Date of Graduation
Aretas Brooks Fleming (1839â€“1923) businessman and Democratic party boss came from a prominent Fairmont family with extensive political connections throughout the region. He was not rich, but was well born, and able and followed the Virginia tradition of marrying well. He used an extensive kinship network, which was a community unto itself, to build a successful law practice and to start his climb up the political ladder. Fleming's dedication brought both political and business success, as he served in the West Virginia legislature and then judge of the second judicial circuit of West Virginia. Fleming's basic interest in politics, however, was due to his many business endeavors. He invested in railroads, land, timber, oil, and the production of bituminous coal. Fleming's interests were joined with Johnson Newlon Camden after 1886, when Camden entered the Montana Coal and Coke venture. Together, they devoted their considerable talents to developing the Upper Monongahela coal field, and in the process Fleming had the support and the backing of Camden. In 1888, Fleming sought and won the Democratic nomination for governor and then won the controversial gubernatorial election of 1890. During his three year tenure as governor of West Virginia, he made a considerable impact on West Virginia, presiding over and defining the office of chief executive in terms of commitment to entrepreneurial activity and promotion. Fleming pursued his individual economic goals while working to integrate West Virginia into mainstream economic life as a supplier of natural resources. Fleming and his brother-in-law, Clarence W. Watson formed a number of coal collieries prior to merging them into the Fairmont Coal Company in 1901. Efforts to eliminate competition reached its peak in 1903 when the Fairmont Coal Company was absorbed into the larger Consolidation Coal Company of Maryland. In spite of the merger, the Fleming-Watson group maintained control of Consolidation Coal for the next twenty-five years. The strategy of Fleming and company, coming as it did, in a time of great industrial expansion, was successful in capturing most of the mines in the Fairmont field. However, the industrial expansion was slowed by the deaths of 361 men and boys at Fairmont Coal's interconnecting Monongah mines in 1907. After the disaster, Fleming recognized the total investment in modern coal collieries required the owners to operate a safe work place. Fleming wielded considerable influence among the West Virginia coal operators, and he led the charge for the establishment of the United States Bureau of Mines in 1910. Fleming's fight for the bureau was not a drastic departure from the past, but an extension of the limited government doctrine. In the final analysis, this study finds that Fleming was dedicated to strong local operations and he did he best to build operations that withstand the test of time. His vision included an industrial transformation that was directed and controlled for the benefit of the home state. In fact, the Fleming-Watson family built a number of Fairmont businesses, and they retained controlling interest in Fairmont Coal and Consolidation Coal Company well into the 1920s. Fleming's death in 1923 was followed by the economic depression of 1929, which so crippled Consol's finances the corporation displaced the individual owners.
Cook, Jeffery Blane, "The ambassador of development: Aretas Brooks Fleming, West Virginia's political entrepreneur, 1839-1923." (1998). Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 8661.