A Place to Call Home: A History of GHS (Part 2)

The Greenbrier Historical Society began in 1963 with a group of forty determined people on a mission “to promote interest in history of the Greenbrier area.” This year, its 50th Anniversary, the Greenbrier Historical Society has nearly 700 devoted members. In honor of 50 years, the GHS is reminiscing on their youthful days and the transitional periods that faced this society.

In the 1970’s, as the news of a historical society began to spread throughout the Greenbrier Area, so did its popularity. The Greenbrier communities, having a new found eagerness to preserve history, began flooding to the historical society with stories and historical artifacts. Almost daily, GHS would receive valuable artifacts and precious documents pertaining to the Greenbrier Valley history. Excited as they were about these historical treasures, the society was soon overwhelmed, as space and resources were limited. Lacking a location of their own, GHS became concerned that it would hinder fulfillment of their mission to promote interest in history. Finding a house for the society was the top priority!

GHS Collections Displayed in Cases

      GHS Collections                         Displayed in Cases

GHS searched several buildings over a span of several years within the Greenbrier Area but none seemed to fit just right. The home had to offer an environment that was safe, fireproof, and of decent size. The years continued to stretch on and the movement from a cinder-block building on Austin Street to the former Greenbrier Public Library caused wear on the artifacts and documents.

In 1974, 10 years after the start of the society, a home was finally within reach. Governor Arch Moore of West Virginia expressed his sincerest interest in working with GHS to find a headquarters. The “North House,” located in Lewisburg, had a rich history. For a long time, it was owned by the Greenbrier Women’s College and used as the President’s Home. When the college closed in 1972, the state of West Virginia took ownership. Governor Moore felt strongly that this house must be protected and gave it to the Greenbrier County Commission. With an agreement of one dollar per year, the GHS leased the historic North House from the Greenbrier County Commission in 1975. At last, the Greenbrier Historical Society could settle into a building that answered their every need.

The North House

                      The North House

Excitement for the North House swept throughout the Greenbrier community, but restoration was in need before the museum could ever open its doors to welcome the public. Money was tight and grants to restoration were hard to come by. For a brief time, it seemed as if the dream of having a home for the society might not be realized.

In 1976, with the support of the Greenbrier Valley communities, the North House was able to be restored. The City of Lewisburg took the restoration on as its Bicentennial Project, and additional money came from other supporters throughout the region. On July 4, 1976, GHS opened the doors to the long awaited museum, inviting the Greenbrier Valley community in to see the new exhibits and displays. The GHS archives found a new home on the second floor of the house, and people traveled from all across the county to see and learn of the histories that lay in these hills. The North House remained opened, greeting patrons every day, until the 1990s, when the growing organization, need for additional space, and the acquisition of the property brought changes to the North House.

The North House Dining Room after Restoration

         The North House Dining Room                                            After Restoration


Boy Scouts’ Hardwork at the North House


IMG_0069On Friday July 19, 2013, the Greenbrier Historical Society was pleased to welcome a group of 40 Ohio boy scouts to the North House. They were part of the National Boy Scout Jamboree taking place this month in Fayette county and were taking part in the hundreds of service projects spread throughout nine counties in southern West Virginia.

IMG_0076The troops at the North House spent a long, hot, and humid day outdoors – building two picnic tables and two benches, weeding and mulching the flower beds, and removing an unsightly bush and rotting tree stump from the North House lawn. Never complaining, the scouts eagerly moved from one project to the next – only taking a break to eat lunch and enjoy a guided tour of the (air conditioned) North House.IMG_0082

After all of their hard work, the scouts enjoyed an ice cream cone at The Market in Lewisburg before boarding the bus to go back to camp. The Greenbrier Historical Society would like to extend a big thank you to the boy scouts and our volunteers Max Gibson, Truman Shrewsberry, and Margaret Hambrick as well as our AmeriCorps members Megan Ramsey and Kyle Mills for all of their hard work!

Summer Picnic & Pie Auction


Come join the Greenbrier Historical Society in celebrating our 50th Birthday with our First Annual Summer Picnic and Pie Auction on Sunday July 28th from 1-3pm on the North House lawn, located at 301 West Washington Street in Lewisburg.

Everyone is invited to enjoy a summer picnic with sun, fun, and great food, including hot dogs, pasta salad, baked beans, and watermelon. And, of course, a Birthday cake from The Bakery on Court Street. After you eat, pull up a chair or blanket and stay awhile! Live music will be provided by the talented Strum Sum Band.  Back by popular demand, our homemade pie auction will begin at 2:30pm!

Whether you are a long-time member or interested in what we do up here on the hill, come enjoy a delicious lunch, bid on a pie, share some memories, and learn about all the new programs and events at the Greenbrier Historical Society!

Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children 12 and under, and free for children under 4. Tickets are available in advance or on the day of the picnic. For more information or to reserve a ticket, please call 304.645.3398 or email info@greenbrierhistorical.org.

All proceeds will benefit the Greenbrier Historical Society and North House Museum. The Greenbrier Historical Society is a non-profit organization that works to collect, preserve, and  interpret the unique history and culture of the Greenbrier Valley, as well as provide educational programs and opportunities to the children and communities of southeastern West Virginia. Historical research and guided tours are offered free of charge Monday-Saturday from 10am to 4pm.

