Local historian McKain dies at 80

PARKERSBURG – David L. McKain – local historian, founder and curator of the Oil and Gas Museum in downtown Parkersburg, curator of Henderson Hall Plantation in Williamstown and author of several books on local history – passed away Monday at his residence in Parkersburg. He was 80 years old, sources said.

McKain had been ill for several months, friends said Tuesday. Additional details about McKain’s passing were unavailable on Tuesday. Leavitt Funeral Home of Parkersburg is assisting the family with preparations and will release additional information about funeral services as it becomes available, they said.

McKain founded the Oil and Gas Museum, located at 119 Third St., Parkersburg, and in 2007, added Henderson Hall Plantation to his historical repertoire when it was willed to the Oil and Gas Museum by Henderson descendant Mike Rolston.

McKain enjoyed the history of the Mid-Ohio Valley, and worked hard to preserve it, said fellow historian Ray Swick at Blennerhassett Island Historic State Park.

“He was a hero and an icon to everyone who worked to preserve local history,” Swick said of McKain. “He was beyond passionate and did more than anyone I ever knew to that end with his work. He was one in a million. Not even every generation has a Dave McKain. His passing is a great loss to us all.”

McKain worked to preserve the local history in the books that he wrote, Swick said.

History professor emeritus Bernard L. Allen and McKain published “Where It All Began” in 1994.

On the recent occasion of McKain receiving an honorary bachelor of arts degree from West Virginia University at Parkersburg, Allen said: “His contributions to the preservation of the history of the region that the college serves are legendary and cannot be exceeded. They more than likely will not be exceeded in the future. The establishment of the Oil and Gas Museum, the authorship of significant historical literature, and his ongoing work at Henderson Hall comprise some of the evidence of his positive impact,” Allen said.

McKain also wrote “The Civil War and Northwestern Virginia” a couple of years later, sources said.

McKain had finished another history book just prior to his death, which will be released shortly. It is about the Henderson family’s role in thwarting the treasonous plot of Aaron Burr.

Bill St. Clair worked at the Oil and Gas Museum, and spent the final few years of McKain’s life helping to preserve the history of the local oil and gas industry, he said.

“He was kind of like a force of history,” St. Clair said. “He always had a lot to do with Henderson Hall and the Oil and Gas Museum, and did lots of research,” he said.

The Oil and Gas Museum is considering a special display within its halls to honor McKain, St. Clair said.

Former Wood County commissioner Bob Tebay said he has known McKain since the two were boys together in grade school.

“We were in Sunday School class together, too, and both in Boy Scout Troop 3. He is going to be sorely missed, that’s for sure. He’s been an expert on the history on the oil and gas industry for the area and for the state and recently did that documentary for the oil and gas industry,” Tebay said.

The recently released documentary “Burning Springs” was inspired by McKain’s book on the oil and gas industry, “Where it All Began.” It was shown on West Virginia PBS stations and locally at the Smoot Theatre.

Jim Miracle, with the Wood County Landmarks Commission, said McKain was a good friend.

“He was the kind of guy who had his mind on preserving history, he saved Henderson Hall and the oil and gas museum,” Miracle said.

When the Carlin’s Battery Civil War reenactment group was looking for antique pieces for its cannon, McKain opened the basement of the museum to them so they would have authentic parts to use, Miracle said.

Bob Enoch, president of the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society, said McKain’s knowledge cannot be replaced.

“We obviously lost a great historian. He recorded a lot of our past and left a lot of unfinished work. He had a fantastic memory and read and kept learning even more. He cannot be replaced. A lot of people will be stepping in trying to fill in and that’s already started at the museum and the hall. It is certainly a tragic loss to the area,” Enoch said.

McKain was president and owner of Acme Fishing Tool Co. and chairman of the Civil War Roundtable, which was involved with planning for the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. He has been credited with the addition of the museum annex and visitors’ center at the historic Rathbone Well at Burning Springs. He has spent time inventorying, documenting and verifying documents, furnishings and artwork at Henderson Hall Plantation in Williamstown.

He held a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Economics from WVU and did master’s degree coursework in management and economics at George Washington University.

He formerly served as a civilian executive in the Office, Chief of Staff, U. S. Army, Pentagon, Washington, D.C., for 10 years before returning to his hometown of Parkersburg in 1970.

Over the past few years, McKain wrote a series of columns for The Parkersburg News and Sentinel on Wood County Civil War history as part of the 150th anniversary of the war.