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.

2013 Annual Member Meeting & Banquet

2013 Annual Banquet Reminder

Come celebrate 50 years of history with the Greenbrier Historical Society! On Thursday, September 12th at 6:00pm, the Greenbrier Historical Society will hold its Annual Member Meeting and Banquet at the Lewisburg United Methodist Church, located at 214 E. Washington Street in Lewisburg. The society’s Board of Directors and staff will provide a report on the growing organization, followed by a delicious meal prepared by the Methodist Women. Directly following the meal will be a presentation by Dr. Robert Conte, the historian at the Greenbrier Resort.

Tickets for the Greenbrier Historical Society’s Annual Member Meeting and Banquet are $16 per person and can be purchased at the North House, located at 301 W. Washington Street in Lewisburg, or by calling 304.645.3398.  Tickets must be purchased BEFORE Wednesday September 4, 2013!

AmeriCorps Member Megan Ramsey Says Goodbye


For the past two years, I have called Lewisburg home.  But all great things must come to an end.  Friday August 23rd marks my final day as an AmeriCorps member with the Greenbrier Historical Society.  I have been honored to work with a wonderful staff, passionate board members, and a dedicated group of volunteers.  I have discovered a new love of history and developed a real passion for museums.  I have greatly enjoyed working with the GHS collections, with my major project to inventory all the items on display in the museum and the boxed items housed in the collections storage room.  It has taken me months, but I enjoyed every minute of identifying the objects, researching their history, and understanding their importance in the Greenbrier Valley.

Living in Lewisburg and the Greenbrier Valley for over two years has been such a privilege.  I can’t think of another place as naturally beautiful or as rich with history.  I look forward to returning to Lewisburg in the future and knowing that I’ve been a part of a wonderful organization that strives to preserve and promote the history of such a remarkable place.


Item of the Week – Coffman Wagon

Item of the week – August 23, 2013

Covered wagons have long held an iconic place in the real and storied past of the
American frontier, and in the late 1700s, Lewisburg was the edge of the western frontier.  The main purpose of the wagon was not to transport people but to deliver raw materials from the countryside into the city and finished goods back to the frontier.  The Coffman family traveled between Lewisburg and Richmond, Philadelphia, and New York City for up to five months at a time.


This wagon is currently on display in the Wagon House on the North House lawn in Lewisburg.  The display was recently updated by our summer intern, Allyson Miller, and will teach visitors about this type of wagon, how it was restored, and why it’s so important to the Greenbrier Valley.

Unable to make it to Lewisburg to see the new display?  No worries!  The following images are included in the new display.  But make sure to check out the Wagon House the next time you’re in the area!






June & July 2013 Memberships

The Greenbrier Historical Society would like to thank those who renewed their memberships or became first time members in June & July 2013.

  • Billie Jane Lynch
  • Blaine McClung Dillon
  • Tommy & Rody Johnson
  • Netta Card
  • Robert & Roberta Koontz
  • Frederick & Elizabeth Hippert
  • Denise Bunker
  • Nancy Colucci
  • Margaret Engelhardt
  • Sara Lueck
  • Mary Jo & Chris Thompson
  • Paul & Mary Lindquist
  • Randy & Catherine Crist
  • Orlie K. Wolfenbarger III
  • Jeffrey Brown
  • Greg Clendenin
  • James & Julie Johnson
  • James Webb
  • Kendall Wilson, Jr
  • Susan & Francis Degges
  • Helen J. McClung
  • Nancy Richmond
  • Charity Marie Richmond

For more information on membership, contact the Greenbrier Historical Society at 304.645.3398 or info@greenbrierhistorical.org. The Greenbrier Historical Society and North House Museum, located at 301 West Washington Street in Lewisburg, WV, are open free to the public Monday – Saturday from 10am to 4pm.

Item of the Week – Bible Box

IMG_0760 IMG_0761

Item of the Week – August 16, 2013
Bibles were one of the most important objects a family would own, not only because of the significance of religion, but because they held family records about births, deaths, and marriages.  This box would have contained the family bible in order to protect it and served as a place to display it during special occasions.


