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.”


Lemonade and Lavender Homes Tour: Spring Valley Farm

DSC02242Lemonade and lavender, the hallmarks of the Greenbrier Historical Society’s biennial homes tour, seem especially well suited to Spring Valley Farm.  During the tour on Saturday, June 8, from 10:00 a. m. to 5:00 p.m., visitors can imagine long summer afternoons drinking lemonade in the rocking chairs on the porch and almost smell the lavender in the air.  Tickets for the home tour are available at the Greenbrier Historical Society’s North House, located at 301 West Washington Street in Lewisburg, the Greenbrier Convention and Visitors Bureau, located at 200 West Washington Street in Lewisburg or at each house on the tour.

SpringValley 00365 (2)The Spring Valley Farm, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, is an elegant example of the evolution of a farmhouse. The first Richard Dickson settled just down the creek in 1774 on 190 acres of land.  His son, the “second Richard” bought additional land from John Knox who had decided he didn’t like the area and left his log cabin, constructed in the 1780’s, and moved on.  “Second Richard” built the main part of the house, finishing it in 1837.  He moved the Knox log cabin to the new house site using two teams of oxen and it became the dining room.  A kitchen was added, however, both the kitchen and dining room could only be entered from outside the main house.  A “new” wing was added in 1890 and bathrooms in SpringValley 003091916.   The house contained a unique “stove” room, now a laundry and office, where the stoves from the rest of the house were moved and stored during the summer.

Spring Valley Farm served as a stage coach stop on the route from White Sulphur Springs to Salt Sulphur Springs both of which were extremely popular with residents of the coastal areas of South Carolina before the Civil War.  “Second Richard” provided fresh teams of horses to the stage coach lines and charged visitors 50 cents in gold for breakfast.

SpringValley 00838 (2) SpringValley 00369The surrounding house dependencies and farm buildings are considered to be one of the most significant collections of late eighteenth to early twentieth century buildings in the greater Greenbrier Valley. Here are represented some of the valley’s best preserved examples of pioneer building, ranging from hand-hewn logs to the sophisticated braced frame constructed barns of the early twentieth century.

Page Dickson, owner, said, “It has been a privilege to live in this house.  I am looking forward to sharing it and its history during the tour..


Other events during this exciting weekend include a gala at the historic Jarrett House on Friday, June 7 from 5-7 p.m. and a tour of areas of Ronceverte on Sunday, June 8, from 1-4.  Call the Greenbrier Historical Society at 304-645-3398 for more information.

SpringValley 00637 (2)

Blue Sulphur Springs Pavilion Donated to GHS


The Greenbrier Historical Society is very excited to announce that it will begin to stabilize and restore the Blue Sulphur Springs Pavilion thanks to the dedication of several wonderful individuals.

On April 16, 2013 in the office of Attorney Jesse O. Guills, Jr., who prepared the deed as his gift to the people of the Greenbrier Valley, Mrs. Rebecca Fleshman Lineberry donated the Blue Sulphur Spring Pavilion and 2 acres surrounding it to the Greenbrier Historical Society for restoration and preservation.

Mrs. Lineberry said, “This is a very good thing.  It is for a very good cause.  History is so long and the younger generation needs to find out what happened in the past.  There are so many stories that can be told.”

Mrs. Rebecca Lineberry

Mrs. Rebecca Lineberry

The Blue Sulphur Spring Pavilion, located approximately 9 miles north of Alderson, is all that remains of the historic Blue Sulphur Spring Resort. By the early 1800s, sulphur water was believed to have healing qualities, and resorts were quickly established around the springs that exist throughout western Virginia. The spring at Blue Sulphur was known for its pleasant, crystalline water which appeared “blue as the Sea of Galilei (sic).”

Unlike most springs which originate on hillsides, the Blue Sulphur Spring bubbled up from the ground in the middle of a large field, discharging as much as 15 gallons of water per minute. It was first known as a lick, where herds of buffalo and other animals would gather. In 1816, the land was purchased by Joseph Martin and Charles Caraway for the sum of $3000. They made a few improvements, building wooden or log cabins for those who came to the spring for its healing powers. After a few years, Martin and Caraway sold the land to George Washington Buster for twice what they paid for it.

In 1834, the Blue Sulphur Spring Company was officially incorporated by the state of Virginia. The Blue Sulphur Spring Resort consisted of an elaborate brick hotel, 108 feet long, 50 feet wide, and 3 stories tall. The hotel had a grand ballroom, dining rooms, and sleeping quarters for guests, who came from as far away as Philadelphia, New Orleans, and even Europe. Beside the main hotel, brick cottages and frame cabins were built for additional guests – increasing the resort’s capacity to as many as 220 individuals.  A few notable visitors include Andrew Jackson, Robert E. Lee, Henry Clay, and Jerome Bonaparte.

The spring itself was enclosed with a marble slab, 5 feet in diameter. A large square Greek-style temple with 12 round brick columns encased in plaster was built to cover the spring. This springhouse is the only remaining structure of the original Blue Sulphur Spring Resort.


