What once was considered by the forefathers of Doddridge County as prominent place for your final rest had been almost lost to time. Few in the county even know the rich history buried on that hillside in what once was a straight line of sight to the County Courthouse.
I’m sure many people have heard tell of the Blockhouse Hill Cemetery, but how many have actually been there? Sadly, very few have made the short trip up the hill behind the Cline Stansberry Stadium.
Back in the early 1800’s, it was quite the spot. Overlooking the Old Northwestern Turnpike, the Middle Island Creek and a beautiful view of the Courthouse Hill in town, this was a picturesque spot of land chosen for its view. If you look back in time and imagine the modern trappings of West Union and think back to when this area was basically farm, devoid of trees with lush green hillsides, it speaks of a simpler time.
We paid a visit to the cemetery on Monday as teens and young adults along side members of the Doddridge County Historical Society as they put in a full day of community service. The work was hard, the rewards, greater. We made it to the site just after 1pm as the crew was being treated to lunch. We were met by Jennifer Wilt of the Historical Society. Ms. Wilt gave us a quick tour of the huge area the crews were clearing. “When we got here, you would never even know that this half of the cemetery existed” she said “You couldn’t even see some of the tombstones and large markers…it was a sad sight.”
She continued to give us the history of some of the most prominent people buried in Blockhouse. It was as if she was reading a “who’s-who” of West Virginia history. We highlighted a few of the people that shaped the great State of West Virginia, Doddridge County and the Town of West Union.
Here’s a little known fact: Lewisport was on the Blockhouse side of Middle Island Creek and Union was on the other. It was decided to dissolve Lewisport and merge it into Union. One problem stood in the way, there was already a town named Union, being west of Union, West Union was adopted as the name of the newly merged town!
What is Blockhouse Hill Cemetery?
Recently, Earl Daugherty wrote on the West Union website: “Blockhouse Hill Historical Cemetery is a historical landmark. It stands as an impressive and everlasting symbol of our country's history, not just West Union's.
On Blockhouse Hill lived the early settlers; it was our first town (Lewisport); it had the first church; the first cemetery.
On that tract of land there are three cemeteries in one. In 1824, Joseph Davis (a brother of Nathan, who once owned 20,000 acres here) deeded the lower portion for a church and cemetery. Peggy Etheburt was the first person buried in the section. In 1853, Ephraim Bee deeded to Bishop Richard of Wheeling the section for the Catholic Cemetery, midway down the hill. Then in 1899, L.L. Davis (who is buried in the cemetery) laid the next section off into lots. Harry Ringer was the first person buried in this section.
This beautiful spot can have an enduring appeal for all future generations. It is a legacy of great value and meaning to our country. It will help preserve the bond between the past and the present. We will be a stronger community by having cared for this memorial honor to our ancestors.”
The historic value of this cemetery goes beyond words. It is a rich history of our country literally etched in stone.
Lewis Maxwell was a member of Congress from 1827 to 1833. A wealthy man for his time, he was a surveyor who entered large tracts of land all over his region of the state. Childless, he left no heirs, so much of his fortune fell to his nephew, Franklin Maxwell. Specifically, his will “gave his widow her dower, and divided the residue of the estate equally between the sons of his nephew Franklin one-half, and the other one-half equally among the sons of his brothers and half-brothers; Franklin Maxwell, under the Will, received $2,000 for settling the estate, and Judge Edwin Maxwell and the Judge's brother Rufus Maxwell received his Library." 1,4
"MAXWELL, Lewis, (1790 - 1862) MAXWELL, Lewis, a Representative from Virginia; born in
Chester County, Pa., April 17, 1790; moved with his mother to Virginia about 1800; completed a
preparatory course; studied law; was admitted to the bar and commenced practice in Weston, Va. (now West Virginia); member of the State house of delegates 1821-1824; elected to the Twentieth Congress; reelected to the Twenty-first Congress and reelected as an Anti-Jacksonian to the Twenty-second Congress (March 4, 1827-March 3, 1833); chairman, Committee on Expenditures in the Department of War (Twenty-first Congress), Committee on Expenditures in the Department of the Navy (Twenty-second Congress); was not a candidate for renomination in 1832; resumed the practice of law and was also engaged as a surveyor and land patentee; died in West Union, Doddridge County, Va. (now West Virginia), February 13, 1862; interment in Odd Fellows Cemetery."
Lewis Maxwell was born either in Colrain Township of Lancaster County or in Chester County, Pennsylvania on April 17, 1790, and was the son of Thomas Maxwell and Jane Lewis. As a child, he moved with his mother to Lewis County, Virginia. He studied law, was admitted to the bar and became a member of the State House of Delegates 1821-1824. He was served in Congress from 1827 to 1833, after which he resumed the practice of law, was a surveyor and land speculator. He married Sophronia Wilson in 1844, and later, in 1859, Jane Pritchard, who survived him. He was one of the largest landholders in the region, a founder of Weston, (West) Virginia and the founder of Jane Lew, a town named after his mother. He died in West Union, Doddridge County, (West) Virginia on February 13, 1862 and was buried in His monument is located in the nearby Old Seventh Day Baptist section of what is now known as Blockhouse Hill Cemetery. The other two Blockhouse Hill Cemetery sections are the former IOOF
Cemetery and the Catholic section.
