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Harrison Ash

Lawman Harrison Ash apparently was born in Scott County, Virginia, May 26, 1853. He and his three brothers migrated to southern West Virginia at the turn of the century. The completion of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad in 1873 had brought big changes, and the local coal industry was booming. His brothers took advantage of the opportunities by opening saloons and working as merchants. Standing six-foot-four and weighing more than 275 pounds, Ash seemed tailor-made for the challenge of law enforcement in the rough coal and railroad towns.

Formerly a railroad detective and an agent for the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency, Ash in about 1902 became chief of police at the New River Gorge town of Thurmond. The job was not an easy one. His duties included keeping peace in the saloons that lined the south side of the New River across from Thurmond. It was his responsibility to keep the ruffians, gamblers, and thieves who roamed the muddy streets of ‘‘Southside’’ from interfering with the respectable citizens and visitors of Thurmond proper. Ash used all necessary force in accomplishing his purposes and himself became part of the enduring folklore of violence and colorful mayhem associated with the Thurmond community. Legend maintains that he frequented the drinking establishments that he patrolled, and in his off hours he ran his own saloon.

Ash died December 12, 1924. The vision of Ash, in his uniform and Stetson hat and carrying a notched pistol, was long recalled in Fayette County.

Written by Melody Bragg