If these old stones could talk…

Here’s a guest post from my friend and cemetery restoration colleague Morgan Bunn. She has a number of ancestors buried in Old Stone Cemetery, has been doing cemetery restoration for years and is a Cemetery 101 Workshop leader.

  • Don’t forget to register for the Cemetery Cleaning 101 workshop on Saturday, July 25th; read on for more information and get even more details by calling North House at 304-645-3398 or e-mail museum@greenbrierhistorical.org
  • And remember that Morgan will be giving a fascinating slide show presentation ahead of the workshop on Thursday, July 23rd at 7:00 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall of Old Stone Presbyterian Church.



By Morgan Bunn

Do you love old stones?  History?  Lewisburg?  The Greenbrier Valley?  Do you have deep roots or short trails in Greenbrier County?  Did your ancestors arrive generations ago or did you pass through and find heaven and decided to stay? Can you touch the headstone of a great-great grandparent or have you walked by a tombstone or a cemetery and wondered about the souls who inhabit the grounds?  If any of these questions have struck a chord, then the Greenbrier Historical Society invites you to attend CEMETERY CLEANING 101—A hands on workshop offering the ins and outs of cemetery preservation and the proper techniques for cleaning and caring for tombstones take place on Saturday, July 25th from 10am until 3pm on the grounds of the Old Stone Presbyterian Church.

Have you ever wondered about Lewisburg’s Old Stone Church Cemetery?  The basics are well recorded.  Built in 1796, the Old Stone Presbyterian Church is most likely the oldest church building in continuous use west of the Allegheny Mountains.  The first recorded burial in the churchyard is believed to be the superintendent of construction, a man known only by his last name, Litz.  It is believed he was killed when struck by a stone falling off the construction scaffolding.  In recent months, an in depth survey has been conducted at the Old Stone Church Cemetery in an effort to identify every person within the cemetery grounds.  From 1796 until the present, about 1,890 people have been buried on the grounds with approximately 1,100 of those people having individual or shared headstones.  In total, there are over 950 headstones or monuments within the grounds with the oldest original standing stone dating to 1806.

A stroll through the graveyard can reveal that many of the tombstones and monuments hold clues to the lives once lived and are, in and of themselves, works of art, holding special tributes to departed loved ones.  There are fallen doves, reclining babies, huge obelisks, gates of paradise, and old weathered sandstone markers hand carved and fading in time.  Many of the stones are covered in lichen and mold, and some in recent months having undergone a cleaning.  Through cleaning efforts, more stones have been identified and clues to past lives are being revealed. Have you spotted the old carriage road?  Have you even seen a tombstone blooper? Or wondered about small names or initial on the bottom of stones?

kkIf these old stones could talk, what tales they would tell.  The two young Ott brothers killed by a car while walking on a country road—buried together for an eternity.  Or the three young Caldwell girls, who died within days of one another from diphtheria or the Rader family who lost four family members in one month, including brothers serving together in the Confederate Army.  A young boy attending the Greenbrier Military Academy drowned while swimming in the Greenbrier River and had to be buried before his parents could even be notified of his untimely death. There are the young mothers who died giving birth and the many babies who did not live past their first year. There are 24 marked graves, and countless unmarked graves, from 1861 when Typhoid fever and diphtheria epidemics claimed more lives than any time prior.

To honor these lives, some of which may be links in your own family chain, please come and learn a little about the history that lies within the cemetery and how to care for the headstones and monuments left to honor the lost lives.

Cemetery Cleaning 101 is scheduled for July 25th with a lecture in advance of the workshop that will take place at 7:00 on the evening of Thursday, July 23rd in the Fellowship Hall of the Old Stone Educational Building.  Another workshop, Cemetery 201: A Beginner’s Guide to Repairing Broken and Worn Tombstones is scheduled for Saturday August 29th with an informative lecture ahead of the workshop on Thursday evening, August 27th at 7:00p.m. All of these preservation and educational activities are sponsored by the Greenbrier Historical Society.

