Note: I wrote this article and submitted it to the Morgan Newsletter. I waited until it was published there (it came out in the March – May 2014 issue) before I published it here. Since it has been published, I am now releasing it here.
“In 1747 Jacob Prickett, Nathaniel Springer, James Chew and Zackquill Morgan came up the Monongahela River looking for a good place to start a new settlement and stopped at the mouth of Little Creek,…Nathaniel Springer located a trading camp here which was later called Newport (Catawba).”1 Thus the beginning of a very historic town that I consider “back home in West Virginia”. Catawba is approximately five miles north east of Fairmont, on the Monongahela River.
My name is Curt Swisher and I am a descendant of those early settlers in Catawba. My great-great grandfather, Jerome Bonapart Swisher, left Catawba and moved by covered wagon to Kansas in the 1870’s, but I have always considered my roots to be Catawba West Virginia.
In 1836, Jerome’s grandfather, “Jacob River Swisher, son-in-law of Colonel Zackquill Morgan, sold lots and started the village of Newport. It was the shipping center for many products from Little and Pricketts Creeks area.”1
The village name of Newport later changed to the current name of Catawba in 1885. 2 “The name ‘Catawba’ is said to have been derived from a tribe of Indians by that name that once had a camp there. Few will doubt this fact as Indian relics of all types have been found near this community.”2 According to W. L. Balderson in Fort Prickett Frontier and Marion County, this large tribe of Indians had a trail passing there which was called the “Catawba Trail and led from the South to the Iroquois of the North, who were their traditional enemies. A Macadam Indian road extended from Catawba through Hoult to the Forks of the Monongahela at Pettyjohns before the arrival of the whites.”1
Apparently Newport (Catawba) was a very successful river port in those days as some of the industries located there were sawmills and gristmills. There was even a casket company. However, probably the most important industry was shipping. There was a boat yard there that produced flat boats, and lumber from sawmills were floated down stream on the Monongahela River to Pittsburgh and beyond. Even log rafts were constructed and sent by way of river to market. “The steamboat ‘Winfield’ was built at Catawba by Jacob Morgan in 1855. Later Pig Iron was shipped from Piney Run Iron Furnace above Winfield.”1 There also was a ferry boat that traveled between Montana and Rivesville (1795) operated by Mr. Prickett. A hotel was also located there.1
“From the old 1886 ‘ATLAS of Marion & Monongalia Counties by D. J. Lake’, we find Catawba homes listed in that year as: (along the river) N. Haun, W.A. Michael, S. Harden, J. McDonald, and N. Swisher. Just across the street were these homes: E. E. Powell, Q. Haun, L. Summers, L. L. Malone, Stephen Heirs. J. L. Swisher and also a house owned by the Fast Heirs.
“Across the railroad tracks from south to north were: Store and Post Office, Hutchinson & Co., D. Kisner, Mrs. Armstrong, and M. Powell.
“The row of homes below the cemetery from south to north included: Mrs. S. Harris, B. Radcliffe, D.A. Harris, J.P. Kisner, C.C. Haun, and G. Summers. In that same area were C. E. Haun, Mrs. S. Kisner, S. Harden, and J. Joliff. Across the stream was the Methodist Church. Several of these properties may have been owned by the same individual.”4
I wonder if some of those names are recognized by the readers as one of their direct ancestors. I know I recognize several.
Although the town of Catawba is not as large or influential, as in its early days, as the boat yard is gone, leaving just a few houses along the river, there is one institution still thriving today. That is the Catawba Methodist Church.
The Catawba Methodist Church was founded by my Great-Great-Great Grandfather, Jacob River Swisher and his wife Drusilla Morgan, daughter of Col. Zackquill Morgan in 1841 in their home.2
“In warm weather, the Rev. John Clark, pastor of the Middletown (Fairmont) circuit preached out-of-doors, standing upon a large rock by the river bank.”2 The first church was built in 1854 on the same sight of the present church building. The ground was donated by Jacob Swisher.”3 Jacob Swisher also donated the ground for the Catawba cemetery, on the hill overlooking the church. Even though I grew up in Kansas, I am very proud of my Catawba heritage.