The Week in W.Va. History

West Virginia Encyclopedia
Blaze Star
Booker T. Washington
John Kenna
Maggie Ballard
Red Sovine
Upper Big Branch mine memorial in Mt Hope, WV

CHARLESTON – The following events happened on these dates in West Virginia history. To read more, go to e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia at

April 4, 1980: Musician Red Sovine died in Nashville. Sovine, born Woodrow Wilson Sovine in Charleston, gained country music fame for his recitations, especially those incorporating sentimental truck driver themes.

April 5, 1856: Booker T. Washington was born a slave in Virginia. In 1865, he moved with his family to Malden to join his stepfather, who had escaped from slavery during the war.

April 5, 2010: An explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County killed 29 workers. Only two men escaped from the mine alive. It was the country’s worst coal mining disaster since November 20, 1968, when the Consol No. 9 Mine at Farmington, West Virginia, exploded, killing 78 workers.

April 6, 1938: The Civilian Conservation Corps established Camp Kanawha in the Kanawha State Forest. The CCC removed all of the abandoned houses, coal tipples, and other structures no longer in use, and constructed roads, the forest superintendent’s residence, office, maintenance building, and picnic shelters.

April 7, 1927: A. James Manchin was born in Farmington. In 1984, Manchin ran for state treasurer, but he fell into trouble once elected. With a stock market downturn in 1987, Manchin bore much of the blame when the state lost nearly $300 million in investments.

April 7, 1947: Medal of Honor recipient Thomas W. Bennett was born in Morgantown. Believing it was wrong to evade the draft while others had to serve in Vietnam, he volunteered as a noncombatant medic. He was killed by gunfire while trying to drag a wounded soldier to safety.

April 7, 2004: Bob Wise signed legislation that transformed four colleges into universities. They were West Virginia State University, Shepherd University, Fairmont State University and Concord University.

April 8, 1891: The town of Paw Paw was incorporated. Strategically located on the Potomac River, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the C&O Canal, Paw Paw was named for the banana-like pawpaw fruit that grows in the area.

April 8, 1951: An Air National Guard transport plane crashed near Kanawha (now Yeager) Airport, killing 21.

April 9, 1900: Physician Margaret Byrnside ‘‘Dr. Maggie’’ Ballard was born. She actively pursued her interest in genealogy and local history and was one of the founders of the Monroe County Historical Society.

April 10, 1848: John Kenna was born in Kanawha County. In 1883, the state legislature elected him to the U.S. Senate, unseating the powerful Henry Gassaway Davis. Kenna is one of two West Virginians memorialized by a statue in the U.S. Capitol.

April 10, 1932: Entertainer Blaze Starr was born as Fanny Belle Fleming in Wayne County.  The owner of a burlesque club rechristened her ‘‘Blaze Starr.’’ She became known as “Queen of the Strippers.”

e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia is a project of the West Virginia Humanities Council.  For more information, contact the West Virginia Humanities Council, 1310 Kanawha Blvd. E., Charleston, WV 25301; (304) 346-8500; or visit e-WV at