Historically Speaking

Historically Speaking

Courthouse @ 1910



As most of our readers know, West Union is the county seat of Doddridge County.  It is located along Middle Island Creek at the junction of US Rt. 50 and WV Rt. 18. It has GPS coordinates bearing 39°17’44”N – 80°46’33” W with an elevation level of 787 feet above sea level.  The population of West Union in 2010 was 827, according to the 2010 US Census.  It will be interesting to see the change in population this coming 2020 US Census.

In the early days when the area was wild and untamed, the land upon which West Union was built was owned by James Caldwell as part of a 1787 land patent that included 20,000 acres.  He sold the tract to Nathan Davis and his brothers, Joseph and William about the year 1807.  The Davis Brothers sold 16,000 acres to the wealthy WV Congressman, Lewis Maxwell.

The community of Lewisport was named in honor of that same man, Congressman Lewis Maxwell.  The community was in the area located on the north side of Middle Island Creek.  The same area is now known as Blockhouse Hill Addition.  Lewisport was founded in 1828 by the nationally known Ephraim Bee of E Clampus Vitus fame. However, in the book “Lewis” on page 161, it states Lewisport was first established by legislative enactment on Jan. 1816.

West Union was located on the south side of Middle Island Creek.  It is the county seat of Doddridge County.  It is the home of one of the most beautiful courthouses in the State. The location of the courthouse creates a powerful image as it stands watch over the town and is visible from nearly every location.  This location was made possible due to the generosity of the founder, Capt. Nathan Davis, who owned the land upon which the town is situated.  Earlier he had decided to build his log cabin home where the Masonic Lodge now stands.

The date of West Union’s establishment was not as easy to confirm. The 1845 Morse map of the State of Virginia lists Lewis(port) but does not list West Union.  However, the Fredericksburg and Gordonsville Railroad Map dated 1848 does list West Union, but the 1856 Colton Map of the State of Virginia lists West Union and Lewisport is not listed.  Thus, we can conclude West Union existed by at least 1848.  

The great Alton Childers posted an article in the Herald-Record several years ago that was originally submitted by Mildred Harper from a March 25, 1940 issue of” The Spokesman.”  The article stated that the Lewisport Post Office opened on December 27, 1826.  John Davis was the first Postmaster.  It closed on Feb. 2, 1828, and re-established on March 3, 1828.  Joseph Jeffries was the new Postmaster.  On May 24, 1845, the Post Office’s name changed to West Union.  Of course, I realize that a newspaper article does not validate anything, but it is an interesting clue and Alton believed it to be worth running in the newspaper.

Now let us get to some facts.  According to an Act dated Mar. 14, 1850, The Virginia General Assembly declared the Town of West Union to be corporate.  On Feb. 22, 1869, the WV Legislature amended and re-enacted the West Union Charter.  

Finally, on the date most of us are familiar with, July 20, 1881, fourteen of West Union’s founders petitioned the Doddridge County Court to incorporate the listed territory as the Town of West Union.  Some of those founders were B H Maulsby, T K Knight, R Harshberger, William M Knight, and George W Farr.  Under oath, they submitted a certificate stating that a majority of the qualified voters at an election held on July 5, 1881 voted in favor of the incorporation.  It was therefore ordered by the court that the territory be and the same is hereby incorporated by the name of West Union. 

How did it get the name West Union?  Was it ever named Union?  Was there really a matter of bringing peace and all agreed to the name?

Firstly, in the Blue Book (1936, pg. 408), it states that the name was suggested by Nathan Davis, who owned the land upon which the town was now located. The town was established 2 miles west of what was then known as Lewisport.  An effort was being made at that time to change the name to Union.  Hence the name “West Union.”

Secondly, Schaeffer’s “Over the Alleghenies” (pg. 117), explains that the town was originally named Lewisport and was situated on the east side of Middle Island Creek.  However, business enterprises gradually sprang up on the west side.  Consequently, the town assumed the name of West Union in 1852.

Thirdly, Principal Rex Gray supplies us with yet a third account.  He stated, “At that time when the name was changed from Lewisport to Union, the village was located on the north side of Middle Island Creek.  A faction arose among the members of the community, and a large part of them moved across Middle Island Creek and gave the new location the name of West Union.”  

There were several firsts identified.  James Caldwell was the first landowner in 1787.  John Chaney was the first merchant in 1820. Ephraim Bee was the first Postmaster. Lawson B Maulsby opened the first hotel in 1839. Nathan Davis’ home held the first court in 1845.  (Other accounts say it was his hotel.)  Joseph Fry was the first judge in 1845.  Matthew Neely was the first high sheriff in 1845.  Henry Miller was the first public school teacher in 1846.  First courthouse was built in 1849.  The West Union Gazette was the first newspaper in 1868. 

Finally, West Union or Lewisport was fortunate to have several important settlers and founders.  They include:

Ephraim Bee was Doddridge County’s first Representative.  He was a blacksmith by trade.  In 1842, he made all the bolts and bands for the Covered Bridge (It washed away in the 1950 flood.).  He also owned and operated the Beehive Tavern and founded “E Clampus Vitus.”

Capt. Nathan Davis was the one who suggested the name “West Union.”  He offered his home for the site of the first court session and donated the land for the courthouse in 1845.  He was largely responsible for West Union becoming the county seat.  Nathan Davis was on the staff of General George Washington.  He laid out the town of West Union.

  Judge Chapman J Stuart served as a captain for the Union Army during the American Civil War.  He was a member of the Wheeling Convention of 1861 and was a member of the 1862 Convention that framed the WV Constitution. and chaired the committee for the State Boundaries.  He was a prosecuting attorney for Doddridge and later became Circuit Judge for the 4th Circuit in 1865.  The magnificent landmark, Stuart Mansion, was built by his son, Scott.

In an article found in “The Record” in 1898, the writer depicted a West Union that was once a booming town with a bright future.  The town had 6 general stores 2 tinware manufacturing companies, 2 drug stores, 1 bank, 1 book and jewelry store, 1 meat market, 1 wholesale grocery, 2 oil well supply houses, 1 flouring mill, 1 planning mill, 4 hotels, 2 barber shops, 2 blacksmith shops, 1 wagon-making shop, 3 livery stables, 1 saloon, 1 bakery, 2 furniture dealers, and undertakers, 2 dressmaking shops, 1 tailoring shop, 1 insurance agency, 6 physicians, 12 attorneys, 2 justices of the peace, 3 newspapers, several notary publics.  There were 3 churches, a public schoolhouse, a courthouse and jail, a central telephone office, a US Express, and a Western Union Telegraph Office.  

If we compared lists today, how would we measure them?  It’s a thought worth pondering.

God Bless

Patricia Richards Harris, President

Doddridge County Historical Society

Old Footbridge into Walbash 

Main Street, West Union @ 1905