The Skidmore Family of West Virginia
By Stannie Anderson
Skidmores have been around a long, long time.
One researcher speculates the family may have been building castles in England before the Norman Conquest in 1066. The earliest known person in the line
was Ralph de Scudemer, mentioned several times in the Domesday Book. (The Domesday Book was a record of a survey of England in 1085-86 by order of William I, known as William
the Conquerer.) Warren Skidmore, a prominent family researcher, says there were two related branches of the family , who probably
were Normans, in early-day England
in Herefordshire and Wiltshire.
The name wasn't always spelled that way. They called themselves
de Scudemer, Skydmore, Scudamore, Scudemore, Skidmore and Scidmore. But the tracing of ancestors through court and church
documents, wills, birth records, and land transfers links them together, generation after generation.
Family members who would like to read more about the very early-day ancestors are referred to Warren
Skidmore's book, The Scudamores of Upton-Scudamore: A Knightly Family in Medieval
I'll start a bit later with Richard Skydmore, born about
1580, in Mayshill, England.
I chose him arbitrarily because I was fascinated to discover he was a carpenter just as my own father, Stanton E. Skidmore,
was a carpenter and contractor.
Genealogists tell us the way to begin tracing our family history is to start with ourselves and work
backwards. I remember as a child asking my father about his family. (I had met only his mother, Louisiana Ware Skidmore, and
his sister, Lillie Lewis, and some cousins.)
I asked him, "Who was your father?"
My father's eyes twinkled. "His name was Theodore."
"Who was his father?" I asked.
"His name was Isaac," he said.
"And who was his father?" I asked.
"Levi;" my father said.
But then the game stopped. It was the end of his memory. He didn't
know that if he could have gone back just one more generation, he could have told me the name of the American Revolutionary
soldier in our ancestry, Major John Skidmore.
In later years this conversation made it easier for me to trace the family history.
Many people start looking for their roots with the assumption or hope they are related to famous people. So I'll tell you now not to expect that in this family history. In fact, I'll dispell
right now the widespread belief that the line includes Andrew Johnson, former president of the United States. (That was another Andrew Johnson, not the one in our ancestral line.)
We are related to a modern relatively famous pair of identical twins who were writers, Hubart and Hobart
Skidmore. They were the sons of Neal Skidmore, brother of my grandmother, Margaret Skidmore Gillespie. She and my father were distantly related. The
twins were born April 11, 1909, in Webster Springs,
wrote six novels, including his Hopwood prize novel, I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes, with
a West Virginia setting.
Hobert was serving with the Air Force in the Pacific when he wrote his first novel,Valley of the Sky. He wrote a number of short stories and novelettes published in the Saturday Evening
Post, Woman's Home Companion, Ladies' Home Journal and Vogue. He also wrote three other novels. Hubert died in a fire in his
country home. I do not know if Hobert is still living.
Our ancestors may not have been celebrities, but most of them were intelligent, wealthy, influential people in the early days of the American Colonies,
who along with such people as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin
steadfastly pledged "our lives, our
fortunes and our honor" to the cause of liberty. And in seeking to sever
ties with a tyrant king and a Parliament that had enacted repressive taxes to pay for the defense of the colonies, they all faced hanging as traitors to England.
They knew they must hang together or as Benjamin Franklin said "assuredly we
shall all hang separately."
Not all of the colonists believed separation from England
was the answer, but those who did gave their hearts fervently to the cause. England
had established the rules early. The colonists would sell their products only to England, they would do no manufacturing in competition with the English, and they
would buy only English products. As the colonies became more productive, the settlers felt , as Englishmen, they should have
representation in Parliament. At first most of the settlers would have accepted a government much like that of Canada. But the king would not allow that. His repressive
tax measures led inevitably to the revolution.
The nobility ranked at the top of society in early-day England,
as it does even today. Next in line came yeomen--and this was where the Skidmores ranked. Yeomen were wealthy landowners,
who held numerous influoential public offices. Below them were the commoners.
Thomas Scudamore, son of
Richard Skydmore, was the first member of the family to come to the colonies. Why did he come to this land that was so sparsely
settled and primitive? He certainly didn't come because of religious persecution. Nor was he one of the numerous criminals
that England saw fit to dump into the colonies to rid itself of them. We can only guess he came because he saw an opportunity
to increase his wealth with land dealings.
The trip across the Atlantic was expensive. Many poor people who made the voyage endentured themselves
to wealthy people for several years. This wasn't the case for Thomas Scudamore. He made three trips, the first on June 10,
1636. After the second trip, he decided to settle in Cambridge, Mass., so he returned to England to make arrangements to sell
his land there. After his third voyage, about 1642, he bought some land in Cambridge
that today would be extremely valuable: it faces Harvard Square and is occupied
by a strip mall of stores that cater to Harvard University students and faculty.
