MUB dedicates pipeline to former slave turned entrepreneur

May 16—MORGANTOWN — The patriarch of a proud and accomplished family.

A foundational and transformative figure in the story of Morgantown.

Entrepreneur, and predecessor of the modern water utility.

John Edwards was each of these.

His legacy was officially recognized for the first time Thursday as the Morgantown Utility Board welcomed the community and well over a dozen of Edwards' descendants from across the country for the dedication of The Edwards Pipeline.

The four-mile, gravity-fed water line runs beneath White Park, connecting the Flegal Dam and Reservoir to MUB's water treatment facility.

Fitting tribute for a man who made his name delivering water.

A slave born to slaves ; Edwards found himself in West Virginia as a young man working as a cook with the Union Army.

It's believed he walked to Morgantown from Beverly, W.Va., around 1863. Two years later, at 25, he took a bride, and a chance.

For 10-15 cents—depending on whether the customer wanted water from the Monongahela River or Deckers Creek—Edwards would fill a barrel and deliver it on his mule-driven cart.

He spent the next 25 years delivering water, until the city established a public water works in 1889 essentially putting him out of business.

Now, some 135 years later, plaques telling the story will be placed at each end of the underground water line bearing his name.

MUB Chair Barbara Parsons said Edwards' life is a testament to courage, resolve and pure grit in the face of overwhelming odds.

"Think about the risk he took. He came here. He knew no one. He had no visible means of support. There were no government programs, no way to ensure success. He took a risk. He saw a need and he met that need. What he did is the definition of an entrepreneur, " Parsons said.

"Recall that when Mr. Edwards arrived in Morgantown ... the Civil War was raging. The degree of prejudice, discrimination and downright hatred he must have endured is difficult for many of us to even imagine, yet he persevered."

Along the way, he helped form Morgantown's first Black Methodist church. A few years later, he and his wife, Sarah, purchased a piece of property and built a home at what is now 477 White Ave.

Over time, that area became the focal point of a growing Black community as family from Virginia started relocating to Morgantown—many to work in the city's first sanitation service, developed by John's son, James.

Years later, James provided his large White Avenue home to the Morgantown Board of Education for $112 a month to serve as the city's Black school.

That continued until 1939 when the Second Ward Annex was built, also on White Avenue, and became the Second Ward Negro School.

James Edwards was Edward Bolden's grandfather.

Born in Morgantown, raised in Charleston and a resident of Minnesota, Bolden said he's spent a lifetime cherishing his childhood memories of Morgantown, Granny, Granpap and his cousins.

In particular, he recalls the wrangling and preparation of ornery chickens that liked to run around his grandparents' front yard.

He said coming back to see Granny was among his top priorities when he returned home after serving in Vietnam.

"Coming to Morgantown was always so special to me, " he said.

Bolden spoke with pride about the accomplishments of his extended family, including Phillip Edwards, who became WVU's first black student-athlete in 1961 as a member of the track team.

"History doesn't end. It just keeps going. It's family history, " he said. "It's been a pleasure coming to Morgantown—coming back home."