Highlights of Weston West Virginia Tour
This tour of Weston includes several historic buildings and markers and concludes with the famous Weston State Hospital, better known as the Trans-Alleghany Lunatic Asylum.
On the morning of June 30, 1861, federal troops from the Seventh Ohio Infantry entered the town of Weston, Virginia (now West Virginia) and seized the approximately $30,000 in gold held in the town’s branch of the Exchange Bank of Virginia for construction of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. A few years earlier, the Virginia legislature authorized the building of a mental institution in the town and deposited funds in a local bank to pay for its construction. Shortly after the Civil War broke out in the spring of 1861, the Virginia legislature halted construction on the building and demanded that the remaining deposited funds be returned to Richmond to aid in the state’s preparations for war. To prevent the funds from being used in support of the rebellion, Francis H. Pierpont, Governor of the Restored Government of Virginia, the unionist government of Virginia that remained loyal to the United States throughout the Civil War, informed Union General George B. McClellan of the situation. General McClellan then ordered the Seventh Ohio Infantry to march overnight to Weston to secure the funds. After seizing the gold, the federal troops sent it to Wheeling, where it helped fund the loyal government of the state.
Since 2006, this historic building has been home to the Mountaineer Military Museum. The museum offers exhibits drawn from the collection of museum founder Ron McVaney. The museum is supported by the Lewis County Board of Education that offered this space to McVaney for the purpose of maintaining a museum.The building was previously home to Weston Colored School, the first and only public school for African Americans in Weston from 1882 through May 1954. The school included eight grades and taught children ranging in age from six to sixteen. The building includes a marker and information about the school.
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.
West Virginia is well known for its glass manufacturing on a small artisan scale and also a large factory scale. The Museum of American Glass is a non-profit museum that was founded in 1993 with a goal of preserving any component of the glass industry in West Virginia as well as the United States. The Museum of American Glass focuses on the whole history behind glass work in West Virginia and gives insight to the people, factories, and products that made glass such a valuable piece to West Virginia's history. The WVMAG also contains an archive of oral histories from the glass blowers and archives from the American Flint Glass Workers Union, which is one of the oldest unions in the United States.
One of the "must see '' buildings in Weston is the second quarters of the Citizens Bank, a world-class example of Art Deco architecture and decor. The construction of this building took place from 1928-30 with additions in 1968 and 1979. "Imposing" and Magnificent" describes the exterior and interior appointments: Indiana limestone, Vermont granite, unique Samuel Wellen wrought iron, Pyrenees marble, French burl walnut, furniture crafted from the world's rarest woods, a huge wall tapestry and on the south wing ceiling, a breathtaking rendition of West Virginia's Great Seal rendered in plaster covered by rare metals. The nationally famous Bailey House hotel occupied this site from 1852 until 1927 when it was closed. This building was constructed when the Great Depression hit and officially opened for business on May 31, 1930. The bank was closed on October 13, 1931 by its board of directors to prevent a run on its cash assets. It was reopened three years later to the day without any of its customers losing any of their savings.
The historical marker here commemorates the role of the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in what is now Weston, West Virginia in the American Civil War. In particular, the asylum served as the headquarters of Confederate General William E. Jones while he, his troops, and those of General John D. Imboden occupied Weston from May 3 to May 6, 1863. During their time in Weston, the two generals considered the possibility of attacking Union troops under General Benjamin S. Roberts stationed at Clarksburg before choosing instead to split their forces. After splitting their forces, Jones moved to destroy the oil fields in Burning Springs in what is now Wirt County, West Virginia while Imboden proceeded to Summersville in Nicholas County to secure their avenue of retreat out of the region. The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum, where they planned these maneuvers, is open to the public from 12 PM to 6 PM on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday and from 10 AM to 8 PM on Saturdays.
Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum (TALA), was a psychiatric facility that operated from 1864-1994 and served patients exhibiting atypical behaviors. Over the years, the institution was also known as West Virginia Hospital for the Insane/Weston State Hospital. The main building, which was constructed from 1858-1881, was designed by Richard Andrews and features an eclectic blending of revival styles. The general layout and furnishing of the hospital was guided by Dr. Thomas Kirkbride, who felt mental health patients needed housing that provided therapeutic features such as many windows for sunlight and access to fresh air. Moreover, this hospital was designed to be self-sustained by those working at the asylum and patients alike; working in the garden would be a positive mental and physical stimulator for the patients. Despite the lofty goals of the institution, it was plagued by overcrowding and underfunding. Conditions quickly deteriorated and by the middle of the twentieth century the environment for patients was deplorable. Experimental therapies and brutal medical procedures exacerbated issues. Due to the shift in mental health care from the asylum to more community-based efforts and because of the overall deterioration of the building, the hospital was closed in the 90’s. Today, a new owner has reopened the hospital, advertising a living historical monument where heritage tours and even haunted ghost tours are offered to the public.