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A Legacy

Upton S. Martin, Sr., turn of the century builder, mayor, miller

September 8, 2012
Shepherdstown Chronicle

Upton Martin, Jr. tells this part of the tale dealing with Upton Martin, Sr. as mayor.

"Well a mayor in a little town in those days wasn't too much responsibility. I don't know how many councilmen they had, six or eight, something like that, and you had to be elected by the city. The votes were only about 100 at that time, sometimes 90 for one man or 50 for another so there weren't that many people in town really to vote. A mayor had what is called stature. People thought you were a pretty good citizen to be mayor because people liked you.

During his time as mayor there was what they called an old Entler Hotel up on one of the corners opposite the Jefferson Security Bank that I later worked in and this hotel one winter evening caught on fire and it was one of the largest if not the largest fires Shepherdstown had ever had. It happened on Nov. 8, 1912. This was a disaster in Shepherdstown. Of course you know they didn't have fire engines of much greatness at that time and you didn't have too much water, although they were right along the Potomac River. The water tank was outside the city, not outside the corporate limits but not where the people were. When you drew down that water you didn't have much left. So they called on the fire company in Hagerstown, Md., and brought them over on the North and Western train. The fire engines weren't motorized. They had to pull them by hand or by horses and they brought it over from Hagerstown on a flatbed and it had to go out by the side track. They had to take it off the flatbed to where the fire was and you know how much time that took. By the time they got there most of the fire was out anyway. Even so, that was one of the largest fires in Shepherdstown in this time."

Article Photos

A corner lot was vacant in the early 1900s and the Town Run ran through it. In the early1920s Upton S. Martin, Sr. covered the run with a concrete top and filled in all around it. He ran a pipe to carry water to the service station and ran the 8 foot Fitz water wheel. It generated electric current through an electric dynamo, ran a fan and ran a compressor to carry air to pump up the tires. The electric current was used to furnish lights for the service station when the town lights went out.

There was one at his home also. A switch was used to turn town current on or switch to direct current. In the winter, Martin would put a still on the coal stove in the service station to make distilled water for batteries.

The service station (later known as Johnny's Amoco) was an afterthought as far as Martin was concerned but he was mayor of the town and he saw the need for a service station with gasoline for the automobiles that were operated at that time. The lot that he decided on was right next to the house they lived in when they first moved to Shepherdstown. To make this a permanent lot he would have to cover it over and he filled in where he could and put a concrete cap on it. Then over the cap he put dirt so if you go there today and look at that lot you don't know that there is a concrete top on that run running through that piece of property. The service station was a two-hand pump affair with two 10,000-gallon gas tanks in the ground and two 550 gallon small tanks for oil. Bought each by car load and sold for 2 cents less than anyone else in town. He also sold one pound boxes of comb honey for 25 cents that he had inside on the window sill. He had about 12 hives of bees. These were kept in one pound wooden containers. Martinm his wife and son ran the station for several years.

That Town Run had everything in it. It had fish in it. It had dams on it and it was okay for swimming and it ran the flour mill. So he could use that run, erected the service station with the Fitz waterwheel and put in the dynamo and he had lights in town when no one else did. Of course in those early days you had what you called a power station on the edge of the town and when the lightning came in from the thunderstorms the fuse in the box protected the wires from burning up. It would blow the fuse and the lights would go out in the whole town.

But Martin wouldn't go out. All he would have to do is turn on that waterwheel and the light would come on in the service station and everyone else would be in the dark.

The service station he ran until about 1930 sometime when he leased it to someone. He had dug big holes in that lot and put two large 10,000 tanks so that we could buy gasoline by the carload (train car). And amazingly this was done while he was Mayor. They ran a pipe down the street to the Norfolk and Western Railway so that when the carload of gasoline came in we would go up there and connect the pipe to the tank car and the gas would run down the street by gravity and ran all the way down that pipe up into those two 10,000 gallon tanks without any cost and you could run it overnight. It would run just as long as you had it connected 24 hours a day.

He also bought oil, large truckloads of oil and you had to have it in a barrel and drain it out when you used it in automobiles and the pumps that were in that service station were hand pumps and didn't have any lights in them. When you went in to get your gasoline they pumped the gas up into a tank at the top which was glass. You could tell how many gallons of gas you were getting by the drainage from the gas container up on top of the gas pump.

They had air. The regular dynamo that did the lights also ran a pressure tank that built up air in the pressure tank and everybody could use air in that service station, none of the others had it. Martin would do all sorts of things and if anybody wanted him to do something he would do it.

He owned the ferry slip at the base of the road (down Princess Street) and leased the landing on the West Virginia side to Harry Staubs to operate a ferry after the bridge washed out in March 1936. The ferry was operated until the Rumsey Bridge was opened in July 1939.

