonshine. The pickle was often tossed into the road since the main quest was for the shine.
Booger Hole in Clay county has a rough and tumble past. Stories of murders, hangings and such dubious deeds abound in Booger Hole’s past. Booger is an old-time word for ghost. I sure wondered about that name before learning its other meaning! There are stories of hauntings around the area, and given its history that doesn’t surprise me.
Bucket Run, an abandoned road that borders my property in Jackson county, was once the home of people who worked on the larger farms on Trace Fork. They were paid in buckets of pickled corn and beans, which is how the road got its name. Trace Fork was a trail, or trace the Native Americans followed from the Ohio River, up Sandy Creek (source of the name of my mailing address, Sandyville), along the creek now known as Trace Fork, and up Little Trace to my ridge, which they would follow into Roane county and wide bottomlands around the community of Reedy.
The recent 9-1-1 project has renamed many old roads, mine being one of the victims. No one named Railey ever lived here to my knowledge, although there were Rowleys and Rileys. Local history is unfortunately being lost in the effort to improve emergency services access; how wise it might have been to have had a historian or folklorist on the planning committee for this undertaking.
Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.