Thursday, January 22, 2009

Charley McIntosh: Country Teacher

by David Parner

In April of 1910 Charley McIntosh was a five year old boy living with his parents George and Mary (Lyons) McIntosh and six brothers and sisters on Sang Run in the Maryland panhandle, about 40 miles east of Morgantown. Charley was the middle child. His dad George worked in a saw mill. In March of 1912 Charley was in an orphanage in Charleston, West Virginia waiting for a stranger to take him to his new family.

A Train Trip to Charleston
Edward Cunningham nervously waited on the Coal and Coke passenger train at the Chapman stop. It was Thursday, March 7, 1912. Although it was a just short distance from his nearby farm, he had arrived by foot at the stop much too early for the 10:16 a.m. train to Charleston. The month of March was still very much winter in 1912 and he had dressed warmly for the season and for the six hour trip in the unheated passenger car he would ride. It would be too late after his arrival in Charleston to take care of the purpose of his trip that day so that business would have to wait until Friday. The train schedule for the return trip from Charleston on Friday called for a 3:35 departure, with a scheduled arrival at Chapman at eleven o’clock in the evening.
Willie and Mary Cunningham
Willie Cunningham was 43 years of age in 1912 and his wife Mary (Weaver) Cunningham was one year younger. They were married relatively late in life in 1908 when Willie was 39 and Mary was 38. They had built their home around 1910 on the old Enoch Cunningham farm. Willie owned and operated the productive farm on Clover Fork before he was married and, although not wealthy, was "a man of means," as the people of the time would say. After four years of married life, no children had blessed their threshold. The days and nights on the Cunningham farm must have been too quiet and both Willie and Mary earnestly desired a child to make a little noise.

The Children’s Home Society of West Virginia
In the first decade of the 1900s, Reverend D. W. Comstock, a retired minister who had been a Superintendent of the Children’s Home Society of Arkansas, established a similar institution in West Virginia. The goal of the children’s home was to find suitable homes for children who were orphaned or who were placed in the home by courts or county commissions for adoption. Through the generosity of Henry Gassaway Davis, the President of the Coal and Coke Railroad, the West Virginia Children’s Home Society was able to buy a large house at 1118 Washington Street in Charleston which was enlarged to serve as an orphanage for children until they could be placed with suitable families for adoption.

A Formal Application
Prospective adoptive parents had to pass the Children’s Home Society's rigorous evaluation in order to become eligible to adopt a child. The criteria required that the prospective adopting parents be “God-fearing, Sabbath-observing and Church-going people, financially able to school and provide for the child, sufficiently intelligent to know how a child should be raised, own their own home and be well recommended as being above qualified by three or more reliable persons.”

Willie and Mary Cunningham were approved to be adoptive parents and in early March 1912, they received notification that six-year-old Charles Edward McIntosh had been designated for adoption by them.

When Edward Cunningham arrived at the Davis Child Shelter of the Children’s Home Society of West Virginia, which today is the location of the parking lot for the Clay Center in Charleston, he met with Superintendent Reverend N. O. Sowers and took care of the remaining paperwork necessary to take Charley to his new home. Young Charley was called to the Superintendent’s office to meet his new uncle. Aware that he was to be placed with the Cunningham family, Charley took a nickel from his pocket and handed it to the Superintendent and asked him to “please give this nickel to my brother,” (who was to remain in the orphanage.)

A Peculiarity of Law
A peculiarity of West Virginia law in 1912 provided that even though natural parents had turned custody of a child over to an agency such as the Children’s Home Society of West Virginia, the custodial parents could not officially adopt the child without written consent of the natural parents. Charley’s parents had never signed the consent form for the formal adoption of their son Charley by another family. Nevertheless, the custodial transfer of Charley was made by the Children’s Home Society of West Virginia to Willie and Mary Cunningham.









A New Beginning
Young Charley adapted well to his new home and his new parents doted on him. His uncle Edward Cunningham and his aunt Etta Holbert were also very pleased with the new addition to the Cunningham family. Edward remarked after arriving at his brother’s home on Clover Fork that “Charley was indeed a Cunningham because he gave away his last nickel.”

