Celebration offers glimpse mansion
PARKERSBURG, (AP) — West Virginia Day on Wednesday was the backdrop for the dedication of a local home with ties to the history of the state and nation.
The Stephenson Mansion on Seventh Street, also known as Oakland, has undergone two years of renovation by the West Virginia University at Parkersburg Foundation, which was deeded the home by the last owners, the Lutz family.
Around 30 people gathered at the historic mansion on Wednesday for the dedication ceremony.
“This is our first West Virginia Day on the grounds of Oakland and the Stephenson Mansion,” said Senta Goudy, foundation executive director. “This will be the first of many events.”
The home was built in 1832 by James McNeil Stephenson, a local lawyer, politician and banker who participated in many business developments throughout the region. The home and the 6 acres at 1131 Seventh St. was given to the foundation in December 2015 as a gift from Stephenson’s great-great grandson, John Lutz and his wife, Pamela. John Lutz’s sister, Betty Lutz, lived in the home until 2015.
Markers will be placed near the home commemorating the Lutz family and their donation as well as the home’s ties to the university. The home has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975.
The Stephenson Mansion is a historic place of great significance to the area, to the state and to the nation, said foundation President Dave Roberts.
“We are planning to use it for some great things for the community and the college,” Roberts said.
The Lutz family was willing to gift the property to the foundation for its preservation and to keep its history intact, he said.
“It might otherwise have been torn down and dismantled,” Roberts said. “We could have lost all the heritage and history. This is a place of significance.”
Stephenson was born Nov. 4, 1796, and came to Parkersburg around 1821. In 1829, he married Agnes Miller Boreman, sister of Arthur I. Boreman, later the first governor of West Virginia and a U.S. Senator. At the time, Agnes was 15 and Arthur was 6-years old.
Stephenson was a tanner and a self-taught attorney. He represented Tyler, Wood, Ritchie and Doddridge counties in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1839 to 1848. He was elected the second president of the Northwestern Bank of Virginia, forerunner of the Parkersburg National Bank, now United Bank.
Roberts said Stephenson did much to shape this area by developing transportation routes and rail lines. He also mentored Boreman to become an attorney.
“James McNeil Stephenson became truly instrumental in what became West Virginia,” Roberts said.
Officials commended the input from the Wood County Historical and Preservation Society in helping to restore the house and its grounds. Society President Bob Enoch was a consultant and did much of the work himself.
Robert Anderson, associate professor of history at WVUP, has been researching Stephenson and his family as well as the home and people who have visited there, like Henry Clay, U.S. Senator from Kentucky and secretary of state under John Quincy Adams.
“What I am finding is this is not just local history,” Anderson said. “It is not just Wood County history or West Virginia history and when you bring in someone like Henry Clay, it is national history.
“We need to be more than preservationists, we need to go out and sell this as national history.”
Officials mentioned stories of Union officers who stayed at the house during the Civil War, before West Virginia became a state, when Union forces had taken over Parkersburg. Gen. George B. McClellan was a guest at the home in 1861.
Jim Miracle of Carlin’s Battery D spoke about the property and how Stephenson opened up some of his 1,000 acres around the property to Union troops.
“It was an important area to the Union and Stephenson opened it up for them to do it,” he said.
Officials did note that Stephenson did have a few slaves, but freed them around the time West Virginia became a state. Some stayed in his employ after being freed.
Carlin’s Battery D fired its cannon with college Interim President Jane Milley pulling the line to fire it.
Since the home has been a private residence for so long, many in the area do not fully know its history and its ties to the state’s history.
The Stephenson home was almost identical to Clay’s home in Louisville. Stephenson and Clay regularly visited each other.
Goudy said central air and heat were added to the house. The plumbing and electric have been updated, and improvements made to storm water drainage.
“We brought everything up to today’s code,” she said.
The house has artifacts throughout left by the family over the years. A lot of the home’s original furnishings, much of which is from the 1800s built from trees that originally stood on the grounds, were included when the foundation took possession of the home.
The old furniture was restored. More than 3,000 books were inventoried.
“In everything we did it was the preservation of the history of the place was central,” Goudy said.
Around $750,000 was spent in the renovation, not including the volunteers, Roberts said. Students from the college did electrical work, welding and other tasks inside the home as part of their courses.
Allegheny Restoration was the contractor.
“It has exceeded the investment we have put in it by far,” he said.
Work continues at the home. A more formal dedication for the community may be held this fall. Officials said the home is not a museum, but tours and other events will be held there when everything is complete.
The home is an asset of the foundation for fundraising opportunities for scholarships as well as educational opportunities for the university and area schools.
“This home has national prominence and we want to insure that, as part of West Virginia University at Parkersburg,” Goudy said. “We want to take West Virginia University at Parkersburg to a national stage. It is what we want to highlight and showcase.”