Portrait from the Beckley Post Herald, April 17, 1954.
A multi-term mayor of Fayetteville, West Virginia, state Senate candidate and delegate to the 1940 Republican National Convention, Ludwell Ebersole Gaines Sr. was long a leading figure in the coal industry in West Virginia, holding the presidency and vice-presidency of several major coal concerns in the state. While biographical material concerning Gaines remains scant, his obituary from the April 17th, 1954 Beckley Post Herald proved invaluable when it came to completing this profile! The son of Ludwell Graham and Martha (Ebersole) Gaines, Ludwell E. Gaines was born in Fayetteville on March 9, 1894.
During his youth, Gaines was a student at the Lawrence, New Jersey Preparatory School and following his graduation in 1912 enrolled at Princeton University, where he would receive his bachelor of literature and bachelor of laws degrees in 1916 and 1917. He soon established a law practice in Fayetteville but practiced only briefly, as he enlisted in the Navy in 1917. Gaines' service saw him amongst the ranks of the Navy Flying Corps, where he achieved the rank of ensign and was honorably discharged in 1918. Gaines married on April 25, 1925, to Betty Chilton (born 1905), with whom he had five children, Martha Gaines Werhle (1925-2007), L. Ebersole Jr. (1927-2012), Ludwell Graham (1931-2018), George Chilton, and Stanley.
Following his return to Fayetteville Gaines recommenced with his law practice and made his first foray into the political life of his state in 1926 when he entered into the race for state senator from West Virginia's 9th senatorial district. Gaines' opponent that year was another oddly named man, Alois Bahlmann Abbott (1885-1951), a Fayetteville banker. In November 1926 Abbott bested Gaines at the polls, garnering 18, 311 votes to 16, 561. Despite his legislative loss, Gaines rebounded politically in 1929 when he was elected to the first of several terms as Mayor of Fayetteville, continuing in that office well into the 1930s. Further political honors were accorded to Gaines with his service as chairman of the Fayette County Republican Committee, and in 1940 was part of the West Virginia delegation to the Republican National Convention, serving as a member of the committee to Notify the Vice Presidential Nominee.
A distinguished figure in the West Virginia coal industry for a number of years, Gaines held the vice presidency of both the Amherst Coal Company and the Logan County Coal Corporation during the 1930s and from 1947-48 was president of the National Coal Association. In addition to the preceding posts, Gaines held directorships in the Buffalo Creek Coal and Coke Co., the Campbell's Creek Railroad Co., the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co., and added the title of bank director to his resume with his affiliation with the Fayette County National Bank and the Merchant and Miner's Bank of Oak Hill.
Prominent in several clubs both in West Virginia and elsewhere, Ebersole Gaines was a member of the White Oak Country Club, the Edgeworth Country Club, and remained connected to his alma mater, Princeton University, being a member of the Princeton University Cottage Club as well as serving on the university's graduate council. In May 1950 he testified in front of the U.S. Senate subcommittee on Labor and Public Welfare, where he extolled the benefits of the American coal industry, remarking:
"Fuel availability is the foundation and has made possible the development of the greatest industrial economy the world has ever seen in the United States the past 75 years. Until recent years almost the entire burden of supplying this fuel was carried by the coal industry. Not only has the fuel supply of coal furnished the energy for our industrial development, but in the period of 25 years it furnished the fuel that enabled us to fight and win two world wars, the loss of either of which would have spelled the end of our American freedom, if not the end of Christian civilization for the whole world."L. Ebersole Gaines Sr. continued prominence in the American coal and mining industry well into the twilight of his life, holding the presidency of the New River Mining Co. and the West Virginia Coal Association at the time of his appearance before the U.S. Senate. On April 16, 1954, Gaines suffered a fatal heart attack while speaking with New River Mining Co. vice president J.T. Hunt in the latter's office and "died before aid could be summoned." He was survived by his wife Betty and children and was subsequently interred at the Huse Memorial Park in Fayetteville.
L. Ebersole Gaines as he appeared late in life.
While Ludwell Ebersole Gaines attained prominence in the realms of both business and politics, attention must also be paid to his son Ludwell Ebersole "Eb" Gaines Jr. (1927-2012), who, like his father, was a graduate of Princeton as well as a distinguished business figure. In 1989 Eb Gaines was appointed as U.S. Consul General to Bermuda, where he served until 1992. The Gaines family can also count amongst their ranks Martha Gaines Werhle (daughter of the man profiled here), who served in the West Virginia House of Delegates as a representative from Kanawha County from 1974-1984. She would subsequently serve several years in the state senate, holding her seat from 1989 to 1995.