Czar, West Virginia
It’s said that Czar is easier to locate than it is to research. What would a road trip be like if you didn’t get lost from time to time? Finding Czar was quite the feat because you don’t even have to blink to miss it, and if Hemlock was hard to find, information on Czar is even harder. But the fact of the matter is there is a little town called Czar hidden in the hills of Randolph County and no one seems to know much about it, making it all the more interesting.
The one thing that could be confirmed was that Czar was named by the town’s first postmaster, A.D. Lewis, in 1889. According to Hamill Kenny’s book, “West Virginia Place Names Their Origins and Meaning,” the name Czar may have come from a Preston County post office, Zar. Merriam Webster Dictionary defines “czar” as a new Latin word stemming from the Russian word “tsar”, meaning emperor; or one having power or authority, specifically the ruler of Russia until 1917.
So the question is: Why would a postmaster named A.D. Lewis name a town Czar? According to Bernice Morgan, a longtime resident and Czar native, the town’s name is actually a misprint that was never corrected. No one can remember what it was supposed to be, and being Czar’s second oldest resident, it is likely there is no one left to correct the more than 100-year typo. According to Morgan, Czar at one time had a post office as well as a schoolhouse and general store. The railroad had traveled through the little community and businesses have opened and closed in the flux of industries over time. The general store was a good place to buy hardware and groceries and was a by product of timbering in the area. “This was mostly a timbering town,” Morgan said. “There were no mines here, but there were mines in the area. Many of the men worked as timber cutters or on contract for other things.” According to Morgan, many Czar men would do temporary mining work or would mine their own coal mines for coal to heat their homes and community buildings such as the local school.
Besides timbering, farming was a major occupation in Czar. Morgan’s father was a farmer as were many other men in the community. But by the time Morgan graduated from Pickens High School in 1937 and married her late husband, James P. Morgan, jobs were not lucrative. The couple moved out of the Czar area to Michigan where James found work to support his wife, Bernice, and their nine children. “I knew about Michigan and it is different moving to a place like that when you have a bunch of children most of which are in school. My husband had to go there for work. There wasn’t much around here to give you any sort of Social Security.” As far as adjusting to the big city life, Morgan said keeping busy was key.
Morgan and her family moved back to Czar just in time for her youngest son to attend Pickens School and she said she has no plans on leaving the area anytime soon. “Each community has its own things,” she said. “Around here there are so many communities that are so close it’s like one big community with different individuals in it.” According to Morgan, Czar along with the neighboring communities of Helvetia and Hemlock, to name a few, have always gotten together to hold social events. Together, the communities held socials, volleyball and baseball games as well as 4-H events and parties. But that is not all that united these small area towns.
“We are all so close,” she said. “People out of every family have married people from other communities.” As a child in Czar, Morgan said there was not much time to get bored. “In my day we made our own entertainment,” she said. “When we came in for lunch or something we might play marbles out in the yard. We would do whatever we could do.” Being the daughter of a farmer meant chores and chores meant no time for dilly-dallying.
The small town of Czar in Randolph County once featured a thriving timber industry. Today, there are many people who live in Czar, but nothing remains of the general store or other facilities that once prospered.
Article Credit, 2015: Leah Dietz, Staff Writer for The Intermountain