Albert E. Humphreys


This is the abbreviated story of one of the most interesting men to come out of Kanawha County.  

Sissonville 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....

AE Humphreys

Sissonville Wv

Mr. 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 Sissonville.

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.

When 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.

AE Humphreys

To 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.

But 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:

Col Humphreys

During 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 of Sissonville

Col Humphreys funds and builds the brand new Union Mission.

Union Mission

Union Mission

Union Mission

Union Mission

Col Humphreys was instrumental in funding the new Kanawha County Library

In 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.

Kanawha County Library

The Park That Never Was

Charleston WV Park

Abney Park

( $200,000 in 1924 would be the equivalent of  $2,745,286.55 today )

Charleston 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 new hometown.

Kanawha City Park


Boyd Church

Boyd Memorial Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

 Due 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).


Humphrey Church

And finally.....


It 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.

Humphreys Home and History in Denver


The 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 E. Humphreys.

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.

Ira was 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.

Sissonville WV

Where the ghost of A.E. still roams
From the Denver Post, 2009


The 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 exploded.

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.

Some 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."

The 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 mansion.

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 offices.

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.

Humphreys Home

Humphrey Death

See his connection to Pure Oil Comany and the Cabin Creek Field HERE


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