by David Parmer
I had previously concluded to write a little story about the Holbert family of Clover Fork for the Orlando web page and had been building a file of notes to use for reference. The more I read about the Holbert family, the more impressed I was about this family which placed Christian principles and a love of education as their pole stars and followed them throughout life.
John Whiston, the great-grandson of Abia Holbert reports that Abia came to the Clover Fork area with a saw mill to cut timber around the turn of the 20th century. Based upon a deed dated 1900 from A. S. Holbert to his son for one hundred acres of land on Clover Fork, it would appear that Abia Holbert’s father had made an earlier appearance on Clover Fork, perhaps with the saw mill referenced by Abia’s great-grandson, John Whiston. We can speculate that Abia may have been part of his father’s saw mill crew although we cannot be certain. In the 1900 federal census report for Lewis County, Abia was living as a boarder in the home of William R. Boggs on Clover Fork. Based upon the census numeration assigned to the Boggs household, it appears that Abia was living at this time in the same area where he lived for the remainder of his life. According to Nina (Smarr) Myers, the Boggs farm was “across the hill from the farm Mr. Holbert would later own.” It was presumably at this time that Abia met his future second wife who lived in the Clover Fork area on a nearby farm.
In addition to the saw mill work which brought Abia to the Clover Fork area, his great-grandson John Whiston tells us that Abia also worked in the oil and gas fields of central West Virginia as a teamster and that his great-grandfather reputedly could make a horse do his bidding without difficulty. After the oil and gas boom subsided, Abia reverted to husbandry of the land for his living.
During this second marriage, Abia and Etta became the parents of four children, Fred Kiley, Mary Elizabeth, Della, and Robert, all of whom were born on Clover Fork.
Lenna, Abia’s child of his first marriage, graduated from Buckhannon High School. The next two Holbert children, Fred and Mary, also graduated from the same high school. Della, the fourth of Abia’s children, attended Buckhannon High School until her senior year when she transferred to Jane Lew High School where her oldest sister Lenna had begun teaching. Della graduated from Jane Lew High School. By the time Robert, the youngest Holbert child, reached high school age, a school had been built at nearby Walkersville. Robert rode his horse to school in Walkersville each day from the family farm. Robert was the only Holbert sibling to graduate from Walkersville High School.
After their graduation from high school, all of the Holbert children graduated from college, an exceptional achievement for a rural farm family in the early 20th century. All became teachers for at least for some part of their careers.
According to Nina (Smarr) Myers, Abia’s cash crops primarily were turkeys, beef, eggs, and cream. The cream was taken to the railroad stop at Chapman, and later to Walkersville for shipment, and was marketed in Fairmont. The eggs were generally marketed in nearby Walkersville. Nina recalls the task of washing each egg before it was placed in the carton to be delivered to the retailer. Since the turkeys and beefs were sold as cash commodities, neither customarily appeared on the Holbert dinner table. Nina recalls however that there was always plenty of chicken and pork at dinner time. She also recalls the daunting boredom of plucking the feathers of all the poultry which was either slaughtered for immediate use, for canning or for sale. To pass the time, Nina recalls that she and her foster mother Etta Holbert would recite poetry while they worked.
Recalling Abia’s Christmas gift of a dressed hog to a needy Orlando family referenced above, I inquired if Mr. Holbert made a practice of such largesse. Although unaware of that particular act of charity, Nina was aware that her foster father would frequently deliver sacks of flour or meal to families in need in the area.
Nina described her foster father as a “man of few words, except when it came to praying.” A pious and religious man, Abia was a trustee of the Mt. Hope Methodist Church. When called upon in church to give a prayer, Abia usually made a “lasting” impression, especially when judged by the length of the prayer. Nina also recalls on one occasion when she was working outside, she heard strange ghost-like sounds. Tracking the source of the sounds, she discovered that Abia was praying in the half-filled silo. The sound of the prayer was amplified by the silo and resonated throughout the area.
Today, eighty acres of the original acreage and the farmhouse of Farmview Farm remain in Holbert family ownership. The remainder of the original acreage is now owned by the Hardrock Land Company which is an entity comprised of Mack Worrell, Mike Ross and Ike Morris, present day oil and gas barons of central West Virginia.
In a group photo taken in the 1930’s at Farmview Farm of the Holbert and Cunningham families of Clover Fork, seventeen of the family members shown became teachers. That generation and the following generations include members who became college professors, doctors, lawyers, a National Public Radio correspondent, journalists, and other successful business people or highly placed public servants. The public and private achievements of this family are too broad to give individual mention in this narrative. Suffice it to say, Abia and Etta Holbert of Clover Fork had a vision that to succeed in life, the first step must be taken in the classroom. Clearly, that vision was rewarded.
Left: an article writen by Fred Holbert. To enlarge it, click on the article.