By William H. Rice
On October 8th of 1901 by a deed Recorded in the Randolph County Clerk’s Office in Book 65 on Page 445, Henry Gassaway Davis on behalf of the West Virginia Central and Pittsburgh Railway Company sold for $1,000 to the Elkins Milling Company a 7,150 square foot lot on the northwestern corner of First Street and Railroad Avenue in downtown Elkins. It was on that lot during 1902 that the building that would house the mill of the Elkins Milling Company would be completed, it being the same building that would later house the Darden Mill and which is today (2003) still standing at that location.
The mill on that lot was used by the Elkins Milling Company from 1902 until 1919 when it was sold to Ralph Darden. The 1 March 1919 sale is recorded in deed book 111 on page 214. While the Elkins Milling Company did ship hay and handle animal feeds, its primary product was flour milled from both spring and winter wheat. Persons affiliated with Elkins Milling Company included the Manager C. R. Bond who was born in Harrison County and had worked for Star Mills in Buckhannon for 17 years. His employees as listed in the 1915 Elkins City Directory included D. C. Bartlett of 629 North Avenue, W. L. Moats of 515 Yokum Street and R. H. Vint of 61 Pleasant Avenue. Officers of the company included President John E. Heavner (8 December 18964-28 March 1912), Vice President Josiah Wilbert Heavner (21 July 1859 – 8 June 1922) and Secretary Nathan I. Hall (26 Dec 1867 – 13 April 1929). Board members included William Grant Wilson (20 December 1864 – 16 November 1926), Major John Henry Fout (9 September 1851 – 23 May 1917) and Ralph Darden (10 March 1867 – 1 Dec 1948). All six of these officers are buried in Maplewood Cemetery. Several interesting connections involving these six officers may provide some insight into how they did business. Five of them, all but Josiah W. Heavner, were also officers in the Davis Trust Company. Five are known to be among the earliest residents of Elkins with Fout arriving in 1889, Darden and Wilson arriving in 1890 and the Heavners, who were brothers, arriving in 1892. Five are known to have connections in Grant County. The Heavners operated a store at Seymoursville in Grant County prior to their arrival in Elkins. Fout and Darden married daughters of Edward O. Hawood and Margaret Ann Marks of Grant County and Wilson married their grand-daughter, Mabel Fout, a daughter of Major John Henry Fout and Katherine Harwood.
Ralph Darden appears to have had the most connections to the Elkins Milling Company since he was an officer during the 18 years it was in business and during those 18 years he operated a coal house adjacent to the mill on the north side. And in 1919 he bought the property and operated it as the Darden Company for 27 years.
Ralph Darden was born in Murfreesboro, North Carolina on 10 March 1867. Family members recall that prior to his arrival in Elkins in 1890 he had done business in the Thomas and Davis area of Tucker County for a short time. The Darden Company, which he moved to the Elkins Milling Company site in 1919, was first organized in 1894 to handle grain, flour, coal and building materials. The milling of flour, according to family members, was discontinued at the Elkins Milling Company mill after Darden bought the business in 1919. In an interview with Ralph Darden’s grandson, George Edward Darden, Junior, of 3 Bridgewater Lane, Newnan, Georgia 30263 (770-253-8694), it was revealed that the Darden Company enjoyed a near monopoly of the feed business in Randolph County for several years and provided all the feed for the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P) for the entire state of West Virginia. The business survived a major fire in August or September of 1938 which destroyed the fourth floor of the building and much of the equipment which was replaced. Mr. Darden added that the 1938 fire did not involve the first floor and that the charred timbers on that floor were from another fire about 1911 or 1912. During World War II competition from the Southern States Elkins Cooperative caused the Darden Company to go bankrupt in 1946. The property was sold at a bank sale on October 9th of 1943 to Samuel D. and Minnie Gerard of Coalton (Deed Book 176, Page 333).
The Gerards leased the property to Altman’s Cash Feed Store of Irwin, Pennsylvania for about 15 years. The manager locally during that time was Hartsel W. Likens of Montrose. During the mid-1960s the Girard’s son, Joseph A. Girard, operated the Elkins Farm Supply at the location until 8 March 1967 when the property was sold to Ray and Evelyn Hill. They operated the business Ray’s Distributors from that location for several years but there was little activity at that address for the decade preceding the sale on 24 April 1989 by members of the Hill Family to Micotec, Inc. Both before and after the 1989 sale a business known as “Stuff and Things” operated out of the building. It dealt with used furniture and was managed by Robert A. Geffken from about 1985 through 1991. In 1992 the Elkins City Directory lists a used furniture business known as “Finders Keepers” at the address. It was managed by Mike D. Shannon of Dailey. On 11 June 1992 the property was purchased by Mark L. Cross who transferred it to John C. Waltman by land contract on 6 April 1999. Waltman had a business at the location called “Jack the King”.
George E Darden, Junior added that several years ago someone found five bags in the building on which is written “Darco White Table Meal” in which Ralph Darden shipped some of his product. He said one of those bags has been framed and is on the wall at Beanders which is located in the Darden Building built by Ralph Darden during the summer of 1906.
In 1898 Ralph Darden married Ada May Harwood (18 May 1874 – 20 Aug 1940). They were the parents of three children: George Edward Darden (1899 – 1978), a daughter that died in infancy about 1902, and a son, Harry Broadus Darden (1904 – 1998). The family lived at 421 Davis Avenue.
W. H. Rice
8 May 2003