A 40th anniversary celebration

STEUBENVILLE – The Civil War is a time in the nation’s history that keeps Lew Anile’s attention.

Visitors to the Jefferson County Historical Association Museum and the Vivian Snyder Memorial Library for its annual open house will notice that, as the Weirton resident will be on hand with a sampling of his extensive collection of letters, maps, books, weapons and other memorabilia.

The open house – this year in celebration of the group’s 40th anniversary – will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. There is no charge to attend, but donations will be accepted.

Charles Green, second vice president, said that as the association marks its 40th, it also remembers that 200 years ago was the War of 1812. In light of that, a replica flag of the one flown in what sometimes was called the Second Revolution will be flown at the museum.

“This year is an anniversary of a lot of the events of the Civil War,” Green added, noting President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect 150 years ago.

“It was announced in January of 1863 right after one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War – Antietam,” Green said as he met with Anile at the museum to promote the upcoming open house.

There near some of his collection, Anile talked about his interest in that period of history.

“The Civil War has always intrigued me,” he said. “My problem is I am interested in everything, I mean everything. My mother used to say, ‘You know what, Lew, you always bite off more than you can chew,’ and that’s true,” Anile said.

A collector for decades with items acquired from estate sales and auctions from around the country, Anile said one thing he is especially drawn to are soldiers’ letters.

“Those letters are really something,” he said of a collection of letters he has written by a soldier from Senacaville, Ohio.

“It’s like giving you a window of what the world was like then, and when you read those letters, it was a really miserable time, a painful time,” he said shaking his head.

Anile comments on the content of some of them, how the soldier had gone off to war, leaving behind his wife and five children on the farm to tend the sheep, cows and gardening.

“He talks about telling her how to husk the corn,” Anile said. “You wonder why a guy would leave his wife and five kids to operate this farm, and she didn’t have any money. He was sending her like $2 for every second or third time he would write a letter, and you think, what a terrible war, but most people today don’t realize what it was like back then,” he said.

“In one of those letters, he talks about Morgan’s Raiders but then he talks about they captured these rebs, another group, and he says the shirts were torn and tattered, OK, the pants were torn from the knees down and no footwear.

“Can you imagine? I mean I am talking about you don’t go home to sleep in a warm house, you’re outside under a tree or something,” he continued.

The soldier contracted measles and died at age 32.

“I even have his obituary,” Anile said near the exhibit of letters where a sign reads: “It is said history is a way to live extra lives to cheat the limits of flesh and blood, to roll the rock back from the tomb and free the resurrected dead. These letters from the soldiers to their loved ones bear credence to this.”

“This is the part I really get involved with,” he said of the letters.

He also has letters from Confederate soldiers written from prisons.

“One guy is talking about they put him on what they called Johnson’s Island in Lake Erie. What they did for prison walls was cut down trees and had a wall around 20 feet and in the winter time, the trees are going to shrink and air is coming through,” he said of one soldier’s request for a blanket to keep from freezing to death.

Many people see movies on the Civil War that glamorize it, according to Anile.

It was anything but that, he said.

“I just read an article on what they did to slaves,” he said. “They used to brand them right on the forehead with the initial of the owner, scarred right across the forehead,” he gestured. “They were treated like animals,” he said.

Anile also has a collection of newspapers from the day Lincoln was assassinated.

“These are very interesting,” he said.

“I’ll tell you something I really, really like,” he said, picking up an autograph books bearing the signatures of the late 1800s – Congress members, presidents, vice presidents, cabinet members and Civil War generals.

“This is really something,” he said.

The collection also includes swords, an old medicine bag, a bugle, a soldier’s knapsack, a compass, a watch, an original military map and an original picture from circa 1865 of Lincoln’s log house in Kentucky. “Now this is famous because his stepmother lived in the house, and he went to see her, and he brought her a black shawl and she actually broke down and cried and said that she had this dream about him being assassinated,” Anile said, noting that in addition to collecting, he does extensive reading about the Civil War.

“When I do get something, I have to know everything about it,” he said.

Anile will be on hand to answer questions about what he has on display and welcomes people bringing any Civil War artifacts they might have for an assessment.

Green shared some of the history about the historical association.

In 1972, several residents of Steubenville had begun meeting with the intent of forming a historical society to preserve, protect and promote the historical documents and records of Jefferson County.

It was the third historical society in Steubenville. The first was formed in 1892 when Steubenville’s centennial celebration was being planned, and the second was organized during the 1920s. While there are no known records of either group, the first one was successful, Green said, in that it published the book “Centennial Souvenir of Steubenville and Jefferson County” in 1897 and was responsible for the gala celebration that same year.

The persistent third group recruited youth involvement, resulting in the formation of the Young Historians. It joined forces with the Questers, raising approximately $4,000 from donations and applying to the state for articles of incorporation.

Thus was the official birth of the Jefferson County Historical Association on Nov. 19, 1973, with a charter membership totaling more than 200 and initial meetings held in the Jefferson County Courthouse.

The incorporating officers were Katherine Sinclair Minor, president; William E. Brandt, vice president, Mrs. Earl Snyder, treasurer; and J. Sheldon Scott, secretary. They directed the first election of officers, who were attorney John England, president; J. Malcolm Irwine, vice president; Mrs. Robert Helsley, secretary; Mrs. Earl G. Snyder, treasurer; and Mrs. Stephen G. Krawson, assistant treasurer.

