Submitted by: Brenda Dillon
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 sawmill and boom floated logs down the Tygarts
Valley River. That business in which Ario Pardee of Pennsylvania was
associated was the foundation of the Pardee-Curtin Lumber Company. In 1889,
operations were transferred to Sutton where a boom was built on the Elk
George Curtin 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-bend mills in Nicholas County at Curtin, Coal
Siding, and Hominy Falls. Its main operation later moved to Webster County.
Curtin , in 1902, the Pardee-Curtin Lumber Company was moved to confluence
of the Cherry and Gauley rivers from Sutton. 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 1 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 B. Curtin died September 2, 1928. The Nicholas County 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.
Part2........... 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 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 a fine ments
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 in the way,
that holds true for Curtin. Hundreds of people once lived, worked, and died
there between 1902 and late1920's.
The mill and dry-kilm were constructed of large sandstone blocks, locally
quarried. Portions of the walls still stood, particularly at the corners,
and the kilm - 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 unbuttressed 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 kilm 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
Close by the mill and furnaces is a large square depression, which had been
the mill-pond, where logs had been floated to softened 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.
Town Founder, "General G.W. Curtin"
George W. Curtin was born on January 25, 1834, in Clinton County,
Pennsylvania. His early youth remains a mystery, but it is known that he
joined the Seventh Pennsylvania Reserves in 1854, 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 interments facilities, he ended up in the
infamous "Andersonville Prison", where he spent several months. He was 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
In the fall of 1865, George Curtin married Miss S. F. Sterns, the daughter
of Harmon Sterns, apparently of Lock Heaven, Pa. The couple was blessed with
their only child, Harry B. Curtin , on October 4, 1866, in Lock Heaven.
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 Arlo 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 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 a
son, Donald Curtin, who had resided in Bridgeport for a period of time.
( Fred & Mollie Bennett were my 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 that 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 bungle, loved her with all her heart, and by
the Grace of God, and the love of Clara Godfrey, mother survived.
The Godfrey's, 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. ]
Train Wreck at Curtin,WV. Doc Godfrey was engineer of that train.