A History of the County Seat of Calhoun County

By Lorentz C. Hamilton, Sr. (1942)

Calhoun county was formed from a part of Gilmer county by an act of the General Assembly of Virginia, enacted on and in effect from the 5th day of March, 1856. It may be noted here, parenthetically, that by another act, passed and in effect on the same day, the adjoining county of Roane was formed from Kanawha, Jackson and Gilmer counties.

The boundaries of Calhoun, as set forth in the formation act, were as follows:

"Beginning with the West Fork of the Little Kanawha river, where the Gilmer and Wirt county line crosses the same; thence, up the West Fork, to the mouth of Henry's Fork; to the mouth of Beech Fork, thence, with the dividing ridge between said Beech Fork and Henry's fork, to the Gilmer county line; thence, to include all the waters of said West Fork, within the county of Gilmer, to the Gilmer, Ripley and Ohio turnpike, to the head of Cromleys (Crummies) Creek; thence with said turnpike, to the mouth of Bear Fork on Steer Creek; thence a straight line to the head of Muscles Shoals of the Little Kanawha river, thence by the shortest line, to the top of the dividing ridge between the waters of Tanners Fork and Laurel Creek, to the Ritchie county________________Gilmer county line, to the place of beginning."

The act further provided that the permanent county seat for the new county should be located at one of three places, Pine Bottom (opposite the mouth of Pine Creek, on what was later known as the George W. Silcott farm, now owned by Godfrey L. Cabot, Inc., a part of which is occupied by the Hope Natural Gas Company's Compressing Station for the transportation of natural gas), the mouth of Yellow Creek (where the town of Brooksville is now located), or the neck of the Big Bend (on the farm later known as the James Philip Knight farm, now owned by Lewis E. Smith); the site to be selected at the first general election by such voters of the county as may be authorized to vote for members of the General Assembly, the place receiving a majority of the votes cast to be the county seat; if neither of the three sites receive such a majority, a new election to be held by order of the county court between the two places having the largest number of votes at the first election; until the site should be so fixed, the circuit and county courts should be held at the house of Joseph W. Burson or such other place as the county court should designate. The act further provided that the new county should constitute a part of the nineteenth judicial circuit of Virginia, of the eleventh congressional district, the forty-eighth senatorial district and the election district, of Gilmer and Wirt (for member of the General Assembly).

I have never been able to ascertain whether the election or elections, provided for in the act, was ever held, although I have made considerable search of the county court records heretofore: at the present time, such county court older records are not available, because of the fact that there is no courthouse, and they are piled haphazardly in the jail building to such extent that they cannot be assorted, nor can be until they are filed in the new building, the corner stone of which is today laid.

However, all the records of the court are in good condition and accessible.

The first circuit court was held at the residence of Peregrine Hays at Arnoldsburg, on the West Fork of the Little Kanawha river, on Monday, October 6th., 1856, Judge Mathew Edmiston being the presiding judge: Judge Edmiston lived at Weston, in Lewis county, was judge of the nineteenth judicial circuit, and was the grandfather of Andrew Edmiston, the present member of Congress from this, the third district of West Virginia; thereafter, all circuit courts were held in "a house in Arnoldsburg": by Judge Edmiston until the fall term, 1860, when the Court was held at the same place by his successor, Judge William L. Jackson, also of Weston, who was later a brigadier general in the Confederate army, and who was known as "Mudwall" Jackson, to distinguish him from his more eminent kinsman, "Stonewall" Jackson: the court was held by the same judge at the same place at the spring term, 1861.

In April, 1861, the Civil War came on; no further terms of circuit court were held in the county until the September term, 1865, when a term was held in the courthouse at Arnoldsburg by Judge George Loomis, judge of the sixth judicial circuit of West Virginia; West Virginia having been formed from Virginia under an act of the General Assembly of the "Restored Government" of Virginia, which took full effect on June 20, 1863.

Judge Loomis continued to hold the courts at Arnoldsburg to and including the May term, 1867; from the September term 1867, to the May term, 1868, he held the same "at Grantsville"; this being the first time that the name Grantsville appears upon the county records.

