Pre-Civil War law library rededicated

The West Virginia Daily News
The West Virginia Daily News

LEWISBURG (WVDN) – At 1 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 1, the 1834 Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia Law Library and Study building was rededicated as a public museum under the auspices of the Greenbrier Historical Society. In a ceremony held on the 191st anniversary of the first Lewisburg session of the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia, a small group of invited guests toured exhibits and listened to the speakers.

Al Emch, vice president of the Greenbrier Historical Society, was master of ceremonies and recognized the role that various guests had played in making this wonderful event happen. He noted that the Greenbrier Historical Society welcomes the role of caretaker of this “grand old lady” as she retires into more gentle service.

Janice Cooley, president of the Greenbrier Historical Society, welcomed everyone and said, “This building represents another step of GHS toward fulfilling our mission to preserve, protect, and present the diverse history of the Greenbrier Valley.”

Emch stated that the building was specifically built to serve the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia while meeting in Lewisburg to handle all appellate cases arising west of the Blue Ridge mountains. Both 11th Judicial Circuit Judges, Jennifer Dent and Robert Richardson, were present, as were William T. “Bob” Wilson Esq. representing the Virginia State Bar and Ben Mishoe Esq., president of the West Virginia State Bar.

Clifford Gillilan, a member of the local Masonic Lodge #49, the oldest west of the Allegheny Mountains, represented the era when the Masons owned the building.

Mary Lindquist, a graduate of Greenbrier College for Women and daughter of Dr. John D. Montgomery, a former president of that college, represented the years when several educational institutions, concluding with Greenbrier College for Women, utilized the building.

Through the efforts of Houston B. Moore, the structure was transferred to the “town” of Lewisburg and renovated into a library and museum. Its life as a public library was represented by Ann Farr, librarian, Greenbrier County Public Library, and Marty McMillan, trustee.

It then served as the library for the New River Community and Technical College whose President, Dr. Bonnie Copenhaver, was in attendance, before being leased to the Greenbrier Historical Society last spring.

Others in attendance whose support has been or will be critical to the restoration of the building were Paul Lindquist, president of the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia; Todd Gunter representing Sen. Shelley Moore Capito; Ben Spurlock representing Sen. Joe Manchin; Kim McMillion representing Congresswoman Carol Miller; Senator Stephen Baldwin; Greenbrier County Commissioner Lowell Rose; John Tuggle, executive director, Region IV Planning and Development Commission; Angus Peyton, representing the James F. B. Peyton Fund; “Tip” Richmond representing the Telford Foundation; and many others.

The full cooperation of Mayor Beverly White and city manager Misty Hill of the city of Lewisburg was acknowledged.

The keynote speaker was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, John A. Hutchinson, who recognized the historic nature of the occasion.

He stated that the building was built to serve the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia in an acknowledgement by Virginia lawmakers in 1831 that “access to justice” had been lacking west of the mountains—most of which is now West Virginia.

Even though distance has been somewhat conquered by modern travel and much other progress has been made, access to justice continues to be a challenge to the court system.

In a serendipitous happening, Joe Preston from Texas, after having read the Greenbrier Historical Society newsletter announcing the acquisition of the library, had recently called to say that he was a descendant of Samuel Price and wanted to donate Mr. Price’s law books.

Price was a prominent Lewisburg attorney who served as lieutenant governor of Virginia, president of the 1872 Constitutional Convention of West Virginia, and U. S. Senator for West Virginia, among other accomplishments.

Joe and Susan Preston were present at the re-dedication and were recognized for their marvelous gift of 111 beautiful volumes, 104 of which date between 1787 and 1864. All are now proudly on display in this historic building, now open as a public museum.

Emch said, “We pledge to use this building, and the 1835 enslaved quarters building next to it, to educate the public about the wonderful history they have to share.”

Exact open hours have not yet been set and will be changed as renovations start. Visit the North House Museum across the street to arrange your tour.
Susan and Joe Preston in front of a photo of Samuel Price whose law books they donated to the Greenbrier Historical Society.
A judge’s chair from the 1834 Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia Law Library and Study building which has been in the collection of the Greenbrier Historical Society.

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