There were 100 members present for the first election and annual meeting, which is a tradition of the association every year since.

The association’s focus then became securing a location to start a museum, a search that ended in the spring of 1976 when the organization bought the David Fortunato residence for $65,000.

Major renovations inside were undertaken, according to Green, and the acceptance of Jefferson County artifacts began.

The three-story mansion was built in 1918-19 by the Guy Johnson Lumber Co. The architect was Edward Frantzheim of Wheeling, and Jefferson Bushfield of Toronto was the contractor.

It was the home of Emma Carter Sharpe, a native of Titusville, Pa., and her husband, Alexander, of Steubenville, who bought the property from John J. Gill for $1 in 1918. The land originally had been conveyed from the U.S. government to James Ross, who later sold it to Bezaleel Wells, the founder of Steubenville, when this land was known as the Northwest Territory, according to Green. President John Adams signed the original deed in 1798.

The couple came to Steubenville after their ornate wedding in 1906, initially living on Clinton Street in a much smaller home. The Sharpe family were the founders and owners of the Ohio Foundry and Manufacturing Co., then located between Slack and South streets on the Pennsylvania Railroad.

The 19-room home is of English tudor style characterized by flat arches, shallow moldings and profuse paneling, according to Green. The house has five fireplaces – two on the first floor and three on the second. At one time, it had five bedrooms and five bathrooms.

Sharpe died in 1930 at the age of 58. Six years later, his widow married the Rev. Harold Cleaver Zeis, pastor of St. Paul’s Church. He died in 1942 and is buried in Union Cemetery next to Alexander and Emma, who passed away in 1962. After her death, the home was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. David Fortunato. The sun porch was used as a beauty shop.

There is lots to see in the museum, Green readily agrees.

Among the things that first-time and returning visitors will see in the mansion with leaded glass windows, high ceilings and sparkling chandeliers include:

An oak carved staircase often used by wedding parties as a backdrop for pictures.

Items such as a grandfather clock from the old McCullough Children’s Home; pictures of Wheeling Steel; displays of pottery and glass items made locally; pictures and bronze plaques from the woman’s club of Steubenville and the Hub department store; and displays of old cameras, typewriters, projectors and pictures from around early Jefferson County.

A living room containing furniture typical of the late 1800s and early 1900s with a grand piano, a large office secretary and a large Italian sandstone fireplace.

The Vivian Snyder Memorial Library contains more than 5,000 books on history and genealogy, countless surname files, thousands of obituaries and wedding announcements, old pictures and files of historic events of the area and Jefferson County pictures and maps.

The local celebrity room is dedicated to Jefferson County residents who “made a name for themselves” in areas such as sports, entertainment, education, fashion or writing, according to Green.

The Dean Martin Room showcases a collection of numerous pictures; albums; and the wedding gown sewn by his mother, Angela, who was a professional seamstress.

A restored typical bedroom from the 1890- 1910 era features displays of historic quilts, bedspreads, furniture, a humpback trunk and women’s clothing.

A sewing room features machines from the 1800s and 1900s.

A medical display room puts the spotlight on donations from physicians, optometrists and dentists.

The President’s Room recognizes the seven men born in Ohio who went on to become president of the United States. Also on display is a desk believed to have been used by Edwin McMasters Stanton in his law office in Steubenville.; Civil War sabers; an early telegraph receiver; a picture of David Homer Bates, President Abraham Lincoln’s personal telegrapher; portraits of George Washington and Lincoln; and campaign buttons from several presidential campaigns.

A Civil War room and a military room commemorating the Spanish American War, World War I and World War II with uniforms, pictures and stories of local men and women involved in each conflict.

The Riverboat room boasts displays of riverboat models, pictures of early Ohio River boats and items, a large electric train layout and a variety of small items relevant to the history of transportation.

The basement also contains two archives rooms where books and paper items are kept under a constant 50 percent humidity level for preservation, Green explained. “Many paper items are stores in special containers and can only be opened by JCHA volunteers. These rooms are only available by special request. Their contents are mostly of items that have no space to be displayed in other rooms or are duplicates of current displays. The genealogical records and correspondence of Reva Ashcraft and Lela Francy that were saved from about 30 years of their research are kep in folders in a file cabinet in the archives room,” Green said. “There is a master surname index in the library for these files. Numerous scrapbooks, newspapers, records from various civic organizations, photo albums and hundreds of other historically significant items of Jefferson County are stored in these rooms,” he said.

All the rooms in the museum are something special, according to Green.

“Every room has a different aura and when looking through the thousands of items, books and records, I can feel the spirit of those who lived here and the founders of this historical association,” Green said.

“It makes me wonder if they would be satisfied with how we’ve kept it alive for 40 years.”

Aside from Green, other historical association officers are: Judith Brancazio, president; Eleanor Naylor, first vice president; Ruth Casey, secretary; and Susan Probert, treasurer. Its board of directors includes Dr. Howard Brettell, Barry Bardone, Bridgette Douglas, Martha Freese, Mike Giles, Mal Lilly, Betty Masters, Robert Phillipson, Lois Rekowski, Dominic Teramana and Linda Wells.

Naylor hopes for lots of visitors.

“I would just like to invite everybody down to see our museum,” Naylor said.

“It’s a little known place, but it’s so filled with the history of Steubenville and Ohio. They should come.”

(Kiaski can be contacted at jkiaski@heraldstaronline.com.)