Monday, June 30, 2008

Storyteller's Journey: Philippi

So many things to tell about, just from the last three days! I'll continue with Saturday's trip, but there is a lot more waiting to be posted.

We have wanted to visit the museum in Philippi again ever since our hurried stop in the town last year. We were delighted that the museum was open; the attendee proved to be not only knowledgeable but a very good storyteller. Here are some of the things we learned about Philippi from Olivia Sue Lambert (called Susie):

Susie Lambert graciously agreed to pose for a photo with me insude the museum. It was strange to think that in 1985, the museum was under water up to the roof eaves in the great flood that hit that state in the wake of Hurricane Juan.

As we talked, a train whistle sounded and we ran outside to watch the train pass. I was amazed at how close to the building it passed--probably no further away that six feet or less. I watched it through a window inside and it was impressive to see the cars so close-up--yet separated by a mere piece of glass from where I was standing.

This drum was at the surrender at Appomattox and was brought back to Philippi by a soldier. During the terrible flood of 1985 the drum floated to the top of a shelf--where it yet remains.

The extent of the flooding can be seen in photos at the museum. (A book called Killing Waters details the flood in Pocahontas County.)

The Philippi Covered Bridge , designed by Lemuel Chenoweth in 1852. still carries traffic into the downtown area. In 1989 the structure was severely damaged by fire, as you can see in the photos below:
Spanning the river below, the bridge is in beautiful shape today fire that left nothing but the original timber framing. Architects, historians, and local carpenters worked together to restore the bridge to its original look.

Inside the covered bridge. A very cool place.

Some interesting history and trivia about Philippi, as related by Mrs. Lambert:

  • Philippi was the site, so state historians say, of the first land battle of the Civil War. According to Mrs. Lambert, an irate mother fired off the first shot, and the federal and Confederate troops each thought the other was firing and the battle was on.

  • James Edward Hanger was injured in the battle and his leg was amputated. He returned to Virginia and developed a company that made prosthetic legs. The company is the largest maker of prosthetcis today--the Hanger Orthopedic Group, Inc.

  • The main purpose of the battle was the railroads--thus making this the first battle to ever be fought over control of the railroads. The skirmish came to be called the Philippi Races because of the way the Confederates ran away from the scene.

We left regretfully, wanting to spend more time exploring the museum. Oh, the mummies? Yes, we saw them. I can't post photos, however, unless I speak with someone in Charleston because of some bad press the museum received from the media.

I can see both sides of the issue. But the mummies are there, they are eerie and beyond anything I expected to view in my lifetime. Just another strange twist in the history of a pretty little mountain town called Philippi.


Jason Burns said...

The Philippi Museum is uber cool! I love knowing that even though our state museum is down for the count, towns and counties all over the state are taking it upon themselves to preserve their own heritage.
When I was in 6th grade, we took a trip to Philippi and crossed the covered bridge in a school bus. It barely fit, and bent the mirrors in on the sides of the bus, but we crossed it! This was a year or two before the bridge burned - so I am glad to say I crossed the Philippi Bridge in it's original state. I'm so glad they brought it back from the ashes, using the original timbers.
For another neat trip, go to Beverly where you can tour Lemuel Chenoweth's house and visit his gravesite!

deborah wilson said...

The covered bridge is gorgeous, I love to drive through them. At least this one is a two lane, the Concord Bridge in my area is only a one lane - we've seen many accidents there and/or in immediate area.

The mummies - that's just plain weird! No wonder the Egyptians created masks or wrapped the body in cloth.

I'd still pay a dollar to see them.


Granny Sue said...

Jason, I've been to Beverly to the antique shop that was a hospital in the Civil War and has has messages written on its walls by the injured soldiers. But I didn't know Chenoweth's house was there too. You-re right--another road trip.

Deborah, we have many covered bridges left in West Virginia, but I think this one is the best because its two lanes--and because of its history in the Civil War. The lady at the museum said that Chenoweth got the contract to build it when he put his model (there were many, many contenders for the contract) between two chairs and stood on it. Then he challenged the other contractors to do the same with their models. No on took him up on it, so he got the contract.

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