Actually New England wasn't such a fearsome change for him. The houses he found in Cambridge were much
like those in England, although there were fewer people. There were no schools. Travel
was a lengthy, risky business with few or no trails. There were a few passing-by
Indians, but they seemed friendly. It was only the settlers who moved on to pioneer on the frontier who really were confronted
by dangerous conditions.
Thomas' first wife, Ellen, and their children made the Atlantic
crossing about a year later, and a son, John, was the first Skidmore to be born in the colonies, on April 11, 1643. Thomas
sold his land in Cambridge in 1649 and moved his family to Connecticut.
His son, John Skidmore, in adulthood lived in Jamaica, Long Island, N. Y., where he was a tobacco planter,
blacksmith and town clerk.
An interesting sidelight on John was the trial of his eldest
son , also named John, 12, for gunshot first-degree murder of a playmate. Young John was acquitted on grounds it was an accident, as his friends
testified to at the trial in New York City.
John Skidmore's youngest son, Joseph, however, was the link in this family's genealogy. He was born about 1674 and listed his occupation as
landowner at Murderkill Hundred, Del. His son, also named Joseph Skidmore, born about 1706, was the first Skidmore to venture into the wilderness. He headed into Virginia through a gap at Harper's Ferry in 1749 and settled into what now is Pendleton County, W.Va. The area originally was Augusta County, then reorganized
into Rockingham County. Pendleton County later became a separate county as it
Joseph formed a parternership with another man, and the
two of them bought and sold, at a profit, an enormous number of land tracts to incoming settlers. Together they eventually
owned about 1,000 acres of farmland.
Joseph found himself in a vastly different place. There were about 40 settlers over a large area. The
settlers had to fell many trees in the heavily forested area. They used the logs to build houses, and many of them planted
their crops in fields dotted with tree stumps, according to one researcher.
The Indians, the researcher said, liked the French better than the English. The French were trappers
and traders, not farmers. They posed no problems for the Indians, who considered the vast unsettled Virignia valley--a grassy plain to he west--as their hunting grounds.
But the English built fences around their farms, and the Indians didn't like that. It was easy for the French, who
wanted to drive out the English, to get the Indians riled, arm them, and persuade them to attack the English settlers.
Within days after Joseph's arrival, two forts near where
he and his family lived were under attack by Indians on two consecutive days, with 39 people killed. Joseph's great-granddaughter,
Delilah Cogar, in later years said, however, the only trouble the Skidmore family had with Indians occurred one day when Joseph's wife Agnes was inside the cabin alone and some Indians came
by and stole a freshly butchered hog hanging outside.
She said Agnes later told relatives she sat on the floor and cried while the Indians peered in through
the cracks and laughed at her.
Joseph and Agnes were the parents of Major John Skidmore and 10 other children.
Today John Skidmore would be an unlikely candidate for military service. He was 31 years old when he
first fought in the French and Indian Wars in 1767 as a captain. His Augusta County Militia was called out for service in
1774, when he was 38 years old. His military service ended in 1778 at the age
of 42, when he resigned with the rank of major. He was the father of 15 children, 13 of whom survived him.
We don't know a lot about John Skidmore, except we believe he was at least 6 feet tall (an early-day
report said all of the men in the Augusta Militia were that tall), possibly auburn-haired
(as many Skidmores were reported to be), and that he was a powerfully strong
man. One report said John Skidmore once defeated an Indian in hand-to-hand combat.
John's brother Andrew, 14 years younger, was in military
service with him. Andrew was noted for being a reckless and adventuresome man. Once
his company was under attack by Indians, and the men took refuge by a log. There were so many of them that Andrew stuck his
finger up into the air to motion some of the men to move to another nearby log, and an Indian shot Andrew's index finger off
with an arrow.
In later years, Andrew's granddaughter admitted "Granddaddy
did some bad things." Andrew, even after the fighting stopped, was known to hunt and kill Indians. John, however, had no bitterness
toward them and always fed hungry, friendly Indians who passed by his house.
according to family stories related down through the years, was a quiet, serious man, very religious and devoted to his family.
He had married Mary Magdalena Henckel;, known as Polly, in 1743. She was the daughter of one of the wealthiest
men in the area who, with other German-origin families, had settled
on a nearby enormous scenic farmland tract known as Germany Valley.
The Henckel family had its origins in Daudenzell, Germany. John Justus Henckel, Polly's father, accompanied
his parents to Pennsylvania in 1717. He was the son of the Rev. Anthony Jacob
Henckel, an Evangelical Lutheran minister from the German Palatinate, and his
wife Maria Elizabeth (Dentzer) Henckel. John Justis Henckel later moved to North Carolina, but because of aggressive Indians
moved again to Pendleton County, Va., and bought land in 1760.
