Brooke park’s roots shared

WELLSBURG – Brooke Hills Park’s 60th anniversary celebration continued Wednesday, and descendants of the Gist family were on hand to shed some light on the park’s roots.

The celebration continues today with free admission to the swimming pool, half price admission to the paddle boats, miniature golf course and 18-hole golf course; arts and craft vendors beginning at noon, inflatable bounce house and slide from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., miniature train rides from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and a car cruise with disc jockey from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Janice McFadden, the park’s manager, said because William C. and Iras Gist donated their farm to Brooke County for the park’s development on July 30, 1954, members of the Gist family should be invited to take part.

Accepting the invitation were Dr. Stephen and Claire Thompson and their daughter, Amelia, who came from Charlottesville, Va. to participate.

Claire Thompson said the family was pleased to discover this year also marks the 200th anniversary of the construction of the Gist family’s first home near the barn that now serves as Brooke Hills Playhouse.

The home was built by Cornelius Gist, leader of the Wellsburgh and Washington Turnpike Co. The company lay the limestone surface for the toll road that brought many traveling from Washington, Pa. past the Gist farm and into Wellsburg, according to the Brooke County Genealogy group.

Gist’s son, Samuel, became turnpike commissioner, a job that involved maintaining and repairing the road, and built and lived in the farmhouse that sits across from the park’s clubhouse.

The house is known to many as the park’s former spookhouse.

Samuel and his wife, Annie, had six children: Joseph, William, Elizabeth, Paul, Russell and Thompson’s grandfather, Samuel Jr.

Thompson said a family history compiled by her cousin, Christopher Gist, revealed the Gist farm, called Happy Hills, was known for its prize-winning corn, which Samuel had bred himself, as well as its quality wheat and horses it supplied for buggies and riding.

The farm had a variety of livestock, including sheep, which provided the wool that was another major source of income for the farm, Gist wrote.

Thompson said her grandfather spoke of taking a buggy filled with apples from the farm for sale in Wellsburg.

She said Samuel Sr. encouraged his children to further their educations, and each except Paul, who died at age 11 of typhoid fever, ultimately went on to college and careers away from the family farm.

Joseph became an attorney and practiced law in Wellsburg, while Elizabeth became a doctor and moved to California, which was thought to be more receptive to female physicians in her day, she noted.

Samuel Jr. tried running the family farm for a while, but farming was among industries that fell upon hard times during the Depression, and he too was drawn to California, where he opened a furniture store.

Thompson said his love for his family home was revealed through a large aerial photo of it he displayed in his store.

The paths of William, known to many as Bill, and Russell didn’t take them far from farming, however, with both becoming agricultural agents for the state, Thompson noted.

Russell moved to Morgantown, where he served as regional supervisor over several agricultural agents, including his brother. Bill remained in Brooke County, later moving into his family home with his wife, Iras.

Thompson said Bill worked to educate farmers about new techniques and equipment available to them, even hosting a weekly radio show.

“He would introduce himself by saying, “Hello, this is Bill from Happy Hill,”” she said.

Christopher Gist said he also enjoyed working with children through the county’s 4-H program and was known affectionately as “Pappy” by many of them.

Various sources also have credited Bill Gist for helping to bring electricity to rural areas of Brooke County.

Thompson said her grandfather supported Bill and Iras’ decision to leave the farm to the county so a public park could be established.

“He used to talk about the park and how proud he was of it,” she said.

Thompson said she was impressed by the park when she and her brother visited it last fall.

Both members of the Gist family and the park will receive royalties from natural gas drilled there through Chesapeake Energy, but they wanted to see that drilling operations were being done safely and responsibly, she said.

“We just felt like we needed to come and see it, not only the oil and gas thing on my mother’s behalf, but also because it’s where our family began,” Thompson said.