Last Thursday's fireworks display in Logan got me to thinking about how congested things must have been prior to the completion of the Logan Boulevard. What a tremendous difference it must have made for those travelers of yesteryear when the only way to Stollings and beyond was through the heart of Logan. Things sure have changed with a population decline of at least 24,827 people when 59 years ago the Logan Boulevard was opened as maybe the single best highway change ever in county history, prior to the new road opening from Man to Logan.
I can understand where people might argue that the completion of the Corridor G Highway from Logan to Charleston - or even the more recent completion of a "dream come true" four-lane from Man to the Logan Boulevard - might stand out as a more outstanding accomplishment, especially for residents of the Triadelphia area who were for many lifetimes forced to traverse one of the most dangerous roads in America, just to reach Logan and beyond.
Still, one must consider that Logan County's population today is listed as about 36,743 residents, while the 1950 census for Logan showed there were 77,391 people living here. By 1960, there was a decline in population in Logan County to 61,570, a loss of 15,821 people due mostly to the loss of coal mining jobs. So what's the point of all of this, you might wonder?
Consider this. For the longest time, the only way for a vehicle to get through the bustling City of Logan to many outlying locations was right through the heart of downtown Logan via Main Street. Until the boulevard completion in 1959, anyone traveling from Logan to the areas of Ethel, Blair, Sharples, Stollings, Dehue or any community on the way to Man and beyond had to traverse through bumper-to-bumper traffic, either coming or going from those locations. There are those people still alive today who can verify that at times it took an hour or more just to get from Dingess Street in Logan to Stollings. The completion of the 2.67-mile boulevard was the end of a project that began in November of 1948 when a contract was called for the grading and draining of properties next to the Guyandotte River.
There are two important things of historical interest that should be highlighted in regard to the work on the boulevard. First, there were many influential residents of Logan who did not want the boulevard to be constructed. Aside from downtown businesses whose properties went from Main Street to the river, there were those residential properties (most of which still exist today) that enjoyed their riverfront locations that many felt added aesthetic and financial values to their real estate. These fine homes existed from Holland Lane through the East End of Stratton Street with their property lines running to the low water mark of the Guyandotte.
The second thing to be pointed out is that the boulevard, along with other highway improvements in Southern West Virginia underway at the time, were part of Gov. Cecil Underwood's efforts to improve the economic conditions of southern West Virginia's coal fields, which were faltering. Underwood's statements over five decades ago sound eerily familiar to those heard today by government officials when it comes to coal mining.
"I do not for one minute believe - as many do these days - that our coal mining areas are without hope, without promise, without a brighter future," said Underwood. "Who among us can ignore the fact that in our coal fields we have some of the richest untapped supplies of surplus labor in the nation?"
The boulevard, officially designated as the U.S. 119-W.Va. 10 bypass around Logan's business section, was started in 1948 and was completed in the early '50s from just below Stollings to Dingess Street in its first phase. The second phase of the project included the construction of bridges at the Appalachian Power Co. plant and in Deskins Addition that tied the two sections together and also connected them with routes 119 and 10 at what was known as the Triangle section of Logan near the Water Street Bridge, a bridge that is today dedicated as the William J. Abraham Bridge. The boulevard also connected with both Omar and Holden roads, alleviating traffic through Mt. Gay and Eliis Addition into Logan. A new Logan State Police barracks was then constructed near the Triangle intersection because of the "quick response" location.
The total cost of the 11-year boulevard project was reported as $11 million and was considered locally as a fantastic accomplishment when Gov. Underwood and other officials gathered Dec. 7, 1959, at Logan Memorial Fieldhouse for the dedication of the final phase of the project. A near-capacity crowd heard the governor's address at what was described as an "impressive ceremony," prior to the governor leading a motorcade from the fieldhouse to the Deskins Addition Bridge, where the ribbon cutting took place.
Following the formal opening of the four-lane highway, the governor led the motorcade the length of the boulevard. The grand opening preceded a better than ever Christmas shopping season in downtown Logan.