At the March, 1869, term, a new judge, Robert S. Brown, of Jackson county, held the court "at a house in Arnoldsburg, where the Courts were formerly held", and the August, 1869, term was held at Arnoldsburg.

The November, 1869, and the April, 1870, terms were held by Judge Brown at Grantsville. Finally, at the August, 1870, term, we find the court being held "at the new Courthouse at Grantsville", at which place all circuits have since been held.

Now, as to why the courts should have been held at Arnoldsburg Continuously, from the formation of the county to the May, 1867, term, the records, now available, do not disclose; perhaps the elections, provided for in the formation act, between Pine Bottom, the mouth of Yellow Creek and the neck of the Big Bend, were never held, or the results thereof inconclusive; all these places were on the Little Kanawha river, while Arnoldsburg was situated on the West Fork of the river, at a point some twelve to fifteen miles from the main river. However, I think it more likely that after the act forming the county was passed, another act must have been enacted by The General Assembly fixing Arnoldsburg as the county seat, at least for the holding of the circuit courts; but I have not been able to find such act. At any rate, from the language of the General Assembly act, next herein referred to, the county seat must have been legally fixed in some manner at Arnoldsburg prior to 1862.

By an act of the General Assembly, enacted February 13, 1862, it was provided that an election be held by the voters of the county on the fourth Thursday in May "after the present war is over", for the purpose of taking the sense of the voters as to whether they should retain the county seat at Arnoldsburg, the place now fixed by law, or remove the same to Simon P. Stump's farm, opposite the mouth of Philips Run. The Stump farm included the land upon which a part of the town of Grantsville is now located.

But, as before stated, on June 20, 1863, the state of West Virginia began to function. Under its new constitution and by the enabling act of its Legislature, section 8, chapter 78, Acts 1863, it was provided that "if it becomes necessary or desirable to remove the county seat of any county and such removal is deemed advisable be a majority of the Board of Supervisors of such county". . . "and it is approved by three fifths of the voters, such removal may be made."

On the fourth Thursday in May, 1866, pursuant to the act of February 13, 1862, evidently without the same being deemed advisable by the board of supervisors, the election was held and the Simon P. Stump farm fixed upon by a majority of the voters, but not by a three fifths majority.

The board of supervisors refused to certify the result of the election, or even to take up and examine the same. The prosecuting attorney on June 25, 1866, brought the matter to the attention of the circuit court; upon an examination of the evidence, such circuit court held that the election had been held according to law (i.e., the 1862 statute of Virginia), declared that the greatest number of votes had been cast for the Stump farm, and ordered that the same should, after the rising of that term of court, be permanent county, and that the county supervisors provide suitable buildings for the holding of court, etc.

At once, thereafter, by a bill of exceptions, C.M. Conley, George Lynch, Jr., and M.V. Fleming brought the matter to the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, in the behalf of the Arnoldsburg proponents, and at the January, 1868 term, it decided the same, the style of the suit being C.M. Conley, et al., vs. Supervisors of Calhoun county, 2 W.Va., 416. The opinion was rendered by Judge Edwin Maxwell.

The principal questions were, of course, whether the operative part of the act of 1862 had been repealed by the constitution of West Virginia and the act thereunder of 1863, or impliedly so sepealed by the later act, giving the board of supervisors the sole power to hold elections, concerning the removal of county seats, in other words, if the act of 1862 be still operative, the Stump Farm people would win, otherwise there would be no removal.

In the meantime, however, after the case came to the court of appeals, but before any decision thereof, something else came into the picture. The Legislature of West Virginia on January 22, 1867, enacted a statute, Acts 1867, chapter 1, page 1, which provided that thereafter the county seat of Calhoun county should be at the farm of Simon P. Stump, on the Little Kanawha river; that suitable public buildings be erected, and that the supervisors sell all county property at Arnoldsburg.

