Governor Aretas B. Fleming.
"As a legislator, judge and Governor he has served the state and his native country with fidelity and reflected credit upon himself and the people he served. Public spirited as a citizen, he carried his enthusiasm for righteousness and efficiency into the offices he has held. He has attracted the attention, especially while governor, of the whole country to the then almost underdeveloped mineral and timber resources of West Virginia, by public addresses and published articles in trade and other papers."
While the above description briefly touches on his career in the public forum, it can rightly be said that there were few men more prominent in late 19th century West Virginia than Aretas Brooks Fleming, a two-term member of the state house of delegates and circuit court judge who in 1890 was inaugurated as the Governor of his state. Undoubtedly one of the oddest named men ever to serve as the Governor of West Virginia, Fleming is referred to by me as an "old guard" strange name political figure, as I located his name way back in 2001 via a copy of the Who Was Who In America 1896-1942 edition, which contained biographies of a good majority of American governors elected up to that time.
Like many of the men profiled here in the past, Fleming decided to pursue a career in law early in his life, and in the late 1850s enrolled at the University of Virginia. After completing his studies in 1859 he taught school briefly and in 1860, after receiving his law degree, settled in Gilmer County.
Fleming's stay in Gilmer County proved to be brief, and during his residency there operated a private school "while waiting for clients." This school was later headed by Aretas' brother Robert, and at the outbreak of the Civil War Fleming closed his practice and removed to Fairmont, where he resided until his death sixty years later. After settling in Fairmont Fleming recommenced with his law practice and in 1863 was elected to his first political office, that of prosecuting attorney of Marion County, West Virginia, which had been admitted as a state in June of that year. He was re-elected to that post in 1865 for another two-year term and in September 1865 married Caroline Margaret "Carrie" Watson (1844-1931), to who he was wed for nearly sixty years. The couple's union saw the births of five children, Gypsy W. (1868-1954), Ida (1872-1906), twins George (1874-1935) and Virginia (born 1874), and Aretas Brooks Jr. (1882-1945)
Fleming as he appeared in the Prominent Men of West Virginia, 1890.
During his second term as prosecuting attorney Fleming entered into a law practice with Alpheus Forest Haymond (1823-1893), a former member of the Virginia house of delegates, as well as a Confederate veteran. Their law practice extended until 1872 when Haymond was elected to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, and in that same year, Fleming advanced to higher office himself, winning election to the West Virginia House of Delegates. He would be reelected in 1874 and during his two terms was a member of the house committees on the judiciary and finance and taxation (serving as chairman of the latter.)
Further political honors came Fleming's way in February 1878, when, following the death of sitting judge Charles Lewis, he was appointed as judge of the West Virginia's 2nd judicial circuit court. He would be elected to a term of his own on that court in November 1878 and would continue to be reelected, serving until 1888. In August of that year, Fleming's name was brought forward at the state Democratic convention as a candidate for Governor, and following a unanimous motion from the delegates in attendance on August 17th, officially became the nominee. Fleming's opponent that year was Republican Nathan Goff (1843-1920), former U.S. Secretary of the Navy under Rutherford Hayes, as well as a U.S. Representative.
Through the fall of 1888, Fleming's character and previous government experience were boomed in Democratic-leaning papers of the state, with the Point Pleasant Weekly Register referring to the candidate as a man of "probity, temperance, and manliness," and further related that:
"As a gentleman we believe he will elevate the office; that he will not simply use it as a stepping stone to gratify his own personal ambition; that he will not be a mere political schemer; that he will not represent a clique or faction, but that he will have the courage to be governor of the whole state; that he will have that concientious regard for the common weal, and that broad and enterprising spirit toward our public interests that will encourage and assist in the development of our resources and the general development of our state. In a word, Judge Fleming will make a governor of whom we shall not be ashamed, and who will command the respect and confidence of the whole people."
Portrait from the Men of West Virginia, 1903.
The West Virginia gubernatorial election of 1888 proved to be an electoral quagmire when the votes were tallied in November, with Republican Nathan Goff's vote total being a small margin (just 106 votes) ahead of Fleming. The Democrats of West Virginia could not be swayed, however, and after contesting the election results issued a call for an investigation. With then-incumbent Governor Emanuel Wilson declining to step down from office until a clear winner had been decided upon, this investigation would be headed up by a joint committee of members of both houses of the West Virginia legislature. This fact-finding investigation lasted more than a year and in January 1890 the legislature (then heavily democratic), voted along party lines to declare Fleming the duly elected Governor by 237 votes. Despite the brouhaha surrounding votes and rightful claim to the governorship, "no personal animosity" developed between Fleming and Goff, with both referred to as "personal friends long before the contest and have been ever since."
