Clarksburg Exponent-Telegram
Saturday, May 24, 2003 

Christ Episcopal Church celebrating 150 years

by Kim Mines


CLARKSBURG -- Christ Episcopal Church, on the corner of Sixth and West Main streets in Clarksburg, will celebrate its 150th anniversary this year.

A plethora of special events and activities has been planned in honor of the occasion, and the community is encouraged to join in the celebration. 

Local historian Jack Sandy Anderson was keynote speaker at an anniversary kick-off banquet in April. 

"Christ Episcopal is one of the few remaining -- and maybe the most significant -- historical landmarks in downtown Clarksburg and maybe in Harrison County," Anderson said.

Father Philip Bottomley said at the banquet he was honored and blessed to be the church's rector during this historic event. 

"For 150 years God has blessed and preserved his people at Christ Episcopal Church, and we are asking him to continue with us till the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," he said.

The little white church has a long and fascinating history.

Before construction of the church was completed in 1854, the Episcopal denomination was active in Clarksburg but lacked a permanent structure and a resident clergy. 

Burton Despard donated the land for the church in 1852. The building was designed to resemble the church the Despard family had attended in Ireland. 

Christ Church was consecrated on April 20, 1856.

During the early years of the Civil War, Christ Church was appropriated as a garrison for federal troops. Because of damages sustained during this time, regular services were not resumed until 1872. 

In 1876, after much debate, the formation of the new Diocese of West Virginia was presented before the Council of Virginia, according to a brief history of the church submitted by church administrator Randy Starcher. 

"The recommendation made by clergy and laity representatives of West Virginia was relative to the separation of the Virginias. Participants of the conference held in Parkersburg voted overwhelmingly in favor of separation and won approval from the General Council at that time. On Ascension Day in 1887, the Rt. Rev. George W. Peterkin was consecrated the First Bishop of the Diocese of West Virginia." 

In 1863, the church's exterior was red brick, but it has long since been painted white. 

The stained-glass windows have all been added since the mid-19th century. It is not known for certain whether the original pews are the ones in use today. 

According to oral history, there was a slave balcony in the rear of the church, which was reached through the bell tower doors, which can be seen at the rear of the church over the entrance. Census data indicates there were 852 slaves in Harrison County in 1860. 

In 1891, Christ Church purchased the rectory adjacent to church property. 

In 1893, several improvements were made to the original structure, including enlargement of the altar area, addition of a vestry room, installation of a pipe organ, removal of the slave gallery, an addition to the chancel end of the church and rearrangement of pews to provide a central aisle. 

In 1917, the old parish house was renovated and remodeled. 

The Rev. Josiah Carter was responsible for completing the current structure in 1919. The work required the purchase of additional land on the corner of Sixth Street and Trader's Alley. The property was acquired from Mrs. Grace Carper in 1920 for $1,500. The current parish house was completed in 1925.

As one of the oldest churches in the area, Christ Church was responsible for the founding of other area churches. 

St. Thomas in North View was established in the spring of 1899 as a mission church and held services in a small schoolhouse on the outskirts of town. 

All Saints Mission, a predominately black congregation, was in operation between 1940-1962. After its closing, All Saints membership was transferred to Christ Church. 

In 1967, land was purchased in Bridgeport to establish an Episcopal church in that community. Ground was broken there in June 1968. A rectory was purchased in December 1969, and the first service was held at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in January 1969. 

St. Barnabas achieved full parish status in 1983. In 1999, it merged with Christ Church to become St. Barnabas' Chapel.

Upon his arrival in October of 1993, the Rev. Scott T. Holcombe found Christ Church to be in need of many repairs, and he was instrumental in extensive reconstruction, which included:

Total renovation of the Christ Church sanctuary, repair and refurbishing of the church's stained-glass windows, installation of a new heating/air-conditioning system, a new roof, windows in the parish house, columbarium in the memorial garden and a new courtyard and parking lot. 

