Wednesday, April 15, 2009

History R Us

Ever since "200 Years," our newspaper's history book, was published last year, I've been getting calls from folks asking me to assist them in their research. I could tell them that I'm too busy to do their work for them, but the truth is I enjoy it.

Got a call yesterday from a man in Wheeling who has silverware engraved with "Henry Clay Tavern" on it. He said the tavern was on Old Route 40 between West Alexander and Claysville and was a posh place in the 1920s and '30s. He was looking for more information about it and perhaps some newspaper advertisements.

A quick Google search revealed that Leon "Chu" Berry (right), a premier tenor saxophone player, was playing with a band called Perry's Broadway Buddies, which was a fixture at the Henry Clay Tavern in 1928. Berry was born in Wheeling in 1908. He went on to play with many of the great figures in jazz and was a member of Cab Calloway's Cotton Club orchestra when he died in an auto accident at age 33 in 1941.

I took a gander at a bound volume of The Washington Observer from 1928, searching for advertisements for the place. There were none, and it became obvious to me why very quickly. The headlines in the papers were about G-men taking axes to barrels of whiskey; these were the days of prohibition. More than likely, the Henry Clay Tavern, located far out in the sticks, hosting wicked jazz jam sessions, was very likely a speakeasy. The last thing its proprietors wished for was publicity.

If anyone else out there has information about this place, please chime in.

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