With the withdrawal of of Virginia from the Union, Willey stood against the Richmond government and became an activist at the First Wheeling Convention. Although he was opposed to the immediate action of forming a new state, he is known in history as the great orator of the efforts to secede from Virginia. Willey himself presented the petition to Congress on May 29, 1862, and successfully guided West Virginia into statehood. Willy was quoted as saying, The idea of a division of a state is new to the people. But I have never known so rapid a progress of opinion in favor of any measure as there seems to be in favor of this.”2 Willey was later elected to serve as on of the first two U.S. Senators from West Virginia from 1863 to 1871. West Virginia's 1872 Constitution, adopted at Charleston, was drawn up with the assistance of Willey.1
Willey's home was threatened during the Civil War due to his political status, but the attack was deterred by his wife, Elizabeth.
Warned of the Confederate raiding party, Willey and Morgantown banker and later Mayor John C . Wagner, hurriedly left Morgantown for Wheeling (Wagner reportedly took the bank's money to Wheeling for safety.) Horses and cattle were hidden in the woods near the Willey house, ad ham were buried in the backyard. When a Confederate
officer appeared at the Willey's front door to demand the surrender of Mr. Willey, Mrs. Willey is reputed to have replied: Mr. Willey is not here, and he won't be
as long as you are around. So you rebels can just act like gentlemen and turn around and head for home. The officer was deeply affronted and replied to his men: The fox
has slipped away, or so the lady says. We'll search the place and burn it and -then
ride back to Fairmont. Mrs. Willey immediately interjected: There's no need to
burn our home, and your men look too tired to build a fire. So do you for that matter. It looks like you and your men could stand a fine, hot meal and rest. Not to speak of some soap and water. We've got running water in this house. What do you say? We'll make you a meal, me and the girls and the slaves, and let you rest a bit. And you can do the same for your horses without having to look all day for the grain.1
The Confederates dined with Mrs. Willey, and ultimately avoided being destroyed. The home still stands today thanks to the current owner, Fred Schuapps, and the efforts of the Mills Group for the City of Morgantown. The Mills group originally wanted to purchase the home and turn it into a museum, but the house required too many renovations. Fred Schuapps bought the house and asked the Mills Group to help him renovate it historically. The Mills Group and Schuapps were successfully awarded a historic preservation grant and were able to start renovations. This home still stands in excellent condition, and has undergone slight modifications that have not affected the overall historic appearance of the home.
*Waitman T. Willey's former home is currently a private residence and is not open to the public.