So please register now for the Cemetery Cleaning 101 workshop —Saturday, July 25th from 10am until 3pm and save the date for the lecture – Thursday, July 23rd at 7:00 p.m.  A $20 workshop fee is being charged which will include a boxed lunch and a handout and bucket of proper tools needed for the safe cleaning of tombstones to take home . For more information please contact the Greenbrier Historical Society at 304.645.3398 or stop by the North House at 301 West Washington Street to pick up a registration form.  Spaces are limited.  Hope to see you there!

A Little More Turkey Talk

I wanted to share with you a paragraph I happened across in the December 16, 1897 edition of the Greenbrier Independent. I was looking for something else and scanning the columns devoted to local news and happening when I found this which was contributed by the newspapers editors:

Earnest Coffman, of this vicinity, who had been buying up turkeys for an Eastern firm, passed through Lewisburg last Friday with 1,395, driving them to the depot to be shipped. They were purchased, in Falling Spring district, and as they passed through town John Starkey, the photographer, took a picture of them in front of our office.— This was the largest drove we have ever seen, and the sight was very interesting.

Do you agree that this must be the famous photograph that hangs in the North House Museum? And does anyone have more information about Earnest Coffman the turkey factor or John Starkey the photographer?

Let’s Talk Turkey

In Texas it was called a Turkey Trot, in the mid-west a Turkey Walk, but around here we called it a Turkey Drive. Turkeys were herded to market from the time settlers in America figured out how to round them up from the wild. Before trucks and refrigeration all livestock had to be delivered “on the hoof.” This included turkeys. The reason we associate turkey with Thanksgiving and Christmas – that’s when it stayed cold enough to sell dressed birds locally.IMG_4690Visitors touring the North House Museum can see a framed photograph of a turkey drive. We moved it into the dining room so that everyone can enjoy it. It’s one of the most popular stops on the tour. It was taken in Lewisburg in 1900 looking west at the intersection of Washington Street and Jefferson Street. A few men could manage over 1,000 turkeys. The birds “flock up” naturally. Also a wing would have been clipped to keep them from flying off. These turkeys are being walked the remaining 6 miles to the Swift & Company packing plant in Ronceverte. The railroad will transport the processed turkeys in refrigerated cars to points north and east. Before refrigeration, box cars were filled with cages to deliver the birds alive. These cages were made to be tall enough to allow the turkey to stand upright. Today, their comfort is no longer considered, I’m afraid.

Birds of a FeatherIMG_4681
Here’s another great photograph in our collection and one that few folks get to see. It was taken in 1905 in the Spring Creek area, 20-some miles north of Lewisburg. The caption states: 1800 turkeys bought by Pitts-Hanna Mercantile Co. Falling Springs, WV. Delivered to Swift & Company, Ronceverte, WV.

Farmers would either gather the birds from the wild into holding pens or would raise them from chicks stolen from the nests. In the fall buyers would be sent out with scales to weigh each bird before adding it to the drove. Fifty miles was none too far for a drive. Turkeys could be heard coming from far away. All the toms gobbling sounded like some giant terrible machine bearing down until they came into view.

Fuss and Feathers
Fun fact: Sesame Street’s Big Bird is actually covered with white turkey feathers dyed yellow.

We all know the turkey is an American bird, right? But did you know that more than 1,500 years before Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World, Native Americans had already domesticated turkeys twice? Studies of ancient turkey bone and dung reveal pre-Aztec people around south-central Mexico first domesticated what became known as the Aztec species by 800 B.C. The birds appear to either have been penned or allowed to roam the village like chickens did in early white settlements.

A different species, the southwestern turkey, now believed to be extinct was probably domesticated around 200 B.C. Turkeys were raised by Native Americans for their feathers used in rituals, ceremonies and for creating feathered robes and blankets. Much later, around 1100 A.D., domestic turkeys become an important food source for the Ancestral Puebloans.

