Albert E. Humphreys
This is the abbreviated story of one of the most interesting men to come out of Kanawha County.
actually. This man became what would be in money today, a
billionaire. He was the money behind the Union Mission, two
large popular churches, and other local improvements that we may
never know about. His life's journey was so fascinating, that I broke
my own rule about featuring rich, famous men on this website, as so
much about them has already been written. But while Alberts life
was more than full, it was also met with disaster. So let's
start at the beginning....
Humphreys father, Ira A. Humphreys, was born at the foot of the Blue
Ridge Mountains near Charlotteville, Virginia, in 1834; his mother was
a Dawson, born in 1833 of sturdy Kanawha County stock, known for
generations throughout the Sissonville countryside; both attained
length of years and went to their final earthly rest in the old Mount
Zion burying ground at Sissonville. Humphreys’ grandfather was Spicer
Humphreys, also a Virginian, and a collateral descendant of Joshua
Humphreys, the designer of the Constitution and other famous frigates
of the War of 1812, and commonly known as the “Father of the American
Navy.” Ira, who was an expert millwright, could go into the woods
with an old-fashioned scratch awl, a square, an adz, a broad-axe and a
chalk-line and hew out the frame for a building of any size, as
constructed during his lifetime in that part of the country. After he
was sixty years of age, he hewed out the timber for a mill, four
stories in height, which is still standing near the old home at
The settlement of the family at Sissonville in
the early 1850s was followed by the construction of a home, then a
mill, then a store, all of which was the handiwork of Ira A. Humphreys
and over which he presided for many years until his death. During the
period of reconstruction following the Civil War, there was apparently
little ahead for the boy Albert but to follow in his father’s footsteps
and—bar those few months out of each year which were devoted to a
common school education—he learned to run the mill, “tend store” and
occasionally pilot a log raft down the Pocataligo River, colloquially
known as the “Poca,” this latter by reason of his father’s having
successfully embarked in the lumber business with which the youngster
had become quite as familiar as he was with the store and the mill.
a little past fifteen, the boy Albert decided that he wanted to become
a school teacher. That mechanical genius which had manifested itself in
the life of his grandfather Spicer Humphreys, had “broken out” in the
boy in the shape of a passion for mathematics; as his schoolmates put
it, he “just ate compound fractions and could do sums in his sleep.”
Accordingly, his father sent him for a term at Marshall College at
Huntington, West Virginia, that being all the training necessary to
capture the job of teaching the district school at Sigmond’s School
House, Poca District. Just to put on a little polish, he attended the
County Teachers’ Institute at Charleston, West Virginia, where he
secured a Teacher’s No. 2 Certificate in September, 1876. The first
Monday in November of that year found him duly installed at Sigmond’s,
five miles from Sissonville, age sixteen, salary twenty-five dollars
per month, boarding at the house of the trustee who got him the job at
the H. C. of L.—$1.25 per week.
make a long story short, Albert decided that school teacher was
not the job for him, so he returned to his fathers business at the Mill
and lumber business and was successfully running that when two things
happened: A very large buyer of lumber went bankrupt, and lumber
mills all over the East Coast started struggling, many going out of
business. This left young Albert's family in very serious debt.
Albert had a gift for taking risk in business, and having made two
fortunes in lumber and mining, which eventually turned sour after he
made a lot of money, no matter! He made a third fortune in
wildcat oil speculative investments in Oklahoma, Wyoming and Texas.
Albert strikes out on his own again
This time he becomes very successful in the oil business:
this time, Humphreys also opened up all of the Cabin Creek coal fields
when others had failed. This was the start of the Carbon Fuels
Company, and Pure Oil Company's involvement in Cabin Creek.
Col Humphreys funds and builds the brand new Union Mission.
Col Humphreys was instrumental in funding the new Kanawha County Library
May 1926 the Library moved to its first permanent home, the former
Capitol Annex Building which stood on Lee Street between Hale and
Dickinson. Purchase of the building for $400,000 was made possible by a
gift of $100,000 ( worth $1,326,112.99 in today's money) by
Colonel Albert E. Humphreys, which inspired other contributions.
The Park That Never Was
( $200,000 in 1924 would be the equivalent of $2,745,286.55 today )
has only had a REAL Park one time that I can recall. This was up
on the hill where City Park Village (call it whatever you like)
is today... the old Charleston General Hospital site. And
the one chance we had to gain a real Park was when Albert Humphreys
decided to give us one in Kanawha City. He had plans to
incorporate the hollow where the Union Mission is today, but something
happened. People in power, didnt like the plan for some unknown
reason and so Humpheys became so angry that he left town never to
return again. He then spent millions on city improvements in his
Boyd Memorial Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
largely to the generosity of Col. and Mrs. A.E. Humphreys (Mrs.
Humphreys was a sister of Church founder, Mattie Daum, who's father was
Spanish-American war Captain, C.W. Boyd from Ohio ), a building was
constructed on the corner of Randolph Street and Delaware Avenue
beginning in May 1917. At the request of Col. and Mrs. Humphreys,
the name of the Church was changed from the New Light Church to the
Boyd Memorial Church of Christ. In 1925, the name was again
changed to Boyd Memorial Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
has been written that Albert Humphreys had become ill, and
in a promise to God to heal him, Albert would spend much of
his money on good works. This he did. I personally dont
feel that a church should have the name of any human being
associated with its official title, but "back in the day", if a man
paid for a church, (which sometimes was the only way to get a
church,) it was not unusual to allow him to name that church
after anyone he chose.