Childless, his fortune ultimately descended to his nephew Franklin Maxwell, son of his older brother Abner.
Joseph Cheuvront, according to the 1850 census: “…received his primary education in his native county and when fifteen years of age moved with his parents to West Virginia, and settled in Harrison County, near Clarksburg, when that city was but a village of few houses. He early became familiar with carpenter tools and worked with his father for many years. Later he went to Clarksburg and followed carpentering and cabinet-making and continued there until the organization of Doddridge County, when he came to West Union. This was in 1845, and here he has continued to make his home since, a period of over half a century. At that time he had few tools to work with, but he soon opened a cabinet shop -- a friend assisting him in this undertaking -- and carried that on with carpentering for some time.
Later he engaged in the undertaking business in connection and has followed that for forty-five years, although now retired from the active duties of life. About 1861 he began merchandising and carried this on until 1888, when he closed this out, but continued in the furniture business a few more years. He has been engaged in various enterprises and has met with fair success in all.
For some time he was in the saw mill business, blacksmithing, hotel business and farming. He owns a large farm in this county, another one in Harrison County, and owns the Grant House in West Union. Although practically retired from active business life, he still superintends his business affairs and is one of the most enterprising and successful men in this part of the State.
During the Rebellion, his was the only store in this place and he sold about $200,000 worth of goods per year for two years then. ... Our subject is a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, a non-affiliating member of the Masonic fraternity, and a Republican in politics. He served as Deputy Sheriff of the county one term, also held the office of Magistrate a number of years and was overseer of the poor one term. He was a delegate to the convention at Wheeling for the formation of West Virginia, and is a prominent and influential citizen.”
Chapman Johnson Stuart
Chapman J. Stuart served as Doddridge County prosecutor from 1852 to 1861. An opponent of secession, he sat as a member of the First Wheeling Convention of 1861, was a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1862, and in 1863 was elected judge of the Circuit Court and was on the bench for ten years, until 1873. His public service to the state continued after leaving the bench, and in 1874-75 and again in 1878-79 he represented Doddridge County in the Legislature.
During the Civil War he did some valuable work as a lieutenant of the 14th West Virginia Infantry in recruiting Union soldiers, raising Company A of that regiment.
He has also been credited with naming the state of West Virginia. A June 1913 article which appeared in the Wheeling Intelligencer credits him for suggesting the name West Virginia as opposed to the other proposed names of "New Virginia" and “Allegheny."
West Union’s most prominent residence in Historic Courthouse Square district of town is where Mr. Stuart called home, The Stuart Mansion. The large three story structure has undergone recent renovations to help preserve this architectural treasure.
A tale of great tragedy
One of the most heart-sickening recitals in the history of Western Virginia, is that of the burning of the Dawson family, on the night of the 25th of September, 1856. The facts as gleaned by the writer are as follows: At the time, Jackson Dawson, his wife, five children of their own and a little girl of the name of Luvena Mires, resided in a frame house of a story and a half in height, which was located in the western part of the town, on the spot on which the residence of John Dye now stands. It was dark, chilly night at the hour of 1 AM when the alarm was given. The fire had started from the kitchen in the rear of the house, and the building, being constructed of the most inflammable material, the flames spread with frightful rapidity. Every member of the family was soundly sleeping, and when the alarm was given the father and mother rushed in a semi conscious condition from the building, but no sooner out than the father, crazed to frenzy at the perilous condition of his children, rushed into the burning building and lost his life in an attempt to rescue the helpless ones. Oh, the terrible scene; who, when at this late day, can bear to think of it? Six little helpless girls enwrapped in hissing flames, from which come their cries for help, but soon the last murmur is hushed in death and the awful scene is past. When daylight came Joseph Cheuvront, the undertaker, repaired to the fatal spot, and from the ruins collected the charred remains of half a dozen human beings, placed all in ·a box, which was then deposited in the cemetery, where they now repose. If the traveler who visits the town of West Union will stroll into the cemetery there, he will discover an ivy-covered mound, at the head of which stands a broad marble slab, from which he may read the following inscription:
Sarah A., aged 7 years and 7 months.
Mary M.F., aged 6 years, 1 month, 15 days.
Charlotte S. aged 4 years, 6 months, and five days.
Luvena B., aged 2 years,. 7 months, and 28 days.
Elizabeth R., aged 2 months and 17 days.
Children of Jackson & Charlotte Jackson and
Luvena Mires, aged 11 years, 7 months and 23 days.
Perished by fire September 25th, 1856.
Mr. Daugherty writes “What a wealth of interesting information this old cemetery contains. Not all of the inscriptions on the tombstones can be read, but with care, they can be deciphered, I believe.
Many of the people buried here came to help in the building of the Old Northwestern Turnpike (completed 1838); or the building of the railroad (01850's); or to work in the glass factories (after 1900). Then they remained and built their homes here. From the inscriptions, you can see that the homelands of many were from Germany and Ireland.
A relatively small number of the grave-sites are being taken care of by relatives or by persons paid by relatives. I imagine these people would want to continue doing this and I hope that they can. But many people lying on this hill have no living relatives; no provision has been made to care for their burial sites.”
The Doddridge County Historical Society has been appointed as the overseer for this historic gem by the Doddridge County Commission. With help from private individuals and the county commission, coupled with volunteer efforts, these historic figures can rest knowing that their grave-sites will be cared for well into the future.