The Spanish brought back the Aztec turkey to Spain and it was an instant hit. In 1691 Cardinal Perron observed herders driving turkeys from France to Spain like flocks of sheep. Over the following two centuries, several varieties of turkey were developed in Europe. Believe it or not, in the 18th century, these European turkey breeds were imported back to the United States, where they eventually became the forerunners of the turkeys we eat today.

Goose or Turkey?
In the 18th century turkeys were bred on farms across northern England and marched through the streets of London to butcher shops before Christmas. They were large, black birds the Brits called “bubbly-jocks”. Their feet were dipped in pitch or tied up with sacking made into little booties to protect them on the forced march. Around Greenbrier County I have heard about this dipping of the feet in tar, but can’t make that out in these two photographs at North House. The late Jim Morgan, Sr. of Lewisburg often told that story. Perhaps someone reading this post can weigh in on that subject.

FezziwigAnd riddle me this…why did America turn a turkey into a goose in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol? The original story has Scrooge asking a boy on Christmas morning if the prize turkey is still in the window of the poulterers. The boy replies, “It is hanging there now,” and Scrooge sends him to buy it for the feast later that day. I guess the goose seemed more exotic.

Then and Now
Turkey farming has always been important in our area and still is. The turkeys at Wilson’s were a usual sight for travelers on 219 West in the middle to late 1900s. Turkeys of America, and now Aviagen, have been doing R & D in Greenbrier County for a long time. I believe we just raise the fertile eggs that get shipped around the world. Now days, turkey farms are long low buildings that glow orange at night. If you get close enough you can hear the racket.

Invisible Roots and Legends On Display

Invisible Roots and Legends Newsletter Ad - January 2015_Page_1In an effort to continue Janice Cooley’s exhibit, a portion of “Invisible Roots and Legends: A Photographic View of African American History in the Greenbrier Valley, West Virginia will be on display at the North House Museum through August 2015. The North House Museum is open Monday-Saturday from 10am to 4pm

The Greenbrier Historical Society (GHS) was excited to partner with the Cooper Gallery and Exhibit Curator and GHS Board Member Janice Cooley to present this unique exhibit of African American history in the Greenbrier Valley at the Cooper Gallery in Lewisburg in September 2014.

The exhibit consists of a collection of photographs and artifacts, from post- civil war to today, of African Americans who have contributed to the growth and development of this area in business, religion, education, sports, politics, and entertainment as well as general family life.

Janice Cooley, Exhibit Curator, said, “I have a passion for the history of African Americans in this area.  My own roots go deep here and I realized that so many of my contemporaries as well as the younger generation had no idea of the struggles and achievements of our ancestors.  If this information is not preserved, it will soon be lost.

Elizabeth McMullen, Executive Director of the Greenbrier Historical Society, said “The exhibit was an important first step in the effort to begin collecting history and stories from the African American community in order to improve our interpretation of local history and to present a well-rounded picture of the Greenbrier Valley.”

Recently, Janice Cooley was notified of her selection for the Human and Civil Rights Award, as part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. State Holiday Commission’s Living the Dream Awards, for her exhibit Invisible Roots and Legends: A Photographic View of African Americans in the Greenbrier Valley, West Virginia.  She will receive this award on January 19, 2015 in Charleston, WV.




Support our History, Become a Member

Membership Forms

The Greenbrier Historical Society (GHS) invites everyone to become a member! Memberships start as low as $25, and support our efforts to preserve and present our local history.

We believe that history is important to our future. History teaches students research and critical thinking skills; while history/heritage tourism can provide an economic boost to many communities.

In 2014, GHS provided free tours, research assistance, and educational programs and events to more than 5,000 individuals. Over 1,000 Greenbrier and Monroe County school students benefited from our educational programs – either on-site at the North House or in their classrooms. Unlike most regional historical organizations whose visitors and members come from the local area, visitors to the Greenbrier Historical Society’s North House Museum & Archives represented 47 states, 9 foreign countries, 37 West Virginia counties, and 121 West Virginia communities.