The dedication ceremony was arranged by a local committee headed by Mrs. H.H. Cudden and assisted by Mrs. Dick Gould and Mrs. Robert McCormick. Of the many dignitaries present that day was Roy D. Platt, state beer commissioner. Platt, who as a state trooper once led the raid on illegal gambling machines at the Logan Country Club near Chapmanville, would just a few years later become chief of police in the City of Logan.
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Logan Mayor Serifino Nolletti, who like this writer, probably was not too far removed from wearing a cloth diaper in 1959 when the Logan Boulevard was finished, is certainly glad to see the boulevard bridge construction in full gear and the demolition of the old Sayer Brothers Building completed so quickly.
Here is a few interesting tidbits I thought some might enjoy from 60 years ago:
n Ex-Buffalo High School football star Charlie Cowan of Amherstdale was winning awards at New Mexico Highlands University, and the Buffalo Creek of Man native would later become an NFL star with the Logs Angeles Rams. Coach Knute Burroughs, who later coached at Holden when school segregation was eliminated, had been Cowan's coach at Buffalo High school.
n Man Hillbillies football coach Joe Pete Burgess was enjoying the school's first and only unbeaten season behind the running attack of William "Tootie" Carter and John Paul Thomas, which included a season-ending rout of Chapmanville, 55-0. Many probably know that Carter went on to play football at New Mexico Highlands and continues to contribute to Man area athletics in various ways.
n Architects were hired by the Logan County Board of Education to design plans for the new high school at Sharples, which was to become the first all-electric school in the county. Now, that school no longer exists.
n A 6-8 sophomore center from Sharples High named Bob Burgess was leading Marshall's Thundering Herd to a very successful basketball season in Huntington, while a young Danny Godby was beginning a career of sports at Chapmanville that led him to major league baseball.
n The New York Yankees traded Don Larsen, the only pitcher to ever pitch a perfect game in a World Series (1956), to the Kansas City Athletics in a multi-player deal in which the Yanks received Roger Maris, who would go on to break Babe Ruth's home run record.
n Logan's Fred Colvard was named West Virginia's top high school football player and is the only Logan Countian ever to receive the Kennedy Award. In his senior season, the quarterback turned halfback scored 14 touchdowns running, passed for eight others, and was directly responsible for 145 of the 191 points scored by the team. He also had 614 yards on punt and kickoff returns.
n Bids were being asked for a new National Guard Armory that was to be built at Monaville for an estimated $245,000 cost. The structure was deemed necessary because of flooding in 1957 in which cots, coats and blankets had to be flown in from Virginia because there was no space available in Logan to store them. As a result, hundreds of flood victims had no place to sleep the first night of being out of their homes.
n Former Logan star and Marshall College All-American Walt Walowac scored 37 points, and along with Mario Varrassi, Edgar "Foxy" Hanners, Pete Brezden, Jim Runyon, Mack Barber, Ruben Gillman and a few other "older" fellows, knocked off Coach Jim Lilly's Wildcats in an alumni game that paved the way for dissension at Logan High, which ultimately led to Willie Akers coming to Logan.
n Meanwhile, up in Morgantown, all-time great Jerry West was lauding the improvements of teammate Willie Akers following WVU's win over Kentucky in Kentucky's own invitational tournament event. Describing the Mullens native as the "unsung" hero of the tournament, West told an Associated Press reporter, "Willie doesn't score many points, but he does a real defensive job on guys five to six inches taller and 20 to 30 pounds heavier."
West, who went on to become a Los Angeles Lakers star and NBA Hall of Fame member, described his teammate as "underrated" and as "a key man" in the win over Kentucky.
No one knew it at the time, but the stage was being set for some great and interesting things to happen at Logan High School in the not too distant future.
The first of several Logan High School controversies were about to begin.
Dwight Williamson is a former writer for the Logan Banner. He is now a magistrate for Logan County. He writes a weekly column for HD Media.