Incorporation of the Town of West Union
When was the town of West Union incorporated? That seems like it should be an easy question to answer. However, I recently found records at the West Virginia State Archives in Charleston that indicate that the year 1881, as depicted on the town seal and a Historical Marker, may be in error. And if not in error, then at least not the original incorporation date of our county seat.
In 1963 a Highway Historical Marker for the town of West Union was erected near the site of the old covered bridge that says:
“West Union, incorporated in 1881, was formerly called Lewisport in honor of Lewis Maxwell. It is the county seat of Doddridge, named for Philip Doddridge. In it lived J. H. Diss Debar and Sen. and Gov. Matthew M. Neely.”
This date was obviously taken from an entry in Doddridge County Law Book #5, page 231, dated July 20, 1881. The entry reads:
“B. H. Maulsby, T. K. Knight and fourteen other citizens of the District of West Union in this county having presented to this court a petition praying that a certain territory, a part of said District therein described, be incorporated, and praying for the incorporation of such territory as a town by the name of "West Union." ... at an election held therein on the 5th day of July 1881 voted in favor of the incorporation of said territory of such town as aforesaid. Notice of said election having been given, as required by the law in such cases, and it appearing to the satisfaction of the court that all the provisions of chapter forty-seven of the Code of West Virginia have been complied with by the applicants for said incorporation, it is therefore ordered by the Court that the said territory be and the same is hereby incorporated by the name of "West Union." And the said "West Union" is duly authorized to exercise all the corporate powers conferred by the said chapter from and after this date……”
The entry goes on to describe the corporate boundaries of the town of West Union. Also in this book is a loose-leaf piece of paper that appears to be an explanation of an earlier attempt to document the original town charter. The paper reads:
Attached hereto is a certified copy certified by the Circuit Clerk of Doddridge County, West Virginia, of Law Order Book 5 at page 231, wherein the Town of West Union was duly incorporated on the 20th of July, 1881. The Charter referred to in said attached order to be issued by the Clerk has either been lost, misplaced or destroyed, and after an extensive research and investigation by Robert L. Holland, Jr., attorney for the Town of West Union, said original Charter of incorporation cannot be found among the records of either the Circuit Clerk's office or the County Clerk's office of the County of Doddridge; however, according to the records maintained in the State Capitol of the Office of the Speaker of the House, their official records indicate that in fact the Town of West Union is a duly authorized municipality of the State of West Virginia.”
Virginia General Assembly, 1850
From this entry and the research of the attorney, we are led to believe that July 20, 1881 is the original incorporation date of the town on West Union. However, this conflicts with an Act of the Virginia Assembly that was published in the Acts of General Assembly in 1849 & 1850. Under section 1, labeled Town of West Union Incorporated, it says:
“CHAP 286 An ACT providing for the election of trustees for the town of West Union in the county of Doddridge, and vesting them with certain corporate powers.
Passed March 14, 1850
I. Be it enacted by the general assembly, That the town of West Union in the county of Doddridge, as the same has heretofore been laid off into lots, streets and alleys, and as the same may be hereafter further laid off into lots, streets and alleys, shall be and the same is hereby made a town corporate, by the name of "The town of West Union," and by that name shall have and exercise the powers hereinafter granted.”.......
The paragraphs that follow in that four-page Legislative Act go on to describe things such as the construction of the governing body, elections, qualifications of trustees and appellate proceedings. A copy of the incorporation documents can be found at the West Virginia State Library in Charleston.
West Virginia Legislature, 1869
While looking at the various Acts of Legislation books at the WV State Archives, I found another Legislative Act regarding the already incorporated town of West Union. On February 22, 1869 an Act to “amend and re-enact the charter of the town of West Union” was passed by the West Virginia Legislature. It reads as follows:
“The corporate limits and boundaries of the town of West Union shall be as follows: Beginning at a point on the North-western Virginia Turnpike, west of the said town, where Doe run crosses the same; thence with the meanders of said run to the mouth; thence up Middle Island creek to the railroad bridge, crossing said creek; thence west with the railroad to a drain; thence up said drain to south-east corner of lot owned by L. T. Davis; thence a westerly course so as to embrace the lots owned by F. D. Hickman; thence to the upper and west corner of the orchard of A. C. Holmes; thence a straight course to the beginning. And the inhabitants within the said boundaries, shall be a body corporate, by the name of "The Town of West Union," and subject as such to the provisions of chapter forty-seven of the Code of West Virginia.”
When this Act was passed, it redefined the town limits to include a portion of land that had not been within the original corporate limits of West Union. I can use this Act to clarify another misrepresentation on the Highway Historical Marker. The marker indicates that the town of West Union was originally called Lewisport, a statement that is not entirely accurate.
Lewisport and West Union were actually two separate towns that existed simultaneously on opposite sides of the Middle Island Creek. I found both names on a map that was published in 1862. West Union consisted of the land on the side of the Middle island Creek, where present-day downtown West Union is located. Lewisport consisted of the land on the opposite side of Middle Island Creek, where the Blockhouse Hill Addition is now located. We know from the landowners listed in the 1869 Act that the area that was being included was indeed the area previously known as Lewisport because we have a deed from Lewis Townsend Davis to the I.O.O.F. Lodge for the purpose of a cemetery. That cemetery is now called Blockhouse Hill Cemetery.
The 1869 Act marked the end of Lewisport, which was officially established in 1828 when a post office was opened there at the home of Ephraim Bee.
So, when was West Union really incorporated? The three pertinent dates are:
March 14, 1850 - The Virginia General Assembly declared that the Town of West Union “is hereby made a town corporate.”
February 22, 1869 - The West Virginia Legislature amended and re-enacted the charter of the town of West Union.
July 20, 1881 - The Doddridge County Court, finding that the town was in compliance with W.Va. State Code, declared the town “hereby incorporated by the name of ‘West Union.’”
It appears, then, that the original incorporation was in 1850 and amended in 1869, principally to include Lewisport, now known as Blockhouse Hill. The 1881 court action was in response to citizen petitions. Without knowing the content of those petitions, we don’t know the exact basis for the action. But since a corporate charter already existed and had been amended and re-enacted just twelve years before, it is reasonable to conclude that the 1881 action was simply another amendment, either to annex another residential area or for some other purpose. Lacking those petitions, however, the final conclusion is for better minds than mine to decide.
(NOTE: This article, written by Heritage Guild member Jennifer Wilt, originally appeared in The Doddridge Independent as part of her weekly column “Our Heritage: The REAL History of Doddridge County.”)