In 1730 John Justus Henckle had married Magdalena Eschmann. His
name was spelled in various ways: Henkel, Henckel and Hinkle. The family built "Hinkle's Fort" on the North Fork of the South
Branch of the Potomac. It was used by the colonists for protection from Indians during the Revolutionary War. A history of
the Henckel family says 30 Henckels served in the Revolutionary War in Virginia and Pennsylvania.
John Justice Hinkle and his wife were buried in the same grave on his farm in Germany Valley near the
old Hinkle's Fort They were parents of 14 other children besides Polly.
Captain Skidmore (later promoted to Major) was wounded twice in the Battle of Point Pleasant, part of
Lord Dunsmore's War and often referred to as the first battle of the American Revolution.
His company, on Sept. 22, 1774, had marched to Charleston under command of Col. Andrew Lewis. Captain
Skidmore's company was composed of himself, a lieutenant, an ensign, three sergeants and 32 soldiers. On Oct. 6 they arrived at Point Pleasant on
the Ohio River.
Four days later two men rushed into camp and reported a large group of Indians was about two miles up
the river. The men were marched out to engage the Indians. They had gone only about a half-mile when the Indians attacked.
The soldiers took refuge behind the trees. Colonel Lewis, wearing a red coat, was almost immediately shot and killed.
Captain John Skidmore was wounded twice, first early in the day, not seriously , in the calf of a leg.
Captain Skidmore's grandson, Archibald Taylor, said his grandfather later told of the bravery of Capt.
Mathew Arbuckle, who helped win the battle. He said Arbuckle, with some volunteers, jumped Crooked Creek and surrreptitiously crept to the rear of the Indians.
Before the men got into position for the flank attack, Captain Skidmore was shot a second time--this time a serious wound to the hip. His men
gave way, but Captain Skidmore called out to them that he was not dead and to
stand their ground. As the men turned back to him, Arbuckle's men began firing and drove the Indians backward in a fierce
fight. Soon afterward the Indians gave up and retreated across the Ohio. Records show the colonists had lost a fifth of their
men--46 dead and 80 wounded.
Captain Skidmore told his grandson the second bullet had passed through his body, without hitting major
internal organs. The bullet had been caught in the waistband of his trousers on the other side.
After the war he was offered a commission as a major in the Rockingham County Militia, which he declined.
Records show, however, he left military service with the rank of major.
When the new county of Pendleton was formed, which included the land owned by Major Skidmore, he was appointed by Gov. Patrick; Henry to serve as one of the 11 original justices of Pendleton County. About half of the justices were related to Skidmore, including his son James; his
brother-in-law, Isaac Hinkle; and his nephew, Moses Hinkle. John Skidmore was
elected president of the court.
John Skidmore also served two terms as High Sheriff and
was Overseer of the Poor, the only elective office in the newly formed Pendleton County.
In 1771 he had built a brick home on a farm on the South Branch, on the east side of the headwaters
of the Potomac River about 12 miles north of Franklin.
His children were: A male infant, unnamed, who died soon
after birth; Capt. James; Phebe; Rev. John; Ezekiel, who died at age 2; Elijah; Nancy; Hannah; Andrew; Isaac; Levi; Mary;
Rachel; Susanna; and Edith.
Major Skidmore died Oct. 18, 1829, and is buried on his family farm. The Daughters of the American Revolution
has placed a special marker on his grave.
At the time of his death he owned a vast amount of land in Pendleton, Hardy and Highland counties. His
will left the homeplace and everything in it to his widow for her lifetime. After her death, the assets were to be divided among his 13 surviving children.
A copy of Major Skidmore's will is in my possession. He didn't make the will until shortly before he
died, when he was too weak to write, so it is signed only with "his mark." Other copies of his signature may be seen on numerous
legal documents he had signed earlier. One of them is reproduced here.
His widow lived 20 years,
blind most of the rest of her life. The farm, at her death, went to her son, Isaac, who had no children. It then went to Isaac's
widow. She remarried, however, and Virginia law said two-thirds of her late husband's property would revert to his brothers
and sisters. There was a hotly contested court fight, and the brothers and sisters were awarded their share.
The third of the property awarded to Isaac's widow included the house and family graveyard. Her new
husband, upset by the court judgment, tore out all of the tombstones and used them to build a dike along the South Branch.
The dike eventually washed away, but oldtime residents
recalled reading the gravestones while walking along the river.