Thence came the opinion of Judge Maxwell in the Conley case, January term, 1868: it discusses several matters most interestingly and then decides the main question as follows: that the act of Virginia, 1862, was wholly repealed by the act of West Virginia of 1863; that it was, also, impliedly repealed by the constitution and said second act (1863), which revised the whole subject matter and gave to the supervisors the superintendendence of the internal affairs and fiscal concern of a county. This of course, wholly invalidated the election held in May, 1866, defeated the Stump farm pronents, and apparently blasted their hopes and fixed the government at Arnoldsburg: however, in the last paragraph of the opinion, the Court blandly and solemnly says that since the county seat has been located at Stump's farm, by the act of the Legislature of West Virginia, enacted January 22, 1867, since this case has been in Court, there is nothing in the case but a question of costs; and it thereupon decrees costs against the Stump farm people, dismisses the original proceeding brought by the prosecuting attorney, reverses the order of the circuit court, grants no supersedeas, leaving the county seat at the Stump farm. A truly Pyrric victory for the victors; they obtained everything except what they wanted.

This settled the matter finally; the county seat has since remained upon the Stump farm.

It might be noted here that, after all the acts, court decisions, elections and especially the act of January 22, 1867, the official site of the county seat is still upon the Simon P. Stump farm, and not at Grantsville.

The judges of the circuit court since the formation have been as follows: Mathew Edmiston, 1856-60 William L. Jackson, 1860-61 George Loomis, 1865-68 Robert S. Brown, 1869-72 James M. Jackson, 1873-80 Robert F. Fleming, 1881-88 Virgil S. Armstrong, 1889-96 Reese Blizzard, 1897-1901 Warren Miller, 1901-02 Linn Brannon, 1903-04 William A. Parsons, 1905-12 Walter H. O'Brien, 1913-28 Lewis H. Miller, 1929- For reasons, above stated, it is not possible at the present to give the places of the terms of the county courts or body in lieu thereof, from the formation to 1870. Some years ago, when the records were more accessible, I looked this matter up, but have misplaced my notes; but, from memory the first county court or board was held at the Joseph W. Burson house, as provided by the act; later its terms were held at various places along the Little Kanawha river, at Pine Bottom and the Old Bethlehem church, about one mile above the site of the present Grantsville, the greater number of the terms being held at the church. It is rather curious to note that, while nearly all the circuit courts were held at Arnoldsburg during fourteen years, no county court was ever held there; all being held at points from fifteen to twenty miles from Arnoldsburg.

Written February 28, 1942, the date of the laying of the cornerstone for the new Courthouse on the Simon P. Stump Farm, now Grantsville, West Virginia, by the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Masons by_______________. Lorentz C. Hamilton (Sr.).

Addendum: Transcribed from original Court Records from the proceedings of the County Court held June 10, 1856 by Norma Knotts Shaffer:

"The Court this day appointed Alexander Huffman one of the Justices of this County, according to the Act of Assembly establishing the County of Calhoun, who, together with Anthony Conrad sheriff protempore of this County, and George W. Silcott clerk protempore of this court, pursuant to the provisions of the said Act establishing this County, after being duly sworn by the Court, proceeded to scrutinize the polls of votes Cast for the Seat of Justice of said County, and after a time, they submitted the following report to the Court, viz.

We, Alexander Huffman, Anthony Conrad and George W. Silcott who were appointed according to law to scrutinize the vote cast for a location for a seat of Justice for Calhoun County, beg leave to report that we have examined polls, counted them, and struck therefrom all persons who we believe were not entitled to vote for Members of the General Assembly and find the result to be as follows, viz, For Pine Bottom 92 votes, For the Mouth of Yellow Creek 102 votes, and for the Neck of the Big Bend no votes, making by our count a majority of 10 votes for the Mouth of Yellow creek over both the other places named in the Act of the General Assembly establishing the County of Calhoun, But we find that besides the vote as above set forth that there is returned by the Poll books 161 votes for Adam Starchers.

All of which is respectfully submitted June 10, 1856: A. Huffman, A. Conrad, G. W. Silcott.

The Court doth appoint George Downs, George W. Rogers and Robert Bennett commissioners to select the public grounds of this County at the Mouth of Yellow Creek for the erection thereon of a Courthouse, Jail & any other public buildings necessary, and that they report to court on tomorrow all such matter as they may deem pertinent."