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HISTORY

The World's Most Unusual Navy: A Brief History
by Admiral Maxine Corbett

The Cherry River Navy has been called the most unusual navy in the world! And with good reason! The Navy is named for a river that is in-navigable, never puts to sea, has a flagship that "sails" on wheels, and is composed exclusively of Admirals. Even stranger, the Navy's formation had nothing to do with water but rather to bring attention to the need for a highway.

The original idea for the Navy's formation is attributed to John L. "Bugs" Teets, then editor of the Nicholas Republican, along with A. B. Campbell and Lee Reese. The most widely circulated "fable" is that Teets envisioned the idea of a Navy after falling into Cherry River while fishing. Cold and grumbling "Bugs," while trying to get warm, his over-active imagination working in double time, thought of Nebraska's dry-land navy, and, hence, The Cherry River Navy idea was born.

Community leaders enthusiastically joined "Bugs" in putting his idea to work. One hundred Admirals commissions were printed "under legal authority of eminent domain" by the  Spud (for the agricultural industry) and Splinter (for the timber industry) Congress of the Free State of the Cherry River Valley. Fifty engraved commissions were mailed to dignitaries including governors, congressmen, sports greats, and newspaperman Damon Runyon who ran the story in his syndicated "Good Morning" column, published in all Scripps-Howard newspapers.

The Navy's "mission" was to "find a means and a way for construction of the 'missing link' 29-mile stretch of State Route 30 from Richwood to Mill Point." Located in a fertile valley surrounded on all sides by tree-covered mountains. Richwood was a thriving , wood-oriented community with a tannery that utilized tree bark, a paper mill that used pulpwood, and the largest clothespin factory in the world that necessitated the finest beech timber. The precious "missing link" was essential for distribution of wood products if the young community was to escape the "ghost town" syndrome of other small Eastern timber regions.

The August, 1937 maneuvers saw 400 Admirals of the Line in Richwood, parading in cocked-hats, shoulder epaulettes, sleeve stripes of 4-star admirals, and side arms of giant clothespins. (The modern-day side-arm has been changed to a miniature mop, the name of the festival to Cherry River Festival, and the Navy's flagship has become "the Mopswab."

Among the 400 participants in that first 1937 parade were Harry Nice, then Governor of Maryland and his West Virginia counterpart, Homer A. Holt. Many famous names appear on the roster of thousands who later accepted Cherry River Navy Admiral commissions. Presidents Hoover, Truman, and Eisenhower; vice president Hubert H. Humphrey; West Virginia Governor Hullet Smith; and real-life four star admiral, Arleigh Burke, USN, Retired, former Chief of U. S. Naval Operations, to name just a few. Babe Ruth's commission hangs at Cooperstown's Baseball Hall of Fame, along with other Ruth personal memorabilia. Current West Virginia Governor Arch Moore is an Admiral as are both U. S. Senators from the mountain State, Jay Rockefeller and Robert Byrd. Former President Gerald Ford was commissioned while serving as majority leader of the House of Representatives. However, these distinguished names intermingle equality with the every-day American for in the Cherry River Navy all men are created equal.

At the groundbreaking ceremonies for the "missing link" held in November 1937, Admiral E. C. Bennett, M. D., the first Chief of Staff, Board of the Admiralty, and Lee F. Reese, the first commissioned Admiral, presided. The road was officially opened for traffic in late 1945, putting Richwood at the cross-roads of progress.

The Cherry River Navy was officially chartered by the State of West Virginia October 21, 1938. However, maneuvers were abandoned after the 1941 gathering due to World War II. In 1960, the call went out for a reunion of "old-timers" who had been commissioned Admirals of the Line. Due to the interest this reunion generated, the Navy was revived and in 1962 was was reborn in the "Spirit of '37." Maneuvers continued through 1983, then were suspended again due to the death of founder Teets in 1984 at the age of 87. The Navy was reorganized and maneuvers again held in 1986, in preparation  of the Navy's Golden Jubilee Celebration in 1987. 1987 was officially proclaimed "The Year of the Navy" in Richwood by Mayor Hyer Sutton.

While there is much hoopla connected with the actual commissioning ceremony, the requirements for becoming an Admiral are quite simple: A candidate must be nominated for Admiral-status by an already commissioned Admiral, and he must have dedicated good towards his fellow man.

Take a look at the Admiral's Lists from 1937.

"To provide a legalized and organized means of controlling, regulating, and perpetuating The Cherry River Navy as an organization to serve as a medium of publicity and good will for the interests of West Virginia through recognition of individuals by such organization who have or may contribute directly or indirectly to the welfare of the State or any of its subdivisions, municipalities or communities."

 

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Cherry River Navy is a 501 (C) 3 Non-Profit Organization
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