XVII. THE BAKERTON PLANT LEAVES THE BAKER FAMILY (1949-1957)
The beginning of the end for the Bakerton quarry can be traced to the mid-1940's, at approximately the time that J.H. Baker  retired from the presidency of Standard and was replaced by Daniel Baker III . Since Standard was a family-owned and family-run operation, most of the internal affairs of the company during this period have never been made public. However, David B. Baker, Jr., noted that "There were factions that were growing up during that period of time that would later force the company to be sold."1 From the public record, it is apparent that a struggle for control of the company was beginning. This struggle culminated in a lawsuit in the late 1940's that deeply divided the Baker family, and many of the wounds opened at that time have not yet healed.
The deaths of three members of the Baker family in 1948 (Frank Thomas , Henry Baker Treide, and William G. Baker, Jr. ) doubtlessly added to the problems created by the family conflict. David B. Baker, Sr. , retired as vice-president of sales the following year, and William Garvin took over as vice-president in charge of operations. Although the supervisors at the Bakerton plant were aware of some of the events taking place at the corporate level, work at Bakerton proceeded pretty much as usual. No major changes in management occurred at the plant level.
Some Bakerton residents began to sense that the end was near when J.H. Baker died in 1954. On November 23, 1954, the Standard Lime and Stone Company, consisting of nine plants and 1,600 employees in seven states, was sold to the American- Marietta Company for over $10 million.2 The sale of Standard also marks the retirement of Daniel Baker III as president and the exit of most of Standard's other corporate managers.3 Although the details behind the transaction are not available, it appears that Baker family members lost their controlling interest in the company after the death of J.H. Baker and chose to sell out under these circumstances.
In addition to the change in company management, another far-reaching change occurred when Standard was sold. According to a contemporary interview with an American-Marietta spokesman, "an expansion program for Standard Lime will be launched immediately and ... plans include increasing cement capacity by approximately 750,000 barrels a year."4 The emphasis on cement production appears to have been one of the factors that decided the fate of several Standard operations, particularly those with stone that was more appropriate for aggregate or use in the steel mills.
Daniel Baker III survived his company by less than 2 years, dying on October 16, 1956.5 And then came the end. In March of 1957, American Marietta announced that it was permanently closing the Bakerton plant. One hundred and fifteen employees received a letter signed by William D. Garvin which stated:
for the past several years the company has made exhaustive explorations, at considerable expense, in the Bakerton area to develop additional high calcium stone reserves, with the hope of prolonging the life of the operation. Having exhausted these possibilities, it is with regret that the company finds it necessary, due to the depletion of high calcium limestone, to discontinue the mining of stone and burning of lime at the Bakerton, W. Va. plant the first part of April, 1957.6
Employees' reactions to the closing of the Bakerton plant and to the official reasons for the shutdown vary widely. However, there is a clear separation between management and labor on several of the issues.
How much warning did Bakerton residents have before the closing? Lowell Hetzel, an engineer for Standard and one-time assistant superintendent of the Bakerton plant, noted that:
Bakerton's deposit was limited. They knew that in the mid- '40's I guess. They knew the extent of the high-quality stone. And the operation at Bakerton was dependent on the high-quality stone, not this medium-quality stuff that's still here. There's plenty of what they call magnesian stone around here, but they only use that for the steel mills.... This high purity limestone was one of the highest purities in the world. There was kind of a pond of it in here. And they came in and opened these quarries, and quarried as much as they could from the surface, and then the stone began to dip. So they went underground and followed the seam, and there's only so much here.7
Bill Flanagan, foreman of the plant laboratory, agreed with Hetzel's assessment, remarking "I'd say it was about 2 years before it phased out completely, but I'd say they had at least a year's warning before it started to close down."8 Guy Moler added that:
Some of us knew it long before, several years before, but the rank and file in the plant, they wouldn't believe it. I had a fellow down in Harpers Ferry wanted to sell me a house. And I said "I'm not going to buy no house or nothing now because they're liable to close the plant down most any time." He said some of these people have been working there since he was a boy they're not going to close down that plant."... And just like that they couldn't believe it. But at that time I was out in the plant with Brian Houser, and we had notice not to stock equipment, you know. Just stay with what you use from day to day. And I was told by the superintendent "If you need this or you need that, you either go to Millville or Martinsburg." And then they was instructed, if we needed so-and-so, we were to get it. And you could see the writing on the wall.9
Some employees place part of the blame for the closing of the Bakerton plant on the union and on the costs associated with paying higher wages. Charles Knott noted that his own salary as a welder increased substantially after the takeover by American-Marietta. "I was at Martinsburg then," he said. "I went up to Mr. Muller and said 'What is the difference between Standard and American-Marietta?' 'Well, Charlie,' he said, 'you used to work in the minors for Standard. Now you're up in the majors.' The money kept coming on up." 10 George Dozier, who worked for the plant as a lime bagger, also felt that things might have been different if the union hadn't been formed.11
