PENCE SPRINGS W.Va. (Hinton News) – It is time for another edition of A Peek into Summers County’s Past. Each week, local history collector William Jones discusses items from his collection and their historical significance. So far, he has detailed businesses, bridges, town names and much more. In this edition, he is discussing the area once known as Valley Heights and specifically, a hotel from the specified area. Here is what he had to say.
“Valley Heights is thought of as part of Pence Springs today. But in its day, it was its own little community. Having had the Bennett’s Store and Post Office, the 1830s Coiner Boarding House (standing), The Mays School (a one-room log school, built in 1868), the Buffalo School (standing), the spring that Pence Springs is named for (standing), the Pence Springs bottling house, the caddy shack for the golf course and lastly the center of topic this week, the Valley Heights Hotel.
“The Valley Heights Hotel was constructed in 1905 by B. E. Carney. It was a very elaborate, late Victorian three-story structure that was eloquently furnished and decorated to luxury standards. It had indoor plumbing and was advertised as the only hotel at the springs where you could enjoy luxury, hot and cold, sulfur water baths.
“Carney began bottling the sulfur water at his hotel. Andrew Pence had already created a successful hotel around the sulfur water spring. He had been bottling the water and shipping it out of Pence Springs by train to various places across the state and the country. The Pence sulfur water was used to make ginger ale and root beer.
“As Carney’s water business gained momentum and he began bottling more water, Pence’s water supply dwindled to where he could not keep up with the demand. Carney had tapped into the water supply that fed Pence Springs. Pence became more and more frustrated with what was happening.
“After a lengthy investigation into the matter, he uncovered what had happened. That Carney was cutting off his water supply by bottling his own at his hotel. The Valley Heights Hotel was on the bank, on the right side of the road, about a quarter of a mile above the Pence Springs. Nearly all the homes in Valley Heights have sulfur water in them today. Even my house, which sits virtually a mile away, occasionally has sulfur water that leaches into our well.
“This resulted in Andrew Pence filing suit against B. E. Carney in 1906. The case was styled Pence vs. Carney. A man by the name of Tripplett was in charge of pumping the water at the Valley Heights Hotel. Tripplett’s business practices were costing Pence, who had already been established and had a very successful sulfur water bottling business in the works.
“Judge Miller, the author of the ‘1908 History of Summers County from its Earliest Settlement to its Present Time,’ sided the case in September of 1907. He determined that Trippletts pumping the water at The Valley Heights Hotel was damaging Andrew Pence. Carney and Tripplett argued it would be next to impossible to supply their hotel with sulfur water unless the present rate of pumping is continued.
To Andrew Pence’s delight, the court decided that if the pumping at the Valley Heights Hotel harmed Andrew Pence and the Pence Springs it must be shut off. This was a major blow to B. E. Carney. This occurred after Carney’s son Glenn Carney had died in 1905 from injuries he sustained after falling from a hammock on the second-floor porch of the Valley Heights Hotel to the ground below.
“The Valley Heights Hotel, its bottling house, and its pump house were destroyed by fire on April 11, 1911. The fire had started on the third floor in one of the guest rooms and was discovered at 6 a.m. The limited firefighting capabilities of the time led to the buildings being a total loss. It is believed that the fire started due to a defective flue on the third floor. The hotel had yet to open for the season, and Carney and his family were the only people staying in the building at that time. A large amount of furniture and effects were saved from the building before the fire gained total control over the complex.
“The building, at the time, was estimated to be worth between $12,000 and $15,000. Carney only carried a $2,000 policy. He had just taken out an additional $1,000 policy the day before the fire that was scheduled to go into effect on April 12, the morning after the fire. The destructive fire was not only a huge loss to Carney, but to the local farmers of the neighborhood as well. The Valley Heights Hotel housed a farmer’s market for farm and garden products during the summer months. It was here that local farmers could find a sale of almost anything in the eating line.
“A little-known fact about this area is that it did not start as Valley Heights. It was originally formed as Reno, West Virginia when the first post office was established there in the early 1900s. At some point around the same time Carney built the Valley Heights Hotel, the post office was relocated to the Bennetts store. Its name was changed to ‘Valley Heights.’ John Kessler had told me this almost unheard-of fact about Valley Heights. I believed him because he had been a Summers County historian for decades by this point. But to prove it to other skeptical people, I contacted Senator Byrd’s office and verified that, yes, the first post office in this area was named Reno.
“The aforementioned Coiner Boarding House was constructed in 1830 when the two-story framed structure was built around a 1762 one-room log house. Making this the oldest house in Summers County. Over the years, it was framed around and became what led to a two-story ‘L’ shaped structure. The two-story wings to the right were torn off years ago, and the lumber was used to build one of its early owner’s home in Ballengee, for a wedding gift. Ashby Berkley restored the two-story wing that still stands in the early 2000s. He uncovered and exposed what remained of one of the original log walls from the original house that had been built over.
“The Valley Heights Hotel had cottages it rented out around the hotel. Three of these cottages still stand today. I had been told by numerous people over the years that before the bridge was built across the creek, the Bennett’s store was built across the creek. You could either drive your wagon through the water or walk across the store’s porch to keep from getting wet.
“The photo of the couple sitting below the Post Office sign on the porch is of the Bennetts Store and Post Office. The photo with the long wooden fence has the Valley Heights Hotel in the center while it was being constructed. The other two photos and postcards are of the hotel at various times during what time it was open.”
This is the end of another edition of A Peek into Summers County’s Past. Were you familiar with the Valley Heights Hotel?
Anyone wishing to share a story from the area’s history or provide more details on something from this column should send an email to email@example.com
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