Aretas Fleming officially took the governor's chair on February 6, 1890, and served until 1893. With Republican legislators still bitter over losing the governorship, Fleming's legislative successes proved to be minimal, excepting the successful adoption of the "Australian ballot", which limited the possibility of election fraud. While hampered legislatively, Fleming's administration did much good to encourage future investment in the natural resources of the state, including mineral and timber, mining operations, petroleum fields, and railroad construction.
After leaving office in 1893 Fleming returned to the practice of law and was affiliated with various coal mining interests in the state, and in 1901 became a director and attorney for the Fairmont Coal Co., which had been organized that year. This company would later develop into the Consolidation Coal Company, with Fleming continuing to serve on its board of directors, and he would also hold the post of general counsel for that company's properties in West Virginia. Other business accolades that came Fleming's way following his governorship include service as a director for both the Cumberland and Pennsylvania and Monongahela railroads, being a stockholder and director for the Watson Company in Fairmont, and also held a directorship in the National Bank of Fairmont.
Aretas Brooks Fleming died in Fairmont on October 13, 1923, two days short of his 84th birthday. He was survived by his wife Carrie, who, following her death in 1931 at age 87, was interred alongside him at the Woodlawn Cemetery in Fairmont.
From "West Virginia and Its People", 1913.
From the Iowa Public Health Bulletin, 1914.
A resident of both Iowa and Kansas during his life, Aretas Ellsworth Kepford gained wide distinction as a lecturer on tuberculosis and the methods to curb its spread. A Methodist Episcopal minister for over three decades, Kepford earns a spot here on the site due to his candidacy for Governor of Kansas on the Independent Prohibition ticket in 1896. Born near Independence, Iowa on June 18, 1867, Aretas Ellsworth Kepford was the son of the Rev. Joseph (1834-1921) and Anna Mary (Snavely) Kepford (1843-1931). Little is known of Kepford's formative years. As the son of a Methodist Episcopal minister, Kepford elected to follow his father into the ministry and was admitted to preach at an unknown date. The early 1890s saw him residing in Findlay, Ohio, and in 1892 removed to Kansas where he accepted a pastorate at the Church of God in East Fort Scott. His residency there saw him take part in the 1893 Bourbon County Sunday School Association convention and was a member of its committee on resolutions. Following his resettlement Kepford gained press as an "eloquent young minister and platform speaker", eventually resigning his post in Fort Scott to focus on lecturing. By 1896 Kepford's name had grown so prominent in Kansas he was put forward as a candidate for Governor on the Independent Prohibition ticket in late 1896. In October Kepford accepted the nomination, succeeding the Rev. J.E. Brant, who had withdrawn his name from consideration. As a staunch temperance advocate, Kepford's platform highlighted the failures Governor Edmund Morrill's administration and its "policy of nullification of the prohibitory law", and further noted:
"No honest man can shut his eyes to the fact that the administration has pursued a policy of nullification to the prohibitory law. The truth of this statement is apparent when we remember the joints and saloons are now running in the many cities and towns of the state, and new ones are being added day by day. I know that it is urged by the jointists and saloon keepers are running in support of the opposition. But the absurdity of this assertion is shown by the fact that the joints and saloons are running, contrary to the oaths of executive authority and a constitutional law. That the present administration maintains by a nullification policy these joints and saloons in the interests of its opponents is to ridiculous to need contradiction. Should we longer submit to such pretentions?
From the Fort Scott Daily Tribune and Daily Monitor, Oct. 15, 1896.
After accepting the gubernatorial nomination Kepford took to the stump, and in the fall of 1896 made "a canvass of the state as far as the limited time before election will permit." On election day Kepford and the prohibitionists went down to defeat, polling dead last in a field of five candidates. He polled just 703 votes to Populist candidate John W. Leedy's winning total of 167,941 but saw incumbent Governor Edmund Morrill lose in his bid for reelection. In the year following his defeat, Aretas Kepford undertook a six-week tour of Europe, including a stop in Rome. Following his return stateside he would lecture on his travels, and in 1898 married Effie Elaine Emmert (1878-1954). The couple's thirty-two-year marriage produced two children, Vernon Francis (1899-1963) and Lucille (born 1904). Kepford and his wife resettled in Carroll County, Iowa following their marriage, where Kepford held the pastorate of the Church of God in Glidden. His ministry there extended several years, and in 1900 attended the Ministerial Association of the Churches of God Conference in Newburg, Iowa.
From the Ceder Rapids Times, 1930.
