The Buffalo Welcome Center serves as the meeting place for the Friends of Buffalo WV History.
The Friends of Buffalo WV History club met at the Buffalo Welcome Center to celebrate both the town’s 186th birthday and the twelfth anniversary of the club on Sunday, April 2. To commemorate the town’s history, club president Mark Harris presented a history titled “The Beginning History of Buffalo WV.”
The Beginning History of Buffalo, WV
By Mark Harris
The oldest town between Charleston and Point Pleasant is the town of Buffalo. Having its first Native American settlers about 4,000 B.C., George Washington’s survey party in 1770, and the first white settlers in the early 1800’s, the town has quite a historic beginning.
The river brought the first people to our region. The location of shoals on the Kanawha River, as well as plenty of flatland between the river and the hills, made the area a perfect settlement for Native Americans. In excavations from the area, it was determined that two overlapping villages were located near the town. One dated back to 4,000 B.C., and the second was dated around 1,650 A.D. It is believed that the inhabitants of the second village were of the Moneton tribe, a sect of the Shawnee Indians. These residents were farmers who were believed to travel south during certain times of the year. They built a massive fort surrounding their village to defend against attacks from other Native American tribes.
In the fall of 1770, George Washington and his survey party made their way into the area. King George III of England had given these lands to Washington as payment for military service. Washington himself never made it to the present site of Buffalo, having only traveled as far as the present town of Arbuckle, where he had set up camp. The land known as Buffalo eventually became the property of Dr. James Craik.
In 1808, William Clark secured tracts of land in the Buffalo area, and in 1809, he established a permanent settlement in the area. In 1826, his daughter, Mary A. Clark, married Benjamin A. Craig from Augusta County, Virginia, and her father presented her with a 100 acre “Buffalo Farm” as a wedding gift. This led to the birth of what we now know as the town of Buffalo.
Benjamin K. Craig and his new wife Mary became the first inhabitants of the area. In 1833, Benjamin secured the services of his brother James, a surveyor, and laid out the town. Four years later, the town was officially incorporated by the Virginia Legislature on April 2, 1837. Benjamin K. Craig was elected the first mayor of the town he founded just a few years earlier.
The town quickly began to be a major hub on the Kanawha River due to its location between Point Pleasant and Charleston. Known as a riverboat town, it quickly became a stop for travelers and visitors. Two packet boats made daily stops from Gallipolis and Charleston. Weekly boats would run from Cincinnati and Pittsburg. The first boat built in Buffalo was the Osceola, a small packet boat built in 1843.
Columbus Bronough and Benjamin Craig opened the first general store. You could find anything you needed and you could sell or trade at the location. If you needed nails, horse shoes, or any other metal items you could visit Ervin McCoy, the first blacksmith in town. Farmers would take grain out 18 Mile Creek to the Oldaker Mill built in 1836. However, by the 1840’s, two French migrants named Pitrat had made it to the town and built a three story mill along the Kanawha River.
If you were visiting the town and needed a place to stay, Katherine Deem had the first hotel in town. If you were not feeling well, Dr. Henry B. Harvey was the first practicing physician, soon followed by Dr. Owen Sebrill. William Murray built the first house in town, and the first postmaster was Sam McCoy.
Most farmers “home schooled” their own children. However, Buffalo also had a village school that was located at Dryden Springs, the farm of Mary and Benjamin Craig, in 1835. The school was later moved to the first church building in town, which was the Methodist church founded in 1833. The first town cemetery was located beside this first church building, which was located in the low land behind the present United Methodist Church building.
There is some controversy on how the town received the name Buffalo. One legend has that it was named for large herds of bison that roamed the area. However, out of the 80,000 bone and bone fragments collected during the excavation of the Native American village during the 1960’s, no buffalo bone was found. Another legend claims that George Washington shot a buffalo here. Although in his journal he does claim to have killed a buffalo in his travels up the Kanawha River, Washington never made it to the current site of Buffalo. The most likely explanation for the naming of the town is that the post office, which sat at Little Buffalo Creek, near Midway, was moved here soon after the establishment of the town.
Today we celebrate the town of Buffalo’s 186th birthday. Our town is the most historic place in Putnam County. It is also the 12th anniversary of the founding of our group, the Friends of Buffalo WV History.