When the state of West Virginia is mentioned, one usually thinks…majestic mountains, natural coal, and family loyalty that values deep convictions. Home to one of the largest diamonds ever found in North America doesn’t even come close to making that list, but it’s true.
West Virginia may not be known for her raw diamonds, but in 1928 a magnificent 34.46 carat one was uncovered in a Monroe County horseshoe pit.
It all unfolded one spring day in April while Grover C. Jones Sr. and his 12-year-old son, William or ‘Punch’ as he was known to his family, were playing a game of horseshoe at a vacant lot they owned that was attached to their home on a short street which diverged from Main Street on the floor plain about 25 feet from Rich Creek in Peterstown, WV, which is about 3 ½ hours south of West Union. The lot was no more than 25 feet from the stream. The untold number of games of horseshoe that had been played there had gouged out the pit to the point that it was about a foot deep.
It seems that young William (eldest of 17 children) pitched his horseshoe and as it landed in the pit, it struck a bright, shiny object. When William dug it out, he discovered a rounded, faceted, glassy stone about three-quarters of an inch in diameter.
Punch joking said, “See, I have found a diamond.”
Believing that the stone was nothing more than a shiny piece of quartz which was common in that area, the family thought little of it. However, the shiny, glassy stone had intrigued young William and he decided to keep it. Upon returning to his home, he placed it in a small box and stored the box in a tool shed. It stayed there tucked away for many years. Throughout the Great Depression, it remained there. During Punch’s college years, as his father struggled financially as a county schoolteacher, it was tucked away in that tool shed.
While employed at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant, Punch became acquainted with geologist, Dr. Roy J. Holden, who was a professor at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (now Virginia Tech), and in 1942, he took the diamond from the tool shed and sent it to his office. In a letter by Jones, he stated he began reading about natural crystals of diamonds. He learned diamonds have a low affinity for water, less than that of any of its imitations. A small drop of water on the cleaned surface of his crystal did not spread but tended to “round up.”
Professor Holden was incredibly surprised, even shocked at what he was looking at. He authenticated the 1928 find as a bluish-white 34.48-carat alluvial (meaning removed from its original source through natural erosive action) diamond measuring 5/8 inch in diameter. Prof. Holden stated that due to the “carry impact marks” and the size of the stone, it had probably been washed downstream from the New River into Rich Creek from a source in VA, NC, or TN.
In a report he wrote:
“This stone may have had any of three possible histories. It may have been derived from a local igneous rock. It may have come from a conglomerate with no, little, or much transport after release. It may have been stream transported from its point of origin to point of discovery through a complicated transport story so long and so intricate that it is useless to speculate on anything except its late stages.”
Dr. Holden seemed to lean to the third theory, suggesting that the stone had its origin 150 miles or more to the southeast. Having been transported to Peterstown by New River, which has changed its course in many places in years past.
After Punch was drafted into the Army during WWII, Punch placed the diamond in the Smithsonian Institute for safekeeping and to be on display. It remained there for many years.
William “Punch” Jones registered with the military on Clarksburg on July 13, 1943. He completed his training at Camp Fannin, TX. Before deploying to the European theatre, he married Miss Mary Hazel Ferguson in Smith County, TX on October 20, 1943.
While a member of the 387th Infantry Division in the United States Army, William “Punch” Jones was killed in battle on April 1, 1945 somewhere in Belgium at the age of 28.
The diamond remained on display at the Smithsonian Institute until February of 1964, when the Jones family brought the diamond back home to Peterstown and placed it in a safe deposit box in the First Valley National Bank in Rich Creek.
In 1976, after the death of Punch’s father, Grover, Punch Jones’ son, Robert Duane, and his mother, Grace, became the owners of the diamond. In 1984 they made arrangements with Sotheby’s Auction House in New York to sell the diamond at auction where it was purchased by a private collector in Asia for $74,250. The name and location of that owner is currently unknown. At some point prior to the sale, Grover was offered $50,000 for the diamond, but rejected the offer.
A historical marker was placed near the Jones home at Peterstown designating the area where the diamond was found by the WV Dept. of Archives. It reads: “An alluvial diamond weighing 34.48 carats, largest to date found in North America, was discovered here in April 1928, by William P. “Punch” Jones and his father, Grover C. Jones, Sr., while pitching horseshoes in the home yard of Mr. and Mrs. Grover C. Jones. “Punch” was later killed in combat during World War II. Mr. and Mrs. Grover C. Jones still retain ownership of the diamond. Location: Peterstown, U.S. 219, Sycamore & Market Streets.”
It is worth including in this article that in 1940, the Jones family made the newspaper headlines for a completely different reason. Twenty-three-year-old William “Punch Jones,” his father, Grover C., his mother, Annie Grace Buckland Jones, along with his 14 brothers were invited to the World’s Fair in New York City. They arrived by train at Pennsylvania Station on Oct. 2 where they were escorted around the city by the mayor and were honored to meet President Roosevelt in person.
News reporters and inquisitors bombarded them with cameras and questions. Mr. Jones became annoyed and told them there would be no interviews until after they had eaten their meal. Then, after the meal, he decided to take the 2 buses provided them back to the hotel. He quite simply said everyone would have to wait until the following day.
The reason for all for all the fuss? Mr. and Mrs. Jones were blessed with 15 sons in a row, something that had never been recorded before which earned them a spot in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” and the honor of having a day at the World’s Fair designated as “Grover Jones Day.”
In all the couple were blessed with 17 children, 15 consecutive sons whose names were William, Robert, Richard, Thomas, John, Paul, Woodrow, Ted, Willard, Peter, Rufus, Grover Fr., Buck, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Leckie, then a daughter, Charlotte, followed by a 16th son, Leslie.
*Resources for this article:
VA Dept. of Mines, Minerals and Energy, Div. of Mineral Resources
“The Jones Diamond: Mixed Blessings for a Peterstown Family,” Goldenseal Magazine 34:4 2008, by Carl E. Feather
“The Lost Mother Lode of Appalachian Diamonds,” Bird’s Eye View: From the office of the U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, Vol. 3, #50, 1963
“Gleanings of Monroe County,” by Charles B. Motley, Radford, VA Commonwealth Press, 1973
God Bless and Stay Well
Patricia Richards Harris