John Samsell

A look at area through eyes of 1937

Statistics are an interesting part of history. For instance, look at those provided about Morgantown 80 years ago by the Morgantown Chamber of Commerce (before the “area” was added to the chamber’s name.)
It said the city’s slogan was “Organize for Prosperity.” Its population was estimated at 18,600, up from 16,860 in 1930. It covered 2.3164 square miles, and had three city parks covering 90 acres and valued at $16,000.
The city’s bonded debt 80 years ago was $880,000. There was one bank and 10 savings and loan associations. Postal receipts for the calendar year 1936 were $97,749.64.
There were 4,800 telephones in service in the city. Representing 22 denominations, there were 39 churches.
Coal mining and glass manufacturing were the primary industries in the city and surrounding area. They included 13 establishments employing 1,200 workers earning $1,450,000 annually. Coal mining employed an estimated 5,000.
The retail trading area covered about 25 square miles and a population of an estimated 40,000 persons.
Newspapers included two dailies (one morning and one evening) and one weekly.
Railroads were the Baltimore & Ohio on the east side of the Monongahela River and the Pennsylvania Railroad on the west side. Main roads included U.S. l9 and 119, and W.Va. 7 and 73.
Morgantown Municipal Airport was to be completed in 1937.
The largest auditorium in the city was said to have seated 1,000. The three “moving picture theatres” included the Metropolitan, Morgan and Warner. They seated a total 4,000 persons. The lone golf course was the Morgantown Country Club, where the College of Law is now.
The two hospitals, City Hospital and Monongalia General, had 132 beds.
WVU had 2,500 students. In Morgan District there were 31 public schools with three “senior highs,” one junior high, one parochial school (St. Francis).
Public schools had 6,600 students and 417 teachers. (There was a Morgantown School District until 1933 when the state’s 55 county board system was created.) Three public libraries had 184,000 volumes. Total city street miles totaled 68, with 32 streets payed with 2 miles under construction. Sewers totaled 59 miles.
The fire department had 13 paid fire fighters, with one station (in City Hall at Spruce and Fayette) and “5 pieces of motor equipment” valued at $45,000.)
The Police Department, also in City Hall, had 9 members and 2 cars.
The report notes that Morgantown was incorporated in 1785 by the State of Virginia. It represented the merger of four municipalities in 1901. It had a high credit rating in 1937, its bonds rated on the market at 110. That year it had construction program of over $1 million under way. That included the airport, garbage incinerator, a city garage, streets, sewers, homes and office buildings.
WVU was described as “Morgantown’s university” and the “state’s university,” with an executive and teaching staff of about 450 and a student body close to 2,500.
It said with the budget and student expenditures close to $3,000,000 annually, the university “rivals coal production for first place as Morgantown’s chief industry,” 80 years ago. In 2018 times have changed drastically.
As for Morgantown’s position in education, the 1937 report on the city alone shows 3 high schools, 27 grade schools, and a business college, supplementing the University give “Morgantown unusually attractive educational facilities.”
As for transportation, the 1937 report labels Morgantown as “an important crossroad of highway traffic, with 8 hard-surfaced roads centering here and a strategic crossing of the Monongahela River fsor north and south or east and west.”
It says travel to “beautiful” Cheat Lake “ and “West Virginia Mecca for fishermen” and with Coopers Rock State Forest, add great scenic beauty.