This week’s undated photo shows one of John Henry Hunt’s (1871-1932) Morgantown oyster parlors. Hunt, an African-American, was a pioneer West Virginia entrepreneur. He began his career as a cook in Morgantown when he was 19. After honing his skills, he opened a restaurant in the basement of the Peabody Hotel. He soon sold that restaurant and opened another. Hunt continued to open restaurants and is thought to have owned 23 over his career.
He started the first ice cream manufacturing plant in Monongalia County and sold ice cream under the name of “Hokey Pokey.” Since there was no ice plant in Morgantown, Hunt cut ice in the Monongalia River during the winter, stored it in ice houses, and sold ice to restaurants during the summer.
During World War I, drafted men from all over West Virginia were sent to Morgantown to be trained at West Virginia University. Challenged by how to feed all the draftees, WVU’s president engaged Hunt for the task. Hunt took over the “Ark,” where the basketball team played their games, and turned it into a cafeteria. So impressed with Hunt’s capability, Governor Cornwell appointed him to the State Council of Defense for the Negro Race.
Towards the end of his life, Hunt developed summer resorts. When he died at age 61, his death was headline news in The Pittsburgh Courier. He left his wife, Anna, and six daughters and two sons.
Note shown in the photo on the left is Sam Possner’s shop where he would repair your shoes while you waited (perhaps while eating oysters or ice cream).
Photo: Courtesy of West Virginia University Regional History Center.
Sources: The Pittsburgh Courier, West Virginia University Regional History Center.