McMechen 1773– When William McMechen, an immigrant from Scotland, came from his home near the south branch of the Potomac River in 1773, he placed a “tomahawk claim” five miles below Wheeling. He and his wife, Sidney, settled in what became known as McMechen’s Bottom. The claim extended southward from Boggs Run to the narrows above the Flats of Grave Creek. Sidney was the first white woman known to settle in the area.
The McMechen homestead was located in what is now the McMechen Cemetery; their cabins, outbuildings and crops were burned several times by the Indians. Those early years were lived in constant danger, and many times the family would flee to Fort Tomlinson or Fort Henry for protection. At one time, they moved to the Red Stone Old Fort in Brownsville, Pennsylvania for two years, until the area was safer to live in.
The McMechen’s had several children, as McMechen is said to have married three times. David, the eldest son, became a successful lawyer in Baltimore; James, the second son, settled farther south (Wetzel County), and also had many children. William, the third son became a judge. A brother, Benjamin, was the first clerk of the Ohio County Court. Another son, Benjamin, married the daughter of Captain William Boggs, later his father’s property was deeded to him. This Benjamin was responsible for erecting the first church (the Methodist Episcopal) and laying out the towns of Benwood (Ben’s Woods) and McMechen. He also was one of the first “gentlemen justices” when Marshall County was formed. The McMechen’s were intelligent, industrious people, William was elected to the House of Delegates of the Virginia General Assembly in 1788 and 1791.
Benwood was laid out first (in 1853) because the areas of Wheeling and Bellaire were growing rapidly and industry was settling in.
The town of McMechen was laid out into plats in 1888, more or less as a residential area for the workers in the Benwood industries. The City was incorporated in 1895, and the building firm of J. L. McMechen was responsible for most of the structures. The firm built the B & O Roundhouse, and the first major enterprise, a shirt factory was operated by the McMechen’s.
As the town began to develop, it combined business with farmland; when the large brick school was built in 1905 on Marshall Street, the land directly across the street was a cornfield.
The business district sprung up on what is now Sixth Street, then called Gravel Street. The city building was located there, along with a department store, a rope factory (where heavy roping was made for riverboats), a pharmacy, a church, a social Hall, called Shad building.
Moundsville Pike (now called Marshall) a huge undertaking began with the construction of the Bank of McMechen (1905), the Center McMechen School (1905) and the Methodist Church (1910). They were located across from the McMechen Manufacturing Company (shirt factory).
By the turn of the century, McMechen was a thriving, growing city; the St. James Catholic Church was built in 1901. At one time there was a skating rink, later a community center located near the church; it was razed in 1925 to make way for the first St. James School. Another school was built on property adjacent to that, and in 1954, Bishop Donahue High School, the only Catholic High School in Marshall County was opened for classes.
In the early years, the opening of Hitchman Coal Mine brought many workers to the area. Many settled in company owned houses and dealt at the company run general store. The homes located at the southern end of Benwood and the northern edge of McMechen had the characteristic title “Hitchman’s Row” bestowed upon them; in later years the area became an eyesore. Now that section is the site of a modern housing project.
Industry was never one of McMechen’s biggest features. Many groceries and family businesses thrived in the early part of the 1900s. For many years, the Marx Toy Factory operated a warehouse in the western part of the town. This burned in the 1950s and only recently has the property been redeveloped for use as a mobile home park.
The entire section of the area west of the train tracks (now Lincoln Street and Grant Street) was at one time orchards and huge stockyards.
Many “pieces of history” once a vital part of the town, are now gone. The old playground located near 13th Street is gone. 21st St. was once the site of the “Carbarn,” used by the electric trolley system. The old wooden Sixth Street Bridge and Tenth Street Bridges, have been replaced by one span across the “new” State Route 2. The development of the new highway was a major factor in McMechen’s economy.
Route 2 used to run straight through the small town; many gasoline stations, stores and restaurants were severely affected by the loss of traffic. The construction of the new road also meant a loss of population as many homes were taken on the new route. But the loss of major industry is a problem shared by many small American cities these days.
Today, McMechen can boast several well-established Churches, the new Center Elementary School and Bishop Donahue High School, a community park and swimming pool; many small businesses, a bank, a library, and a Well equipped Volunteer Fire Department, and more importantly, plenty of good people.