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

By Staff | Aug 31, 2012

Editor’s Note: This is the first of two parts of a story condensed from a historical memoir provided by Upton Martin’s family, on his contributions to Shepherdstown. On Sept. 22, Upton S. Martin Day will be celebrated as Upton S. Martin, III and his family will visit town to present the memoir in its entirety, to Mayor Jim Auxer. The presentation will take place at 12:30 p.m. at the Thomas Shepherd Grist Mill. Hours for viewing the water wheel in conjunction with the Shepherdstown 250 celebration will be from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Separate events will also be held at the Opera House as well as the Yellow Brick Bank.

During his years in Shepherdstown, Upton S. Martin, Sr. was a man of much innovation and many qualities, as he was in real estate and gasoline. He ran a service station and served as Mayor for six terms. He was a 32nd Degree Mason, both of York and Scottish Rite, President of West Virginia Patriotic Order Sons of America (or POSOFA), was a Methodist and even represented Jefferson County in the State Legislature for several terms, serving on seven committees. But more importantly to the town’s current history is that Upton S. Martin, Sr. created landmarks for enjoyment for many generations to come.

Upton Scott Martin, Sr. was born in 1859 in Alleghany County, Md. Before he was a year old, his parents moved to Hampshire County, Va. (now West Virginia) where he received his education in public and private schools. His experience proliferated as a woodsman, carpenter, electrician, plumber, surveyor, beekeeper and as a proficient businessman.

In January 1897, Upton Martin, Sr. married Clara Bell Seaber of Cumberland, Md. Soon after, they bought a small flourmill in Catlett, Va. The mill was located on Cedar Run and was known as the Weaversville Mill. The couple moved to Catlett in March of 1899 and lived there and worked the mill for eight years. Martin operated the mill until November of 1904.

Then a mill in Shepherdstown, W. Va was advertised as a 40-foot water wheel that was a combination flourmill/sawmill. He bought Shepherds Mill on Sept. 29, 1904 for $1,800. Martin operated the Shepherdstown mill until September 1911 when he sold it to E. D. Wissler. In October of 1911 Wissler sold the mill back to Martin who ran the mill for another three years. In September of 1914 he sold the mill to IFP Good.

During the time of operating the mill, Martin saw a major problem and went about solving it. He realized that with the water wheel sitting on piers 100 feet downstream, it did not obtain the power that of which the wheel was capable. This wheel made by Fitz Foundry of Martinsburg, W.Va, was 40 feet in diameter and weighed 10 tons one of the largest in the world.

Being creative, Martin decided to move the metal wheel 100 feet up to the mill. This was a major feat and one of his most innovative projects. The preparation took considerable time, but the actual move of the wheel took less than four hours with the help of 20 other people.

Martin built a trestle and the big wheel was readily rolled up hill as he walked in the bottom of the wheel and slowly rolled up the hill to the mill. There he took the axel of the wheel, put it on that frame, rolled it right on up to the mill and dropped it in a fixture that he had already pre-designed, so that the wheel rested on its new bearings. The wheel was then connected directly to the machinery of the mill. The power of the mill increased from 1/3 to 7z bringing the mill to a higher state of efficiency. In December 1904 Martin moved his sawmill to the river properly and operated the saw mill for several years.

Soon after this, Martin built a new brick house on the lot adjoining the mill, the lot purchased from Dr. Reynolds, and it was called the “Mill House.” It was on the left as one entered the mill entrance from Mill Street. The property was sold to Mr. Good on Sept. 15 1914 when the Martins moved to Princess Street. The Mill House is now on the National Register of Historic Places as the Upton Martin House.

After selling the Shepherdstown mill The Martin family moved to Princess Street.

When Martin and his family, including Upton Martin, Jr., who was born Sept. 19, 1906, moved from the house at the mill up to the one on Princess Street, there was a tiny water wheel about six feet tall down in the hollow on the same run. It was connected to a generator that provided electricity and therefore, electricity where no one held had it.

There was a wooden stick attached to start the wheel to run the generator. It was pulled back to open up the water and pushed forward to stop the water. There was a switch in the upper hall of the house to turn the electricity off and on. One would pull the switch forward and push in to connect it to direct or indirect electricity. The generator provided the direct electricity. The indirect electricity came from dam #4. The Martins also had a crank style phone at that time.

There was no central heating; coal and wood stoves were used for heat and cooking. The kitchen stove had a corn cob lighter. The cobs were held on the back porch to start fire then the coal would go in after that. The kitchen stove also held hot water in one side. There was a kerosene stove with three foot heating elements. This was used in the summertime so the kitchen stove wasn’t lit in the heat of the summer. Small wood belly stoves were in individual rooms.

The Princess Street house had a floored attic with steps up to it. There was a sewing room, kitchen, living room and dining room. The basement was a dugout and had two cisterns made out of concrete that would fill with snow or ice which was used for sink water. The house had an outhouse until Martin added a “water closet” downstairs.

There was a chicken house at the end of the yard where Clara Martin sold eggs for spending money. Clara had two grapevines on the walk down to the dam. During this time Martin built a wooden boat and oars or himself. It leaked, so he would take a tin can along to keep it afloat on the Potomac River.

While living on Princess Street, Martin was general manager of the Light and Water Company for several years. He also became responsible for helping with a number of projects around the town such as putting in the sewer for Shepherd College, wiring local houses and doing construction work.

It was during this time period that Martin built the Opera House on German Street in 1910 and resided in a house across the street for a short time.

The Opera House was rented to C.S. Musser until Sept. 14,1926 when he (Mr. Musser) bought it for $3,750. In the span of years from 1910 to 1926 Martin added a bay window on the Opera House. When Mr. Musser ran the Opera House and showed movies, Dick Spong played the piano up front at each performance. He was a telephone manager and handyman and his office was in the building next to Shipley’s restaurant.

In 1915, Martin and a ma named of Charles (Big Mustache) Jones, who was described as “one of the best stonemasons ever known,” helped to erect the Rumsey Monument. It was said that Jones could take a piece of stone and shape it into a wall perfectly. He was a master craftsman. The monument is 100 feet in the air with concreted some sidewalks around it. It was operated as a park and still survived today.

A walk from most anyplace in town to the monument was a Sunday outing. One could sit on the base of the monument or the steps and watch the trains, swimmers or boats on the Potomac River.