Warren Skidmore, in his book, said Major John and his son Isaac are buried in a cemetery on the farm
in which there are about 15 other unmarked graves.
Levi Skidmore, son of Major John and Mary Magdalena Skidmore and great-great grandfather of Stanton Skidmore,
was born about 1783. He married Nancy Belknap and was a wealthy landowner and constable. Levi Post Office at Baker's Run was
named for him.
Levi Skidmore was not a healthy man. He was drafted into military service in 1814 for six-months' service. Because of his poor health, he was discharged after 25 days' service. He died at age
45 on April 15, 1828. Cause of his death is not recorded. His widow received a pension in 1855.
There are today several historic Skidmore spots in West Virginia, including a marker at Franklin, another
at Hinkle's Fort, and a mountain named Skidmore Mountain.
Isaac, son of Levi and Nancy Skidmore, was born Sept. 18, 18ll. He was a farmer. He married Lucinda Cogar, the daughter of Benjamin and Mary (Hosey) Coger.
Isaac Skidmore died Oct.
21, 1888. Isaac and Lucinda Skidmore had nine children, the fifth of which was Theodore Given Skidmore, my grandfather.
Theodore Skidmore was born Dec. 20, 1858. He was a tall, strong man--a good farmer who also raised cattle
and hogs, but also, as were many West Virginians during the years of Prohibition, a part-time bootlegger of "West Virginia
white lightning." He never was caught, and years later his daughter Lillie said her
father "always made good liquor that never hurt anyone."
The Skidmore land bought by Theodore, which included Ware Mountain, in recent years was acquired as part
of a reservoir project in the Monongahela National Forest. The Baker's Run Cemetery
there was relocated to Sutton Cemetery and the area flooded to make Sutton Lake. Ware Mountain now is surrounded by water, and the only access to it is by boat. Stanton Skidmore's mother, Louisiana (Ware) Skidmore, is buried in a cemetery on the old homeplace on top of the mountain. Local legend
has it that Louisiana Skidmore used to save money in glass jars, which she buried at various places around the farm. I was
told by some people at Centralia a few years ago that some folks still go up on the mountain to dig and search unsuccessfully
for her buried money jars. Their search is made difficult by the rattlesnake infestation
on the mountain.
The Skidmore homeplace was a small, L-shaped house with a covered porch, with a large apple tree in front. On the mountain was a small, one-room schoolhouse, which all of the Skidmore children
attended, except Stanton, who went to grade school in nearby Centralia.
An often related family anecdote about Theodore was that he once was talked into a contest to see whether
he or a mule could carry the most sacks of flour over a specified distance. Theodore won.
But the bootlegging was a sore spot in the marriage of Theodore and his wife. She was a morally upright
woman who could not tolerate the situation even though the extra money helped them get through the bad economic times. This
issue separated the two of them although they never divorced. In her last years
she lived with her daughter Lillie Lewis at Buckhannon, W.Va. She suffered a broken hip and was bedfast for about two years
before she died.
When Stanton was 13 years old, Theodore and Louisiana
signed over the deed to the100-acre homeplace to him. The deed stipulated that Stanton must care for his sisters until they married.
This may seem like an extraordinary thing to do, for nowadays a l3-year-old boy is still a child. Stanton,
however, was not a child. He was a man. From his earliest days, his father had taught him to be self-sufficient and hard-working.
My father told me his father often gave him a shotgun and five shells, telling him
to go out on the mountain and bring back five things for the family to eat. With that limitation, young
Stanton became an expert marksman. Some nights when he hadn't used up all his shotgun shells, the boy fearlessly would camp
overnight on the rattlesnake-infested mountain and continue the hunt the next day.
Life, in many ways, was difficult in his growing-up years. An outbreak of virulent scarlet fever had
killed his sister, Mollissie (sometimes spelled Mallissie) and his brother, Stanley, in a two-week period. Stanton also got
the disease and lost most of his hearing. The severe hearing loss would plague him all his life, but it didn't keep him from
doing anything he really wanted to do. The widespread outbreak also infected my mother as a child, and she told us of losing
all her hair temporarily.
Stanton became a perfectionist worker at an early age, with his father's guidance. He put on a roof for
a neighbor as a teenager. His father looked over the completed job carefully, then told the
boy, "That's not a bad
job, Stanton, but it could be better. You must always do the best job you can."
Lillie Lewis said her fun-loving brother Stanton; was a popular bachelor. We have one old family photo
of young Stanton sitting on a rock and laughing, with the arms of a young girl draped around his neck. We teased him--and
his eyes twinkled--but he never had anything to say about her.
"Lottie was the only girl who could ever hogtie Stanton," Lillie
reminisced with a smile.
