The area where I live is called Fort Seybert, West Virginia, and it has a story to tell. There actually was a fort here of that name, which was attacked by Indians in April 1758. Most of the male settlers were away on business, leaving the fort vulnerable. The settlers surrended, but the Indians, led by Chief Killbuck, massacred most of them anyway and took the rest captive, forcing them to march to Ohio. The Indians took as many of the settlers’ valuables as they could carry, but somewhere along the way, the booty became too heavy and it was buried somewhere in the mountains between here and Ohio. Legend has it that this treasure is still buried in these hills, perhaps in the very hollow where I live, which would have been the easiest route to take upon leaving the fort. This terrible event is commemorated each year during the Treasure Mountain Festival, which happens the third weekend in September. If anything were to bring the restless spirits of those murdered settlers back, it would have to be the staged burning of the fort at the culmination of the festival, where locals in loincloths wield tomahawks and reenact the final moments of that fatal day in 1758. Every year the fort is rebuilt, and every year it is burned down again. The settlers never win and never escape.
I have never seen any of the spirits of the settlers who died nearby or possibly crossed over my land more than 250 years ago, but I have heard what sounded like a Native American war cry. At the time, I rationalized it away as some type of animal cry…but I’ve only heard it one time in almost two years, and it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I had visions of ghostly Indian warriors descending on my house with phantom tomahawks. Luckily, no visuals accompanied the audibles, at least so far.
One of the many special events held during the festival is a historical walking tour of the nearby town of Franklin (est. 1794). This year I attended that tour, and learned many fascinating things about this area. The tour began on the steps of the county courthouse, which is directly across from a beautiful brick home built in 1848 that was used as the Union Army’s headquarters in 1862. From there, you can gaze up and down the main street and envision life as it was 100 or even 200 years ago. Franklin still isn’t that big (the population is less than 1000) and it isn’t that modern, either. Unfortunately, many of the oldest buildings in town were destroyed in a catastrophic fire in April 1924, so most of the buildings on Main Street, including the courthouse, post-date the fire. Still, the town has its charm, as evidenced in the photo below.
Right around the corner from the courthouse is a tiny stone building, tucked between two larger structures and hidden behind trees. This is the McCoy Law Office, built to replace the earlier building lost in the 1924 fire. The stones come from each of Pendleton County’s districts, and some say it has stones from every county in West Virginia, although that is impossible to verify. What is true is that at least one gravestone is incorporated into the walls, which makes this a strange and intriguing little building.
Farther back in the town is a somewhat steep, narrow street lined with old homes. Some of these homes are historically important, built prior to the Civil War and retaining their old-world allure. But to me the most interesting part is the former name of the street, Dirty Run – so called because the owners of the lovely homes lining the street all built their privies over the lane. At the top of the hill, a gate was used to hold back water from a spring. Once a day, the gate was opened, and the water would rush down Dirty Run, carrying that day’s offerings from the privies straight down into the river. Ugh. A young lady who lived along Dirty Run got accepted to my alma mater, Mary Baldwin College, and quickly realized that her social status would not be helped by listing her home address as “Dirty Run.” She therefore changed her address to the much more socially acceptable “Sparkling Spring Boulevard.” Ha!
Our next stop was the General James Boggs Home, also known as Rockdale, which was built in 1820. General Boggs was under the direct command of Stonewall Jackson during the Civil War. This home was once at the center of a huge plantation that stretched far up the mountain. Slaves lived on the mountain and would walk to the plantation along a path that is still popular with hikers today.
Next to the elementary school in Franklin (which is only the third school on that site since the original one was built in the late 1700s) is a small cemetery, part of the original plot given to the town by the first settler, Francis Evick, for whom the town is named. For many years this cemetery was lost and forgotten in a tangle of scrub brush and trees, but recently the land was cleared and the remaining graves, including that of General Boggs, are now cared for by the town. I have heard no ghost stories (yet) about this cemetery, but you can bet some of the folks whose graves were lost forever aren’t too happy about it.
The most exciting stop on the tour, for me, was the Anderson Home. If you ever drive into Franklin and come to the stop light (yes, there’s only one), look up on the hill and you’ll see a huge white house looming over the town. It truly looks like your classic haunted house, perhaps with good reason. It was constructed in 1900 by the great-grandfather of the current occupant and was once at the center of a 300 acre farm. Sadly, now it is surrounded by a mundane subdivision. But the glorious house remains, proudly rising above it all. The current owner, Dyer Anderson, who was born in the front bedroom under the cupola, stated that people often ask him about ghosts in the house. He doesn’t deny that he’s heard some odd things from time to time, but it doesn’t scare him, as he knows it’s family.
One of the things mentioned by Dyer Anderson, and also our tour guide, Tom Bowman, whose family also has roots extending far back in Franklin’s history, is the impact past events have even to the current day. Franklin took a number of hard hits in the early part of the 20th century, primarily starting with the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918. This epidemic wiped out entire families and affected many generations to come. In a community as small as this one, losing huge numbers of the population for any reason is devastating. Dyer Anderson told the story of a man whose brother died of the flu. Out of love for his brother, the man insisted on shaving the corpse personally before burial. This was a fatal mistake; he caught the disease from his brother’s body and, 10 days later, followed him to the grave. They were 34 and 36 years old. Many, many people died, leaving children orphaned and widows penniless and without the means to work their farms, and completely dead-ending branches of families that had been in the area for well over a century.
The next tragedy came with the fire of 1924, which began with an explosion at the Pendleton Times and spread rapidly in all directions. Tom Bowman’s family owned the hardware store on Main Street at the time and the only thing they salvaged was a few dinner plates – which the family still have.
Just a few years after the fire came the stock market crash and the Great Depression. People living in Franklin must have felt like they were living in the crosshairs of a very capricious God. It’s not easy making a living in West Virginia even now; I can’t imagine how hard it must have been during those times. Still, there are a hardy few who have managed to survive and even thrive here, despite the difficulties and set backs. If there is a “buried treasure” in these hills, I believe it can be found in the locals themselves, in their love of the place where they grew up, in their reverence for those who came before them, and in their determination to make it in this beautiful, wild land. Should you get a chance to make a trip into the mountains, Pendleton County is well worth your time.