Two weeks ago, in my article about Ingleside Plantation, I mentioned the Lewis family that had sold Philip Capehart his 200-odd acres. Andrew Lewis, of course, was the original land grantee of 4,000 acres at the junction of the Ohio & Kanawha Rivers and owner of the land that is today Point Pleasant.
After Point Pleasant was finally settled in 1794, those 4,000 acres were split up pretty fast. Andrew’s son Thomas, who owned Roseberry, set aside 200 acres for the original Town of Point Pleasant charter. This is, more or less, the area inside the floodwall today (bounded by the rivers, Crooked Creek, and 14th Street). 150 acres just above that (14th Street to Camden Avenue) were sold to David Long, which I’ll write about next week. Another 200 acres were sold to the Capeharts. Take out the woodlots and hillsides, and that left about 2,000 acres of prime Ohio River bottomland for original Roseberry Plantation.
In 1800, Charles Cameron Lewis sold the lands in Ohio left to him by his late father, Colonel Charles Lewis who was killed at Point Pleasant, and purchased 1,000 acres from his cousin Thomas. These lands, the northern end of the original Lewis land grant, became the core of Beechwood Plantation, better known today as Old Town.
Charles Sr. died in 1803, leaving behind his wife Jane Dickenson-Lewis and sons John Dickenson Lewis and Charles Cameron Lewis, Jr. While Charles Jr. moved in with neighboring relatives and stayed on the farm, John Dickenson Lewis went on to join his uncles in the Dickenson & Shrewsbury salt operations and was later counted among the “salt kings of the Kanawha” alongside William Dickenson, Joel Shrewsbury, and Lewis Ruffner.
Around 1826, Charles Jr. married Eliza Steenbergen, daughter of General Peter Higgins Steenbergen of Poplar Grove Plantation near Gallipolis Ferry. They built the first lasting home on the property that same year, a one-and-a-half story log cabin that in 1841 was converted to slave quarters and replaced by a much larger sawn plank home. He had barely finished this home when he was struck down by tuberculosis and a strong cold or pneumonia, brought on after driving hogs to Charleston through flooded creeks without a proper change of clothing.
This left Beechwood yet again without an heir as the oldest son, Peter Steenbergen Lewis, was only 7 years old at the time. For the next thirteen years, while P.S. Lewis attended the first Point Pleasant School, Marietta College, and the Virginia Military Institute, the plantation was managed by slave overseer John Appleton. While at V.M.I., Lewis was trained in artillery under Professor Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, who he described as “a stern disciplinarian but a poor teacher.”
P.S. Lewis returned home and took charge of the plantation in 1853, and one of his first tasks on arrival was to join cousin John William Steenbergen and recapture an escaped Lewis slave. This is a typical story from plantations in the Ohio Valley, situated alongside the slaves’ “River Jordan,” the border between slavery and freedom. Given a choice between whippings and freedom, and with willing help from abolitionists living in Addison and Gallipolis, slaves would escape across the river, through Ohio, and into Canada. This continued through the final years of slavery at Beechwood, so that by the time of full abolition in 1865, few if any slaves were still held by the Lewis family.
After the Civil War, throughout which the Lewis family at Beechwood had tried to stay neutral despite their Confederate sympathies, it came time to rebuild. He made an agreement with his sister, Sarah McCulloch, that he would build their widowed mother the brick home she had always wanted.
Designed by architect Treat Stephen Ford of Gallipolis (who also designed the Moore Mansion in Gallipolis Ferry, the Aleshire home in Gallipolis, and many other notable homes in the area), the new home cost $10,000 to build in 1866 even after saving money by converting the old 1841 home into the new rear wing and using farm labor in the construction. Nonetheless, the new home was, and still is, one of the most impressive in the county.
Next week, I’ll write a bit more about Beechwood and focus on the evolution of the farm from slave plantation to one of the largest dairy farms in the state.
Information from the Weekly Register, Autobiography of Charles Cameron Lewis, Sr., and various histories of Point Pleasant.
Chris Rizer is the president of the Mason County Historical & Preservation Society and director of Main Street Point Pleasant, reach him at [email protected]