My mother used to tell a funny story about my father's carefree life as a bachelor. She said he once
got drunk and preached the funeral of a hog. My father always laughed when she told the story--but he didn't deny it.
My brothers both were born in Holly, W.Va. While they still were very young and after my sister Lucille
was born, my father owned a general store on the main street of Sutton, W.Va. One night a tremendous fire started in one of
the buildings, destroying my father's store, the county courthouse, and every other building on the block. The burning of
the courthouse destroyed many valuable records that to this day complicates family
history searches. My father in later years was forced to use U.S. Census records and a statement by his sister Lillie to prove
his age for Social Security eligibility. After the fire my parents moved to Morgantown, W.Va., to be near her parents, Jacob
and Margaret Gillespie.
My father turned to carpentry as an occupation. Despite his limited schooling, he was a mathematical
whiz who did his home planning in his head before he put it on paper. Once when he was employed as a carpenter, the manager
of the project brought in a man who was a specialized spiral stairway builder.
My father watched as the man cut the stairs, using a blueprint. But the stairs were wrong.
The man cut out some more stairs--and these, too, were wrong. He started again a third time, when my father said quietly,
"Those won't be right either. The blueprint is wrong." The project manager furiously told him, "Well, if you know so much about it, you cut them. And if you're wrong, you're fired." My father cut the
stairs--and they were perfect.
This perfectionism drove him away from unions. He was hired once on a union job to paint a building.
After he saw the men had not placed dropcloths on the cars parked beside the building, he climbed down off the scaffold and
quit the job.
Thereafter he never would work a union job or hire a union worker.
Morgantown contractors and union workers were angry and pressured him. They
told him his houses would never pass the electrical and plumbing
inspections of the city--but they did. Eventually the unions tired of harrassing him and left him alone. His workmanship was so well known in Morgantown that he never lacked for customers, if they had money for
My father was unafraid of heights while helping build bridges in the Morgantown and Pittsburgh, Pa.,
But he was not an unnecessary risk taker. He took whatever kind of work he could find during the Depression
and at one point had a job in a coal mine. His competence soon led to his being promoted to foreman. One of his jobs involved driving a mule hauling carloads of coal out of the mine. One day
just as he was pulling out of the mine, a huge seam of coal in the ceiling collapsed
and one edge of it scraped his back. My father got down off the coal car and quit the job.
He never went back. This sensible attitude was evident to me when a few years later there were two Morgantown area
coal mine explosions in which two of my playmates' fathers were killed.
I grew up with the feeling that my father could do anything. And I think now he probably could. He worked
one year on a sheep ranch in Montana. He built houses in Florida. He knew how to graft trees and was a superb gardener. He
could fix almost anything that was broken. My father believed every board in a house he built should have a set number of
nails in it to make the house sturdy enough to withstand West Virginia weather. The house in which I was born 72 years ago
still stands and is occupied, as are other houses he built in that era.
My father loved treating us. He seldom came home on Saturdays without a small white sack of chocolate
drops or pink wintergreen lozinges. Often there was a small piece of raw liver for the cat. And on Saturdays usually he could
scrape up enough money to send us girls to the movies.
My brother Arden teasingly began calling him "Pop" one day, and it stuck. Pretty soon everyone called
One of Arden's earliest memories as a child was an event in Sutton. He was walking home with some eggs
and was struck by a car but not seriously injured. The thing that stuck most in his memory was that the eggs were broken.
Here are some of Arden's other memories:
"Dad certainly was a proficient gardener. He not only had the garden behind the house but tended a strip
of loamy, bottom land on the other side of Decker's Creek next to the railroad tracks. The family went through some hard times
during the Depression era and I don't know what we would have done without all that produce from the gardens.
"Dad was a talented man at many things. He was the complete house builder. He designed his houses, prepared
the land and did the cement block work and the electrical wiring and plumbing. I remember he had a (wooden) sunset over the
porch entrance of our Brockway home--a big yellow ball with protruding yellow spokes representing rays of the sun. I guess
he brought the idea back from Florida, where he built many homes during the building boom in that state in the early 1920s.
"Few men could handle a shotgun like Dad. When we were living in Sutton, where I was born, I remember
many times when I would come in from playing to see six to a dozen skinned and cleaned squirrels hanging on a line on the
porch. I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to his gunning in Morgantown, but I am certain he kept at it because of the pots
of squirrel and dumplings prepared by Mother.
(Note from Stannie: Pop did
continue hunting in Morgantown, but Mother never allowed a gun in the house so he probably borrowed guns belonging to friends.)
"Dad also liked to cook, and we all enjoyed his biscuits he made from scratch."
(Note from Stannie--The recipe for these VERY LARGE biscuits is included in the back of this book. My
mother was locally noted for her cakes, but unfortunately I have no recipes.)
