Rosbys Rock and the Arrival of the B&O Railroad
The big rock is still there…
…way out in Marshall County, off a winding country road that follows a creek called Big Grave. It’s still there. 163 years later.
Rock of Ages
Actually, it has been there for thousands, maybe even millions, maybe even hundreds of millions of years: 900 cubic yards of sandstone, 68 feet long, 22 feet tall and 24 feet thick — as out of place where it stands as its peculiar little cousin the Table Rock.
The big rock has always been there, long before humans came along to give it a name: Rosbys or Roseby’s or Rosbby’s, depending on with whom you talk (*see note 1 below). The humans built a village nearby and named it after the rock.
It’s actually the rock’s tattoo, human-carved with an infamous typo, that is 163 years old today, the night before Christmas.
That’s because, on December 24, 1852, other humans, railroaders by trade, drove the last spike, connecting the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad from the East Coast (Baltimore) to the Ohio River Valley (Wheeling), an event of great significance to Wheeling, where a boisterous celebration at Washington Hall (that may have lasted several days) was held a few weeks later (*more at note 2 below).
To mark the Christmas Eve occasion, the “well-oiled” railroad men had carved these words into the big rock: “ROSBBY’s [sic] ROCK. TRACK CLOSED CHRISTMAS EVE, 1852. HOBBS & FARIS”
From that time until the tracks were removed in 1974, thousands of freight and passenger trains passed through the village, and close by the big rock, on their way into and out of Moundsville and Wheeling.
All that remains now is a much quieter village, an uneven gravel path where trains once rumbled by, and an ancient, big rock with a 40-year beard of trees and shrubs — and a 163-year old tattoo.
*Note 1: According to the 1914 A History of Preston County, West Virginia, Part 2, the rock was named for Roseby Carr, the man in charge of the B&O construction gangs, who, at the big Wheeling celebration banquet, was “facetiously” toasted as the “parson at the nuptials of the Ohio and Chesapeake Bay and his men assisted at the courtship.” The spelling remains a mystery, but given the amount of time and labor necessary to complete such a massive carving (nearly ten feet high and 22 feet wide with letters as tall as 2 feet chiseled 2.5 inches into solid rock), it is unlikely to have been a careless typo.
*Note 2: The German Band played as more than 1000 celebrants — including dignitaries like Thomas and Michael Sweeney, Thomas Hornbrook, John McLure, William Paxton, Peter Yarnall, William F. Peterson, and Dr. Simon Hullihen — feasted on an elaborate bill of fare including buffalo tongue, stewed oysters, cutlets of veal, and “saddle of mutton,” (among many other exotic dishes) and many toasts were drunk to the new union of Baltimore and Wheeling. The banquet followed a formal reception at the Wheeling Court House where Mayor Nelson and B.&O. President Swann and the governors of both Virginia and Maryland delivered speeches. Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, January 14, 1853.