50 Years of History: A Look Back

Article By Janie Kirk

In 1963, a goodly number of folks in Greenbrier County came together to make official an organization that had existed loosely for about 20 years.  Their interest in recording the stories of the area motivated them to establish an institution that would forever seek to research, educate and preserve the history of the Greenbrier area.  Fifty years have elapsed since the formation of the Greenbrier Historical Society (GHS), making 2013 a special year of celebration.

Far from being dead, history is made every day, and by 1963, there existed several hundred years to capture, compile and commemorate.  During 2013, special events and programs will highlight the work of the Society over the past 50 years.  The public will be invited to participate in a variety of activities, some of which will occur at the North House Museum, the home of the GHS. This beautiful house museum displays historical objects, and documents many of the high points of the nearly 200 years since the home was built.  This extraordinary museum is open free to the public, Monday through Saturday year-round.

Since the GHS represents all Greenbrier area residents, it is the job of the Society to introduce each new generation to the fascinating history of the area.  Watch for subsequent articles in this paper that will relate stories that have appeared in the pages of The Journal of the Greenbrier Historical Society during the past 50 years.

Volume I, Number 1 of The Journal, dated 1 August 1963, introduced the newly formed Society and provided information of the earliest times in the Greenbrier area.  It also introduced the official seal of the Greenbrier Historical Society, reproduced here.

The Greenbrier Historical Society Seal

The Greenbrier Historical Society Seal

What is a seal, anyway?  It is a pictorial representation of a group or family.  People who live in West Virginia know its flag contains the WV coat of arms that is also the basis of the state seal.  It’s distinctive center boulder shows the date of the state’s founding, June 20, 1863.  In the foreground, two crossed rifles and a liberty cap signify the importance of fighting for liberty.  Two men represent agriculture and industry with related symbols and implements.  The outer ring contains the state’s name and motto, “Montani Semper Liberi,”  Mountaineers Are Always Free.

WV statehood

               The West Virginia Seal

The Greenbrier Historical Society seal uses symbols to represent its concepts and aspirations, or the standards around which like-minded individuals can rally to accomplish a common purpose.  The Society’s description of its seal, as printed in Volume I, Number 1 of The Journal, is paraphrased here.                                                      

Two concentric outer circles represent the limits of the universe within which human thought and action are confined.  Between these circles and the inner circle are the name of the organization and its date of birth, and the artist’s concept of the plant from which the area derives its name – the green brier.  The triangle lines subtend equal segments of the inner circle and represent the span of life, bounded by youth, maturity and senescence.  The areas of interest of the Society are shown in the three words just outside the triangle – Research, Education, Preservation.  Prominently displayed across the base of the triangle is the word “VERITAS”, meaning truth, to emphasize the ultimate objective of the Society.  Immediately above this slogan, in a central position, is pictured a lighted silver lamp, symbolizing man’s capacity for combining art and utility in his quest for the truth and its promise of freedom.  Above the lamp, in the apex of the triangle, is pictured an open eye surrounded by a halo.  This is symbolic of alertness, perception, knowledge and wisdom required for the discernment of the elements of truth.  In each of the arcs surrounding the triangle are small symbols:  one represents the human male, another the female, and the third is the symbol of Eternity.  These ancient characters invite our respect for the accomplishments of our ancestors.

Writing for Volume I, Number 1 of The Journal was Dr. Harry E. Handley, born in the 1890s on Hartland, his parent’s farm about two miles west of Lewisburg.  A physician who developed a keen interest in public health, Dr. Handley returned to his home state, and to Greenbrier County, where he was instrumental in the formation and growth of GHS.  His article about the Mathews Trading Post provided a detailed description of the who, what, where and when of this activity along the banks of the Greenbrier River near the mouth of Howard’s Creek.

From the first Journal article comes the following:

by Harry E. Handley

“The first trading post, or store, within the confines of the present limits of Greenbrier, for which there is any known record, was owned by Sampson and George Mathews, and is said to have been located on the Greenbrier River, not far from the mouth of Howards Creek, at or near the shallows in the river now known as Mathews Ford.

“Two of the Day Books, in which were kept an accounting of the charges for purchases made and credits for produce sold to the store, have survived. They cover the time interval 8 April 1771 to 26 Jan. 1778.

“The names of many of the customers appear only once during the more than twenty-one months covered by the two books, but the names of others appear repeatedly, and from the various entries it is possible to gain considerable insight into the tenor of community life in this frontier area. It is proposed to explore this approach in considerable detail in a future article, but for the present only the names of those mentioned in the two books are being given, followed by the month and year of the first mention, the month and year of last mention, and occasional notation of relations or associates and types of purchases and sales. Names are spelled as shown on the first entry, with later spellings indicated in parentheses.

“Sampson and George Mathews were two of the sons of Capt. John Mathews, who with his family settled to the south of the Borden Grant, between Lexington and Buena Vista, in the present Rockbridge County, Va., during the period 1730-1737. Mention is made of other stores operated by the Mathews contemporaneously with the one in Greenbrier, which were located in Staunton and on the Cowpasture.”

The Journal article proceeded to list several pages of Mathews Trading Post patrons’ names, many of which are familiar in the area today.

The Journal Volume I, Number 1, and all issues up to the present, are accessible through the archives maintained at the North House Museum in Lewisburg.  Located at 301 West Washington Street, next to New River Community College, the public is encouraged to visit, do research, learn history of the area, and to preserve the stories of family and friends for future generations to enjoy and appreciate. All interested persons are invited to membership, and may be in residence anywhere in the world.  Please call the Greenbrier Historical Society at 304.645.3398 for additional information.

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