Local author writes about home

Published 12:16 pm Monday, October 13, 2008

Like so many good things, Don Daniel McMillian’s latest literary endeavor came about as a kind of afterthought.

McMillian, who grew up in Huntington, W.Va., has always called the eastern end of Lawrence County his home away from home. After all, his grandmother came from Getaway and his mother lived all her life in Rome.

So it seems quite consistent that he has produced a book about the tie between Lawrence County and that path to freedom for so many enslaved in the 1800s — the Underground Railroad.

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However, getting to the writing and research on that book wasn’t exactly a straight line.

That story and the tales he discovered about the railroad he will share at a special “Meet the Author” event at the Chesapeake branch of the Briggs Library Thursday, Oct. 23, at 2 p.m.

Then McMillian will discuss his new book, “The Underground Railroad Lawrence County, Ohio and Cabell County, Virginia.”

“I spent a great deal of my life in Lawrence County because of my family. We were strung out all over the county,” McMillian said recently in a phone interview.

However, his first effort at a book was on a topic just as close to his background. It was on the Woolworth family, famous for their Five and Dime Stores and that jazzy heiress with so many husband, Barbara Hutton. McMillian was for 10 years legal secretary for the Woolworth family and after he left their employ, he wrote a history of the family along with 130 photographs.

That book whetted McMillian’s fascination with history so when he came back to Cabell County, W.Va., he started looking at the area’s beautiful homes, many built before or during the time of the Civil War. It’s what he called the area’s gilded age.

“I became a little disenchanted that so much of our culture and our history had pretty much been swept under the rug, forgotten about after the Civil War,” he said. “I forgot what a beautiful place it was where I was born.”

As he worked on that book about the stately homes of the area, he kept discovering houses here and houses there that were part of the underground railroad, especially in the eastern part of Lawrence County.

“I kept running across all kinds of information on the underground railroad,” he said. “I kept filing it in a separate index.”

McMillian jokes that he has a kind of vested interest in the saga of American history since one great grandfather fought for the Union while another sided with the Confederacy.

“After a period of 12 or 14 years you end up with quite a bit of information and photographs,” he said. “That was one of the reasons to create the underground railroad (book.) I understand the underground railroad museum is in Cincinnati, but so much of what happened was right here in our own backyard.”