While the supervisors seem to have been prepared for the closing of the plant, the rank and file appear to have been caught off guard. George Dozier recounted how some of the men first heard the news:
Brian Houser was my last superintendent. We had a union there and the guys give him a rough time. They wasn't satisfied with anything. So one time he had a hall meeting. Everybody had to be at the community center.... This fella claimed that Brian should pay him for the day's work he gave Dick Houser.... Before the meeting closed, Brian Houser said "You know one thing? You fellows are all the time arguing over this and the other. I got something in my heart that will hurt every man on this job." Nobody knew what it was. But I remember it just as good as today. We were down loading stone dust. We saw these fellows coming down the road, going to the office. Joe Giffin used to drive a truck there, and he said "I'm going up and find out what's going on." He came back and said, "You know, Brian Houser said he had something in his heart that would hurt every man on the job? Well, he's right." He said, "They're going to shut this place down."12
Charles Knott, Brian Houser's nephew, provided another explanation for the way in which the bad news reached the employees:
At that particular time we was building a kiln at Pleasant Gap, Pennsylvania. And I went into the restaurant in the morning and it was 2 weeks before these fellows got their notice. And Ken Bowles said "Charlie, have you heard the latest? Bakerton plant. Permanent. Closed down." My uncle was superintendent, and he just couldn't face it. So he told Mr. Maury, "You go back to Martinsburg and I'll give you all these names. Send each of them a letter. I was raised with these people. I just don't have the heart. I'll break down."13
The last days of work at the Bakerton plant are still clearly remembered by many of its former employees. Guy Moler recalled,
part of my responsibility was checking the mine. The way that stone was, that bed of stone there was something like an inverted saucer. They just followed it around, and kept going down, as far as you could go to. You had magnesia in the roof and silica in the bottom, and you stayed between that. And the last couple of shifts we operated down there, there was a black streak come up from the bottom about 18 inches and the roof dropped off so fast that you couldn't even get the shovel under it. We shot what good we could get out of that little streak and we took a bulldozer and pushed it out so a shovel could pick it up. That's how close they had the thing timed.14
Management and workers also seemed to differ in their assessments of the impact of the plant closing on the local workforce. Lowell Hetzel observed:
I guess they were shook up at first. A small community like this, there weren't too many other opportunities for employment. And it wasn't too many years after that the Millville plant was closed down. The company had built facilities elsewhere and they were replaced.... Some went to Millville and a few to Martinsburg. I expect the average age was getting up there. They had social security, but the average age of the employees was pretty high.15
However, George Dozier remarked that, when the plant closed, "Some of those old fellas just sat right there and died. That's true. I never had a thing that hurt me so bad. I had them children. I didn't know what I was going to do. We were all depending on the Bakerton plant running."16
The different attitude of managers and laborers to the closing of the Bakerton plant was probably influenced by the skills each worker held and his ability to follow the job market. Most of the foremen at Bakerton were able to obtain similar jobs at other plants if they were willing to relocate. However, the skilled and semi-skilled laborers were probably easier to replace at other operations, and most of these men scattered throughout Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania looking for work.
Economically, the shutdown of the Bakerton plant caused hardship that went far beyond the village itself. The impact was felt not only at Engle, Millville, and Moler's Crossroads but also at Antietam and Dargan on the Maryland side of the Potomac River.
Almost 30 years have elapsed since the Bakerton plant closed, and the last generation that worked at Standard is now past retirement age. Much of the pain caused by the shutdown has faded. The years have worn the rough edges off most of the memories. Although life in Bakerton was not always easy, most of the survivors have fond memories of living and working here and of the Baker family. Recalling the attitude of Bakerton residents toward their founders, Bill Flanagan said, "Oh, they thought they were wonderful people. They thought there was nobody like the Bakers."17
The year 1957 marks the end of Bakerton's life as a "company town" and the start of the most recent phase in its history. Most of the older residents are quick to add that Bakerton is not the kind of place you usually think of when you imagine a "company town." Lowell Hetzel remarked that "They couldn't compare Bakerton with a coal mining town. The only similarity, really, was that the company owned many of the houses, which were occupied almost without exception by employees.... They looked after their employees.... And they paid, comparatively speaking, good wages."18
1. Interview with David B. Baker, Jr., September 15, 1986.
2. New York Times, November 25, 1954.
3. Accident Round Table, Standard Lime and Cement Company, October 31, 1956.
4. New York Times, November 25, 1954.
5. Accident Round Table, Standard Lime and Cement Company, October 31, 1956.
6. Spirit of Jefferson Advocate, March 7, 1957.
7. Interview with Lowell Hetzell, June 1, 1985.
8. Interview with J. William Flanagan, April 15, 1985.
9. Interview with Guy M. Moler, July 8, 1985.
10. Interview with Charles Knott, September 23, 1986.
11. Interview with George W. Dozier, May 19, 1986.
12. Interview with George W. Dozier, May 19, 1986.
13. Interview with Charles Knott, September 23, 1986.
14. Interview with Guy M. Moler, July 8, 1985.
15. Interview with Lowell Hetzell, June 1, 1985.
16. Interview with George W. Dozier, May 19, 1986.
17. Interview with J. William Flanagan, April 15, 1985.
18. Interview with Lowell Hetzell, June 1, 1985.
XVIII. BAKERTON NOW