Archaeology at the North House

Wagon House

On Thursday, May 30th, the Greenbrier Historical Society will host an archaeological team from the West Virginia Division of Highways. The team, comprised of Archaeologist Jen Williamson, Archaeologist Amanda Payne, Archaeologist Karen Reed, and Environmental Resource Specialist Karen Ebert Allen, will conduct testing as part of a Transportation Alternatives Grant to repair the Greenbrier Historical Society’s Wagon House in Lewisburg.  As part of the Wagon House project, the Greenbrier Historical Society is planning on installing a handicap accessible walkway from the North House to the Wagon House. The archaeological team will conduct a phase I archaeological survey on the areas where the proposed sidewalk will be constructed – including both shovel testing and metal detector work. This testing will ensure that the construction will not disturb any artifacts that may linger beneath the surface. The public is invited to stop by the North House, located at 301 West Washington Street in Lewisburg, throughout the day to watch the archaeological team. For more information, contact GHS at 304.645.3398 or info@greenbrierhistorical.org

Rediscovered North House Well

Article By AmeriCorps member Kyle D. Mills

 A cold and cloudy October day found a small group of historians standing in a semi-circle, peering into a dark abyss. A combination of mystery, suspense, and uncertainty danced in the air with the falling autumn leaves. “I wonder what will be down there,” one person said, “you have done this before?” said another. Curious for the unknown, all stood in anticipation. “On rope!” one man said, then, descended into darkness.

This adventure started in September when I was looking at the old saltpeter trough we have stored in the Wagon House at the Greenbrier Historical Society and North House Museum. I stepped off the porch of the Wagon House and walked over the grate in the yard of the North House. It appeared to be a typical storm drain, but being a cave explorer, I am compelled to look into any hole in the ground I might come across. I looked into the drain and saw that there was moss growing on stacked stone walls, and I couldn’t see the bottom. I ran to my car, grabbed my caving lights, and shined them down the hole. I could see the bottom and realized what I was looking at was a well.

I came back into the archives and asked Mr. Jim Talbert what the history of the well out in the yard was. He looked at me strange and I could tell he was wondering what-in-the-world I was talking about. We out in the yard and shinned my light down the hole, we must have looked a little crazy to the NRCTC students who were standing around outside. Mr. Talbert became excited and informed me that no one knew that a well lied under the storm grate. Surely at one time someone with the Greenbrier Historical Society had to know that this was a well, but time passed and the well was forgotten about. Curiosity had gotten to us and plans were made to explore the well.Looking up from the bottom of the well.

The day finally came to explore the well. Using my vertical caving equipment, I rappelled into the well and discovered that the well is very well made. The bottom of the well is a six-foot-wide, six-foot-long, and five-foot-tall cistern blasted into the limestone bedrock. Evidence of the drilling and blasting process can be seen on the bedrock at the bottom of the well. Hand-hewn timbers have been constructed (similar to a log cabin) to form a platform to stack the wall rocks on. The walls are perfectly stacked flat rock in a circular pattern that seems to repeat itself after 5th layer, no mortar was used. The bottom of the well is dry and filled in with dirt and a small amount of surface debris. Also an old iron pipe extends about half way up from the bottom of the well. A shovel probe down about a foot showed that the soil continued deeper. In the bottom of the well I found two pieces of antique broken glass, chips of red brick, and a cave salamander (Eurycea   lucifuga). The total depth of the well is 19 feet.Bedrock, timbers, and stacked rock at the bottom of the well.

Research into the age of the well has not turned up any definitive time it was constructed. The most logical assumption would be that the well was built in the early 1820’s along with the construction of the North House, but this has not been proven. Another question is was the well constructed to be an open well, with a bucket lowered into a pool of water then drawn up? The circumference of the well and the size of the bedrock cistern at the bottom seemingly fit the dimensions for this style of well, but the absence of water in the bottom and iron pipe suggests that possibly a hand pump was at one time used. Two panoramic photographs of Lewisburg show the back of the North House and structures that appear to be at the well site. In the oldest picture, circa 1890-1900, a small shed appears to be over the well. In a later photo, circa 1902-1920, what appears to be a concrete platform with a hand pump is at the location of the well site. Possibly, the well was dug to be an open well and at a later time the hand pump was installed.

North House Well sketchNow the question is what to do with the well? The well is important to the North House’s history and should be preserved better than having a metal grate hiding it. Continuing research could provide more evidence of what the housing over the well looked like when the North House was a private residence. This housing could be reconstructed to be period correct and add to the aesthetics of the North House lawn.

For more information about the North House well, contact AmeriCorps member Kyle Mills at the Greenbrier Historical Society at 304.645.3398.

2013 Spring Lecture Series

Archivist Jim Talbert

                Archivist Jim Talbert

The Greenbrier Historical Society will host its Spring Lecture Series starting on Thursday, April 25, 2013. Designed as a series of “How To” workshops, these lectures will be led by GHS volunteers and staff.

On Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 7pm, Archivist Jim Talbert will lead a discussion about using the Greenbrier Historical Society’s Archives for Genealogical and Historical Research – focusing on what NEW resources can be found in our collection.

On Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 7pm, Museum Coordinator Toni Ogden will talk about “How to Care for Your Artifacts and Antiques.” Everyone has family heirlooms or collectables that they do not know how to care for. Toni will give advice about the do’s and don’ts of caring for your textiles, furniture, glass/ceramics, etc.

Our final lecture will be held on Thursday, May 9, 2013at 7pm. AmeriCorps member Kyle Mills will discuss “How to Care for Your Documents and Photographs.” With the popularity of scrapbooking, archival quality materials are easier than ever to find. Learn about the best way to store and care for your documents and photographs, see examples of what not to do, and find out what materials to use for your projects.

All of the lectures will be held at the North House, located at 301 West Washington Street in Lewisburg. There is a requested donation of $5 per lecture or $12 for all three. Seating is limited, so reserve your spot in advance by calling 304.645.3398.

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 info@greenbrierhistorical.org. Or like us on Facebook.