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Ranson history written as part of centennial celebration

August 29, 2010|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

RANSON, W.VA. -- In 1890, seven Charles Town men formed a group to bring industry to the community. Its visionary leader, Roger Preston Chew, served as an artillery officer under Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart during the Civil War.

The group founded the Charles Town Mining, Manufacturing & Improvement Co. as a base company, and bought an 850-acre tract north and west of Charles Town, most of it from James Matthew Ranson, according to a brief history of Ranson available in City Hall. The city was named in honor of Ranson, a local dentist and farmer.

"That group of men today could be seen as the precursor of an economic development commission because it designed and built a planned community," said local historian Robert O'Connor.

O'Connor was commissioned by city officials to write Ranson's history as part of a weeklong series of events to commemorate a 100th anniversary celebration that begins Oct. 17.

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"They sold stock and 25-foot-by-125-foot house lots, had a map drawn by a local civil engineer and landscape architect, laid out streets and community property, added a school, apartment buildings and a post office," O'Connor said in his "The Centennial History of Ranson 1910-2010." The book will be published in time for the anniversary celebration.

In 1910, according to unofficial estimates by Mayor A. David Hamill, Ranson covered about 400 acres. Today, thanks to an ambitious annexation movement that began in the late 1990s, the city limits now take in about 6,000 acres. The Potomac Market Place and Fairfax Crossing, retail and residential developments bookending the new W.Va. 9 dual highway, are in Ranson's corporate limits.

In 1891, the Charles Town Mining, Manufacturing & Improvement Co. moved into a new, three-story building at the intersection of Mildred Street and Third Avenue. In 1936, it became and still is Ranson's City Hall.

O'Connor spent weeks gathering fodder for his book by digging through 100 years of City Council minutes, newspaper archives and other sources.

"Nobody ever took the time to go through the history," he said.

Tidbits from O'Connor's research show that Ranson's first municipal election was held Dec. 5, 1910, with John Strother elected the city's first mayor. Hamill, who has been mayor for 24 years, is the city's 20th chief executive.

Ranson incorporated with 502 citizens, according to O'Connor's history, which also says:

n In 1923, Eliza Davenport won the most votes for mayor in a city election but the city council ruled, without giving a reason, that she was not eligible to serve. The council appointed James Casey mayor. By 1950, the city had become less chauvinistic. The council appointed Mary Baker as city treasurer, a job she held until she retired in 1999.

n In 1929, the council ruled against a man who wanted to install a 5-cent candy vending machine because it was considered a gaming device.

n In 1940, according to O'Connor's history, Ranson citizens were excited at the completion of U.S. 340.

A highlight of the anniversary week will be the dedication of the new Centennial Park, a small greenspace on City Hall grounds, and the new "town clock" that will grace the park.

According to Chris Bontoft, director of finance, the city paid an Ohio company $23,000 to make the four-faced timepiece, ship it to Ranson and install it. It will stand 20 feet tall on its pedestal.

The council's meeting room also is being renovated, Bontoft said.

Commemorative paving bricks for the new Centennial Park, embossed with lettering of the buyer's choosing, are available at $25 each, said Cheryl Mills, director of the Ranson Convention & Visitor's Bureau.

The bricks, a commemorative vase, a granite tile embossed with the city's official seal and O'Connor's book can be purchased at the bureau office at 216 N. Mildred St. or by calling 304-724-3862.

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