When area residents gather Saturday, Sept. 22, to celebrate the town of West Liberty's 225th anniversary, they can enter a building that is believed to be the original Ohio County courthouse.
A variety of events are planned to mark the town's 225th anniversary which, experts say, also is known by the tongue-twisting name of "quasquibicentennial."
The first settlement, established around 1769, was known as Black's Cabin. The community's name was changed to West Liberty in 1777. The town was incorporated by the Virginia Assembly on Nov. 20, 1787.
Photo by Linda Comins
Jeanne Schramm measures a log timber inside a 1770s-era building that she and her husband are restoring in West Liberty. The building, believed to be the first Ohio County courthouse, will be open for tours during the town’s 225th anniversary celebration Saturday, Sept. 22. Above, Wheeling artist Anne Hazlett Foreman’s drawing depicts the old courthouse in Black’s Cabin, Va., which was the original name for West Liberty.
Among the highlights of the festivities will be talks and tours of a building known as the old courthouse. West Liberty residents Robert and Jeanne Schramm are in the process of restoring the rambling, rundown building located along W.Va. 88 near the north entrance to the town. Inside the clapboard-covered structure, the rough-hewn wooden walls of the original log cabin have been exposed.
Wheeling artist Anne Hazlett Foreman created drawings depicting the town's first structure (Adam Black's cabin) and the old courthouse for a series of postcards produced to commemorate West Liberty's significant anniversary.
As the town marks its major milestone, organizers of the celebration plan to honor three elder residents of West Liberty: Ada Daugherty, who is 96; Duke Murray, who is 100, and Harold Metz, who is 103. "They will each be riding in an antique car in the parade which begins at 10 a.m.," said Ruth Caldwell, chairman of the anniversary committee.
The parade will be the opening event for the day-long celebration on Saturday, Sept. 22. Several floats, including ones representing West Liberty Federated Church and West Liberty Lions Club, will be entered in the parade. The West Liberty University band will provide music. The university's dance team and cheerleaders will make an appearance.
A town crier, Earl L. Foreman, will participate in the parade. A rebuilt World War II jeep and two antique tractors will join the parade route.
Children's decorated bicycles will be judged in front of the municipal building at 12:30 p.m. Caldwell said judging will be done in three categories: preschool, kindergarten through second grades and grades 3-5.
As part of the day's festivities, the West Liberty University baseball team will play a softball game against a ooed team from the town.
"It should be a fun day," Caldwell said. A time will be designated for people to tell their own stories of growing up in West Liberty. The West Liberty Christian Church choir has been invited to sing church music of the era, she said.
A number of exhibits will be presented, including quilt making, barbershop, doctor's equipment and antiques. A display of old photographs will be set up in the town hall for viewing.
Entertainment, children's activities and food will be offered. Treats will include penny candy and cookies and cupcakes sold at nostalgic prices.
Tours will be given of the old West Liberty cemetery and the old courthouse. Jeanne Schramm said she will present talks and conduct tours of the old courthouse, beginning at 1 p.m. and continuing every half hour until 3:30 p.m.
The Schramms are convinced that the old building, which they purchased in 2011, is the original Ohio County courthouse. They point to the physical evidence, specifically, the huge logs that form the north and south walls of the southern half of the structure. "The building is a log structure on a fieldstone foundation made mostly of hand-hewn, squared logs and chinked with fieldstone," they stated.
The timbers are 16-18 inches high, 20 feet long and hewn to an 8-inch thickness, they said. The American white oak logs are cut with diamond-cut corners.
A later owner removed the logs from the building's east and west walls in order to use the structure as a gristmill, Jeanne Schramm explained. At some point, she said, an addition was constructed at the north end of the building and clapboard siding was affixed to the outer walls.
The new owners also believe the older structure's dimensions and its physical location match the documentation for the courthouse. "Everything matches - the location, dimensions, ownership, deeds," Jeanne Schramm said.
They said a title search at the current Ohio County courthouse in Wheeling traced the earliest deed for the property to the 1770s. The names on that deed are Providence Mounts and Reuben Foreman, who were sons-in-law of Abraham Van Meter, a Virginia planter who sent an apprentice, Adam Black, to northwestern Virginia to establish a claim around 1769. The Schramms said the building is directly across the street from where Black's cabin reportedly was located.
The building is one of the oldest structures in the Upper Ohio Valley. "I think it is historically significant," Robert Schramm said.
The Schramms, who are both retired from the university, bought the building to save it from demolition. Several years ago, colleague Earl Nicodemus, the last trustee of the old graveyard adjacent to the property, pointed out similarities between the description of the old courthouse and this building, they said.
"We thought it would be fun to restore it if we could," Jeanne Schramm remarked.
They have hired a contractor to assist them with work on the building. Robert Schramm has devised a solar-powered electrical system for the site.
During the renovation, they removed a section of clapboard on the house's exterior to expose three of the log timbers. They installed a plexiglass covering so that passersby can view the exposed logs and fieldstone chinks, Jeanne Schramm said.
They haven't determined what to do with the property when restoration is completed. "We haven't planned that far ahead," she said.
In the meantime, she envisions allowing historical organizations to hold meetings in the former courtroom and conducting tours and talks for school groups. "We're going to keep trying," she said, referring to preservation of the centuries-old structure.
In 1776, the Virginia Assembly created the district of West Augusta, which included all of present-day Hancock, Brooke, Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel counties and a large part of western Pennsylvania (including Greene and Washington counties and portions of Allegheny and Beaver counties), they said. The district was divided into three counties: Ohio, Yohogania and Monongahela.
West Liberty was selected as the first county seat because, in 1778, it was in the center of the huge area designated as Ohio County, Jeanne Schramm said. The courthouse in West Liberty was used from 1779-99.
In 1797, when the northern portion of the county was designated as Brooke County, "West Liberty was no longer in the center of the county," she said. Wheeling was then the center of the county, and a new courthouse was established there in 1799. The boundaries of Ohio County were further diminished in 1835, when Marshall County was carved out of its southern end, she said.