Louis Bennett Public Library
The Louis Bennett Public Library is a historic home, library, and war memorial located in Weston, West Virginia. The seventeen-room Victorian mansion was built in 1875 by Jonathan M. Bennett, one of the most prominent politicians and businessmen in Lewis County. His son Louis was also a noted civic leader, serving as Speaker of the House of Delegates and unsuccessfully running for Governor in 1908. Louis' son Louis Jr. became famous as West Virginia's only ace pilot in World War I. He flew over twenty missions and made twelve confirmed kills before dying in 1918. His mother, Sallie Maxwell Bennett, decided to honor her husband and son by donating their house to the Lewis County Commission to operate as a library in 1922. Today the home continues to house a library on the first floor, with a war memorial on the second floor. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
Backstory and Context
Jonathan McCally Bennett (1816-1887) was one of the most successful and influential local politicians in Lewis County’s history. As a young man he became a deputy sheriff, where he was able to identify tax delinquent properties and purchase them for himself at auction. In this way Bennett made a fortune for himself by acquiring thousands of acres of land in the region, many with gas and oil deposits. In 1842 he was elected the first mayor of Weston. Later he would serve as a state senator, First Auditor of Virginia, and President of the Exchange Bank of Virginia’s Weston branch. He notably influenced the state legislature’s decision to locate the new Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum at Weston in 1859, forever impacting the town’s history. After West Virginia statehood he also served as the finance committee chairman for the new State Senate in the 1870s. Bennett married Margaret Elizabeth Jackson, a cousin of Thomas “Stonewall Jackson;” reportedly he and Bennett were friends.
In April 1873 the Bennetts’ home on Court Avenue was destroyed in a fire. A year later Bennett hired Parkersburg architect Columbus Burroughs Kirkpatrick to create a new grand mansion on the same spot. The seventeen-room home was designed in the Riverboat Gothic style, a type of Victorian architecture more common in the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys. Notable features included plaster ceiling moldings, detailed millwork, a mansard roof, and a four-and-a-half story tower. It was also the first home in Weston to have gas lighting. Construction was completed in June, 1875 at a cost of $4,000, an exorbitant sum at the time. The house soon became one of the political and social centers of Weston, hosting many important visitors to the area.
After Jonathan Bennett died in 1887 ownership of the house went to his son Louis Bennett. Louis had an illustrious career of his own; he served as principal of what is now Glenville College, Lewis County prosecuting attorney, and Speaker of the state House of Delegates. In 1908 he unsuccessfully ran for governor as a Democrat. He married Sallie Maxwell and had two children, Agra and Louis Jr.
Louis Bonnett Jr. achieved distinction as West Virginia’s only ace pilot in World War I. He left Yale University in 1917 when the United States entered the war, and soon organized and trained an air unit dubbed the West Virginia Flying Corps. Undeterred, Louis Jr. enlisted in the British Royal Flying Force and was deployed to Europe. In nine days between August 15 and August 24, 1918, Louis Jr. flew 25 sorties and made twelve confirmed kills. This made him the ninth best ace of World War I. On August Louis Jr. was shot down and soon afterwards died of his injuries.
Sallie Maxwell Bennett went into mourning upon the deaths of her son and Louis Sr., who had died on August 2. Using the family’s wealth and influence, she was able to honor her son and husband in several ways across the globe. She commissioned a window in Westminster Abbey in their honor, depicting St. Michael and the West Virginia state seal. A statue of an aviator was erected at Linsley Institute in Wheeling. In Wavrin, France, where Louis Jr. had died, a monument was created and the local church rebuilt. Lastly, Maxwell Bennett sought to honor her family in their hometown of Weston. After noticing that the community lacked a library, she decided to donate their home for that purpose in 1922. The Louis Bennett Public Library formally opened in 1923. The first floor of the house contains library facilities, while the second floor houses a war memorial. A clause in the donation agreement stipulated that most of the home’s exterior could not be altered from its original appearance; the house as a result remained preserved.
Collins, Rodney S. “Bennett, Jonathan M., House; Bennett, Louis, House.” National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. November 16, 1977. Accessed October 25, 2018. http://www.wvculture.org/shpo/nr/pdf/lewis/78002804.pdf
“History of the Library.” Louis Bennett Public Library. Accessed October 25, 2018. http://louisbennett.lib.wv.us/history.html
McCloud, Cynthia. “Historic house in Weston also home to public library.” The Washington Times. February 14, 2016. Accessed October 25, 2018. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/feb/14/historic-house-in-weston-also-home-to-public-libra/
Metzgar, Dusty. “New Director Takes the Helm at Louis Bennett Public Library.” Weston Democrat. September 20, 2017. Accessed October 25, 2018. https://westondemocrat.com/article/new-director-takes-the-helm-at-louis-bennett-public-library
Pfingsten, Bill. “Louis Bennett Library.” The Historical Marker Database. June 16, 2016. Accessed October 25, 2018. https://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=64089
Sheets, Wayne L. “Louis Bennett Jr.” e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. March 23, 2017. Accessed October 25, 2018. https://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/445
Young, Rebecca. “Louis Bennett Jr. Dead 99 Years.” The Weston Democrat. August 30, 2017. Accessed October 25, 2018. https://westondemocrat.com/article/louis-bennett-jr-dead-99-years
Image 1: http://louisbennett.lib.wv.us/history.html
Image 2: https://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=64089
Image 3: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Bennett_Jr.