GHS is a non-profit organization whose mission is to collect, preserve, protect, and exhibit historical materials and objects, provide educational experiences and activities, and support historical inquiry and research. The Society relies on the generosity of its members, patrons, and the community to continue operating the museum free of charge, providing free research assistance, and offering free and low-cost educational programs. GHS strives to present the rich history of the Greenbrier Valley in interesting ways, to promote tourism in the region, and to support the preservation of its beautiful communities. The GHS North House Museum & Archives is open free of charge, Monday-Saturday from 10am to 4pm.

To learn more about becoming a member contact GHS at 304.645.3398 or info@greenbrierhistorical.org, or stop by the North House, located at 301 W. Washington Street in Lewisburg, West Virginia. Membership benefits include our Annual Journal, quarterly Appalachian Springs newsletters, and a 10% discount in the Star Tavern Gift Shop, located within the North House.

2015 Mortgage Burning Party

Mortgage Burning Invite_Page_1

Please join the Greenbrier Historical Society (GHS) for a “mortgage burning party” from 5-7 on Wednesday, January 14 at the North House Museum, 301 West Washington Street, Lewisburg, WV.  The last payment on the mortgage which covered the renovation and new construction at GHS was made in December, 2014.

This was a nearly 15 year effort and received a great deal of support from members and donors.  The proceeds from Stellar Evening, the GHS Holiday party in early December, were always dedicated to this effort as well as any other available funds each year.

The support of members and donors is what made this possible.  Of the many who contributed, a few deserve special mention:  Harry McFarland who had the vision; Mrs. Jeanne Hamilton; John Garnett; John Arbuckle of Farmer’s Home Fire Insurance; Janie Kirk who came up with the idea of the “536 Club” when we still owed $53,600; all those who made and fulfilled pledges to reduce the debt; and people who attended Stellar Evening over the years.

We also appreciate First National Bank in Ronceverte who carried the debt and was so good to work with through the years.

There will be a reception with light refreshments at the North House from 5-7 on Jamuary 14 and the burning of the mortgage along with a short program will occur at 6:00 p.m.  Please join the GHS Board, staff, and members for this celebration.  We will also be using this occasion to say a fond goodbye to Elizabeth McMullen, Executive Director, who is relocating to a new job with the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, PA.

2014 Holiday Schedule

2014 Closed for Christmas

The Greenbrier Historical Society’s North House Museum & Archives will be closed for Christmas from Wednesday December 24th through Friday, December 26th. We will re-open on Saturday, December 27th.

The North House Museum and Archives will also be closed for New Years on Wednesday, December 31st and Thursday, January 1st. We will reopen on Friday, January 2nd.

We apologize for any inconvenience and hope you have a wonderful holiday season!

2014 Stellar Evening a Success

Sponsor Poster 2014 - Revised

The Greenbrier Historical Society’s 14th Annual Stellar Evening fundraiser proved once again to be a “stellar” time! We had a wonderful evening with dancing, good food, and a fun atmosphere! Thank you to everyone who helped make it a success!

The Lewisburg Elk’s Country Club was beautifully arranged and decorated by members of the Greenbrier Historical Society and the staff of TLP, Inc. Festive candles surrounded by live greenery and antique Christmas balls sat on each table – bringing classic Christmas charm to the decorations. The tables were generously provided by Carnegie Hall and St. James Episcopal Church while the linens were supplied by Gillespie’s Flowers and Productions.


The music played by Trio Grand began softly while guests enjoyed hors d’oeurves and drinks and caught up with old friends. A very talented group, Trio Grand, played a variety of soft jazz and Christmas music during the delicious dinner and desert served by TLP.  After dinner, up-beat tempos began and couples took to the dance floor for the rest of the evening. Although there were several talented dancers among us, no one had to be Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers to have a good time!


