By Wendy Holdren
The Raleigh County Historical Society will celebrate Gen. Alfred Beckley’s life during the fifth annual Founder’s Day celebration Sunday at 1 p.m. at Wildwood House Museum.
May 26 marks the date of both Gen. Beckley’s birth in 1802, and also his death, at age 86 in 1888.
Founder’s Day is an invitation for people to learn more about the life and accomplishments of the Beckley family and to visit their historic home. Short presentations will be made, then a processional will move across the street to Wildwood Cemetery for a wreath-laying ceremony, led by Mayor Emmett Pugh and the American Legion, at Beckley’s grave.
After the processional, tours of the Wildwood House will be offered at no charge until 4 p.m.
In honor of West Virginia’s 150th birthday this summer, Wildwood will feature a special display of dolls designed by renowned West Virginia artist and costume curator Pete Ballard. Dolls dressed in authentic 19th Century fashions will be on display throughout the museum beginning on Founder’s Day.
The dolls on display this summer are on loan from North House Museum in Lewisburg.
A group of Civil War re-enactors will be on hand for Sunday’s event, and will bring with them an authentic cannon from that conflict.
“The Historical Society is proud of our association with Wildwood. Some 500 visitors came through the museum last year, both at our various events, and on school and group tours. Even longtime Beckley residents are often amazed to learn that two presidents visited this house.
Alfred Beckley’s father played a vital role in our country’s revolution,” said Cindy Worley, vice president of the society and coordinator of Founder’s Day.
“This is the fifth year of the Founder's Day event, and each year we try to include something to make the day more educational and more entertaining. Since Civil War activities took place all around Wildwood, it is wonderful to have Mr. Ballard’s dolls representing the era in the house.
It’s always exciting to have the re-enactors involved, bringing a true sense of the time period and the conflict in this area, even more vital during the state’s sesquicentennial.”
The Historical Society will be selling copies of “Raleigh County” by late author and historian Jim Wood, which has now been transferred onto CD. Fran Klaus’ recently published book of vintage images of the area, “Beckley,” will also be available, as will other historical books, to be offered for sale and as raffle prizes.
“The City of Beckley and the Raleigh County Historical Society are making Wildwood a true historic museum of which we can all be proud.”
Founder’s Day festivities begin at 1 p.m., with opening remarks by Mayor Pugh. Lunch will be served on the lawn at Wildwood, with catering by Joey and George’s. Wildwood House is located on South Kanawha Street, across from Memorial Baptist Church, and parking is available nearby.
For more information regarding Founder’s Day, contact Worley at 304-228-1852.
Gen. Alfred Beckley ventured far from his home in Pittsburgh with his wife and family to explore land inherited from his father. He went on to build a home on what we now call South Kanawha Street and from there he established the city that bears his surname today.
When he first visited the area that we now call South Kanawha, where the home he named Wildwood is still located, he was standing in Fayette County. With no industry in the unsettled area, he had to create jobs for himself, and he was quite successful.
During the course of his life, he was the first postmaster of Beckley; the first toll collector on what was the Giles, Fayette and Kanawha Turnpike, a toll road he created; the first superintendent of schools; a storekeeper; a farmer; a lay minister; and a legal adviser.
He actually named the city for his father, John Beckley, who was the first Clerk of the House of Representatives, as well as the first Librarian of Congress.
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