Claysville has the distinction of being one of the original "pike towns" along the National Road. In 1817, an early settler and land owner, JohnPurviance, learned that the new National Road, that was being constructed between Cumberland, Maryland and Wheeling, Virginia, would cross his land. The Road, important because it was the first interstate highway built by the federal government, would eventually extend to Vandalia, Illinois. As the first constructed highway to cross the mountains, it was sure to bring economic opportunity to any town situated along its route. Aware of the opportunity being afforded, Mr. Purviance platted a town and named it in honor of U.S. Senator Henry Clay, noted for his staunch support of public improvements like the National Road. With the completion of the road to Wheeling by 1818, traffic began to flow. The bounty of the mid-west came east as settlers moved west, farmed the land and started new businesses. The roadalso provided local farmers with a direct route to eastern markets.
One of the more common sights was that of the Conestoga Wagons, freight haulers that could carry up to 3,500 lbs. of cargo traveling about15 miles a day. The town became an important stopping point between Washington to the east and West Alexander and Wheeling to the west. Claysville taverns and inns offered corrals for the wagon teams and herds of livestock being driven to market, as well as food, drink and a place to rest for the wagon drivers and other travelers.
Claysville grew quickly as a result of the National Road. The first school was opened in 1818, with a Presbyterian Church being constructed in 1820. Many of the early settlers in the town were of Scots-Irish descent, drawn to the area by the availability of cheap land. Interestingly, many of the workers that built the Road were also Irish. In 1832, Claysville was incorporated as a Borough and by 1850 the population had grown to 275.
In 1856 the railroad arrived. This marked the beginning of a period of decline for the National Road but not for Claysville. Located astride two major transportation links, the town continued to grow as a regional agricultural service center. In the late 1800s an oil and gas boom furthered the prosperity of the community, diversified businesses and increased the population. By 1900, the town boasted a total of 856 residents.
A description of Claysville in 1908 listed 10 stores, three restaurants, two furniture dealers, two livery stables, a carriage shop, six physicians, two hotels, two banks and two lumber mills. The Claysville Flour Mill made three different brands of flour and George Sprowls operated such a large hardware business that it needed nine buildings for retail and inventory.
(sidebar) A Change in the landscape ~In 2005, buildings at the corner of Greene andMain Street, marked on the image below, weredemolished to provide space for all apartmentbuilding and parking. The first structure locatedon the northwest corner of this Intersection wasWalker's Tavern. In the 1880s, a Second Empirestructure with mansard roofs replaced the tavernand operated as a hotel until 1910. The Farmer'sNational Bank then occupied the building untilthe 1940s. The northeast corner was known as"Cooper's Corner." Several small, mid-19thcentury commercial buildings occupied the site,including a wood frame structure which housedthe Claysville Recorder newspaper.
(sidebar) Leading the Way. Henry Clay was a leading American statesman and political figure the first half of the 19thcentury. Known as the Great Compromiser,his efforts were successful in brokering political solutions, notably the Missouri Compromise and the Compromise of 1850. Clay also worked tirelessly as an advocate for a system of internalimprovements including support for the National Road. During his career he represented Kentucky in both the U.S. House and Senate, ran for President 5 times and served as Secretary of State under John Quincy Adams.
Benjamin Franklin Jones was born in 1824 near Claysville. As a young man, he worked in Pittsburgh for a canal boat operator.He rose to partner in the company and by 1850, recognizing the future of railroads, he formed the Jones & Laughlin Steel Company with financier James Laughlin. J&L Steel became one of America's largest iron and steel producers in the 19th century.
One of the great names in 19th centuryeducation was William Holmes McGuffy. Born in 1800 near what is now the Borough of Claysville, McGuffy attended college inWashington, PA, and went on to teach at Miami University in Ohio. In 1836 he published the first of the McGuffy Reader series. The illustrated stories emphasized virtuous behavior and became the most popular reading textbook in the 19th century with over 122 million copies published. The local school district is named in his honor. His birthplace is now part of HenryFord's Greenfield Village.