We have discussed the economic interest local Wood County citizens had in the Northwestern Virginia Railroad. One hundred thirty-six local investors put in $166,000. This amount is equivalent to $15 million in today's dollars. These huge investments gave the locals great interest in the success and safety of the railroad - their railroad. It also brought home the political and economic consequences of secession and war.
Another and more dramatic set of economic events was in process with the booming oil industry in the area surrounding Parkersburg. The first major oil discoveries began in 1859 and 1860 at Burning Springs, California (on the Parkersburg to Staunton Turnpike) and Petroleum.
Specific numbers for investments are difficult to find, but they were huge, as were profits from selling and leasing land. Junk property as well as good farmland brought the locals incredible sums. Let's review some of the type of transactions we know about.
Probably the most noteworthy was the Rathbone property at Burning Springs. It was probably the most lucrative. It was reported that J.C. and J.V. Rathbone were making $10,000 a day in the early days. Oil was selling for $30 a barrel. The going price for a lot at Burning Springs was $1,000 for the lease, $1,000 when you struck oil and up to 25 percent of the oil to the Rathbone in iron-bound barrels. Anyone with property in the Burning Springs neighborhood could make a lot of money.
Another startling transaction was the property of G.W. Henderson and David Paden just across the river from Burning Springs. They sold their property in early 1861, around 20 acres, for a reported $80,000.
Wood County citizens flocked to Burning Springs, California and all long the oil anticline as did investors from all over the country. Investors came in not just for the oil but for other investments relating to the oil business surrounding the oil fields - timber for rigs, foundries for castings, steam engines, wooden barrels and all sorts of goods and services. Parkersburg was booming!
Between October 1860 and April 1861, in just seven months, there were more than 700 leases and sales recorded in the Wirt County deed books. In April, when Fort Sumter was fired on, this activity ceased.
No one wanted to see a war disrupt this prosperity. Decisions had to be made as to where one's investments were safest - in the Union or Confederacy. Yankees from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Massachusetts and other northern states usually left the area.
Much of this was caused by Confederate guerilla bands early on raiding and plundering the oilfields for the benefit of the Confederacy.
These events immediately brought pleas from the investors for protection. As a result most Wood County citizens decided that staying with the Union was the solution and took an early lead to assure this area stayed with the Union and received Union protection. Thus support of the statehood movement.
Some of these oilmen and leaders were attorney P.G. VanWinkle, brother-in-law of the Rathbones at Burning Springs; attorney J.B. Blair, one of the first investors at California and then Burning Springs; J.J. Jackson Jr., one of Camden's partners at Burning Springs; G.W. Henderson, owner of the property on the other side of the river from Burning Springs; and J.W. Moss, a local doctor. A sizeable number of the oil investors were on the list of Wood County representatives at the first Wheeling Convention in May 1861. In fact, P.G. VanWinkle paid the expenses of that convention.
A review of the principal leaders in the West Virginia statehood movement shows most of them were from Wood County and Parkersburg and almost all of them were investors in the oil business - and the railroad.
And while a major motivation in the statehood movement was to protect the freedoms and liberties embodied in the U.S. Constitution, protected by the Union - interest in protecting investments was also a paramount motivation.
A.I. Boreman of Parkersburg was one of the first and more lucid proponents of staying with the Union. In fact, one of his quotes was "what guarantee is there that our freedoms and liberties would be protected in the Confederacy. Why throw out the constitution that we know, for an unknown constitution that we do not know."
So, the potential devastation of the war brought out three local motivations for West Virginia statehood within the Union: Protecting known freedoms, protecting railroad investments and protecting the oil investments. Note that slavery was almost not an issue in the West Virginia statehood movement.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Dave McKain is director of the Oil and Gas Museum and is chairman of the area Civil War Roundtable which is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.