Around 1890, life in Confluence began to change. It had been rumored for some time that the West Virginia and Pittsburgh Railroad was to be located through the Oil Creek Valley and Burnsville with a final destination of Richwood. Soon railroad agents visited Samantha and other landowners along Oil Creek to purchase rights of way for the location of the railroad tracks. As the laying of track along Oil Creek ensued, the Henlines found themselves less than a stone’s throw from the rail tracks and found that smoke from the locomotives which created dirt and an extra washing day. Soon, the unfortunate location of the Henline home too close to the tracks resulted in a roof fire caused by embers from the steam locomotive which burned the house to the ground. Perhaps, just as well. The original location of the home had made it subject to the periodic flooding of Oil Creek. So, when plans were made to rebuild, the new home was built not only farther away from the railroad but also from the waters of Oil Creek.
Left:Estelle and Lete's son Harry
The Widow Estie and Her Two Children, Harry and Sophia
Pool Room Entrepreneur
It is unknown where the Mike Thomas pool room was first located in Orlando when he first picked up the rack and said “Break,” but it is known that his pool room was later located on the first floor of the Wholesale Building beginning around 1908. The pool room was equipped with a state-of-the-art pool table and soon nickels and dimes began changing hands for the privilege to pick up a cue stick and lace the multi-colored ivory balls across the green felt.
And Comes the Children
On the porch of the Copen home, Left to right: Opal Jeffries, Sophie (Godfrey) Jarvis, Marie Thomas, Estie and Mike, Margaret (Henline) Nixon, Tom, Bill and Owen, and sitting, Arden and Virginia.Another important matter which was not thriving was Mike’s health. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1924 and the disease was progressing when Mike decided that the pool room business might better flourish at Alton in Upshur County in another coal mining community.
Estie returned to Copen after Mike’s death and lived there the remainder of her life. Her daughters Marie and Virginia, and her sons, Tom, Owen, Bill and Arden, continued to live with her. Her two older children, Harry and Sophia, had married and were living away. In time, all of her sons married and left home. Bill worked at a Clarksburg plant and Tom, Owen, and Arden worked for the railroad. Her daughter Virginia became a school teacher and after teaching for a few years in Braxton County rural schools and Burnsville Grade School, moved to northern Virginia around 1951 to continue her teaching career. Marie, the oldest Thomas daughter, was a long-time storekeeper and postmistress in Copen.
Left: Virginia and Marie Thomas
Right: 3 of tghe 4 Thomas brothers Tom Bill and Owen Thomas
Left: the 4th Thomas brother, Arden
Her Grandchildren Remember Estie
Estie's Dust Cap
Ruby Brooks helps us complete the portrait of her grandmother Estie Thomas. Ruby, now 83 years of age, remembers Estie as very short, “maybe only four and a half feet tall.” “I always looked forward to visiting grandmother at Copen and until I turned eight years old, I was able to get a rail pass free of charge. We would stop at Orlando first and visit there for a couple of days and then go on to Copen.” June (Nixon) Henry also remembers her aunt Estie as a short woman who seemed to have a shoulder blade “out of place” as a permanent condition. Apparently her young grandchildren and nieces never inquired about the curious hump on Estie’s back but just accepted it since it never seemed to bother her. “She always wore a dust bonnet and was never without one,” recalled both her granddaughter Ruby and niece June. Helen Jeffries, a niece-in-law, also recalled Estie’s omnipresent dust cap and recalled that Estie was buried in an elaborately crocheted dust bonnet which had been made for her by a friend. Helen also recalled that Estie, like her sister Clora Henline, always wore an apron and was never without one tied at the waist.
The Vicious Dog
Granddaughter Ruby also recalls her grandmother as brave and fearless. Ruby recalls on one summer visit with her grandmother at Copen, a large, vicious dog came by Estie’s home and snapped at her toddler brother Franklin. Estie sent word to the dog’s owner about the incident and told the owner to “keep it tied or keep it home.” The following day, the same dog returned to the Thomas home and once again growled and intimidated young Franklin. Ruby remembers vividly that her grandmother went into the house and got her .22 rifle, knelt on one knee, took aim, and shot the threatening dog squarely between the eyes..
