WV Press InSight Videos

Football and travel: Important aspect of southern W.Va. history

Photo contributed to Bluefield Daily Telegraph Johnny Poole discovered the above photograph tucked away in a McDowell County residence that he was working on.
Photo contributed to Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Johnny Poole discovered the above photograph tucked away in a McDowell County residence that he was working on.

NORTHFORK, W.Va. — As excitement builds for the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s football championship game tonight at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, football fans will be in fine form to root for their favorite team — either the Oregon State University Ducks or the Ohio State University Buckeyes.

In the coalfields, football on every level has always been a mainstay from the Friday night games that continue to dot the landscape, to collegiate games in the modern era. This year’s push by the Concord University Mountain Lions to the NCAA II semifinal round brought pride to CU’s legions of fans, just as Bluefield State’s national championship rankings among black colleges in the U.S. in 1927 and ‘28, did in its time.

Back in 1926, a McDowell County coal company used the popularity of the (then) 1926 McDowell County champion football team to promote the victory of the vehicle it sponsored in a Great Lakes to Florida race from Cleveland, Ohio to Jacksonville, Fla. The year 1926 was a pivotal in the development of a national highway system in the U.S. U.S. Route 21 — the road that has its northern terminus in Cleveland, Ohio, and passes through Bluefield on the way to was among the first of the numbered routes in the U.S. to connect U.S. cities, according to Dr. Robert A. Musson in his book, “Readin’, Writin’ and Route 21.

“Prior to that time, there had been a vague network of auto trails, which were named roads (such as the Lincoln Highway) that covered long stretches, usually across several states or in some cases, across the entire country,” Musson wrote. “In addition, there were numerous local roads, some of which had numbers assigned to them, and most of these were either improved versions of old stage coach lines going back a century or more, or were roads built parallel to existing railroads, rivers or canals where a right-of-way was already established.”

Musson wrote that U.S. Route 21, was also known as the “Great Lakes to Florida Highway,” but the final version of the road had its southernmost point in South Carolina, 180 miles north of the proposed Jacksonville, Fla. destination. By any standard, the trip that the Peerless 6-80 made in 1926 from Cleveland to Jacksonville in 30 hours and 38 minutes was an incredible on a newly-named highway that was far from completion at the time.

Now back to the gridiron…

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