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C. A. Witt --
A True Visionary
by Helen Morris, Bill Bailey and the descendants of C.A. Witt

Updated on Wednesday*:

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(First of a two-part series on C.A. Witt.)

Cary Witt in January, 1927, at the office in the old mill, with Maytag washer at left and manual typewriter on the desk.

Often, it is said of a man that he was “a man of the times” or even “a man ahead of his time,” but Cary Albert Witt was truly a visionary in every sense of the word. He brought about many changes to improve the world he lived in.

At a time when horses still ruled the road and farm, he invested in, and believed in, the future of gasoline-powered farm machinery and “horseless carriages.”

When people were still cutting blocks of ice from the river in winter and storing them in sawdust to prevent melt, he bought a large machine to manufacture ice and ice cream year round, as well as provide cold storage to prevent the spoilage of food.

To ease the burden of women on washday, from stirring their clothes in a large washtub with a paddle, wringing them out by hand, stirring them around to rinse them and wring them out yet again, he brought new-fangled gasoline-powered Maytag washers and wringers.

So that folks here would have the same modern conveniences as those living in large cities, he bought an electric dynamo and batteries to store the power, providing the first electric lights, conveniences and moving picture shows in Grantsville.

C.A. Witt was born Dec. 25, 1879, at White Oak on the Upper West Fork. His father’s parents had immigrated to America from Prussia in the 1850’s. His parents were Serena Jarvis Witte and Lemuel Sida Witte. His mother’s parents were Elizabeth Jane Hensley and Weeden Harrison Jarvis, Sr.

It is thought that C.A. may have been the first to drop the “e” from the last name. It may be noted that a picture of the business has a sign that shows the name “Witte Mill,” but that, apparently, was an error of the sign painter.

In 1898, at age 19, he attended Mountaineer Business College in Parkersburg. Upon returning, he worked with his father, who owned a store and lumber business at Minnora.

Witt was married to Emma Locie (Losie?) Knotts in 1901 at the Knotts home in Euclid.

Old mill at Minnora.

He bought the mill at Minnora from his father in 1912 and had an interest in another mill located in Rosedale.

Witt was appointed deputy county assessor and became a director of the newly organized People’s Bank of Grantsville in 1913.

After purchasing Grantsville Mill Co. for $4,000 from the Huffman brothers in 1917, he and his wife Emma moved to Grantsville. He also sold his mill at Minnora to his brother, Homer, who was the only brother to survive infancy.

The first business at the original Grantsville mill was a gristmill to grind corn into meal and wheat into coarse flour.

Witt Lumber and Ice Co.

He then expanded the mill to include a sawmill, dry kiln oven, roller mill to make flour, and ice house. A small building attached to the ice house was where ice cream was made. The icehouse stored the ice cream and included a room to store carcasses.

The mill was now a 3-4 story structure with chutes that carried the sawdust and other materials from floor to floor. There were passageways to allow the belts to travel from the engine in the basement to the equipment in the different areas of the mill.

The dry kiln was added on the downriver side of the Mill around 1950.

The entire mill was powered by a large “one lung” stationary engine operated with natural gas from a well on the property. The “hit and miss” gas engine was started by climbing up on the large flywheel and pulling it down until the engine caught.

Witt’s grandson, Byron Witt, said, “Mike Bell and I repaired the roof of the mill during the summer of 1958. The roof was all corrugated metal. It sure was a hot job!”

To provide running water and modern conveniences to his mill and home, Witt drilled a water well in 1918 at the mill site. He then built a wooden storage tank on a hill above the mill and laid water lines to the mill and his home.

The water well provided the water, which was pumped to the storage tank and from there it was delivered by gravity to the mill, his home, and several other residences.

The mill and his home also had electricity in 1920. After selling his interest in the mill at Rosedale, Witt purchased a large dynamo to generate electricity and storage batteries (32 volts DC like a car battery) to provide power.

The house was wired with heavy gauge copper wire.

At left is home of Cary and Emma Witt in flood of 1939.

   (Continued next week)

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