Saturday, August 5, 2017

River Towns: Point Pleasant, West Virginia

Point Pleasant, West Virginia is one of my favorite West Virginia towns. It's not far from where I live, and its location, slow pace, and friendly people make it a great place to visit. There is plenty to see and do in Point Pleasant: the mural painted floodwall and bordering walking path, the haunted Lowe Hotel, the Mason Jar Antique Mall, the Mothman Museum and the River Museum, Fort Randolph, Tu-Endi-Wei State Park, lovely old homes, and of course the Ohio River. The town has a long history: Indian wars, floods, and a tragic bridge collapse intertwine with folklore and legends to create a unique and fascinating story.

The area was first claimed in 1749 by the French explorer Pierre Joseph Celeron de Blainville, who set a plaque on the riverbank declaring all the territory in the region for the King of France:

"In the year 1749, in the reign of King Louis XV, we, Celeron, commander of a detachment sent by Commander de La Galissonière, Commander General of New France, for the restoration of peace in various untamed villages in the region, have buried this plaque at the confluence of the Ohio and Tchadakoin [Rivers] (Kanawha River) this 29th day of July near the fine river bank, to commemorate the retaking into possession of the afore-mentioned river bank and all the surrounding lands on both river shores back to the river sources, as secured by previous kings of France, and maintained by force of arms and by treaties, specifically the Treaties of Rijswick, of Utrecht and of Aix la Chapelle."

A grand and sweeping statement, is it not? But the French lost their claim when the British defeated the French in the French and Indian War.  In 1770 George Washington explored the Ohio Valley for the British, and noted the abundance of game and the wide, fertile bottomland in his reports. He later received over 10,000 acres in the region for his war-time service.

One section of the mural wall
Fort Randolph was established at Point Pleasant as a safeguard against Indian attacks, which were numerous in the area. Ongoing and escalating hostilities between settlers and Indians led to Lord Dunmore's War in 1774 which was a successful effort to drive the Shawnee and Mingo back across the Ohio River. The deciding battle in this conflict occurred at Point Pleasant. (Both my family history and that of my husband say we had ancestors in the fighting.) The Indians were soundly defeated; afterward, one of the most powerful Shawnee leaders, Cornstalk, became an advocate for peace between whites and Indians. On a peace-keeping mission to Fort Randolph in 1777 Cornstalk was taken hostage by the commander of the fort. Cornstalk, his son and two other Indians were later murdered by soldiers seeking revenge for the death of a militiaman at the hands of the Shawnee. Cornstalk was buried at the Fort. His body has been moved at least three times, and is now in its hopefully permanent home at Tu-Endi-Wei State Park. The murder of Cornstalk and the other Indians enraged the Shawnee who began a series of murderous attacks against settlers along the river that last over 20 years.

Local legend claims that before his death, Cornstalk laid this curse on the area:

“I was the border man’s friend. Many times I have saved him and his people from harm. I never warred with you, but only to protect our wigwams and lands. I refused to join your paleface enemies with the red coats. I came to the fort as your friend and you murdered me. You have murdered by my side, my young son. For this, may the curse of the Great Spirit rest upon this land. May it be blighted by nature. May it even be blighted by its hopes. May the strength of its peoples be paralyzed by the stain of our blood.”

Historians question the veracity of this story, doubting that Cornstalk ever said these words, and I have to say it does seem unlikely. However it is true that Point Pleasant has seen its share of disasters over the years, from raging Ohio River floods, to fires, the terrible collapse of the Silver Bridge in 1967,

and the strange sightings of a creature dubbed "Mothman". Click the link to read more about paranormal activity in the area, and click here to read my other blog posts  on this topic.

Stories of hauntings abound in this town; many people report seeing and hearing strange things at the historic Lowe Hoteland the places where Mothman was sighted attract many visitors. Others believe that the spirit of Cornstalk also haunts the area because of the repeated disturbance of his remains.

Another intriguing story says that Samuel B. Clemens, grandfather of Samuel L. Clemens (better known as Mark Twain)  was a settler in Point Pleasant, and was killed in 1805 when a log fell from a cabin he was helping to build. I have not been able to verify this, and have found another claim that repeats the story of the falling log but says the elder Clemens was killed in Madison, Boone County, WV.

on the banks of the Ohio at Point Pleasant, WV
With its location at the junction of two powerful rivers and its faascinating history, it would seem that Point Pleasant would be a thriving city, but development never took off here, and it remains today a picturesque small town hugging the banks of the mighty Ohio.

Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.

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