A 1938 CALHOUN TRAGEDY - Boat Capsizes, Four Young Men Drown In Swollen LK River


Construction of NYA Building on Rt. 7 - Russett Road

By Bob Weaver

It was among Calhoun's most tragic events, four young Calhoun men died when their boat turned over and sunk in the Little Kanawha River a short distance above Grantsville.

The accident happened during the construction of the cut-stone National Youth Administration (NYA) recreation building, a depression era project in 1938.

The building was once used as the gym for Calhoun High School, and later used as a manufacturing plant for Rubber Fabricators and BF Goodrich.

They drowned while crossing from a stone quarry where they had been working on the north side of the river to a camp site.


Cladius A. McCune, 19, son of Mr.and Mrs. Sam McCune, of Nicut.

Tracy Allen, 22, son of Mr. and Mrs. Fielding Allen, of Daniels Run.

John W. Bowers, 25, son of Mr. and Mrs. John C. Bowers, of lower Yellow Creek.

Cecil Truman, 20, son of Mr. and Mrs. Barney Truman, of Oka.

The four drowned boys and four others had started across the river in a large boat that was 18 feet long and 5 feet wide, the boat propelled by one man pulling on a wire cable stretched from one bank of the river to the other.

It was unclear why the boat capsized, throwing all eight into the river, which was swollen to a depth of about eighteen feet.

No stone was being hauled in the boat.

Four of the young men swam to shore safely, including Francis Wright, 18, of Letherbark; Glenn Starcher, 21, of Rocksdale; Kenneth Johnson, 18, of Grantsville, and Willard Richards, 19, of near Brooksville.

County residents started an exhaustive search for the bodies, with all available boats placed on the river with grappling hooks.

The first body, John W. Bowers, was not discovered until the next day, discovered by Harold Marshall and Asher Stockwell about 400 feet down river from the accident.

Later in the day the bodies of young Truman and McCune were recovered, with the fourth victim, Tracy Allen, brought to shore the following day.

A coroner's jury fixed the cause of death as accidental drowning. A jury impaneled by Coroner Gerald Stump was composed of I. H. Snider, J. M. Freshour, C. H. Shanks, W. T. Webster, John Grim and Roy Morrison.

About 30 young men ranging in age from 18 to 25 years had been employed in the construction of the county recreational center, which is still standing.

A newspaper account says "In the drowning of four fine young men of the county ... general and best sentiment is that the tragedy was purely accidental and unavoidable. No blame attaches to any of the boys in the boat."

"The boys were engaged in no horse-play or rollicking ... The accident was simply one of those unfortunate things that occur every once in a while in such a manner that no one can be charged with responsibility."

The account concluded with a terse statement "We say there is no individual on whom the finger of blame may be laid for the tragedy."

"With greater emphasis we likewise say that unless rules are laid down and enforced for traffic of boys to and from the quarry, it were better that the stones for the walls of the recreational center were hung like millstones about the necks of those in charge of the work."