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Web site tells story of a W.Va. tycoon

May 27, 2003|BY DAVE MCMILLION

Charles Town, W.Va.

charlestown@herald-mail.com

R.J. Funkhouser is considered to be one of Jefferson County's most legendary figures, paving the way for the City of Ranson, W.Va., by starting a bank, a hospital and shopping areas in the town.

Born in 1885 and arriving in Jefferson County in about 1940, Funkhouser gained enormous wealth through numerous companies he owned, including a refrigeration company that was the forerunner of the former Dixie Narco plant in Ranson, said Jim Surkamp.

Funkhouser dabbled in politics and operated his own newspaper in Ranson, the Jefferson Republican, a widely distributed publication that included regular thoughts from Funkhouser under the heading "R.J. Says," said Surkamp, a local resident who has worked to preserve various parts of Jefferson County's history over the years.

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Now Funkhouser's story is being told on the Internet, thanks to a recently completed Web site built by Surkamp.

The Web site includes a hefty collection of photographs and writings of Funkhouser to help people gain a better understanding of one of the most influential people in Jefferson County.

Surkamp said he decided to take on the project after Randy Funkhouser asked him if he could document R.J. Funkhouser's life.

Randy Funkhouser, a longtime horseman at Charles Town Races and Slots, is the grandson of R.J. Funkhouser.

"I just gave it 200 percent because I thought it was a great project. He was a major story in the history of the county," Surkamp said.

Surkamp said he obtained much of the material for the Web site (www.libraries.wvu.edufunkhouser) from Ruth Funkhouser, Randy Funkhouser's mother, and R.J. Funkhouser's daughter-in-law. Other material came from sources like the Western Maryland Room at the Washington County Library, Surkamp said.

Funkhouser earned his fortune from companies like O'Sullivan Corp., a Winchester, Va.-based operation that made heels for shoes. Sullivan also came up with the idea to use waste stone from quarries to make roof shingles, Surkamp said.

On the Web site, Surkamp includes a long list of writings Funkhouser penned from 1953 to 1955, some of them about business.

"You have heard it said many times that this or that person is a dreamer. It is a term used to describe those who are impractical and given to day-dreams and who fail to grasp reality," Funkhouser said in one of the writings.

But dreamers are sometimes tommorrow's success stories, as Funkhouser illustrated through the story of Eli Whitney.

Whitney saw the intense labor used to remove seeds from cotton and came up with the idea of the cotton gin to greatly streamline the process.

"Every wheel, every spoke and spindle, the locomotive, the steamboat, the airplane, came roaring into existence right out of the center of a dream," Funkhouser wrote.

Funkhouser restored several Washington family homes in Jefferson County, including Claymont. Claymont, located just south of Charles Town, was built by Bushrod Washington, the grandnephew of George Washington.

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