Mr. W. H. Knode ran a store at the lock. It was patronized mostly by canal boat people. The boats hauled coal, grain, fruit and vegetables etc. They were pulled by mules and kept away from the bank by a person on top with a pole.

In October of 1928, Upton Martin, Jr. joined the Jefferson Security Bank as a clerk at $50 per month (was making $200 at the service station).

For the next few years, he worked at the bank from 9 to 3 p.m. They opened on Saturday at that time and opened Saturday night for an hour or two. He took AIB (American Institute of Banking) correspondence courses to better his knowledge of banking. Later on he was promoted to Assistant Cashier at $100 per month and remained so until the Bank Holiday in 1933, when his salary was reduced to $80 per month. He worked with Frank Lyne, the cashier. There were only two of them in the bank.

"G. M. Beltzhoover, a town lawyer, and president of Jefferson Security Bank, was a very brilliant one but somewhat on the everything goes side. He wrote a history of James Rumsey. He was the bank attorney during the Great Depression."

On June 19,1929, Marian Allen Hirst and Upton S. Martin, Jr. were married at the Methodist Church South Parsonage and spent their honeymoon at a country club in New Jersey. He was working at the bank at the time and the son of Mr. Synder was taking his family to the country club on the beach for two weeks. They couldn't get away for one of the weeks so he said to Martin, Jr. if he got married on a certain date they could stay there for a week. So he and Marian accepted and that was their honeymoon. They returned to Shepherdstown to reside in a new home Martin, Sr. had built for them so they would stay home and close by Martin Jr.'s mother and father.

There was an old tavern on the lot next door to Martin, Sr.'s house on the north that was torn down and a house was put up by Upton S. Martin, Sr. on that lot at a cost of $4,000 in 1929. Martin Sr. wanted to keep Martin, Jr. close by. Martin, Jr. and his wife moved into their own home in June 1929. It was a bungalow with two bedrooms, a dining room, living room and a kitchen. The furnace was in the cellar. To warm the house there was a heat outlet in the middle of the dining room. The porch looked north. This part of town was and still is known as the "Boom."

After graduation from Dunsmore Business College, Martin Jr. returned to Shepherdstown and did very little traveling until 1929-1933. (due to the bank being closed and on a restricted five withdrawal list of banks. He was assistant cashier of Jefferson Security Bank at the time.) He accompanied attorney George M. Beltshoover, Jr. to Charleston, W. Va. and Baltimore, Md., to help get the Jefferson Security Bank open on a restricted basis. They visited Mr. Waitman Given in Charleston, who was the Banking Commissioner and the Baltimore branch of the Federal Reserve Bank.

In September 1933 Upton Martin, Jr left Jefferson Security Bank to become an Assistant Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Examiner, the first employee of the FDIC in WVA. In December he was appointed to Assistant National Bank Examiner with headquarters in Washington, D.C., later he worked for the Federal Reserve Bank as Examiner and went on to become an officer.

Upton Martin, Jr. then rose to become a Vice President and in charge of the Treasury Securities. In August 1946, he was made an Assistant Cashier and from that time on kept climbing until retirement at Oct. 1, 1971. He was 65 years old. During that period from 1946 until 1971, he had the most interesting business and community life. It took him all over the United States of all Federal Banks and most Federal branches. He was on Treasury Department committees, Federal System committees, and bank ones.

Voters on June 3, 1847, voted to establish a free public school system, Shepherdstown built a one-room brick school and called it Shepherd School. It was in operation until 1880 when schools were consolidated. Eventually the Shepherd District School building had become a private dwelling before coming a grocery store.

In 1944, Shepherdstown Mayor Upton S. Martin, Sr. purchased the building from Carter. After Martin's death in 1957, his son Upton Martin of Richmond, Va., became owner of the former school. In 1961, Upton Martin, Jr. deeded the school to the State of West Virginia for Shepherd College in memory of his father who had been a leading citizen of Shepherdstown for over 50 years.

Shepherd School still stands today on Princess Street in Shepherdstown. It was built soon after Jefferson County voters established a free school system in 1847. Also, a tribute to Upton S. Martin, Shepherd University has a educational scholarship in his name.

[This is an excerpt of "Upton S. Martin, Jr. My Life and My Times" a memoir with details of the impacts of Upton S. Martin, both Sr. and Jr. an account of their life in Shepherdstown. This memoir was an oral account recorded and written by Upton S. Martin Jr.'s Granddaughter Stephanie Martin. It was recorded when Upton S. Martin, Jr. was 100 years old!]

 
 
 

 

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