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John B. Garden

Wheeling Electric Company

-- SOURCE: Callahan, J. M. (1923). Vol. II. In History of West Virginia, old and new (p. 25). Chicago: American Historical Society.

JOHN B. GARDEN is the only survivor in Wheeling of the group of Wheeling business men who started the pioneer enterprise of the Wheeling Electric Company nearly forty years ago. For nearly twenty years the Wheeling Electric Company was an individual and independent organization, supplying electricity for commercial use in the Wheeling District. With the rapidly increasing use of electricity it became impossible for a company supported by local capital to keep pace with the requirements, and about that time the Wheeling Electric Company merged into a great corporation known as the American Gas and Electric Company, with headquarters in New York City. The public utilities owned and operated by this corporation cover a large section of the Middle West. The Wheeling District embraces many of the cities and industrial towns on both sides of the Ohio River, and Mr. Garden is general manager for this district. There was recently completed at an expense of over $10,000,000 one of the largest electric generating plants in the country at Beech Bottom, some miles above Wheeling, and this plant, with its steam turbine generators, represents practically the last word in a continuous electrical development that has been going on at Wheeling and vicinity for nearly forty years, and in which Mr. Garden has had an uninterrupted participation.

Mr. Garden was born at Wheeling February 27, 1860, son of Alexander T. and Mary M (Bankard) Garden and grandson of David Garden, a native of Scotland, who settled at Wheeling as early as 1816. He was a tanner, and he established and operated a tannery at North Wheeling until 1858. He then returned to his farm at Glen's Run, above Wheeling, where he died in 1686,at the age of sixty-five. Alexander T. Garden, as well as his son John B., was also associated with the establishment of the Wheeling Electric Company during the '80s. His home was in Wheeling from about 1870, and at one time he was a member of the city council.

The mother of John B. Garden was Mary Bankard, who was born May 24, 1834, and died May 24, 1902. Her father, James Bankard was of the firm Stackton, Bankard & Company, window glass manufacturers, owning and operating one of the first glass factories in Wheeling. Mary Bankard was educated in Wheeling and was married to Mr. Garden in 1852. Her three children were: Mrs. John M. Sweeney, John B. Garden and David A. Garden. The latter for a number of years was with the Whitaker-Glessner Company, and is now living in St. Louis, Missouri.

John B. Garden acquired a public school and business college education, and as a young man became absorbed in the progress of electrical development, which at that time had hardly extended to any practical or commercial purposes. A few years later he became an associate with his father and with A. J. Sweeney and John M Sweeney in installing a small plant to furnish electricity for electric lighting at Wheeling. This plant was installed in the shop of A. J. Sweeney & Son on Twelfth Street, opposite the Hotel Windsor. Sufficient electricity was generated for about forty lights, used at first in stores only. About two years later the incandescent system of lighting came into use, and the men in the company secured an old skating rink at Twenty-second and Chapline for a larger plant. Wheeling was the fifth city in the United States to use alternating machines. Here a 650 light machine was installed. Gradually the original capital of $15,000 was extended to $20,000, but the dividends were paid on the stock for ten years. All the increasing capital and surplus was reinvested in equipment, and after several years a new location was bought at Thirty-sixth Street and McColloch Avenue. The facilities there sufficed only twelve years, and the next location was at Forty-second and Water streets, where a building was provided five times as large as that at Thirty-sixth Street, yet in three years' time it was too small. Then in 1915, a large tract of ground eleven miles above Wheeling at Beech Bottom, was purchased, the selection of the site being due to the combination of an adequate water supply with an inexhaustible supply of coal for fuel.

It should also be noted that Mr. Garden and his associates in the Wheeling Electric Company put in operation the first electrically operated cars at Wheeling, and this was also a pioneering work, since there were only a few cities in the entire country with electric transportation.

Mr. Garden served some years as a member of the Wheeling Board of Education, a member of the Board of Trade, the Second United Presbyterian Church, and is a director in the Community Savings Bank.

June 17, 1885, he married Miss Mary Ralston Sweeney, daughter of Andrew James and Maria Elizabeth (Hanna) Sweeney. A review of the life of Andrew Sweeney and his family is given on other pages. Mrs. Garden for many years has been one of West Virginia's most prominent women, and she is now president of the State Federation of Women's Clubs. She is also prominent in the Daughters of the American Revolution, having served as regent of Wheeling Chapter; and she is active in other organizations. Mr. and Mrs. Garden have two children, George Alan, a graduate of West Virginia University and a Wheeling attorney, and Gertrude, who was one of the West Virginia girls sent by the General Federation of Women's Clubs to France during the World war. She is the wife of R. R. Throp.

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