Grant-Humphreys Mansion in Denver, Colorado, was built in
1902, for James Benton Grant following his one term as the third
Governor of Colorado. The House was later sold in 1917 to Albert
Humphreys Home and History in Denver
A.E. Humphreys is remembered as "The
Wildcatter Deluxe" and the "King of the Wildcatters" for his successful
discovery of oil in Wyoming, Oklahoma and Texas. He was also well known
for his philanthropic activities, which were shared by his wife, Alice.
The couple came to Denver in 1898 with their two sons Ira and Albert E.
Jr. Ira married Lucille Pattison, and they lived with the senior
Humphreys in the house until the deaths of his parents.
the mechanical genius of the family, while A.E. Jr. enjoyed the
managerial side of the family oil business. Both young men were
fascinated with airplanes and opened Denver's first commercial airport
in 1918 at 26th Avenue and Oneida Street in North Park Hill, ten years
prior to the Denver Municipal Airport that was eventually to become
Stapleton International Airport. In 1919, Ira Boyd "Bumps" Humphreys
formed the Curtiss-Humphreys Airplane Company. In 1941, Ira
invented the Humphreys Spiral Concentrator, which was used extensively
in the mining industry for the separation of minerals and heavy metals
in low grade ores. And, in 1969, Ira and Albert were both
inducted into the Colorado Aviation Hall of Fame, which is located in
the Colorado Aviation Historical Society's Heritage Hall at the Wings
Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum, Denver, Colorado.
The Colorado Historical Society took possession of the mansion, a bequest of the late Ira Boyd Humphreys, in 1976.
But now for the story behind the story: The Great Teapot Scandal.
Where the ghost of A.E. still roams
From the Denver Post, 2009
TEAPOT DOME SCANDAL WAS A BRIBERY INCIDENT THAT TOOK PLACE IN THE
UNITED STATES FROM 1920 TO 1923, DURING THE ADMINISTRATION OF PRESIDENT
WARREN G. HARDING.
blast blew off his head. The press called it an accident that occurred
while he was cleaning his shotgun. But those who knew Albert Edmund
Humphreys well suspected otherwise. He had become involved in one the
greatest scandals of the past century — a sordid affair in which oil
men elected a compliant Warren G. Harding president and then ran the
United States in their interests — until the Teapot Dome Scandal
The affair began with A.E. Humphreys' sale of
333,333,333 barrels of oil to Continental Oil of Canada. That dummy
corporation was the creation of leading U.S. oil men, including
Humphreys' fellow Denverite Harry M. Blackmer, Harry Ford Sinclair of
Sinclair Oil and Robert W. Stewart, head of Standard Oil. Humphreys
sold the oil to these insiders for $1.50 a barrel. They in turn sold it
to their own companies at $1.75 a barrel, pocketing a cool $3 million.
of that money went into a slush fund that ultimately elected an obscure
Ohio politician president of the United States in 1920. Harding and his
"oil Cabinet" subsequently opened up previously off-limits U.S. oil
reserves to petrol potentates. These tycoons subsequently paid off key
government officials, covered the GOP presidential campaign debt, and
bribed newspaper publishers.
That complicated story, with
modern-day echoes, is well told by Laton McCartney in "The Teapot Dome
Scandal" (Random House, 2008). Our concern, this Halloween, is with the
Grant Humphreys Mansion, 777 Pennsylvania St., where the "accident"
took place on May 8, 1927, in a palatial upstairs gun room.
Although his involvement in
the Teapot Dome Scandal is debated, Humphreys knew enough that U.S.
congressional investigators wanted his testimony. Instead, they heard
from his manager, A.A. King, that "I know A.E. Humphreys took his life
brooding over this affair to shield some men of affairs."
Denver Post had originally begun exposing the Teapot Dome Scandal in
the Wyoming oil field of that name. Then, according to McCartney and
others, Post publisher Frederick G. Bonfils received $1 million from
Harry Sinclair and dropped the expose. Despite the "accident" and the
national scandal, A.E.'s widow and two sons continued to live in the
His elder son, Ira Boyd "Bumps," was a mechanical
genius. His interest in aviation led him to establish Denver's first
commercial airport, an aerodrome at East 26th Ave. and Dahlia St., in
1919. Albert E. Humphreys Jr. married Ruth Boettcher and ran many of
his father's businesses.
A.E. Jr. died in 1968 and Ira Boyd in
1976. Ira willed the mansion to the Colorado Historical Society and the
grounds to the city of Denver for conversion for the public park which
connects the mansion with the Governor's Residence to the west. The
Historical Society has partially restored the mansion, converting the
basement shooting gallery to a theater. The 10-car garage is now
The Historical Society leases the mansion for special
occasions, including weddings as well as Halloween storytelling. There,
the ghost of Alfred Edmund Humphreys has been known to appear,
proclaiming his innocence to anyone who will listen to a ghost with
most of his head blown off.
See his connection to Pure Oil Comany and the Cabin Creek Field HERE
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