Fought in October 1774 between Virginian militia led by Colonel Andrew Lewis and a Native American confederacy led by Shawnee Chief Cornstalk, the Battle of Point Pleasant was the only major engagement of Lord Dunmore’s War. The resulting Treaty of Camp Charlotte opened the Trans-Appalachian wilderness to settlement, and among the earliest settlers were many veterans of the battle. Here in Mason County, that includes William Clendinen, John Henderson, John Roush, and Thomas Lewis, among many others.
With so many veterans (and children of veterans) settling the region, it’s easy to see why calls for a monument began as early as the 1810s. It was noted in Richmond newspapers in 1827, “Fifty years have elapsed, and the remains of the gallant Lewis and his officers are yet suffered to moulder within the unhallowed precincts of a stable yard.” Unfortunately, at that early stage, there was quite a lot of interest in a monument but very little money.
It wasn’t until 1849 that the Virginia Legislature even suggested the creation of a Monument Committee, though the bill did not pass until 1860. But before anything could be accomplished with the $1,000 that was soon raised, the Civil War broke out and brought further efforts to a halt.
Things picked back up after the war, especially during the 1874 centennial of the battle. Led by Dr. Samuel Shaw, the Centennial Committee raised over $600 during the anniversary events which was then given to the Ladies Monument Association. The next year, the West Virginia Legislature appropriated $3,500 for a monument and asked for the assistance of the other states involved the war, namely Kentucky, Ohio, and Virginia.
They waited over 20 years for those states to act, which never happened, and finally gave up in 1901. That was a busy year. In February, Livia Poffenbarger founded the Colonel Charles Lewis Chapter of the D.A.R., and the West Virginia Legislature reestablished the Monument Committee to finally carry out the appropriation of 1875. The new committee was made up of John Austin, Charles Bowyer, and Virgil Anson Lewis, and they were given access to the old state fund, which with interest was now worth $8,788.33, and the old Monument Association fund, which then totaled $2,007.84. With that money, the committee purchased the eight lots that now make up Tu-Endie-Wei Park and cleared it of everything except for the old Mansion House.
By the end of the year, the Monument Committee reported over $11,000 in their account, but Virgil Lewis acknowledged that it would take upwards of $25,000 to finish the park and monument. That was partially accomplished through the lobbying efforts of Lewis and Poffenbarger in 1905, when the State Legislature appropriated another $5,000, bringing the total to $16,000 in the account.
Now over halfway to the finish line, the two focused on lobbying Congress for the final funds. With the help of Senator Nathan Scott and Congressman James Hughes, they successfully pried the final $10,000 from Congress. Work moved quickly after that.
The Van Amringe Granite Company of Boston was contracted to build the monument, supervised by James Amedon of the Vermont granite industries and Captain A.F. Alstaetter of the War Department. Charles Hess of Point Pleasant was contracted to pour the concrete foundation, during which several dozen bones of the fallen militiamen were discovered and reinterred beneath the northeast corner.
The granite arrived from the Balfour Pink Granite Company of South Carolina on June 1st, 1909, the first block was placed on the 14th, and the capstone was set on August 22nd. The bronze bas-reliefs, designed and written by Virgil Lewis and cast in Massachusetts, were added three weeks later along with the militiaman statue, completing the 82-foot and 143-ton obelisk.
The statue itself is one of my favorite features of the monument. Long said to be a typical militiaman of the era, with the traditional hunting shirt, leather breeches, and Pennsylvania long rifle, I can’t help but notice that it bears a strong resemblance to portraits of Andrew Lewis. In fact, it’s nearly identical to his statue in Richmond with one exception.
The statue in Richmond is of a glaring, fiery, Patriot and General Andrew Lewis. Ours is a bit more somber, obviously reflecting on the loss of his brother and several dear friends at Point Pleasant. Indeed, it’s no coincidence that if you follow his gaze, you’ll be looking toward the northeast corner where the remains uncovered during construction were reburied. Though they never come out and say it, it’s too coincidental not to have been planned by Lewis and Poffenbarger.
Information from the Weekly Register, Virgil Lewis, and Livia Poffenbarger.
Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at [email protected]