The Chamber Pot March
Through the Living Room
Ruby also recalls that her grandmother and Aunt Margaret Nixon were quite the jokesters. It seems Estie was quite protective of her very attractive daughters, Marie and Kate, who had no shortage of suitors. Estie was quite strict with young gentlemen callers and was always ready to discourage the young swains from getting close to her girls. Ruby vividly recalls one visit she and her Aunt Margaret made to Estie’s home. One evening Marie had a gentleman caller with whom she was socializing in the living room. Since the Thomas house had no indoor bathroom, each bedroom was provided with a chamber pot which was kept in an out building during the day. Estie instructed Ruby, her sister Rose, and her cousins, June and Billy Nixon, to go to the out building and bring the chamber pots into the house, not through the doors to the bedrooms, all of which opened onto the front porch, but rather through the living room where Marie and her young friend were holding forth. Doing as they were told, the youngsters retrieved the chamber pots from the out building and conducted a parade of the glorious chamber pots through the living room, marching past a rather uncomfortable and embarrassed Marie and the nose of her guest. Ruby doesn’t recall the name of the young swain but she doesn’t think he ever returned.
Right: Their Aunt Marie with Rose Jarvis and Lawana "Toodlebugs" Jarvis, daughter of Jesse's son by his first and late wife NoraBickering Sisters
It is reported that Samantha (Skinner) Henline was not a meek or mild woman but spoke her piece without fear of contradiction. A strict disciplinarian, Samantha ran a matriarchal home and her children, even as adults, were aware of “who was boss.” A strong will seemed to run in the family, particularly among the female children who also spoke their minds. Oft times, the strong wills among the Henline daughters brought about a clash of opinions, but most usually with tongue-in-cheek, although one anonymous observer who weighed in on the quarrelsome sisters felt the usual and common acrimony between them should not be “sugarcoated.”
Clora would say, “Now, Estellie!” whenever she disagreed with her sister on some insignificant thing, and Estie would retort, “Now, Clorie!” The sisters’ brother, Heaterhuck Henline, always got a kick out of the bantering that took place between his two older sisters whenever they got together. Indeed, Heaterhuck was very adept at “egging them on” so he could enjoy the fray. No family gathering was complete without Estie and Clora having a set-to, which was more entertaining than Amos and Andy on the radio. It is also reported that two other Henline sisters, Lula (Henline) Mitchell and Margaret (Henline) Nixon, could also hold their own in the bickering department. Age was no modifier to these amusing occurrences or “bantering sessions” until all the sisters had passed away.
Burlen Henline, son of Estie’s brother Frank, and Audry (Reip) Henline, recalls that he and his mother loved visiting his Aunt Estie at Copen and always managed two or three days each time at Aunt Estie’s whenever he visited the Orlando home folks. Burlen recalls that the train passed through Copen and afforded a convenient means of transportation for the visit from his home in Clarksburg and later in West Union. The visits were always pleasant and a good time was always had by all. Burlen lamented the loss of the passenger train service which limited his mother’s ability to visit Estie at her Copen home and the loss of the pleasant visits.
In 1963, at age 86, Estie passed away, in the arms of her younger sister Lula.
She was buried in the Orlando Cemetery in a plot and beside a plot which would soon be occupied by her brother, Heaterhuck.
. . . . .
Note from David Parmer
Estie Thomas’ two children by Lete Godfrey, Harry Godfrey and Sophia Godfrey, grew up in Orlando. Harry worked for many years at the Hazel Atlas Glass plant in Clarksburg. Sophia worked for Dick Skinner in his wagon restaurant and met her future husband, Jesse Jarvis, while she was working there. Jess was employed by the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency at the time and was involved in protecting the property of coal companies in southern West Virginia during the mine wars of the the late 1910’s and early 1920’s. Jess later worked in coal mines in Barbour County.
Comment by Tom Jeffries
I really enjoyed the story about Aunt Estie. It brought back a lot of memories. The last time I saw her was before I went into the service in 1962. She was very frail and unable to walk very far. Tom and Arden carried her on a chair. It was a great story, especially about the sisters being quarrelsome. I got myself away from them when they were bickering.