James Wesley Kyle of Roanoke, Virginia, a Western Union telegraph operator, shown above in a  photograph taken in 1898 looking north up George Street. When Kyle became the agent, the Lawyer’s Building behind the Courthouse was headquarters for Western Union and can be seen on the right side of the photograph. Notice that the tree to Kyle’s left has boards tied to it. This prevented horses like the one hitched on the left from chewing on the tree’s bark.

In October of 1896, Roanoke native John Wesley (J. W.) Kyle became the new Charles Town Western Union agent. Kyle replaced Lelia (Leila) Sale (Sayle) who returned to a similar position in her hometown Rustburg, Virginia.

At that time, the Western Union office was located in the Lawyer’s Building on North George Street. The one-story brick office building was in the lot behind the Jefferson County Court House, and Kyle’s office was in the north end of the office complex near the southeast corner of North George and East Liberty Streets—where the Jefferson County Circuit Clerk’s offices are today. The enterprising Kyle quickly immersed himself in the day-to-day life of his adoptive home. In the summer of 1897, the Charles Town Cycler’s Club was formed. In addition to competing in cycling meets, Kyle was elected the club’s Treasurer. As the summer of 1897 came to a close, two National League baseball teams, the Baltimore Orioles and the Boston Beaneaters, were neck and neck in a hot pennant race. On Monday, Sept. 27, the two teams clashed at the Baltimore’s Union Park in a game which would decide where the pennant would be unfurled. The game drew a crowd of 30,000 spectators and play by play was telegraphed from Union Park to Western Union stations across the country including to Kyle’s office on the corner of George and Liberty streets. You can just imagine a crowd of fans standing outside the Western Union office alternately cheering and groaning as the Beaneaters put the Orioles away by a score of 19-10. At least there was plenty of scoring! The Boston club clinched the National League pennant, and the Orioles finished the season with 90 wins and 40 losses, finishing in second place in the National League.

Kyle started the year 1898 by marrying his childhood sweetheart, Pearl Cale, who lived in Bonsack, Virginia near J. W.’s Roanoke home. The couple married at the Howard House in Baltimore and returned to Charles Town, where they took rooms with Charles Horace Gallaher and his wife Fannie Sappington Gallaher. The Gallahers lived on West Liberty Street and frequently provided a place to stay for folks visiting Charlestown. Unlike his father, Horatio Nelson Gallaher, and his brother, William Wallace Beeler Gallaher, both publishers of the Virginia Free Press, H. C. Gallaher partnered with Edward Duke to operate a hardware store and for many years was the Charles Town agent of the Adams Express Company.

Capitalizing on his experience as a bicyclist, Kyle advertised that he was “an agent for all kinds of bicycle repairs” and that he was also “agent for Morgan & Wright bicycle tires.” Fred Morgan and Rufus Wright were pioneers in developing and marketing pneumatic tires for the safety bicycle, as a safer option to the popular penny-farthing bicycle.

Today we get local, national and world news in a variety of ways from numerous sources. Although at the turn of the century, newspapers were the number one source of information, “instant news” was the domain of the telegraph. Just as fans got instantaneous baseball scores via the telegraph wire, spring and fall election results were made available in almost real time via Samuel Morse’s invention. The Presidential Election of 1900 pitted Democrat William Jennings Bryan against Republican William McKinley.

J. W. Kyle arranged to receive election results via telegraph, rented the second floor of Charles Washington Hall, and sold tickets to the event. Democrats in attendance were dismayed to learn that their candidate lost the popular ballot by almost 900,000 votes and received 137 fewer electoral college votes than Republican William McKinley.

Technology was always on the move, and the telegraph would be eclipsed by the telephone. With each new invention, cities like Charles Town would either keep up with the latest improvement or risk the economic impact of potential isolation. That made the arrival of J. W. Kyle, Agent for the Western Union Telegraph Company, front page news when he came to Charles Town in 1896.

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