The Battle of White Sulphur Springs

civil war 3

This month marks the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of White Sulphur Springs, also known as the Battle of Dry Creek. As rival armies moved across the Greenbrier Valley and camped in close proximity of one another, it is not surprising that several battles and small skirmishes took places in Greenbrier County. The bloodiest battle was the Battle of White Sulphur Springs, which took place on August 26-27, 1863.

Union troops under General William W. Averill were marching from Covington, Virginia by way of the James River and Kanawha Turnpike with the purpose of capturing the law library in Lewisburg. Believing that Averill’s target was the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, members of the Confederate army under Colonel George Patton and Colonel George Edgar marched down Anthony’s Creek Road toward the junction of the James River and Kanawha Turnpike. Determined to head off the Union army, Patton’s army marched for nearly 24 hours. Col. Edgar ordered his men to tear down a split-rail fence and create a barricade. Even so, the bodies of dead and wounded soldiers quickly filled the road. At the end of the first day, the two armies rested barely 300 yards apart. Fighting renewed the next morning with Averill ordering a retreat to Beverly. The Union army suffered approximately 218 casualties while the Confederates lost approximately 167 men. Wounded soldiers were treated at the Old White Hotel at White Sulphur Springs.   

A historic Marker commemorating the battle now stands at the intersection of Route 92 and US Route 60 – yards from where the fighting took place.

The 25th Annual Battle of Dry Creek Re-Enactment will be held this Saturday and Sunday August 17th and 18th, 2013 in the Greenbrier State Forest. There will be a Saturday morning tactical at the park and a live artillery demonstrations at 1:30pm. On Sunday at 2pm, the Battle of Dry Creek will be held. There is no charge and the public is invited to come out and enjoy the day. For more information on this event, go to battleofdrycreek.org.


The Greenbrier Valley Fair

In September 1938, LIFE Magazine wrote a cover story about the Greenbrier Valley Fair – which later grew to become the State Fair of West Virginia. The following are the pages of that article and select captions that show how different today’s fair (or at least our perception of it) really is!

IMG_0646 Life Goes to a County Fair: With 100,000 West Virginians to Look at the Bodies of Men, Women and Beasts

“The first Greenbrier Valley Fair was held just 80 years ago. The few hundred farmers who attended gaped at the wonderful Howe sewing machine and admired a stalwart yearling who grew up to become Traveller, the big gray horse who carried General Lee through the Civil War. Today, the Greenbrier Valley Fair is one of the best-known in the South. This year, from August 29 to September 3, 100,000 people paid admission to the fair grounds near Lewisburg, West Virginia. They watched the trotters race and went around looking at entries in contests for the best buckwheat, the best bread, the best begonias, the best “article made of sealing wax.”

“But their major preoccupation was bodies – human bodies, animal bodies, bodies that looked half-human, half-animal. The “girlie” shows, which were hot and smutty, drew smaller audiences than the freaks from crowds made up of farmers, breeders and hillbillies. Only a few city people were present although some urban sophisticates have discovered the county fair and are beginning to make rural America’s great harvest-time diversion a city-folk fad.”



“For the kiddies and for adults who weren’t interested in gypsy dancers, the big attractions were the twin Ferris wheels and the monkey auto race. Those who paid a dime to the races watched for little electric autos on rails run around a track with monkeys at the wheels. The monkeys just sat, however, as a man on the sidelines ran the cars.”


“The free show open to everyone who paid the 50 cent admission to the grounds, was billed as “an intricate and pleasing dance routine.” It was performed by the Polly Ann dancers who, after the show, were closely chaperoned and protected against the wiles of country slickers.”


“The daily chores of carnival life were done between performances by the Polly Ann dancing girls. Students of a Reading, Pennsylvania dancing teacher, the Polly Ann girls are all young, get $20 a week, do precision dancing in the best big-movie-palace fashion.”


Item of the Week – Soldier Bibles




Item of the Week – August 9, 2013

These bibles were carried by soldiers during the American Civil War. They served not only as a reminder of the family left at home. Often soldier bibles functioned like dog tags – if a soldier was wounded or killed, his family could be located and contacted. These three bibles belonged to three local confederate soldiers:

Charles T. Holliday: Confederate, 26th Battalion, Virginia Infantry, Company D
Private William H. Callison: Confederate, 27th Regiment, Virginia Infantry, Company E
Lieutenant Thomas L. Feamster: Confederate, 14th Reg. Virginia Calvary, Company A