My father maintained close written contact with his sister Della. His letters were typewritten, hunt-and-peck. One letter to Aunt Della has survived, although I do not know how it ended up in the family's possession. Perhaps her family sent
it to us. In that letter, a reply to his sister, written March 25, 1965, several
years after the death of their mother and his accompaniment of her body for burial on Ware Mountain, he said, in part:
"No, I did not get up on the mountain since Mother died. It would be odd to me now, for it has been so
long since I was there. Yes, I remember the locust year and the one back in 1897. I can remember back when I was three years
old. I can remember those little pants Mother made me and the first day I wore them. Yes, I can remember when Malissie and
Stanley died. Father held me up in his arms when they died."
A second letter, dated May 1, 1963, was addressed to me (a
duplicate of a letter he also sent to my sister, Lucille.) It read, in part:
"This cold and snowy day the ground is white and snow still falling. Pretty chilly. After our Indian
summer the trees were nice and green, but today they are nice and white. . . . One of my birds died yesterday. It had been
sick for two months. I looked for it to die every day. As soon as it was dead I took the other one back to the people I got
it from. Never will I own another bird again. . . . My flowers look good. They
are in full bloom with the snow covered over them. Makes me think of Christmas. . . . I am
sending you two pictures, one of the house and one of myself. The one of myself is not very good but you can see how
good my John F. Kennedy suit looks on me -- cost $72. . . I am writing this letter in duplicate, one to Lucille and one to Stannie. Stannie is the shortest, so I
am sending the bottom page to her so she won't have to get up on a stool to read it."
My mother, Lottie Gay Skidmore--how can I describe her? She was short--5 feet 3 inches tall--and stout.
Her hair was long, dark and lustrous, parted in the center and twisted into a bun at the nape of her neck. Her eyes were a pale blue-gray. From birth she had dark red
hair that had turned brunette when she was about 21. (My son, Michael, inherited dark red hair that turned brunette in his
Mother had planned to be a teacher, but instead married my father. I don't think she ever regretted losing
her career. She had a wonderful smile--and was the best listener I have ever known. She attracted friends like a magnet, probably because she listened so well. Our home as I grew up was busy with friends
and young people who loved my mother. Many an evening she told ghost stories from Braxton County while we all sat around the
fireplace and ate popcorn (the corn was popped in the fireplace in a popper made
by my father) and winter apples Pop stored in a bin in the basement.
We didn't have much in material wealth, but my mother always was willing to share what she could. I remember
a Thanksgiving day when a homeless man knocked on the door and was
given the very first plateful of food to eat on the porch. Religion was a way of life for her every day, not just on Sunday
She loved young people and their exhuberant ways and was Sunday School superintendent at the Salvation
Army. She loved music and constantly sang--although she couldn't carry a tune.
Music was such a part of my childhood. We were the singing
Skidmore sisters, always, although we really weren't very good singers--other than my sister Jeanne, who had a lovely alto
voice. My sister Lucille (we called her Tillie) was mostly self-taught on the
piano and organ, the guitar and cornet.
My sister Jeanne; played a horn. I played the violin (I was a terrible musician, but I did
learn to love music.) One of my fondest memories of that little three-quarter-sized violin was watching my father take it
out of its case and saw away at the strings with the bow for long periods of time. He
could feel the vibration--and I'm sure it gave him great pleasure, with his severe loss of hearing.
My mother always was there. She didn't drive me around to Girl Scouts and music lessons and school activities.
Life wasn't like that when I was young. But she listened, while she made bread or sewed when I told her about things in my
life. She let me read--and read--and read. And she didn't fill my life so full of activities that I had no time to just sit
and dream and soak up the beautiful
things around me. Would I have become a writer without her? I
Mother died very young--just 50 years old--seven months before the ending of World War II. How happy
she would have been to know the danger of combat was over for Arden, who was in the Navy, and for Lucille's husband, Robert
Smith, who had served in the Army in North Africa and the Normandy Invasion. She was grateful that Al, in an essential job,
did not go into military service.
I think of her--and Pop--often and of the sturdy, loving upbringing they gave us. None of us grew up
to be criminals with those two moral parents setting the rules.
Brockway Avenue was then--and still is--a special place for me. I knew everyone who lived on that street
on a moderate hill (moderate for West Virginia, anyway.) I liked to go outside in the rain and sit on the curb, letting the
water run over my bare feet on its way to the bottom of the hill. My brother Al played softball in a nearby park, and he and
the other boys complained bitterly when the Sullivan's collie, Renny, grabbed the ball and ran off with it.