Charley was the same age as the Holbert children who lived on the adjoining farm and he blended in well with his new cousins. All of the Holbert children and Charley attended the upper Clover Fork School for the next several years.


Charley McIntosh is wearing suspenders in the center. Robert Holbert is at his right side, Mary Holbert is on his left and Della Holbert is in the white dress to the far left side of this Upper Clover Fork school photo.

Walkersville High School

After finishing eight years at the Upper Clover Fork School, Charley entered the newly created Walkersville High School. Like his cousin, Robert Holbert, he commuted to school in Walkersville from the Cunningham farm on the back of a horse. The first class of seven graduates of the new high school graduated in 1923. Charley graduated from Walkersville High School the following year. His wife to be, Lena Crawford, graduated from the same school in 1925.

A Life in Education
In 1924, West Virginia law for the licensing of teachers was quite unlike the requirements of today. An annual teacher’s examination was held generally in the month of April. To be eligible to sit for the examination, the applicant had to have proof of at least eight units of high school work over a two year period and sixteen semester hours of college work obtained over at least eighteen weeks. If the applicant passed the examination, the state department of education issued a teaching license. In order to renew and maintain the license, the teacher was required to attend summer school each year thereafter and obtain at least six hours of college credit.
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Left above: Charley with his adoptive parents Willy and Mary Cunningham.
Left below: Charles McIntosh

Charley probably attended Glenville State Teachers College to earn the required college credits to become eligible to sit for the teacher’s examination. We know that he passed the examination because he was employed by the Collins Settlement Board of Education to teach at the Roanoke School for the school year 1925-1926. During the next twenty two years, Charley taught at various schools in Collins Settlement District including the Upper Clover Fork School, Roanoke Grade School, Walkersville Grade School, Ireland Grade School and the Upper Glady School at Duffy. He served as principal at the Roanoke, Walkersville, and Ireland schools. Charley’s wife, the former Lena Crawford, was also a teacher in Lewis County, where she taught at Abram’s Run School and Walkersville Grade School.

When Charley was the principal at the Roanoke School, several of his students who finished the eight grades at Roanoke went on to high school at Burnsville. This was possible because the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad train schedule was timed in such a way that students arrived in Burnsville in time for class in the morning and the evening train got them home at a reasonable hour. Some fathers of the students were also employees of the railroad and were entitled to free family passes, so the commute was cost-free.

Nina (Smarr) Myers recalls when Charley taught at the Upper Clover Fork School, he acquired admirers for the innovative school logo which he fashioned for a Lewis County 4-H gathering at Jackson ’s Mill. Attaching a large poster of a clover leaf to a pitch fork, he preceded the Upper Clover Fork 4-H students into the assembly. We also have it on good authority that Charley was very adept on getting the attention of a misbehaving or inattentive boy in the classroom with a well-aimed chalk eraser.

Charley and Lena's Boy
Charley married Lena Crawford on December 19, 1925. Lena was the daughter of Charley’s first teacher, Robert Crawford, at the Upper Clover Fork School when he first came to live with his parents, Willie and Mary Cunningham.

Left: Charles Crawford Mcintosh

Charley and Lena had one child, a son named Charles Crawford McIntosh. Their son was an intellectual prodigy and graduated from Walkersville High School at the age of thirteen and from Glenville State College at the age of sixteen. He then attended the United States Military Academy at West Point and received a B. S. degree from that institution in 1951. He also later graduated from the New York Medical College in 1960 and established a medical practice in Teaneck, New Jersey.

According to the descendents of Charlie's sister Jessie Marie (McIntosh) Belcher, six of the seven McIntosh children found each other and were reunited as adults: William, Wesley, Charles, Jessie, John and George. Only their sister Nettie was missing.

Death Visits
Charley’s Clover Fork parents, Willy Cunningham and Mary Cunningham, died in 1943 and 1944 respectively. They were buried in the Long Point Cemetery in Walkersville. Edward Cunningham, who brought Charley to Clover Fork from the orphanage in Charleston, died in 1943. On Saturday morning, January 18, 1958, Charley suffered a fatal heart attack and died at the young age of fifty-two years. He was buried in the Long Point Cemetery beside his Clover Fork parents, Willy and Mary Cunningham.

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