Late 19th Century Visitors to the Spring

In 1840, Dr. Alexis Martin, a surgeon in the Imperial Army of Napoleon, came to the Blue Sulphur Spring Resort and headed the medical staff until 1859. He claimed the water would “aid in the cure of dyspepsia, hepatitis, indolent ulcers, skin diseases, nervous conditions in women, and other ailments.” Bath houses, steam rooms, and mud baths like the ones in Europe were built.

In 1859, the resort was floundering and its owners decided to sell it to the Baptist Association who began Allegheny College, a private academy that offered courses in the languages, science, history, and philosophy. After a successful first year, Allegheny College anticipated a large student body in 1860. Unfortunately, two serious things happened to hinder the college’s future success. First, a fire, believed to have been accidentally started in the laundry, destroyed the resort’s main building. Second, the outbreak of the Civil War caused many students to leave school and join either the Union or Confederate armies. Allegheny College officially closed its doors at the end of its second school year.

Throughout the Civil War, troops passing through used the Blue Sulphur Spring as a campsite. Most notably, a confederate regiment from Georgia camped at the spring in the winter of 1863. Not used to the climate, approximately 100 of them became ill and died. They were buried high on a hill about 200 yards northwest of the Blue Sulphur Spring. In 1864 Union troops burned, either deliberately or by accident, all that remained of the former Blue Sulphur Spring Resort with one exception – the Greek-style Springhouse. Soon after the war, ownership of the property returned to George Washington Buster when the courts ruled that the payments made by the Baptist Association were not valid since they were made in Confederate money.

The property was in the possession of Bernard H. Buster when he sold it to Lewis A. Fleshman on April 24, 1964.  Mrs. Rebecca Fleshman Lineberry inherited it from her father.

The Blue Sulphur Spring Pavilion was added to the National Register of Historic Places in October 1992 and has been named to the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia’s 2013 Endangered Properties List. The Endangered Properties List brings attention to at-risk properties that contribute to our local heritage. Lynn Stasick, representing the Preservation Alliance was present at the deed signing.

Lynn Stasick with Mrs. Lineberry

Lynn Stasick with Mrs. Lineberry

Elizabeth McMullen, Executive Director of the Greenbrier Historical Society (GHS) said, “GHS is so grateful to Mrs. Lineberry for her marvelous gift to the people of the Greenbrier Valley.  Her generosity and farsightedness set an excellent example of preservation for generations to come.”

Margaret Hambrick, President of the Board of Directors of the GHS said, “While the Pavilion will not be immediately available to visitors because of the need to restore it and for safety, we all look forward to the day when it is again a destination for a Sunday afternoon drive or an ice cream social.”

In thanking Mrs. Lineberry, Ron Kirk, Vice President of GHS said, “By presenting this piece of history to GHS to preserve and protect, we can keep the memories of the resort and the area alive.”

The “Friends of the Blue” Committee of the GHS, chaired by Alex McLaughlin, will manage the restoration process.  Other members include Cathy Bolt (Mrs. Lineberry’s daughter), Irma Cadle, Skip Deegans, Raymond Tuckwiller, and Margaret Hambrick.


L-R: Elizabeth McMullen, Executive Director, Greenbrier Historical Society; Karen Lee McClung, Board Member; Ron Kirk, Vice President; Mrs. Rebecca Fleshman Lineberry, donor of the Blue Sulphur Spring Pavilion; Margaret Hambrick, President; Cathy Bolt, daughter of Mrs. Lineberry; Karen Fankhauser, Board Member; and Alex McLaughlin, Board Member and Chair, Friends of the Blue Committee.

On Tuesday, March 19, 2013, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin presented a $35,000 Survey and Planning grant to the Greenbrier Historic Landmarks Commission in partnership with the Greenbrier Historical Society – Friends of the Blue Committee. This grant was provided by the Department of Education and the Arts through the Division of Culture and History. The Greenbrier County Commission has pledged to match the grant when the property is donated to GHS.  These grant funds will provide for an architectural and engineering study of the Blue Sulphur Spring Pavilion to determine the best way to proceed with its restoration and to develop plans and specifications for bidding the work.

Alex McLaughlin, Chair of the Friends of the Blue Committee and Board Member of the Greenbrier Historical Society, said “We are so appreciative of Susan Pierce, Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer and Pamela Brooks, Grants Coordinator for their support of this project. There is a sense of urgency about this project because of the condition of the pavilion.”

Our Little Turtle Friend



Serendipity explains it!  While representatives of the Greenbrier Historical Society were roaming the peaks and valleys of a Summers County mountain looking for saltpeter caves they found something that has everyone at the society scratching their heads.  It looks like a baby box turtle that got stuck in the mud 350 million years ago and turned to stone.  Come by the North House to take a closer look and register your opinion.

History of Chocolate Exhibit at the North House

Ever wondered who the first people to eat chocolate were or where the idea for the first chocolate Easter bunny came from? Do you know how many Hershey’s kisses are produced each day or how much chocolate the average American eats per year? Well you are in luck! The Greenbrier Historical Society will host its “History of Chocolate” exhibit on Saturday April 13th from 10am to 4pm as part of the 7th Annual Chocolate Festival in Lewisburg, West Virginia.  Stop by the North House throughout the day to learn a little about the history of chocolate and how it is made from Cacao trees. The North House is also an official tasting location with Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Banana Bread by the West Virginia Department of Agriculture and Hidden Springs Farm.