I remember our old crank-type Victrola. My sister Jeanne would play a record, and Atta Boy, our Airedale dog , would put his feet on her shoulders , towering over her, and dance with her to the music.
Children on Brockway Avenue played games together. We drew a
chalk hopscotch pattern on the sidewalk; we drew circles and played jacks and marbles; we jumped rope; we skated down the
hill. And in the evenings until dusk we played "Run, Sheepie, Run" until the mothers up and down the hill began calling to
their children to come home for dinner.
In the summertime we girls went to a camp near Thurmont, Md., next door to a now famous place. President
Franklin D. Roosevelt called it "Shangri-La." President Dwight D. Eisenhower changed its name to Camp David.
I think everyone who has ever lived in West Virginia learned
at an early age to love the beautiful hills--the sunlight moving across them in the late afternoon, little wisps of morning
fog curling upward from the midst of the trees. I've visited many lovely places
as an adult, but none has been as beautiful to me or as serene as the mountains of West Virginia.
My father started building houses at the bottom of Brockway Avenue. We would live in one while he built
the next one up the hill. I was born in "the sun house." My first memory at age 3 is of using a miniature broom to help Mother
sweep the floor of our newly completed home at 587 Brockway Avenue,
where I would live during my growing-up years. Our small yellow stucco house
on Brockway Avenue had a bedroom for our parents, one for my brothers, and we three girls all snuggled together in a double
We would say "shift" when one of us wanted to turn over. It was comforting to hear the rhythmic sound
of rain on the porch roof outside our bedroom window.
Every night the lights were out and all was quiet, but I knew Mother wasn't asleep. She was waiting
for my brother Arden to come home from work. Soon the door would open downstairs, and we'd hear my brother's voice calling, "Mother, I'm
home." Then we'd all go to sleep. I don't think I've ever felt so safe and content since then.
The death of my Grandma Margaret Gillespie at age 66 was a traumatic time. Throughout my childhood, she
had had me bring her jugs of water that she quickly drank. Knowing what I know now as a health writer, it would have been
easy for me to know she had untreated diabetes. This inevitably led to an ingrown toenail and gangrene. I remember standing
by her hospital bed with my mother, a bright lightbulb shining on her foot, from which came a terrible odor. Grandma was frightened.
She begged my mother, "Don't let them cut my foot off, Lottie, don't let them!" My mother was so silent. I don't know if she supported her mother in this. But the doctors did not cut off Grandma's foot, and she
Were we poor during the Depression? I don't think so, at least in the ways that counted.
But it would be unrealistic not to acknowledge the effects of the Depression. There was so little money,
such difficulty in just surviving. I'm sure my parents saw the Depression much differently than I. The burden was on them.
To me, everyone was poor. My clothes were hand-me-downs, with only occasionally a bright new dress made my mother, with her
tiny little stitches. I lined up like the other children at school
for doses of cod liver oil, followed by a mint, and for distribution of small cartons of free milk.
When I visited the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial in Washington with my son Michael, sister Jeanne, and
niece Maureen Knorr, I had many quiet memories. When I was very little, my father took me to the train station at Morgantown
to hear the President speak from the back of his train. My father sat me on his shoulders so I could see the man who gave
us the comforting radio Fireside Chats. I thought he was wonderful then--and still do.
At the memorial, a busload of junior high school youngsters swarmed everywhere--posing with
the statue of FDR, patting little concrete dog Fala, and slipping in between the statues of the sad and hungry men in the
Depression breadline. The kids' smiles were bright, and the cameras kept clicking. Maureen told me an elderly woman standing
next to her burst into tears and said softly, "They don't understand."
I don't think I understood either as a child.
Now I can only marvel at how my parents' courage, love and laughter shielded me during the Depression,
giving me a happy childhood. Surely their strong religious belief was all that sustained them. Many children came out of the
Depression damaged, but I did not.
I often think of Pop's prosperous years in later life and how he must have remembered the hard years
and wished he could share the good times, too, with my mother. But one cannot go back.
Two years after Mother died, Pop married a much younger woman, Olive Corey, who had been a U.S. Postal
worker in Baltimore. We lived in an apartment on Overdale Street. Olive was a kind, good woman. Pop developed mental illness, however, and the marriage didn't survive. A couple of years later he married
Elizabeth Brownfield Neel, a long-time employee of the West Virginia University Library. Elizabeth was much beloved and took
good care of Pop in his declining years. He died Jan. 3, 1979. Elizabeth, who
unknowingly had diabetes, was blind toward the end of her life. She died Oct. 11, 1989. Stanton, Lottie and Elizabeth are
buried side-by-side in Beverly Hills Cemetery at Morgantown.
