Last week, our story took us from the beginning of the Lewis settlement through the end of slavery and the Civil War at Beechwood Plantation/Old Town Farm, leaving off with Peter Steenbergen Lewis’ construction of the current “big house” in 1866.
Before going much further, I’d be remiss if I didn’t devote some space to the Lewis slaves whose names we know. Of the 13 people held enslaved at Beechwood in 1860, the names and stories of four survive. Harry and Hetty, a married couple and likely the parents of the younger slaves listed in the 1860 slave census, were the coach driver and cook. John was a laborer, as was Bill, who drowned in the Ohio River while helping to save Maria Jane Lewis from a like fate. Soon after the onset of the Civil War, Harry and Hetty (and presumably much of their family) escaped through Ohio to Canada. After full abolition in 1865, they returned and settled in Ohio and occasionally visited the Lewis family.
Six years after building the “big house” still standing at Beechwood, P.S. Lewis married Margaret Parthenia McCulloch. She was the daughter of John and Mary McCulloch, granddaughter of John and Olivia McCulloch and Andrew and Parthenia Bryan, great-granddaughter of George Clendinen, and a relation to the Meigs family for whom Meigs County is named. To this union was born Charles Cameron “C.C.” Lewis, Sr. in 1874.
C.C. Lewis’ boyhood was spent bouncing around schools. He was first taught at home by governess Lydia Waggener, then at the Beech Grove one-room school by “Cash” Hogg and Jasper Riffle, and finally by Professor W. Kenney at the Point Pleasant Academy. At 16, he was enrolled in the Virginia Military Institute, though poor health complicated by asthma and other ills forced him to return home during his third year. He returned home to find his father in poor health and having resorted to sharecropping much of the farm. A summer course at Eastman Business College in upstate New York prepared him to take over the operations, and in 1895, he took over the operations of Beechwood Stock Farm.
At that time, the main output of the farm were beef cattle exported to England via Baltimore, and this provided C.C. Sr. with an uncommon opportunity. The export company, after some bookkeeping mishap, made it up to him by sending him on an all-expense trip to Scotland and England to meet with the world’s premier breeders of Shorthorn cattle as well as the manager of the Queen’s farm at Windsor. Lessons learned in the Old World had a great impact on the professional management of Beechwood.
In 1900, C.C. Sr. married Katherine Neale and to them were born Margaret, Virginia, Charles Cameron Jr., and William. Of these four, Virginia married Robert Harper and is the only surviving line. C.C. and Katherine divorced in 1917, and in 1918, he remarried to Anne Bratton. Their only child was Annette Lewis, who married John Seidel and like her half-sister has several surviving descendants.
In 1928, at the age of 22, C.C. Lewis Jr. took over management of Beechwood/Old Town Farm. Under his management, it became the largest dairy operation in the State of West Virginia.
C.C. Jr. had taken over management of the farm because his father, C.C. Sr., had inherited another business opportunity. The Lewis family, since 1853, had held stock in the Merchants National Bank, the oldest and largest bank in Point Pleasant. From the mid-1890s until 1928, that bank was under the complete control of local attorney J.S. Spencer and banker John McCulloch. Using the bank’s money, they financed much of the growth in Point Pleasant during that time including the Lowe Hotel, Mercy Hospital, Marietta Manufacturing Company, and most of the homes north of Camden Avenue. Unfortunately, for all of the good that it did, this reckless spending also broke the bank and forced a reorganization.
Chartered as Citizens National Bank, the first directors were C.C. Sr., Walter Windsor and C.O. Weissenburger of the Marietta Company, Congressman Robert Hogg, Hiram Carpenter of Parkersburg, attorney E.J. Somerville, farmer L.N. Knight, and longtime bankers Tal Stribling Jr. and Harold Sayre. After Walter Windsor’s death in 1929, C.C. Lewis Sr. was made President of Citizens National, just in time for the Black Thursday stock market crash and beginning of the Great Depression. The bank stayed open and survived the Depression while many others were closing their doors, with C.C. Sr. issuing and signing his own money. He remained President until his retirement in 1963 and passed away in 1964.
Old Town Farm remained under C.C. Lewis Jr.’s management until his death in 1998 and was purchased at auction by Dr. Mel Simon in 2001, the first time since 1770 that the property has been owned by someone other than a Lewis.
Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at [email protected]