The Mary Conrad Cabin

The Mary Conrad Cabin houses the Visitors Center and The General's Store.

The Mary Conrad Cabin was originally located on a site in the village of Roanoke, Lewis County, that is now under the waters of Stonewall Jackson Lake. The land where it sat was first obtained in a land grant by George Jackson, brother to Colonel Edward Jackson, who started Jackson's Mill. The grant, issued in 1799 for 4,200 acres on the West Fork river, was the largest patent in Collins Settlement District of southern Lewis County and marked the beginning of settlement in that area. With it and other business dealings, George Jackson became one of the largest land owners in western Virginia. Eventually, he was elected as a member of Congress. In 1830, George conveyed 721 acres of his tract to his grandsons, George J. and William E. Arnold. Large land owners in their own right, they also held tracts in the immediate Roanoke region.

Exactly which of these tracts became the site of the Conrad cabin is shrouded in some confusion. Lewis County historian Roy Bird Cook and a separate document containing memories of the cabin written by Mary Conrad say the front section of the cabin was constructed in 1845 by William Rohrbough and sold ten years later to George Conrad. Deed records indicate that George Arnold and William and Susan Arnold owned the property until selling 154 acres to Conrad in 1855. Furthermore, improvements on the land, i.e., buildings, do not appear in the tax records until 1857, two years after the purchase by Conrad. Was it built by Rohrbough while he was an Arnold tenant? Did the cabin escape the eyes of the Assessor? Or did the Assessor feel it was of no consequence? These are questions that will probably remain unanswered.

George Conrad, it is certain, added the back half to the cabin. George, his wife Mary Ann, and their seven children had lived along the waters of Leading Creek in western Lewis County prior to coming to the cabin. George was a farmer and shoemaker. In 1862, he was appointed postmaster of Bush's Mills. The cabin was located on a shady knoll along the Weston and Gauley Bridge Turnpike and was a strategic location for both sides during the Civil War. Before her death in 1978, Mary A. Conrad, George's granddaughter, recalled stories told by her uncles of Civil War days.

Lewis County was border territory and was frequently raided by parties from both the North and South. While the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry was stationed in nearby Weston in 1862, members of the regiment stopped at Conrad's Station to rest in the shade and to drink the cool, clear, sparkling water from the old sweep well in the front yard of the cabin near the road. Among those soldiers were future presidents of the United States, Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley, and future ambassador to England, Whitelaw Reid. As other regiments passed through the county, other soldiers also drank from the well.

Legend claims that Union generals, J. A. J. Lightburn and Nathan Goff, and Confederate Brigadier General Rosecrans also stopped at the cabin.

There was one particularly scary incident for the Union supporting Conrad family during the war. Confederate General John D. Imboden with a part of his regiment was camped about a mile down the West Fork River at Corley's Rock, near where the Goodings later lived, and had dinner one day with the Conrads. When the Conrads were warned that Imboden was coming on his famous raid through western Virginia, they prepared for his visit by hiding everything they feared he might carry away or destroy. George's son, William, who was fourteen at the time, put the family money and other valuables in a glass jar and buried it under the pear tree. The guns were hidden in a cliff across the river and the horses and cows taken up the hill in front of the house and hidden in the woods. George wrapped the postal funds in a newspaper and gave the parcel to his daughter Mary Ann, who passed it to a neighbor, Mr. Joshua Williamson, saying, "Here is the dress pattern your wife wants." He left in a hurry for his home, which was at the head of the middle prong of Canoe Run.

As the Conrad children grew to adulthood, they left home. All, that is, except for James. James and his wife Virginia (nee Corley) lived with the elder Conrads and their children were born in the cabin. After George's death in December 1877, the cabin passed to James and Virginia. In 1879, one year after their child Mary's birth, the family moved into a new home on the same farm. They rented the old homestead to tenant farmers.

During the 1920's, the log dwelling was successively rented to Benjamin Ball, "Tap" Cooper, and Carl Ball, a brother to Benjamin. Carl worked on the Conrad farm and was a janitor at Roanoke School. When Mary's brother, Cecil "Pete," died, he left a codicil to his will directing that Carl should be "assured a place to live."

The story of the pioneer Conrad family's connection ends with Mary A. Conrad, the last of the clan born in the old home. Mary was appointed postmaster at Roanoke in 1909 and retired from that position in 1947. Her sister, Miss Edith, was her assistant for most of that time. They and their brother, "Pete," lived on the farm together. Mary was a charter member of the Roanoke Farm Women's Club and remained a member until her death fifty-odd years later. When she was left as the only survivor of her family, she sold the farm to the Woodrow Perrines in 1955, reserving the cabin and the ground around it. She had dreams of living in the old house that was her birthplace, but that never became a reality.

Mary was an ardent member of the Farm Women's Club (now Roanoke Extension Homemakers). She conceived the idea of leaving the old home site to the state as a roadside park and the cabin to the club as a meeting place. When Carl left the dwelling in 1961, Mary's idea materialized. She deeded the homestead to the State of West Virginia with the provision that the Roanoke Farm Women's Club be allowed to use the structure as a meeting place.

The 1961 deed stated that the dwelling area was to be used as a roadside park, with maintenance provided by the state. The place was to be called Conrad Memorial Park.