As for an update on Stanton and Lottie's children:
Arden pursued his life-long fascination with journalism. He for a time was sports editor of the Morgantown
Dominion-News. Then he was sports publicist at West Virginia University.
He married Joan Bolles, society editor of the newspaper. He then moved to Pittsburgh, Pa., where he joined the Associated
Press Bureau. When he went into the Navy during World War II, his wife, Joan, took over his job with AP, the first woman ever
to work at that bureau. Both of them later worked for the Delaware County Daily Times at Chester, Pa., Joan as a feature writer,
and Arden as wire editor and columnist. Joan died April 9, 1990, three months
short of their 50th wedding anniversary. Arden has retired from his newspaper
job and does a lot of travel in pursuit of his hobby, photography. He and Joan had three children: Kent, Sally and Kathleen.
Kermit Alphaeus, while growing up, went by the name "Al." He was named for an uncle, George Kermit Gillespie,
who went by the name "Kermit." For some strange reason, people at their separate workplaces began calling Al "Kermit," and
calling Kermit "George." The two never bothered to correct anyone, so they switched.
Al is now Kermit, and Kermit became "George." Now that I've thoroughly confused
you--I'll continue to call Kermit "Al," because that is what I've always called him.
Al worked a year with my father. Then he began his newspaper career as an office boy on Nov. 1, 1935. A year or so later he set up an engraving plant operation for the newspaper and proceeded
to establish a reputation as "Mr. Graphics" He developed film, made prints, and also newspaper "cuts" (engraved metal plates
used in those days.) When the newspaper went to an offset production, he worked with that and directed the newspaper's venture
into full-color photo reproduction. Al retired in 1981, after 45 1/2 years' work with the Morgantown newspapers. Along the
way, he married Marie Carroll, who worked in the newspaper's advertising department. They had a daughter, Lana Jean. Marie died Sept. 12, 1994, after heart surgery.
Lucille Marie never wanted to be a career woman. After graduation, she married her high school sweetheart,
Robert J. Smith. Within days of their marriage he was sent overseas by the Army during World War II. He participated in some of the war's major battles in
North Africa and the D-Day invasion of Normandy. When he returned home, he worked for awhile repairing radios and installed
one of Morganown's first television sets--they had a round screen that, in those days and in that isolated mountain community,
had a lot of "snow" inteference and very little programming. But we all were fascinated by this innovation.
Later he moved his family to California,
where he became a research and development technician for General Dynamics. He and Lucille had 10 children, David, Cynthia,
Karen, Kathleen, Robert Evard, Ralph, Richard, Rebecca, Patricia and John. When
Patti was 15 and Johnnny 12, Lucille got cancer and was not expected to live. But in a sudden tragic turn of events, Bob died
first of a massive heart attack. Lucille died 11 months later, depriving the children of both parents in a short time. The
grown children combined efforts to care for the two children still at home.
Jeanne went to Pittsburgh after high school graduation, babysat with Arden's baby son Kent, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She
then moved to Baltimore, Md.,
where she worked for Westinghouse. There she met and married Joseph Boylan. They had two children, Maureen and Mark. Joe died
Sept. 11, 1982. Jeanne has lived in Florida for many years, first in St.
Petersburg, then in Lehigh Acres, then more recently in Fort Myers,
where she lives in a retirement complex.
Stannie's first job was as society editor for the Beckley (W.Va.) Post-Herald. After a year she married Arvel F. Anderson, Jr.,
and then lived in a number of places--Illinois; Ohio; Miami, Fla.; Texas; Arkansas
and finally Topeka, Kan.
Theyd later were divorced. In 1958 she joined the staff of Topeka State Journal as a health writer. Eventually she was city editor of The State Journal. The morning
Topeka Daily Capital and The State Journal later merged into one newspaper, and she became assistant city editor of the combined
Capital-Journal., working the dayside city desk. she retired in 1992 and was immediately hired as part-time writing coach. She retired from that
job six years later. She and Arvel Anderson had two children, William and Michael. Bill was killed in an accident in 1970.
So, this is our family. We, the older generation, are passing
the torch to you younger ones. May you always find love and serenity and togetherness among all these Skidmores. You are all
so different--yet so much alike. We may not build castles in England
nowadays, but we have built a good, loving family through the years.
One of our youngest family members, Kelly Anne Carpenter, 12, daughter of Ed and Kathy Carpenter and
granddaughter of Arden and Joan Skidmore, composed a thoughtful prayer for our first reunion on June 18, 1997, at Cooper's
Rock, W. Va. Let's let Kelly have the final words:
We thank you for this time to be together. It is a chance to get to know each other and renew
old friendships. We thank you for the people who make up our family, from children to grandparents. We are thankful for good
times, good food and your great love. AMEN.