In Mason County, just like anywhere else, history is a massive web of interconnected, tangled stories. Think of it this way. You know when you grandma is trying to explain who this other person is to you? Something like, “Well you know your cousin Joe’s wife Sally? This guy is her Aunt Mary’s son-in-law, Susan’s husband.” We’ve all been there, and our current story is a pretty good example.
Three weeks ago, I wrote about the 1884 flood. That flood’s crest determined the location of General John McCausland’s home, Grape Hill. Soon after building Grape Hill, McCausland, whose life I wrote about two weeks ago, expanded his operations and purchased other farms up and down the Kanawha Valley, one of which was Eastham Plantation. Eastham, which I wrote about last week, traces its lineage to George Washington’s western lands and his vision of a new Mount Vernon in the Kanawha Valley. That brings us to this week’s story.
150 years after Washington’s “Lost Colony” was abandoned, his dream of a grand home much like his own overlooking the Kanawha Valley was realized by H.E. Shadle’s “Mount Vernon on the Kanawha.” Designed by Dayton, Ohio architect Louis Lott, the home isn’t an exact copy of the original Mount Vernon, but it’s certainly close enough that it’s hard to miss the resemblance. Well-proportioned and sharing its namesake’s grand portico and court of honor, with perhaps one of the best scenic views in Mason County, Washington himself would have approved.
Anyhow, back to the story. Like I said, Mount Vernon on the Kanawha was built in 1926-27 by Harry Eugene “H.E.” Shadle, who aside from owning Washington’s former land also shared his birthday. Born on February 22nd, 1865 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Shadle started his career in his father’s wholesale business. Wanting something more, he moved to Tucker County, W.Va. in 1900 and joined his uncle’s booming lumber business. In just a few short years, he had expanded their operations into Randolph, Clay, and Nicholas counties and bought and sold more than 50,000 acres of timberlands aside from the thousands more he had harvested for milling.
In 1908, he purchased the Morgan Lumber Company, the operations of which were near today’s Charleston Civic Center, and he and his family, wife Sara Catherine Bitner and son Harold “Harry” Bitner Shadle, moved to Charleston. Harry soon went off to the Virginia Military Institute for college and during WWI, served as 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps’ Bureau of Aircraft Production. After the war, he joined his father’s lumber company as vice-president.
Throughout the early 1920s, H.E. Shadle continued his expansion with involvement in the Glade Creek Coal & Lumber Company, Daniel Boone Hotel, and Humphries Oil Company, among others. He was also heavily involved in the Chamber of Commerce, Benevolent & Protective Order of Elks, Charleston Baptist Temple, and other charitable associations.
His business ventures made him quite a bit of money, and in 1925, he began to plan his retirement. He purchased the farm from the Parsons family, enlisted architect Louis Lott to build the home, and began easing his way out of his various enterprises. His home was finished in 1928 and a grand field day was held in June of 1929 as the kicking-off party for his planned retirement as a gentleman dairy farmer. Attended by nearly 5,000 people, including Governor W.G. Conley, the celebration included livestock judging, a livestock parade, biplane rides, baseball games, a barn dance, and performances by a full orchestra.
In 1932, he sold the Morgan Lumber Company and incorporated the Mount Vernon Dairy with his son as general manager in charge of day-to-day operations. The business operations were in Charleston, in another replica of Mount Vernon that once faced Pennsylvania Avenue, and the farm was home to Shadle’s prize herd of purebred Brown Swiss, Guernsey, Jersey, and Holstein cattle along with his Percheron and Belgian horses and prize-winning poultry and hogs.
After H.E. Shadle’s death in 1947, Mount Vernon on the Kanawha passed to his son H.B. Shadle, and then to his son James Bitner Shadle. Dairy operations continued until 1972, when the dairy building in Charleston was slated for demolition during the construction of I-64. The Shadle family reluctantly sold the farm in 1978, and after several owners in between, it has been owned and cared for since 1992 by local Dr. Breton Morgan. Currently for sale, it awaits the next chapter in its story.
Information from the WV State Historic Preservation Office, Congressional Record, Charleston Gazette, and James Morton Callahan’s “History of West Virginia, Old & New.”
Chris Rizer is the president of the Mason County Historical & Preservation Society and director of Main Street Point Pleasant, reach him at [email protected]