Beginning in the 1900s Aretas Kepford began a career on the lecture circuit warning of the dangers of tuberculosis, work that would gain him statewide prominence. Through the early part of the 20th century, Kepford packed churches and lecture halls educating the citizenry of the dangers of the spread of the "white plague." As a representative of the Iowa Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis, Kepford worked under former Governor William Larrabee, and in 1908 headed the move to develop an "out-camp" in Dubuque. This outdoor "tented city" was formulated by Kepford and a committee of physicians to treat tuberculosis patients outdoors in a "tented colony", an idea that was received with enthusiasm. Kepford's work in the field of tuberculosis prevention eventually led to his appointment to the Iowa State Board of Control, being designated as the state lecturer on tuberculosis. He would serve fifteen years in that post, and his time in office saw improvements in disease prevention and sanitation, including the construction of public drinking fountains. Kepford also advocated for an early form of tuberculosis inoculation in children, using the living germs of the disease. This treatment, then in its infancy, had been pioneered in Colorado and though not perfect, had "precisely the same effect that vaccination has in preventing smallpox." In 1913 Kepford briefly returned to ministerial work before resuming his duties as state lecturer. In October 1920 he was appointed as director of the State Juvenile Home in Toledo, Iowa, a recently established institution developed to house "dependent, neglected, and delinquent children." He served eight years as its director before returning to the ministry in 1929, being named as pastor of the English Methodist Church in Gladbrook, Iowa. He reemerged on the political stage in early 1930 when he entered into the race for state representative from Tama County. He was defeated in the June Republican primary by incumbent W. Walter Wilson, who, in turn, would be defeated in the general election that November. On August 16, 1930, Aretas Ellsworth Kepford died unexpectedly at his Gladbrook, Iowa home, succumbing to a heart attack following an attack of acute indigestion. He was survived by his wife and children and was interred at the Wilson Cemetery in Independence, Iowa.
From the Traer Star Clipper, August 22, 1930.
From the Uniontown Evening Standard, Sept. 16, 1935.
A leading citizen in Fayette County, Pennsylvania for the better part of six decades, Arretus Linton Sharpnack earns placement here on the site due to his 1926 candidacy for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. A lifelong resident of Fayette County, Sharpnack was born in the neighboring town of Cumberland on April 9, 1877, the son of Levi Antrim and Elizabeth Jane (Armstrong) Sharpnack. Sharpnack's early education was obtained in schools local to Fayette County, as well as the California Normal school. During this time he is noted as having worked the family farm and also worked in a coal mine. He began a teaching career in Cumberland township early in his life, which was followed by his service as principal of the German township schools. He married on August 15, 1900, to Bertha Arnold, to who he was wed until she died in 1915. The couple had three children, Donald Leroy (1901-1950), John Glenn (1903-1925), and Elizabeth (1904-1943). A year after his wife's death Sharpnack remarried to Norma (Long) Zimmerman who predeceased him in 1927. In 1933 he wed Elizabeth Frank, who survived him upon his death in 1960. Sharpnack entered the public life of his state in 1926 when he announced his candidacy for the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. In November he was defeated by Republican candidate Frank L. Bowers, who polled 4,546 votes to his own 1,559. Following his loss, Sharpnack was elected as a member of the German Township Road Board, where he served for twenty-five years. Around 1919 he began service as secretary of the Fayette County Supervisors, Auditors, and Good Roads Association, serving until his death in 1960. He also held the secretaryship of the Fayette County Tax Collectors, Auditors, and Assessors Association, his full dates of service being unknown at this time. Active in the civic life of his county, Sharpnack held memberships in the Fayette County Muscular Dystrophy Association, the Golden Age Club of Uniontown, the Uniontown Motor Club, the McClellandtown Chapter of the Daughters of the Revolution, and chaired the Boy Scout Directors of McClellandtown. A longstanding member of the McClellandtown Volunteer Fire Department, Sharpnack heavily invested his time in fire-related groups, including service as chaplain of the Fayette County Fireman's Association and the Western Pennsylvania Fireman's Association. Additionally, Sharpnack served as secretary of the Fire Chiefs and Assistant Chiefs Association of Southwestern Pennsylvania.
From the Uniontown Morning Herald, January 27, 1958.
Sharpnack continued prominence in his region through the 1940s and 50s, winning election to the executive committee of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors. Several weeks prior to his death Sharpnack's health began to fail, necessitating a stay at the Weimer Nursing Home in Uniontown. On February 18, 1960, he died at a Uniontown hospital at age 82. He was survived by his third wife Elizabeth and was interred at the McClellandtown Presbyterian Cemetery.
From the Uniontown Evening Standard, Feb. 20, 1960.