Grant District's colorful history began with its first known settlers, William Ice and Aden Bayles in 1796. It is Wetzel County's largest district and peaked in population around 1900.
It borders on Marion, Harrison, Doddridge and Tyler Counties. Its distance from New Martinsville early on sent much of its business to Marion or Harrison County.
Grant District was a true forest when the settlers arrived. Young couples began life together by felling trees to build a cabin. A few of these cabins still stand. They cleared their land with simple tools and lots of children. They planted kitchen gardens and crops, dried their winter supply of food and had more children.
Many of the people were poor and uneducated. The land was harsh and health problems were serious, especially for the very young. TB, typhoid fever, diphtheria, childbirth and accidents accounted for many early deaths. A popular saying was "If you survived age 25, you were good for at least 50 more years."
The first thing of economic importance was the 1852 building of the B & O Railroad from Cumberland, Maryland to Wheeling, Virginia. It passed through Mannington in Marion County, the nearest town to them.
Then came the Civil War. Mannington was the recruitment center after statehood in 1863. The 6th W.Va. Infantry Regiment was raised there and shows more Grant District names than any other. Pension requests show that the 6th primarily guarded supply lines for theUnion Army.
A few local names show up in the 14th W.Va. Infantry Regiment which did see action in the valley of Virginia. A few other regiments show single Grant District names.
The book "A Confederate History of the War" says that some 55 Wetzel men joined the Confederacy, but little documentation has survived.
After the war, progress came fast and the forest was now a tough but thriving farming area.
Magically the early 1890's brought the discovery of oil and natural gas in Wetzel County. Too little is recorded of this event that put real dollars into the pockets of the district for the first time. The money sent children to college and signaled the demise of the district as a vital entity. Some people spent their money wisely, others extravagantly. The Short Line Railroad was built from Clarksburg to New Martinsville.
The influx of population was wild. The 1900 census of Grant District makes interesting reading. Residences that look like dormitories on paper, show laborers from Brazil to Ohio. Many families show male boarders. Hotels saloons and "sportin' houses" were common. A vigilante group called the Redmen was formed by locals to try to maintain law and order. They were a secret group, still whispered about today, but McEldowney knew of their existence in his early "History of Wetzel County."
Two world wars and no industry gradually dissipated the population of today's commuters and retirees. You can still climb steep hills and make out old roads along the ridges.
Submitted by Claudette Price
Source: History of Wetzel County, West Virginia 1983