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VAN B. REYNOLDS


The Greenbrier Independent January 24, 1884

VAN B. REYNOLDS

The old white frame mansion yet standing in "Burning Spring" hollow, at Kanawha Salines, was the residence of Colonel John Reynolds from about 1806 until his death about the year 1840. But the fine salt-producing property and the furnaces he owned during that period, on both sides of the Kanawha river, have by degrees entirely passed out of the hands of his descendants. Allen Belcher was occupying this old house when, several years ago, he fell a victim in Malden to the deadly assaults for which Wm. H. Robinson was last week re-tried and sentenced in eleven years of servitude in the State Penitentiary.

Besides engaging extensively in the manufacture of salt Col. Reynolds was several times chosen to represent his own and his constituents' interest in the Assembly of Virginia. His name appears as the representative from Kanawha for five consecutive terms--1806-7-8-9-10--and it was during his candidacy for one of these terms that Prof. Atkinson credits him with the most famous and pointed speech of the campaign. Space only permits the telling of this one incident out of the many that have been related of him: "The Colonel was a small, spare man, thin-visaged and stern countenanced, but friendly and sociable in his manners, and exceedingly popular in the county. Mounting the stand and looking around upon the audience, and bowing, he addressed them as follows: "Friends and fellow-citizens! I am a candidate for the House of Delegates of the General Assembly; and according to custom I suppose I must make a speech. But so much time has been occupied by my worthy friends who have already addressed you that I will only detain you a moment. You all know my political principles and my opinions concerning public affairs. If you choose to elect me, I will serve you to the best of my abilities; if you don't you may go to ----' closing the sentence with an oath and an expressive waive of the hand, and turning round with an independent, care-for-nobody air, he stepped down from the stand amidst the vociferous cheers of the audience. He was elected by a large majority."

West Virginia is indebted to the George Clendenin fort that stood at the mouth of Elk river for the existence of the Capital city it has chosen for 1885, and to Charles Clendenin for its name of Charlestown, which name, "for reasons not now known," was afterward contracted into Charleston. Before Greenbrier and Montgomery counties furnished the territory for Kanawha in 1789 old Alexander Welch, who was the second Surveyor for Greenbrier county, and grandfather of our late Capt. John A. Welch, had laid off and made a draft of what he then called "the town at mouth of Elk." This plan, in Mr. Welch's own handwriting, is being preserved in the Clerk's office of Kanawha county. From an absolute wilderness in 1789, with only now and then a canoe or pirogue hauled a-shore, there has grown in 1884 a city of 6,000 inhabitants, with its railroads, its steam ferry and steamboats plying up and down the river and steaming up to her wharves, a U. S. Custom House, the Capitol building, and numerous manufactories--all as the result of a second civilization implanted in the Kanawha Valley since the history of the world began. Salt and coal have been important factors in working out this miracle of change, and to Col. Reynolds as much as anyone else, our Third District is indebted for the transforming influences that years ago rolled, as it were, in black volumes from the furnace chimneys on both sides of the Kanawha from the "Burning Spring" to Malden.

In 1755, during Braddock's war, General (then Colonel) Washington discovered what appears to be, of its kind, the greatest natural curiosity in Kanawha--the "Burning Spring" near which Col. Reynolds built his last residence and salt furnaces. Washington, referring to it in his will, says "it (the land he owned on Kanawha) was taken up by Gen. Andrew Lewis and myself on account of a bituminous spring which it contained, so as to burn as freely as spirits and is as difficult to extinguish." But it was as late as 1840-42 that the "Gas Wells" became numerous at the Salines. A Mr. Tompkins, when boring for salt water at a depth of 1,000 feet, discovered the first one, which was shortly afterward followed by others--some being of sufficient force to lift the salt water many feet above the surface of the ground. From an article published in 1843 in the Lexington Gazette, and written by one who considered the subject "peculiarly interesting to the scientific," the following description is condensed to suit our purpose:

"These wonderful wells are a new thing under the sun; for in all the history of the world it does not appear that a fountain of strong brine was ever before known to be mingled with a fountain of inflammable gas sufficient to pump it out in a constant stream, and then, by its combustion, to evaporate the whole into salt of the best quality. Several wells have been bored to a depth equal to that of the gas-wells without striking the gas; the source of which seems to lie below, perhaps far below, the depth of the wells. This light, clastic substance, wheresoever and howsoever generated, naturally presses upwards for a vent, urging its way through every pore and crevice of the superincumbent rocks; and the well-borer's auger must find it in one of the narrow routes of its upward passage or penetrate to its native coal-bed before it will burst forth by the artificial vent. The opinion that the gas originates in deep coal-beds is founded on the fact that it is the same sort of gas that constitutes the dangerous fire-damp of coalpits, and the same that is manufactured out of bituminous coal for illuminating our cities. It is a mixture of carbureted hydrogen. Philosophers tell us that bituminous coal becomes anthracite by the conversion of its bitumen and sulphur into this gas, and that water acts a necessary part in the process. Whether the presence of salt water causes a more rapid devolution of the gas the present writer will not undertake to say; but somehow the quantity generated in the salt region of Kanawha is most extraordinary. It finds in this region innumerable small natural vents. It is seen in many places bubbling up through the sand at the bottom of the river, and probably brings up salt water with it, as in the gas-wells, but in small quantity. The celebrated Burning Spring is the only one of its natural vents apparent on dry land. The stream of gas, unaccompanied by water, has forced its way from the rocks below, through seventy or eighty feet of alluvial ground, and within eighty yards of the river bank. It is near this burning spring where the principal gas-wells have been found. But, twenty-five years ago, or more, a gas-fountain was struck in a well two hundred feet deep, near Charleston, seven miles below the Burning Spring. This blew up, by fits, a jet of weak salt water twenty or thirty feet high. On a torch being applied to it, one night, brilliant flames played and flashed about the watery column in the wonderful manner.

