Historian, physician, and businessman John Peter Hale (May 1, 1824-July 11, 1902) was born at Ingles Ferry in the New River Valley of Virginia, the great-grandson of the legendary Mary Draper Ingles. Hale lived until 1840 at Ingles Ferry, then moved to the Kanawha Valley. In 1841–42, he attended Mercer Academy in Charleston. After studying medicine under Dr. Spicer Patrick, he attended the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, where he graduated in 1845.
Hale soon decided that medicine was not as interesting as the booming salt business. After consolidating various properties between Malden and Charleston by 1860, he became the owner of possibly the largest salt works in North America, supplying the thriving meat-packing center of Cincinnati. At the onset of the Civil War Hale organized an artillery battery for the Confederate Army, which fought at the Battle of Scary Creek. He served as a surgeon in the battles around Richmond in 1862.
After the salt business collapsed in the 1870s, Hale pursued other interests. Among his ventures were the first brick-making machinery in the valley, as well as the Bank of the West (organized 1863), and the first gas company in Charleston. In 1870, Hale started the first steam ferry at Charleston. At one time he owned all the ferries in the city.
Hale was a leader in having the state capital moved to Charleston in 1870, and he led the group of private investors who built the first Charleston capitol building. In 1871, he became mayor. In 1872, he built his Hale House hotel, across from his residence at Kanawha and Hale streets. In the 1880s, the gray-bearded old gentleman engaged in the coal and timber business.
Perhaps the thrilling story of his great-grandmother’s escape from the Shawnees in 1755 inspired Hale’s lifelong devotion to history. In 1883, he published a pamphlet on Daniel Boone’s years in the Kanawha Valley, and in 1886 he produced his classic book, Trans-Allegheny Pioneers. In 1891, he wrote his History of the Great Kanawha Valley. Hale helped found the West Virginia Historical and Antiquarian Society in 1890, the predecessor of the State Archives.
John P. Hale, a lifelong bachelor, is buried in a grave in Spring Hill Cemetery that was shaped on his orders to resemble a small mound, reflecting his interest in the ancient native cultures.
This Article was written by Richard A. Andre
Last Revised on November 29, 2012
Cohen, Stan & Richard Andre. Kanawha County Images. Charleston: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company & Kanawha County Bicentennial, 1987.
Laidley, W. S. History of Charleston and Kanawha County. Chicago: Richmond-Arnold Pub. Co., 1911.