Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A History of Orlando

by Dale Barnett, as told to his son, Steve Barnett

To the right, Dale Barnett, about the time he graduated from Salem College Dale is the son of Bill and Marie (Parmer) Barnett. He grew up in Orlando.

Orlando was originally was a shipping point for the local oil industry. Men and supplies would arrive in the Orlando area on the B&O Railroad. They would them move to the oil fields via local transportation, probably horse and wagon, and would return to town to resupply. I assume Oil Creek got its name from the oil fields in the area. Dad said that freight was also delivered for many of the small stores in the surrounding area.

This rail line ran from Weston to Richwood passing through Orlando and Burnsville. Travelers could go from Weston to Clarksburg, where they could connect with the main B&O line running from Baltimore to St. Louis. This allowed travel by rail to almost any area of the United States.

The fuzzy photo on the left, above, shows some of Orlando's horse teams going out in the morning. Below right is Orlando about 1905, taken from Morrison's hill.

There were numerous trestles between Orlando and Burnsville, which limited the weight that could travel this line. This prevented coal from being hauled in any large quantity by this route. Probably the heaviest loads were lumber from the Richwood area. This weight limit would have an effect on the town’s future.

In 1905, the Coal & Coke railroad was completed from Elkins to Charleston. This line was built to haul coal out of the southern coal fields. The Coal & Coke came down Clover Fork and crossed the B&O tracks at Orlando, and continued down Oil Creek to Burnsville on its way to Charleston. The builders did not install any connecting tracks between the new railroad and the old, which would allow the movement of railcars from line to the other. This would also have great significance for the future of Orlando. Eventually the oil fields played out, but the junction of the two railroads caused an economic boom in the town.

During this era, roads were extremely poor. They were often unimproved dirt roads, especially in the country. Rain and snow could turn them into an impassable muddy quagmire. This made travel over a great distance impractical. Only local people used them, and people did not venture far from home. The building of the railroads in the United States changed everything. Passengers could now travel anywhere in the country in relative comfort. New markets for farmers products opened up and people could order anything and have it shipped by rail in few days. Orlando was in the perfect location to benefit from the railroads.

The unpassable road to the left is from the photo essay Walter Donaldson Orlando WV prepared by the WPA in the 1930s.

Orlando boomed as a rail center due to the large numbers of passengers who traveled by train between 1905 and the early 1940’s. Passenger trains would run between Richwood and Weston, leaving in the morning and arriving in Orlando around noon time. Passenger trains also running between Elkins and Charleston would arrive in Orlando at the same time. Since there were no connecting tracks the trains would stop for an hour or longer to allow passengers to switch trains, along with there luggage. Freight and mail would also be switched from one train to the other. Other freight would be dropped off for local businesses and local goods would be picked up to ship to other parts of the country. All this had to be done by hand, providing jobs for local people. The passengers might stop in local restaurants to eat while waiting, or maybe shop in a local store and make a purchase. Some passengers would possibly spend the night at a local hotel. There was also a Midnight Flyer, which ran between Charleston and Elkins. The train would leave either Charleston or Elkins around five PM and arrive in the other town in the morning. The train would usually arrive in Orlando around midnight.

To the right is Irma Haymond with her daughter and a friend visiting Orlando from Burnsville.

Mail delivery was also an interesting affair by train. In towns where trains stopped, such as Orlando, mail would be picked and delivered from the mail car and the post office. In small whistle stops, the train normally would not stop. Mail to be delivered would be tossed out the door as the train passed by, and mail to be picked up would be snagged of off a pole by an arm cranked out of the mail car window. Depending on the rail line, they might also leave mail by having it snagged off of the side of the mail car. The mail that was picked up would be sorted on the train for delivery. For more see entry Feb '07 Orlando Mail Delivery In The Early 1900s

Dad said coal trains going up Clover Fork would slow to a crawl with steam engines pulling from the front and pushing from behind. At certain spots along the tracks the tops of the cars would be level with the bank where the tracks passed. People in need of fuel for heat would hop on the full cars and toss off the larger lumps of coal. They would then hop off the car before the train reached the tunnel. After the train passed the coal would be picked up and taken home.

Above, left, a heavily loaded coal train using mutiple engines to make the grade along Oil Creek & Clover Fork

At one time, this traffic allowed Orlando to support four hotels, four restaurants, a picture gallery, two pool halls, a barber shop, two doctors, a post office, plus several stores and warehouses. There was also an Odd Fellows lodge in town. Numerous houses were built on the hills overlooking town, where the local businessmen lived, and others lived on the top floors of the store buildings.

After WWII, roads had been improved and many of them were paved. People purchased their own cars and traveled in them at their convenience. The age of the automobile had arrived and train travel decreased to the point it was not profitable. Passenger trains were discontinued and the B&O purchased the Coal & Coke railroad. Then the B&O tore up the tracks from Weston to Burnsville to eliminate the trestles and hauled freight and coal up the Clover Fork line to Grafton. With trains no longer stopping in Orlando, most of the businesses closed. The buildings were abandoned. Some burned and others were torn down for their lumber. The railroads had been the only industry and the town slowly died as people moved away.

For more on Orlando horse teams see an entry from Mar '06 A Town With Broad Shoulders

Comment 1 Donna Gloff
Here is an explanation of how Oil Creek got its name. Edward Smith* wrote in 1920 that Oil Creek had gotten its name from the oil that floated on its surface.

Smith went on to tell a tale he doubted was true. He'd heard that when oil began to be valuable a land purchasers came to check out Oil Creek. When they were there, a couple of our citizens went upstream with a barrel of oil to dump into the creek to be sure these prospectors got the right idea. If Smith really doubted the tale, I think he had a thing or two to learn about small towns in general and Orlando in particular.

*Smith, Edward Conrad. 1920. A History of Lewis County, West Virginia. Weston, WV: Edward Conrad Smith.

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