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Wetzel Chamber Names Eakin Director Emeritus

By Staff | Aug 31, 2011

Wetzel County Chamber of Commerce President Don Riggenbach, left, presents the first-ever title of director emeritus to New Martinsville resident J. Wells Eakin.

At its May 25 meeting, the Wetzel County Chamber of Commerce conferred the first-ever title of director emeritus on New Martinsville resident J. Wells Eakin, who celebrated his 90th birthday in April. The chamber’s action was not only unprecedented, it was both appropriate and symbolic for a man whose family business was part of the Wetzel County landscape for more than a half century.

What was Wells Eakin Furniture Store when Wells retired in 1997, began in the early 1930s as Wells Hardware — one of three such retail outlets in New Martinsville. The store was located on South Main Street in New Martinsville in what is now the James Fitzsimmons Center, formerly the Wetzel County Museum. The business was started by Friend Cox Wells and Samuel Wells, Wells’ grandfather and uncle, respectively.

From 1943-46, Wells served in what is now the US Air Force, after graduating from West Virginia University with a degree in business administration. When discharged, he would return to New Martinsville with his bride that he met while at WVU, Lee Eleanor Alfred, a music major from Clarksburg.

Many will remember Lee as choir director and principal voice at the former St. John’s Methodist Church at the corner of Maple Avenue and Jefferson Street. Lee also was active in the family business.

At this point, Wells Hardware had become Wells Hardware and Furniture Co., and the business expanded into an adjoining building where RCS Printing is now located. There was a walkway between the stores for customer convenience.

Pictured is Friend Cox Wells, owner and founder of Wells Hardware Co. and grandfather to Wells Eakin. His family owned this business on South Main Street from 1909 until 1974. The building still stands, on lower west Main Street. (Photo courtesy of the Historical Society).

But a major change came following the death of Grandpa Friend Cox Wells, when Wells and his father, Justus Orin Eakin, assumed the business as Wells Eakin Furniture. Previously, Justus had been postmaster in New Martinsville. A cousin, Ephram Wells, took over the hardware operation and the opening between the stores was closed.

The business was incorporated in 1980, with Wells as president, son Jay as vice president, and Lee as secretary-treasurer. From this point, the product line of Wells Eakin Furniture expanded to include floor covering, electronics, window treatments, and appliances, as well as furniture. Lee would supervise the drapery and window treatment operations and the store hired additional personnel for inside the store and for home service. During this period, also, a new building went up behind the main building to garage service vehicles and store inventory.

Following the death of his father in August 1958, Wells purchased the former Quality Chevrolet building and the business expanded southward on lower Main Street. The new property would become a parking lot at the store entrance that existed at the time of Wells’ retirement in 1997.

In retrospect, Eakin recalled some noticeable changes in the community and peoples’ behavior from years ago. One of the most dramatic things is “the number of people going places, often to buy things that are available locally. People just seem to do more in more places,” he observed.

In addition, television, computers, and other electronic media have given people more information on and a greater interest in all products. “Even grocery stores,” observed Eakin, “offer more products and have larger inventories than they ever did to benefit consumers.” The emergence of refrigeration has allowed people to buy a greater quantity of more products. “These grocery marts now carry clothes, sports items, and some hardware and electrical supplies that they did not some years ago.”

Additionally, almost every grocery store now has a bakery and deli that offer customers prepared foods.

For almost a century, Eakin and his family were part of the community landscape and active in it. Lee and Wells were long-time members of St. John’s Church and Wells still attends the New Martinsville United Methodist Church, which united St. John, Steelton, and First Methodist Church in New Martinsville.

Wells has been a member the Lions Club, the New Martinsville American Legion, and Moose clubs, as well as the present Wetzel County Chamber of Commerce. A former director of the New Martinsville Bank, now WesBanco, Wells also has been a member of the Masonic Lodge #39 for more than 50 years.