The Coulehans of Jockey Camp
While out randomly exploring the backroads of Doddridge County one day in 2015, I came upon an intriguing old abandoned house and stone cellar on Jockey Camp near Smithburg. Since then I’ve returned there at various times to photograph and document the rapid demise of this once beautiful home, built by Irish immigrant John Charles Coulehan. Before sharing that with you, I first want to give you a little history on the Coulehans.
Thomas Coulehan (1804-1879)
Sometime between 1848 and 1852, Irishman Thomas Coulehan, along with his wife Ellen and two sons, John Charles (b. 1843) and Michael (b. 1848), immigrated to the United States. I’m not sure exactly where in Ireland the Coulehans came from, although one census record indicated son John’s birthplace as the Irish Free State.
Born about 1804, Thomas Coulehan and family would have experienced the devastation caused by the Irish Potato Famine which began in 1845. The timing of their emigration from Ireland indicates that the poverty and starvation caused by the famine drove the Coulehans from their native country.
Upon arriving in America, the Coulehans initially settled in Vermont. Another son, Thomas, was born there in 1852, and daughter Fannie Anna came along two years later. The 1860 Census found the Coulehans living in Montpelier, Vermont. But by 1870 they were residents of Doddridge County.
William Coulehan (1805-1883)
Thomas Coulehan had a brother, William Coulehan, born in Ireland around 1805. William did not appear with his brother in the 1860 Census in Vermont, but according to Doddridge County Deed Book 4, page 414, William purchased 103 acres on Jockey Camp in 1863. I’m not sure who came to Doddridge County first or whether the brothers came together, but it’s clear that it was in the early 1860s, during the Civil War, that the Coulehans left Vermont and settled on Jockey Camp. How they happened to pick Doddridge County as their ultimate home is not known to me.
Thomas Coulehan died in 1879 and brother William died in 1883. Both are buried at the Catholic Cemetery on Blockhouse Hill. The remainder of this story will now focus on the family of John Charles and Mary Jane O’Donnell Coulehan.
John Charles Coulehan (1843-1911)
After examining several deeds it appears that the children of Thomas Coulehan (John C., Michael, Thomas and Fannie Anna) remained at Jockey Camp until about 1890, when son Thomas Jr. moved to West Union and son Michael moved to Grafton.
John C. Coulehan married Ohio native Mary Jane O’Donnell in 1872. Between 1875 and 1895 they had at least 10 children, all born in Doddridge County. Two children died in infancy and are most likely buried somewhere in the Catholic Cemetery.
I found no remarkable court cases at the courthouse concerning John C. Coulehan. Since there are no copies of local newspapers of that period in existence, I did an online search of newspapers at the Library of Congress and found the following article which appeared in the April 11, 1887 issue of The Daily Register (Wheeling, WV):
"While out chopping in his clearing last Monday, Mr. John Coulehan, who resides three miles from West Union, on Jockey Camp run, was struck by a falling limb of a tree, which came near killing him instantly. As we understand it, Mr. Coulelan was chopping down a tree and the limb of another tree having lodged on it, and while chopping, the limb fell, striking him on the head and face and inflicting a dangerous, if not fatal, wound."
At the time of this near-fatal accident, John C. Coulehan held no clear title to any land on Jockey Camp. He lived somewhere on either the 200+ acres owned then by his sister Fannie Anna or on his brother Michael’s 100 acres that abutted the 200-acre tract.
Son William Killed on Railroad
At least two of John C. and Mary Jane Coulehan’s sons worked in the railroad industry. Son William was a brakeman for the Cleveland Terminal & Valley Railroad Company in Ohio. The following article, which appeared in the September 25, 1897 issue of The Akron Beacon Journal (Ohio), describes a devastating accident in which William was fatally injured.
"Mr. William H. Coulehan is lying in the city hospital with his arm amputated just below the elbow. His condition is the result of an accident. Mr. Coulehan is a resident of West Union, W.Va., and has until Saturday morning been engaged as a freight brakeman on the Valley railroad. Saturday morning as his train was starting out he was thrown, by the jerk of the start, from the top of a car to the ground. Stunned by the fall he lay as he struck with one arm under the wheels and it was so badly crushed as to make amputation necessary. ...He is a bright young man 22 years old."
William H. Coulehan died two weeks later as a result of this accident. As a railway employee, William was a member of the Relief Department, which furnished members with financial relief in case of an accident or sickness. Upon William’s death, his parents were awarded $1,000 in death benefits. William’s body was brought back to Doddridge County by rail car and buried in the family plot at the Catholic Cemetery on Blockhouse Hill.
In 1904 John C. Coulehan’s wife, Mary Jane O’Donnell Coulehan, died and was buried next to the grave of her son William in the Catholic Cemetery.