The Roanoke women went to work. They made and raffled quilts, held suppers and bake sales, and in numerous other ways raised monies to restore and then maintain the cabin. Nora Duvall, Bertha Allman Brinkley, and Reese Paxton, along with their husbands and others, helped in the remodeling to convert the old residence into a meeting place. They removed walls, stripped layers of faded wall paper, replaced flooring, and rebuilt the front porch. They made at least one new mantel by fashioned a new pew that had split while being installed in the nearby Roanoke Methodist Church. They capped their efforts with a new tin roof.

Their renovations complete, the cabin became the club's quarters and a place where family reunions and annual picnics were held. Passengers in cars traveling up and down Route 19, the old Weston and Gauley Bridge Turnpike, frequently stopped to rest and drink as did the soldiers of a century before. The first club meeting in the new quarters was the annual Christmas dinner for members, their families and guests, on December 16, 1961. Mary Conrad was especially honored for two reasons, in appreciation for her generous gift and to celebrate her eighty-third birthday.

The old rooms really had a new look. The walls and timbered ceiling had been painted in soft light colors, new crisp curtains hung at the windows and the new floor was polished. The two rooms of the original cabin had been combined into a large room and furnished with heritage pieces, such as a parlor organ and a marble-topped dresser, from old homes in the neighborhood. The kitchen was equally attractive and useful with antique table, chairs and sideboard, but with a modern refrigerator, stove, and sink.

In June of that same year, 1961, Mary had represented Lewis County as its belle to the West Virginia Folk Festival at Glenville in June. In 1975, another member, Mrs. Nora Duvall, achieved the same honor. Their pictures hung above the mantel in the cabin until 1988. Mary died in 1973 and was laid to rest beside her many relatives in the Mitchell Cemetery about a half mile from her old home. Today the cemetery is in the Stonewall Jackson State Park.

For years the women of the Roanoke Extension Homemaker's Club regularly placed flowers on the grave of this good woman who left them their unique, historic meeting place.

The cabin was purchased by the Army Corps of Engineers during preparations for construction of Stonewall Jackson Dam and Lake. The only structure in the area chosen to be saved -- due to its historic value -- the cabin was moved in 1988 to its second location in its own roadside park between the lake and rerouted Route 19. Halley Housemoving of Parkersburg, West Virginia, was in charge of the move. Restrooms were constructed and a picnic pavilion included as part of what was called Mary Conrad Park.

For a time, the cabin was left open for the public to tour. Before long, however, it became a target of vandalism. Consequently, the doors were locked and the windows boarded over. The park was to be turned over the the West Virginia Department of Highways afters its completion. But in 1990, the DOH went out of the roadside park business, and the cabin and its roadside park remained in the hands of the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps was not in the roadside park business and a new home was needed for the cabin.

After approaching several local groups about maintaining the building at its roadside park location, it was decided that it would have to be moved and was slated to go to Prickett's Fort in Marion County. But not if Lewis County citizens could help it. . . A group of local citizens, spearheaded by members of the Hacker's Creek Pioneer Descendants, organized a drive to keep the cabin in Lewis County.

Several letters, phone calls, and meetings later, on May 10, 1993, an agreement was reached whereby the Corps would move the cabin to Jackson's Mill where it would be maintained and used as a visitor's center by the Mill in the historic area. In return the Mary Conrad Cabin Committee committed to raise funds and to construct restrooms in the historic area. The Corps would pay all expenses pertaining to moving the cabin and replace its doors, windows, floors, and roof.

In June a fund rasing drive was started. The first donor was Mountain State Log Homes of Ireland in southern Lewis County. Steve and Sharri Craig, owners, donated the logs and the labor to erect a 30-foot by 60-foot log building to serve as a meeting room, snack bar, and restroom facility.

A site at the opposite end of the millpond from Blaker's Mill was selected for the new building. Utilities were readily available, and the tree-shaded pastoral setting was ideal for the log building envisioned to be placed there. Steve Craig said, "It was the perfect location for our log building, and the area was just the right size to meet all the requirements we needed. If I had any doubts (about making the donation) before I saw the site, I had none after seeing it." In ensuing days and months, other major donations came from within the state and from former residents. These donations made it possible to begin construction on the Mountain State Building in July 1993, just two months after the agreement was reached.

The logs for the new structure were raised on Labor Day weekend during the 21st Annual Stonewall Jackson Heritage Arts and Crafts Jubilee. As with Blaker's Mill which was then being completed at the opposite end of the millpond, an all-volunteer crew worked diligently through the next year pounding and painting and sawing and sanding. And fund raising efforts continued. About $65,000 was raised for construction of the Mountain State Building. In addition to donations, monies were raised through dinners and $9500 was contributed by Governor Gaston Caperton's Community Partnership Grant program.

Although the Mary Conrad Cabin was slated to arrive in August 1993, the wheels of government turn slowly and the move was not made until June 1993. It was moved in two parts on flat bed trailers. Upon its arrival at Jackson's Mill, it was placed on the foundation built by the local volunteers. Throughout the rest of the summer, contractors worked to restore the building completing the project just in time for more volunteers to paint the interior and The General's Store to be established within its confines.

The Mary Conrad Cabin, the Mountain State Building, and the reconstructed Blaker's Mill were dedicated Friday, September 2, 1994, as part of the 22nd Annual Stonewall Jackson Heritage Arts and Crafts Jubilee.

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This page compiled by Joy Gilchrist on January 17, 1996. Revised 10 June 2001.