The children of Col. John Reynolds--Ellicott, Alethea, Franklin R., Bernard (or Vernon,) Julia, Fenton, Minerva and Van. B.--are all said to have been born on Muddy Creek, in Greenbrier county. But this is doubtful, as Colonel Reynolds' wife was Miriam Vanbibber of Point Pleasant, and the nuptials were likely celebrated just before his settlement on the present site of Charleston about the year 1800. At that time he owned and lived on a part of the site of Charleston. And when County Clerk of Kanawha he had erected on his own land (where the Hale House now stands) the first County Court Clerk's office Kanawha ever had. Ellicott's wife was a Miss Drowen of Kanawha. Aletha's husband was James McFarland, from the North, a gentleman who merchandised in Charleston for a number of years. One daughter was born to them. Franklin R. married Abigail McFarland, a sister of James McFarland as above. Four children were born to this pair. Bernard married Irena, a daughter of Elijah Slack of Kanawha. Their children were Amelia, (deceased,) and John V., known as a steamboat captain on the Kanawha and Ohio rivers. Julia married John Welch, of "Red House" Shoals, Putnam county. Fenton died unmarried. Minerva became the wife of Garland Todd, of Virginia, and Mrs. Aletha Putney, of Malden, is a daughter of this pair.

VAN B. REYNOLDS seems to have been the only one of these children placed in charge of Dr. McElhenney at the Lewisburg Academy. His wife was a daughter (Elizabeth) of Major Thomas Buster, a gentlemen several times chosen by Kanawha as a representative in Virginia's legislative halls. This lady was a cousin of Claudius F., Thomas J., Julia M., Eliza and Mary A., children of George W. Buster of Greenbrier, which statement is made in this connection to correct a mistaken idea of relationship. The business part of Mr. Reynolds' life is easily summed up in a single sentence. "He was a salt maker for nearly fifty years at the salt furnaces of the Salines." But when he died in malden, was, like his father, nearly if not altogether insolvent. He also took a hand in forming the political history of Kanawha--was its representative for one or more terms in the Legislature. Isn't it amusing, though, what insignificant issues the friends of a candidate will introduce into a political canvass to insure his election? Col. John Reynolds was the first settler to bring a rifle gun into Kanawha county, and when Van. B. was running for the Legislature, with strong opposition, this fact was made the issue of his election. One of the salt-makers' meetings was thrown into a fever of excitement when Phillips Miller rushed in and asked Wm. Tompkins "what was to be done next," as they had 'run the gun argument into the ground?" As the ancestors of the two Reynolds families in Kanawha were of Scotch-Irish origin the religious inclinations of their descendants have been to the Presbyterial faith, yet Van. B. is thought never to have been connected with any church. Two of his children, James and Mary, died when young and unmarried, and a surviving son (Henry W.) married a daughter of Thos. Whitaker, of Charleston. At present Henry Reynolds is largely interested in coal mines at Paint Creek, Kanawha county. He also was engaged several years ago in the manufacture of salt. Van. B. Reynolds died about the year 1860.

The children of Silas Reynolds, a brother of Col. John, are often confused with the children of Col. John by those best acquainted with both families, and for this reason our sketch is closed with a few paragraphs devoted to the family of Silas, that the proper discriminations may be made. He was also a salt-maker on the Kanawha. His wife's name is unknown to the writer, but his children were five in number--William, Clark, Eliza, Charles and Ann. William's wife was Sarah Armstrong, of Kentucky, by whom he had one child, that died in infancy. William died many years ago--as early as 1834 or 5--but his widow is yet living, as the wife of C. E. Doddridge, of Kanawha.

Clark married Margaret Frazer, of Virginia, a niece of either the late James A. Lewis or his wife. Both Clark and his wife died in 1832 or 3 with the cholera. If any children were born to them they died in infancy. Both William and Clark were active, business men, and manufacturers of salt, and had they lived would probably have been useful and honorable citizens of Kanawha county.

Eliza married the George W. Buster, of Charleston, referred to in a preceding paragraph of this sketch. She died without issue. To some extent the error obtains that she was the mother of Alexis M., Charles B., Thomas B. and Lucy A. Buster of Greenbrier. Their mother was the second wife of George W. Buster--a Miss Ann Chilton of Kanawha.

The wife of Charles Reynolds was Fannie Slaughter, of Kanawha; and Ann's husband was H. H. Wood, of Charleston.

The families of "old Tommie" and Johnson Reynolds of Greenbrier are in no way whatever connected with the Reynolds families of Kanawha.

Lewisburg, Jan. 21st, 1884 M. W. Z.


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