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Old Central City Tour
Item 3 of 10
The Hartzell Handle factory was one of the first major industries in Central City. It was built around 1896 by brothers Irvin and Enos Hartzell, who owned or operated a number of handle factories, lumber mills, and other business across the region. This factory was located just south of Washington Avenue and between Fourteenth and Fifteenth Streets. The Hartzell Handle Company specialized in producing hickory wood handles for axes, hatchets, spades, and other tools. It thrived thanks to its close proximity to other major industries, railroads, rivers, and a steady supply of timber from the forests of West Virginia. The exact fate of the factory is unclear but it closed sometime after 1913 and was later demolished. The dwindling supply of hickory timber in West Virginia is cited as the primary reason for its demise.

  • The only known photograph of the Hartzell Handle factory, seen here in the Flood of 1913. Image courtesy of Marshall University Special Collections.
  • Company employees around 1900. The photograph notably calls it the Central City Axe and Hatchet Handle Co. Image courtesy of Marshall University Special Collections.

Several years prior to the creation of Central City a group of investors founded the Hartzell, Caldwell and Marr Handle Factory on Richmond Street in Guyandotte. Irvin Hartzell, who came to the area from Shepherdstown, was the primary financer of the enterprise. The handle factory, later referred to also as Hartzell & Caldwell, employed around one hundred workers and was the largest industry in Guyandotte during the 1880s. In 1888 the factory was destroyed in a large fire, which also reportedly leveled several homes as well. Hartzell soon rebuilt the factory, but in 1896 he decided to construct a new one in Central City.

The new factory, under the name of the Hartzell Handle Company, was located between Fourteenth and Fifteenth Streets to the south of Washington Avenue. It was an immediate success; newspapers reported within a month that the factory was overwhelmed with orders. The business used hickory wood to manufacture handles for various tools such as axes, hatchets, hammers, and spades. The Central City factory was just one of at least five factories that the Hartzell Handle Company operated in West Virginia; one was reported to be in Creston near Parkersburg. The company also owned a lumber mill in Louisa, Kentucky. The Central City factory acted as the main hub for the entire company; products from the other factories were sent there to be finished and then shipped around the country. Hartzell benefited from the presence of multiple railroads, river transportation, and an abundance of timber in West Virginia. In 1901 Irvin Hartzell’s brother Enos, who operated a similar handle factory in Sequachee, Tennessee, came to Central City and took over management of the factory.

Very little is known about the Hartzell Handle Company after its initial years of operation. Some sources referred to it alternatively as the Central City Axe and Hatchet Handle Company. The factory was in operation at least as late as 1913, but it eventually closed due to a lack of available hickory timber in the area. The timber industry in West Virginia as a whole experienced a precipitous decline in the 1920s and 1930s as overharvesting left large swathes of the state barren of any forest. After its closure, the Hartzell Handle Factory in Central City was demolished and the land sold. Enos Hartzell chose to stay in Huntington after his family’s company folded; reportedly he went into business selling musical instruments and sewing machines. He died in 1966 at the age of 102.

Big Sandy News. December 21, 1906.

Daily Public Ledger. December 23, 1896.

Dickinson, Jack L. and Alison K. Summer-Ramirez. Historic Huntington Businesses: The Birth of Huntington, W.Va. 1871-1900. Huntington, WV: Marshall University Libraries, 2016.

“Fire Near Huntington.” Wheeling Daily Intelligencer. June 11, 1888.

Miller, Lola Roush. Central City, WV 1893-1909: A Short History. Huntington, WV: Scaggs Printing & Office Supplies, 1993.

Miller, Lola Roush. Images of America: Central City. Arcadia Publishing, 2006.

“Mrs. Enos Hartzell Dead.” Sequachee Valley News. June 25, 1903.

Sequachee Valley News. October 3, 1901.

Sequachee Valley News. September 19, 1901.

Shepherdstown Register. June 15, 1888.

Shepherdstown Register. April 21, 1904.

Shepherdstown Register. December 26, 1890.