The earliest known consumers of chocolate were the ancient Maya of Central America who drank chocolate as a spicy beverage rather than eating it as a sweet candy. By 1200AD, the ancient Aztecs were also consuming chocolate, as well as using it for trade and as tributes to their gods. In 1521, Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes conquered the ancient Aztecs and brought chocolate back to Europe.

Aztec sculpture holding a Cacao Pod circa 1200-1500AD

Aztec sculpture holding a Cacao Pod circa 1200-1500AD

By the 17th century, chocolate was a popular drink throughout Europe with Chocolate Houses (similar to the coffee shops of today) becoming fashionable places to socialize. Innovations in technology soon allowed for chocolate to be more efficiently produced, and by the early 19th century chocolate could be found solid as well as liquid form. In 1847, the Fry Chocolate company in Bristol, England took credit for the first chocolate bar created for widespread consumption. In 1867, Henry Nestle, a maker of condensed milk, and his friend Daniel Peter created the first Milk Chocolate while experimenting with ways to make chocolate less bitter.

Although popular in Europe, chocolate did not come to the United States until 1765, when Irish chocolate-maker John Hanan imported Cacao beans from the West Indies. With the help of Dr. James Baker, he set up the first chocolate mill in Dorchester, Massachusetts and produced the famous Baker’s Chocolate.

Advertisement for Baker's Chocolate

Advertisement for Baker’s Chocolate

Visit the Greenbrier Historical Society’s display on Saturday April 13th from 10am to 4pm for more fun facts about the history of chocolate!

The Greenbrier Historical Society, located at 301 West Washington Street in Lewisburg, West Virginia, is open Monday – Saturday from 10am to 4pm or by appointment. For more information, contact 304-645-3398 or Or like us on Facebook.

Spring Cleaning at the North House

Snow might still be on the ground, but the Greenbrier Historical Society has begun its spring cleaning. The artifacts are getting carefully dusted and vacuumed, the archives are receiving reorganization, and our closets are being cleaned out. (Shouldn’t all of our holiday decorations be put in one location?) Spring cleaning is always time consuming, but we usually find lots of great treasures!

A Snow-Covered North House

A Snow-Covered North House

If you clean the way I do, the rooms scheduled for cleaning must be completely torn apart so that they can then be put back together, and more time is spent looking through the things that you forgot (or in the North House’s case, did not know) you had than actually cleaning. While organizing files in my office, AmeriCorps member Megan Ramsey and I found old copies of the Appalachian Springs newsletters, the Journals of the Greenbrier Historical Society, and technical leaflets on collections care. We also found the original minutes from the founding of the Greenbrier Historical Society in 1963. As this year is the 50th Anniversary of the Greenbrier Historical Society, this find was timely and incredibly interesting.

Minutes from the initial meeting to form the Greenbrier Historical Society, February 3, 1963

Minutes from the initial meeting to form the Greenbrier Historical Society, February 3, 1963

We also used Spring Cleaning as an excuse to change the Pete Ballard dolls that are displayed in the North House Museum. The Greenbrier Historical Society has 14 dolls created by artist Pete Ballard and each one of them depicts a style of dress from the 18th and 19th centuries. The dolls currently on display have flowers in their bonnets and colorful dresses – which remind us that sunshine and warm weather is hopefully just around the corner.

Pete Ballard Doll in Victorian Room

Pete Ballard Doll in Victorian Room

Pete Ballard Doll on Landing

Pete Ballard Doll on Landing


Happy Easter Everyone!

Elizabeth McMullen
Executive Director

What do you know about Women’s History?

Did you know that March is National Women’s History Month? The origins of Women’s History Month can be traced back to the first International Women’s Day in March 1911. Still, women’s history was virtually unknown in K-12 education until the 1970s. In 1978, the Educational Task Force of Sonoma County (California) initiated a “Women’s History Week” during the week of March 8th, International Women’s Day.

Two years later, President Carter issued a proclamation naming the week of March 8th “National Women’s History Week.” Carter stated that “too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.” In 1987, Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month in perpetuity.

In honor of Women’s History, the Greenbrier Historical Society would like to highlight one of many women who helped to build the Greenbrier Valley. Elizabeth Coffman Rodgers was born in 1815 on Davis Stuart Road near Lewisburg, in what was at that time the Commonwealth of Virginia. Elizabeth grew up learning the crafts of spinning, dyeing and weaving from family members. She even made a living selling her distinctive bed coverings long before she married at the age of 29.

Elizabeth was quite a prolific coverlet maker at a time when only men were expected to be professional weavers. Many examples of her work are to be found around the Greenbrier area and the Greenbrier Historical Society has six in its collection.

Coffman Coverlet

This Elizabeth Coffman Rodgers Coverlet is currently on display at the Greenbrier Historical Society’s North House Museum, located at 301 West Washington Street in Lewisburg, West Virginia.

Share with us your thoughts and stories of extraordinary women in our history!