Thanks to the efforts of Holcombe and numerous devoted parishioners, the Rt. Rev. John Smith, sixth bishop of West Virginia, rededicated a renovated Christ Church in August 1997.

Bottomley came to Christ Church as rector in September 2002. He has declared that the renewed facilities require renewed spirit, and has made that part of his mission.

"Growth is the most important event that must occur here at Christ Church for the next 150 years," he said. "This congregation must rekindle the spirit of growth in order to continue its mission here in the community."

Bottomley said he feels that there are many reasons Christ Church is special. 

"For one thing, it's a very pretty church," he said. "And we have been able to serve the communities' needs in the downtown area. But the most important reason is that the Lord meets with us there."

Clarksburg Exponent Telegram
Sunday, January 26, 2003 

Harrison Courthouse holds accounts of county's rich history

by Jennifer Biller


CLARKSBURG -- Inside the Harrison County Courthouse, hidden beneath a thin coat of dust, are clues. 

There are boxes, shelves and books full of long-forgotten records that paint a rich historical picture of early West Virginia and Harrison County.

To most people, the county courthouse is a place to pay taxes, dispute a traffic ticket or file for a marriage license. But for some, it's a veritable treasure chest.

Thousands of old records, each with its own story, crowd the shelves. Criminal cases, births, deaths, marriages, wills, deeds, military service records and property transfers are all pieces of the past that can be found.

"No one really looks at these old records, but if you had the time you'd find a lot of interesting things," said Judge John Lewis Marks Jr. "It's hard to tell what's in this building."

The most famous document ever found at the courthouse was a handwritten letter by George Washington from 1798, said David Houchin, historian at the Clarksburg-Harrison Library. The letter depicted the terms of sale for a piece of land in Marshall County that Washington owned. 

"It's all in his own handwriting, and now it's in a safety deposit box at the bank," Houchin said. 

Another historical document found at the courthouse contained the original signature of Patrick Henry, Houchin said. 

At the Lewis County Courthouse, documents signed by Stonewall Jackson when he was a tax collector for the county were found, said Joy Stalnaker, director of the Central West Virginia Genealogy and History Library. 

Some court records show the types of squabbles residents were involved in. From property quarrels to physical attacks, the cases are colorful. One of the more interesting case records found at the Harrison County Courthouse involved an argument between two early settlers, Stalnaker said. One of the individuals bit off the other's ear, she said.

For those wanting to take a look through time, be warned. The records are tattered, faded and worn, and sometimes difficult to read. But for the history buff, it's worth it.

"Probably the most fascinating thing to me is to touch a piece of paper that one of my early ancestors touched," Stalnaker said. "It's like reaching across time." 

Most of the people visiting the courthouse in search of old records are looking for information on their family trees, said Harrison County Deputy Circuit Clerk Glenda Cutlip. 

"I had a lady who came from California to look up a divorce decree on her great-grandmother that was signed by a judge around the late 1800s," Marks said. "So there are times you may have to look back at those old records, but not very often."

A trip to the courthouse attic reveals even more historical records. From court cases to store accounting books from the 1800s, it would take years to go through every document.

Spotting a court case from 1805, Marks dug in the ancient envelope and tried deciphering the handwritten notes. The case involved a debt of $40 between a Richard Bond and Jeremiah Hanley from 1805. The original promissory note to repay the money is included in the case record.

"This stuff probably hasn't been opened since 1805," Marks said. "I've only been up here two or three times myself, mostly out of curiosity."

Keeping the records accessible to the public, yet preserving them as historical documents is tricky and expensive, Stalnaker said. But is should be done, she said.

"If the courthouse burns, those records are gone," Stalnaker said. "There aren't duplicates, and we don't know what's there because we've not read through them all. Those records tell a story of our people and who we are as West Virginians."

A large percentage of each county's history is archived in the courthouses, Houchin said. Those willing to put in the time could make some interesting discoveries. 

"I've worked with documents at the courthouse for 20 years. It's my hobby," Houchin said. "But I'm sure the best stuff, I haven't found yet."