The Greenbrier Historical Society once again hosted a silent auction during the event with items generously donated by the following businesses and individuals: Azulyn Day Spa, Bella: The Corner Gourmet, B Sweet Confectionery, Nita Johnson & Caring Hands Massage, Cliff Baker, Del Sol Cantina and Grille, Elizabeth Spangler, Food and Friends, Greenbrier Baking Company, Greenbrier Brewing Company, Greenbrier Cut Flowers, Ron Magruder & Greenbrier Valley Theater, Love Child, Wolf Creek Gallery, Mike & Karen Lee McClung, Plaid Eagle Antiques, Morgan Bunn, Patina, Smooth Ambler Spirits & Tag Galyean, The Open Book, The 19th Hole, Tom & Sissy Isaac, and Windy Knoll Nursery.


GHS would also like to thank all of those businesses and individuals who sponsored the event: Farmer’s Home Fire Insurance Company, Mrs. Lawson W. Hamilton, Mr. & Mrs. David Hambrick, Mrs. Margaret Schmidt, Ms. Elizabeth Spangler, Mrs. William Dickson, Mr. & Mrs. John Wade Bell, Dr. & Mrs. Kyle Fort, Mr. & Mrs. John Grimes, Dr. & Mrs. Thomas Isaac, Mr. & Mrs. Eugene Jeffus, Mr. & Mrs. Glen Jewell, Mr. & Mrs. Ron Kirk, Mr. & Mrs. Mike McClung, Dr. & Mrs. Robert Modlin, Mr. & Mrs. Meredith Rice, Dr. & Mrs. John Wilson, Dutch Haus Market, Inc., Preservation Alliance of West Virginia, Mr. Alex McLaughlin and the Thrasher Group, Mrs. Miriam de’Olloqui, Mr. & Mrs. Jack Dyer, Mr. & Mrs. Howard Pendleton, Mr. & Mrs. Chris Thompson, and the Greater Greenbrier Valley Community Foundation. Thank you all for your support!

The Greenbrier Historical Society is a non-profit organization whose mission is to collect, preserve, protect, and exhibit historical materials and objects, provide educational experiences and activities, and support historical inquiry and research. GHS relies on the generosity of its members, patrons, and the community to continue operating the museum free of charge, providing free research assistance, and offering free and low-cost educational programs. GHS strives to present the rich history of the Greenbrier Valley in interesting ways, to promote tourism in the region, and to support the preservation of its beautiful communities.

The Greenbrier Historical Society’s North House Museum and Archives is open Monday through Saturday, from 10am to 4pm. For more information about upcoming programs and events, or to become a member, sponsor, or volunteer, please contact us at 304.645.3398 or info@greenbrierhistorical.org.

Teddy Bear Program

Exhibit Pic 1

The Christmas holiday is a wonderful time to spend with family and friends, but as the school break continues you may be looking for activities for your children! The Greenbrier Historical Society welcomes families to the North House Museum’s “Becoming Christmas” exhibit which highlights the origin of some of our Christmas traditions and features a wonderful collection of antique teddy bears and dolls.

As part of the exhibit, GHS will host a free Teddy Bear themed educational program for ages 4-6 and 7-10 on  Monday, December 29, 2014. Free of charge. Children will hear the story of how the teddy bear was invented, learn some real life bear facts, and compare their teddy bears to those of children years ago. The program is free and should last just over an hour, depending on the children’s level of interest.

For ages 4-6, the program will begin at 10am on Monday, December 29th; and for ages 7-10, the program will begin at 1pm. Both groups will meet in the lobby of the North House, located at 301 W. Washington Street in Lewisburg, WV.  All children must be accompanied by an adult.

For more information or to sign up for the program, call 304.645.3398 or email info@greenbrierhistorical.org.

The Greenbrier Historical Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving, protecting, and interpreting the history and culture of the Greenbrier Valley. The North House Museum and Archives is open free of charge, Monday-Saturday from 10am to 4pm.

TeddyBear Poster