Marion County town of Hammond disappeared long ago
FAIRMONT, W.Va. -- Every state has ghost towns. West Virginia has dozens upon dozens.
A majority of them are old mining towns, started by a coal mining operation and abandoned once the black gold was harvested. Towns like Caperton, Gaymont, Stone Cliff and Kaymoor, located up and down the New River Gorge area, have been uninhabited for decades.
Marion County doesn't have as many ghost towns. The towns surrounding local mines have survived for the most part, even as the mines have moved farther away, and in some cases been completely closed.
One town, though, disappeared decades ago. It's not listed in any database of ghost towns. And it had nothing at all to do with coal. The town of Hammond, connected to the famous Hammond brickyard, is scarcely legend now, remembered only by a few locals.
"It was a nice little community," said Christine Hostutler, who grew up in Hammond when business was booming.
Like so many towns in Marion County, Hammond was built and owned by the brick company. The houses, all made of brick, were owned by the company and rented to the workers.
The town had its own store, like most company towns, and a post office, which people remember as being somewhat unusual.
Hostutler said her father, who worked at the brickyard, often would have to go without a paycheck because of that company store. The company store allowed for workers to charge for goods like groceries, deducting them from their upcoming paychecks. This was called "scrip" and common in many company towns.
The family was large, and feeding them took a lot of the family budget, Hostutler said. "We were clean -- and we had lots of good stuff to eat, but we had no extra money to spend on anything."
Sharon Moody, who also grew up in Hammond, said the store porch was the place for workers to relax and chat.
"It was their get-together [place]," she said.
The town also had its own school, though it closed in the '40s, sending its students to the Quiet Dell school up the road.
The most important part of the town was the brickyard. The Hammond Fire Brick Co. started making bricks around the turn of the century, and by the 1940s was turning out thousands of bricks a day.
"They used to haul bricks out of there with big trucks all the time," said Hallie Williams, a Quiet Dell resident. "It was real busy there."
They were high quality bricks, too. Williams remembers hearing that Hammond bricks were taken to the Chicago World Fair and judged as the best fire clay bricks in the nation. People also remember the bricks being sent to New York City to build the Empire State Building and to Detroit for the Ford Motor Co.
It's difficult to verify these feats of brick-making, but Williams said much of Downtown Fairmont is made with Hammond brick, and the quality is unparalleled.
Williams said her brother-in-law, married to her older sister, worked as the night watch at the yard itself.
"I think he was a little bit afraid," Williams said, because he didn't like to make his patrols by himself. So she, her sister and her sister's two children would go and keep him company all night.
The clay for the factory came from a smaller town that Williams said was practically connected to Hammond. Heifersville, as they called it, was where the clay mine was. Williams said they used to use ponies to get the clay out of the mine. The clay was then transported to Hammond via rail.
With as well as the brickyard was doing, it's hard to believe it could shrivel up and die in a matter of a few short years. Moody said that in 1950, during the winter of the "Big Snow," there was a fire in the brickyard.
Moody said it started in the machine area but spread and eventually caught the majority of the yard on fire. She remembers that the fire was not accidental, but that someone set it for insurance money. The man, whose name she does not remember, was caught, but killed himself rather than face the law.
The company changed hands shortly afterward, but Williams said they didn't really do much with the mine. The people who used to live there scattered, moving to Quiet Dell, Fairmont, Pleasant Valley and other places in Marion County. In 1972, the yard was bought by a mining company, which tore down the buildings and blocked the road off.
Today, what's left of Hammond is overgrown and uninhabited. Folks say the river running behind the brickyard is a great fishing hole, and Moody said it was "the prettiest place in the world to swim." It's only accessible by ATV at this point.
There's no tale of ghost stories for this ghost town, but aside from fishermen and occasional parties, Hammond has been left untouched for decades. The people who grew up, lived and worked there are slowly but surely disappearing, and so are memories of the town.
Throughout Fairmont, you'll find bricks with "Hammond" stamped on the side of them. They serve as a reminder of a factory, but not necessarily of the town that fed it.
"Keep [Hammond] on the map," Hostutler pleaded.