Son John Jr. Also Killed
Just as son William had died in a railroad accident, another son was destined to share the same fate. The following article, which appeared in the April 12,1906 issue of the West Union Herald, describes the accident that killed John Coulehan Jr.
“Our citizens were shocked Monday to learn that John Coulehan, Jr., son of John Coulehan of Jockey Camp, had been killed by a train at Central Station.
“Mr. Coulehan was employed as a brakeman by the B&O and had been working very hard this month. He remarked to a friend a short time before his death that he'd already made twelve days this month, and notwithstanding that, he was killed on the evening of 8th. But his ambition for success was in all probability the means of his undoing.
“It is supposed that young Coulehan had sat down on the end of a tie to rest while waiting on his train, and being well worn out by overwork he soon fell asleep. While thus wrapped in unconsciousness another train following his struck him. His head was crushed and death was instant. ...His remains were brought here and were prepared for burial by Undertaker Pease.
“He was a faithful and consistent member of the Catholic Church and was an excellent young man. Johnny had many friends who will be grieved to learn of his untimely end. His father is one of our best citizens. This is the second time that they have been obliged to mourn the departure of a son who has been called hence in this manner. They have the sympathy of the entire community.”
Like his brother before hime, John Jr.’s body was brought home by rail and interred in the growing Coulehan plot at the Catholic Cemetery at Blockhouse Hill.
John C. Coulehan Builds House
In 1906 the Eastern Oil Company drilled a test well on the Coulehan farm, where large amounts of gas and oil were found. According to the early 1900 farm line maps, there were at least five wells on the Coulehans’ combined 300+ acres on Jockey Camp. Perhaps it was revenue from those wells that allowed the 67-year-old John C. Coulehan in 1910 to finally purchase from his brother Michael the 100-acre tract on Jockey Camp. Michael had moved to Grafton some twenty years before, but still held title to the property. I’m not absolutely certain, but I believe that John had already built a house on the property before the 1910 purchase. This house is the one that I’ve admired and watched deteriorate over the last six years.
John C. Coulehan died in 1911, just one year after purchasing the property. He is buried at the Catholic Cemetery next to his many relatives.
House Has Unique Cellar
The once-beautiful two-story Coulehan house is what first caught my eye and prompted me to investigate the Coulehan family. But it was the stacked cut limestone behind the house that fascinated me the most. The stone structure appears to be a two-story cellar house for canning and storage, but not like any that I’ve seen anywhere else. It almost looks like a small fort. I knew immediately when I saw those stones that it was the work of an Irishman. The interesting thing about the cellar is that a portion of it appears to be much older than the cut stone the Coulehans used to reface the structure.The cellar is built into the hill, with the back wall consisting mostly of the natural rock of the hill. The sides and some crevices are stacked with small rock pieces. Then there's the grand face made of large cut limestone.
Descendant Provides Insight
I didn’t know anything about the Coulehans when I first saw the house and cellar, but I was fortunate enough to find what information I’ve shared with you here. Through court records, I learned that the property is no longer in family hands, that it was sold by the heirs of John C. Coulehan in 2005 to the current owner, an unrelated resident of Harrison County.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with one of John C. Coulehan’s direct descendants. Pamela Stinespring Reay, who grew up in Akron, Ohio and now lives in Arizona, is John’s great-granddaughter. Pamela’s mother was Dorothy Coulehan (married William E. Stinespring), whose father was James Joseph Coulehan (married Mabel Sousae), whose father was John C. Coulehan. She told me a couple of interesting tidbits about the Coulehans that only a family member would know.
According to Pamela, there is a small quarry on the same property as the home, and the cellar house was built using stone from that quarry. This makes sense in light of the fact that her grandfather James’ occupation in the 1940 Census of West Union was stone quarry worker. Pamela also said that her great-grandfather John C. Coulehan had a rule that the women in the family were not permitted to marry until they had the means to support themselves without a husband.
Other than the family plot in the Catholic Cemetery at Blockhouse Hill, the house and cellar on Jockey Camp are the only remaining physical reminders of the Coulehan family in Doddridge County. Similarly, the bridges and tunnels on the North Bend Rail Trail are among the very few remnants of the many other Irish families that settled here in the mid-1800s. I felt it important to share this story with you before the once grand house on Jockey Camp completely falls victim to the elements and becomes nothing more than a faint memory.
I have several photographs of the house and cellar that I’ve taken over the past six years. If you’d like to view these photos, I will be posting them on the Doddridge County Heritage Guild’s Facebook page. I hope they give you an appreciation for the Irish craftsmanship on display and serve as a reminder of the role that the Irish played in that chapter of the Real History of Doddridge County.