Looking Back At The Life Of Prominent Shinnstonian Charles Ashby Short

For this month’s museum article, we would like to take a look at the life of one of the area’s most prominent citizens, local builder Charles Ashby Short.

The following article is credited to Maxine Weser (2012).

Charles Ashby Short was born October 22, 1863 on a farm on Laurel Run near Enterprise, West Virginia.  His parents were John and Mary Ellen (Tetrick) Short.  John was a pacifist and because of his not wanting to join up with either the Union or Confederates, he was murdered by what history has labeled Guerrilla warfare.

Charles’ mother died of typhoid fever when he was thirteen and this left him and his sister Samantha Jane as orphans to be raised by Tetrick uncles.

He started his life just a few short months after West Virginia became a state in the middle of the Civil War.  From such humble beginnings, one would not anticipate any great success in his life.  He later described his life with his uncles as indentured servitude and worked on the farms in exchange for room and board.  He left the farm near Shinnston on Tetrick Road when he was seventeen years of age with his possession tied in a handkerchief.  His possessions consisted of a pen knife and a 12” wooden ruler.

Charles immediately was drawn to the construction business and asked for work with a local builder.  Having no experience, he was turned down.  But he was persistent and offered to work for two weeks for free.  He stated that if his work was not satisfactory at the end of two weeks, the builder would owe him nothing.  Charles did not disappoint his employer.

Charles soon became the boss on a building crew and had built his first home while still a teenager.  He was ambitious and bought land on Station Street and erected his own home.  Later on, Samantha Jane Short, who married Robert Robinson Hardesty, had a home on the opposite side of Station Street.

Charles Short built and funded the Short Opera House, which was on the corner of Station and Pike Streets.  It was built in 1889.  The building was used regularly by fraternal organizations of the city.  The opera house was also used for presentations of plays and skits and for poetry readings.  Since the churches at that time were sharing a common church, the opera house would also be used by various church denominations.

Charles, Robert Hardesty, Hugh Martin, and Sam Daniels started a water company and put two storage tanks on the hill east of the town proper.  Natural gas prices were too high, so they started a competing local gas company.  The experience of watching the Short Opera House burn to the ground because no water was available also spurred them to start a fire department and equip it with hoses and carts.

Charles seemed to always be one step ahead of the community’s needs.  With running water to a home, the residents were in need of inside lines, hand pumps, and discharge pipes.  He started supplying these items in his hardware store, which he owned at first with Whiteman and Hartley.  By 1896, he had bought the other two partners out and the business was only in his name.

Charles’ supply store had many items for sale.  Included were slate and tin roofing, cedar shingles, paint, varnishes, doors, lumber, brick, and sewer pipe.  It was like an early Home Depot or Lowe’s.

Charles was survived by his wife Minnie, son George, daughter Zillah (Short) Hare.  Although he had no formal education, he will forever be known in Shinnston as a master builder and contractor.

Remember, the museum will open back up in April.  Look at next month’s article for the release of an exciting slate of events we have planned for the 2017 season.

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