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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”

Thomas in Tucker County, West Virginia — The American South (Appalachia)
 

A Lesson in Resourcefulness

Thomas, West Virginia

 
 
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By Devry Becker Jones, July 17, 2020
1. A Lesson in Resourcefulness Marker
Inscription.  
The People of Thomas
The history books of Thomas are full of fascinating stories of the people who built these buildings and lived their lives here. Hundreds of people from around the world came to Thomas to seek their fortunes, succeeding through hard work and determination. Today's residents of Thomas have fond memories of colorful citizens, kind shopkeepers always ready to slip a piece of candy to a child, beloved teachers and a multitude of other Thomasonians of the past. Here are just a few of those many stories.

Salvatore and Venanzio DiBacco
Brothers Salvatore and Venanzio DiBacco were born in Italy, the sons of sheepherder Carmen DiBacco and his wife.

Salvatore's autobiography, handwritten in 1960, recounts a difficult early life in 1960, recounts a difficult early life in Italy, but even in spite of hard times of hunger and poverty, the family took care of each other. Venanzio, finding his own options limited by illiteracy, insisted that his younger Salvatore be sent to school.

Their sister Gaitana was married to Rocco Benedetto; in 1897 Rocco sent for Venanzio to come
A Lesson in Resourcefulness Marker image. Click for full size.
By Devry Becker Jones, July 17, 2020
2. A Lesson in Resourcefulness Marker
to Thomas, and Salvatore followed shortly after in 1898. The brothers worked so long, hard hours at the coke ovens, and all the while planning a more prosperous future. They went into business with Benedetto in 1901 but eventually fell into disagreement and parted ways with him, moving to a new location in 1915 (No. 3). Salvatore operated a grocery on the right side of the building and Venanzio ran a hardware store on the left side. Both families lived in the apartments above their stores.

Salvatore's autobiography is full of colorful accounts of financial difficulties, extortion schemes, lawsuits, bouts with illness and even death threats, yet it also describes the happy occasions of births and marriages, the growth of business and prosperity, the establishment of a "Society for Mutual Help" to assist neighbors in difficult times and the achievement of Salvador's fondest wish — to give all his children the opportunity of an education.

Mary Geisberger & Phoebe Thayer
In his 1906 history of Thomas, T. Nutter gave high praise to Mary Geisberger (Tour No. 7) and Phoebe Thayer (Tour Nos. 28 and 37), who achieved considerable success before women even gained the right to vote. Nutter wrote the following biographical sketches of the two women:

"A more business-like woman is not to be met than the subject of this sketch,
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Mrs. Mary (Iberg) Geisberger, who was born in Switzerland, Nov. 20, 1856. She was united in marriage with Mr. Robert Geisberger at the age of twenty-one.
"In 1879, she, with her husband, emigrated from Switzerland to Alpena, then a new settlement in Randolph County, West Virginia, where for a long time Mr. Geisberger engaged in farming. From Alpena they moved to Lonaconing, Maryland, where they engaged in the boarding house business, and followed a like business for the West Virginia Central and Pittsburg Railway Company along its line of construction. That road was completed to Thomas in August of 1884, when the Geisbergers opened a hotel here.
"…Mrs. Geisberger owns considerable property and is, perhaps, the heaviest individual tax payer in Thomas. She retired from active business in 1900, and now lives in private apartments at the Hotel Metropolitan, which building she owns."

"No woman in Thomas deserves more credit than does Mrs. P.E. (Hoover) Thayer, who was born in Pendleton county, West Virginia, in 1862. She married at the age of nineteen to Mr. Richard H. Thayer of Oakland, Maryland. After a short residence in Oakland, they moved to Winona, Logan county, Kansas, where they conducted a hotel. In June, 1887, they came to Thomas, where Mr. Thayer now mines coal for the Davis Coal and Coke Company. Wholly through Mrs. Thayer's labors, economy and business
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ability, she has accumulated considerable property. In the great fire of 1901 she lost four buildings. Not to be daunted by this loss, she only built greater, and now not only owns good property in Thomas, but property of much value in Winona, Kansas.

Jim Cooper
Jim Cooper, Jr. was a fixture on East Avenue for almost 70 years. He lived at 114 East Avenue (No. 14) and owned a men's clothing store at the Cooper Building (No. 9). His father Jim Cooper, Sr. got into the clothing business in nearby davis when a local man who was being drafted talked Jim Sr. into "temporarily" buying his clothing store. Although they later discovered the man had actually been trying to sell the business for 6 months, the Coopers had a number of good years before the economy in Davis took a downturn around 1919. A number of factors forced the Coopers to close the store in Davis, but Jim, Jr., who had assisted his father from an early age, believed there was a market for finer "weekend" clothing for the miners in nearby Thomas. He rented a shop in the Opera House building (No. 1) and began selling suits. He later moved the business to the Cooper Building, and eventually bought that property around 1948.

Jim became known for his excellent fitting and measuring abilities, and sold fine brands and the latest fashionable styles. He was also known for his punctuality; neighbors could set their clocks by Jim's morning, lunch break and evening walks between his home and shop. His shop remained open until his death in 1993, a reminder of the days when going out on the town called for a tailored suit, shined shoes and a fine hat.
 
Erected by The City of Thomas, West Virginia.
 
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Arts, Letters, MusicIndustry & CommerceSettlements & SettlersWomen. In addition, it is included in the West Virginia, The City of Thomas series list.
 
Location. 39° 9.007′ N, 79° 29.887′ W. Marker is in Thomas, West Virginia, in Tucker County. Marker is on Appalachian Highway, in the median. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 232 Appalachian Highway, Thomas WV 26292, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. The Melting Pot of Thomas (within shouting distance of this marker); Connecting Thomas to the World (within shouting distance of this marker); Dwellings and Design (within shouting distance of this marker); Out On The Town (within shouting distance of this marker); Thomas, West Virginia Mine Disaster Memorial (within shouting distance of this marker); A "Howling Wilderness" (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); The Story of a River / Life in a Coal Mining Town (about 500 feet away); Exploring the Coketon Industrial Site / West Virginia Coal (about 500 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Thomas.
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on July 18, 2020. It was originally submitted on July 18, 2020, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia. This page has been viewed 23 times since then and 3 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on July 18, 2020, by Devry Becker Jones of Washington, District of Columbia.
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Mar. 3, 2021